In celebration of fitness and the 100th birthday of the National Park Service this year, we climbed mountains at Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) in Colorado three ways, with one method suitable for nearly every fitness level. The view is the same, no matter how you get there.
Get Up Close and Personal by Hiking
Hikes can be tailored for everyone, from the physically challenged to the super fit, with more than 200 miles of trails in the park.
EASY: Take a leisurely stroll around Sprague Lake, a half-mile loop. The path is level, wide, and handicapped and stroller accessible with benches overlooking the tranquil water and the reflection of nearby peaks. MODERATE: Another popular hike is 1.1 miles up 425 feet on stepped trails to Dream Lake, passing charming Nymph Lake with its pond lilies on the way.
IN TOP SHAPE: Fit hikers can tackle the strenuous 12.4 mile round-trip hike that climbs 3,825 feet to Longs Peak, at 14,259 feet, the tallest elevation in RMNP. Hikers should start between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. to reach the summit before afternoon thunderstorms.
Get Panoramic Views by Driving
Trail Ridge Road through RMNP is an amazing way to see beautiful vistas, wildlife and changing mountain weather and ecosystems from the comfort of a vehicle. The 48-mile drive is a National Scenic Byway from Estes Park on the East to Grand Lake, and the highest continuous paved highway in the United States.
Drivers can drive as much of the route as they want, stopping along the way to take in the views and pictures. At Forest Canyon Overlook at 11,716 feet, it was cold enough for jackets and threatening rain. Rock Cut at 12,110 feet is in the tundra, with sweet summer flowers tough enough to brave the changing mountaintop weather.
The Alpine Visitor Center at 11,796 feet is the highest elevation visitor center in the National Park System. The café with picture windows offered us views of elk and two yellow-bellied marmot playing in a patch of snow below.
Let a Horse do the Hiking
Climb narrow, rocky trails and see views from the saddle on a mountain horseback ride. While the trails seem steep, sure-footed horses do the climbing for you, allowing you panoramic views from wooded trails. Stables both in the national park and along its edges offer rides for all skill levels with expert and engaging guides who narrate along the way.
The important thing is to climb mountains not so the world can see you, but so you can see the world and change your point of view.