Having worked and hiked extensively in Rocky Mountain National Park, I would tell you that it is a beautiful national park with some amazing views off Trail Ridge Road and some spectacular hikes. Having said that, Colorado is filled with places that rival the beauty of Rocky or even surpass it. I was talking with some visitors the other day from out of state that asked me about places to hike, and of course, Rocky came up. It occurred to me that for many people who come from out of state, they think that Rocky Mountain National Park is the best of the Rocky Mountains, and THE place to go if you are visiting from out of state. The question is do you want to share your Rocky Mountain experience with thousands of other people as well?
One could argue that this of all years is the time to avoid Rocky Mountain National Park and seek out other Rocky Mountain destinations. Rocky Mountain National Park had a record 3.4 million visitors last year. Because they are celebrating their centennial this year, recent news stories report their visitation up 20% over last year. When I was still working at the park last summer, there were many days that there was literally no place to park on the east side of the park all the way up to the Alpine Visitor Center. With 20% more people this year, that’s another 700,000 people over the course of the year, with their annual visitation approaching 4 million. Most of those people visit between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Do the math, and you can figure out just how crowded the park must be this summer.
I don’t know about you, but part of the reason I seek hikes in the wilderness is to experience a feeling of solitude and a connection to nature. The last thing I want to do is spend my day waiting in a huge line of traffic just to get into a national park, and then spend hours looking for a place to park, so I can go hiking. That feels more stressful as driving to work, which is not how I want to spend my days off. So despite the fact that we live a mere 45 minutes from the park, and have an annual park pass that means we can get in for free using our pass, I have not yet been to Rocky Mountain National Park this year. And I don’t plan to venture anywhere near the park until at least September. But that doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying the Rocky Mountains….
There are so many places throughout the state, to experience scenic drives, alpine vistas, breathtaking (and breathless) hikes with just a fraction of the people. Venture to the other side of the Continental Divide and find amazing hiking in the Gore Range, or even on the western side of the Indian Peaks. There are gorgeous places to hike along Independence Pass going from Leadville to Aspen. And if you really seek solitude and alpine splendor, consider taking the time to drive down to the Uncompahgre or Weminuche Wilderness Areas in the San Juan Mountains outside of Durango. The Rocky Mountains and their beauty are not the sole property of the National Park Service. Our wonderful state of Colorado has enough Rocky Mountain splendor for all who seek it, and plenty of places to enjoy some peace and solitude along the way.