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Rocky Mountain National Park Hiking Information
by Lisa Foster

Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) is a veritable treasure trove of scenic splendor that attracts more than three million people each year. Most visitors experience RMNP during the summer season, usually from June through September. But Hiking in Rocky Mountain National ParkRMNP offers wonderful adventures year-round; those wishing to escape the crowds might consider a trip during the shoulder seasons or the winter.

Hiking is one of the main activities for visitors to RMNP. It is also the best way to experience the astonishing majesty of this spectacular landscape. Hiking gets people out there: on the trails, atop the peaks, to the lakes. By hiking you get to feel the brush of the wind, the warmth of the sun on your skin, the beauty of the changing weather. There is no way to step off the treadmill and call it a day. You must experience everything the hike has to offer.

In close proximity to large centers of population, RMNP is remarkably accessible by paved roads that wind into the very heart of the mountains. This convenient road network offers the visitor the ability toenter RMNP's wilderness easily and economically, with relatively little time expended. Strategically located trailheads Renaissance Mountaineering, Rocky Mountain National Park Welcome Sign - The Complete Hiking Guide, Lisa Fosterprovide tactical starting points for hikes that penetrate deep into the forests and high up on the peaks, all of which are possible to complete in one day. Indescribable grandeur awaits virtually steps from your car. Most of the mountains have at least one nontechnical route to the summit, making RMNP a hiker's paradise.

ON THE TRAIL
Hiking in RMNP is exciting and fun, but it takes place in an alpine environment, which involves inherent risks that need to be considered in order to ensure a safe and pleasant experience for you and the members of your party. The written hiking descriptions are intended to supplement the hiker's knowledge, and the information provided is not a substitute for your own good judgment and skill. Ultimately, only you are responsible for your safety.

ASSESSMENT OF ABILITY

Fair assessment of your ability and that of the weakest member of your group will help you to maximize your time in RMNP, and to effectively choose the best hike for your party. Consider whether any disabilities or medical conditions might prevent a person from performing ordinary tasks at high elevations. Consider how much time your group has on a particular day. Consider the children and elderly in your group. Consider the group's collective outdoor experience.

DEHYDRATION, DRINKING WATER, AND GIARDIA

Colorado's low humidity and dry atmosphere can lead to dehydration. Be sure to carry enough drinking water to prevent dehydration as you exert energy while hiking.

Do not drink untreated water from the lakes or streams in RMNP. Invisible to the human eye, the microscopic organism Giardia lamblia can cause serious illness. It is present in all water systems in RMNP. Boil water or use a filter to purify water taken from RMNP water sources, or simply carry enough purified water.

ALTITUDE SICKNESS
At high elevations, there is less oxygen in the air. Reduced oxygen intake can cause an illness commonly known as altitude sickness. The effects of altitude affect everyone differently. Take time to let your body acclimatize to RMNP's high elevation. Start by selecting shorter hikes with less elevation gain and work your way up to the more difficult hikes. Pay attention to symptoms of altitude sickness, which include shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, weakness, and loss of appetite, and take precautions to prevent them.

HYPOTHERMIA
The lowering of the body's core temperature to dangerous levels is called hypothermia. Exposure to wetness, wind, and cold temperatures can all contribute to this condition. You can prevent hypothermia by staying warm and dry. Carry raingear and extra layers of clothing, including a hat and gloves, to help combat hypothermia in wet and cold conditions.

EXPOSURE TO HIGH-ALTITUDE SUN

Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat are important ways to fight the fatigue and illness that can plague a hiker as a result of sunburn. Remember that ultraviolet rays are stronger at higher elevations and the sun can be intense and severe.

SUMMER WEATHER
Although characterized by clear, sunny mornings, stormy afternoons, and cool nights, RMNP's weather is unpredictable. Observe current weather conditions before hiking and consider the long-range weather forecast. The weather in RMNP can change rapidly. Even if you begin hiking on a clear, cloudless day, adverse weather can move in quickly, so prepare for any type of weather conditions. Summer snowstorms are not uncommon at high altitude. Summer daytime temperatures average in the mid-70s (Fahrenheit), but be prepared for temperatures ranging between 30° and 90° F.

LIGHTNING
Lightning poses a real threat to hikers in RMNP. Lightning kills more people each year in the United States than any other weather-related hazard. Thunderstorms build in RMNP's high country almost every afternoon during the summer months. Start hiking early in the day to ensure that you can return below treeline before afternoon thunder-showers and lightning move in. Lightning typically strikes the highest object in an area. Don't be the highest object around and don't stand next to the highest object for protection. Seek the safety of your car, the forest, or the lowest point in the terrain on which you are hiking.

PETS
Dogs and other pets are not allowed on the trails or in the backcountry of RMNP. Leashed pets are allowed on some roads in RMNP during certain times of the year. For detailed information, please contact RMNP (see the end of this Introduction).

WILDLIFE
The animals that live in RMNP are wild and free. It is a treat to view them in their natural habitat, but be aware that they can pose a threat to visitors. To avoid negative conflict between animals and humans, do not approach or feed wildlife. Respect the animal's territory and take care not to disturb its movement. Don't interfere when an animal is feeding, and don't disturb the interaction between animals. Some people find it exciting to feed wildlife. It's a bad idea, though, and here's why:

  • Animals bite and carry disease.
  • Feeding animals draws them to close contact with people, which causes them to gradually lose their fear of humans. This is potentially problematic for both animals and humans.
  • Dependence on human-provided food can cause starvation and make the animal more susceptible to predation.
  • Altering the animals natural methods might disrupt ecosystems and have far-ranging effects in ways that we can't initially see.

Mammals that live in RMNP include black bears, mountain lions, elk, deer, moose, bighorn sheep, squirrels, and chipmunks. Common sightings of elk and deer attract hordes of wildlife enthusiasts. It is extremely rare, however, to see a bear or mountain lion. For information about what to do in case of an encounter with large mammals, inquire at one of RMNP's visitor centers.

INSECTS
Mosquitoes, flies, and ticks are all found in RMNP. You can deter these pests with insect repellent containing DEET.

WHAT TO BRING
The essentials recommended for any day hike, which include, but are not limited to:
  • Water
  • Extra clothes for layering
  • Sunscreen and lip balm
  • Sunglasses
  • Raingear
  • Food
  • Map and compass
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • First-aid kit
  • Pocketknife
  • Waterproof matches or a lighter

LEAVE NO TRACE
To protect the natural conditions of RMNP's backcountry, the National Park Service recommends adhering to Leave No Trace outdoor ethics. Leave No Trace is a national nonprofit organization that is dedicated to educating people about responsible use of the outdoors. It recommends simple techniques for minimum-impact travel in Colorado's fragile, high-alpine environments. For more information, contact www.lnt.org.

PARK INFORMATION
All overnight stays in RMNP require a permit, but no permit is needed for day hiking or climbing. A fee is charged to enter RMNP. The National Park Service has strict regulations governing all activity within RMNP. These necessary guidelines protect this pristine landscape from the millions of visitors it receives annually. Park rules change regularly. To receive updated, detailed information, contact RMNP at (970) 586-1206, visit the website at www.nps.gov/romo, or write to Rocky Mountain National Park, Information Office, 1000 US 36, Estes Park, CO 80517.

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