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2. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain above changing fall colors.
Hallett Peak (12,720 feet) and Flattop Mountain are some of the most recognizable mountains in the range. Photo by U.S. Department of the Interior in the Public Domain

We’re going to need an altitude adjustment

Drive some 2,300 miles into Neal Cassady’s Denver and a backdrop of mountains. Tall. Far as the eye can see. Coming from the peaks and pebbles in the Northeast, it is characteristically undeniable that the mountains out this way are way, way bigger.

Case in point: this slice of the Rocky Mountains range in elevation from 7,860 to Longs Peak at 14,259 feet. There are sixty mountains over 12,000 feet with 20 of them above 13,000 feet. Because of the altitude and five different ecological zones, what you see in the park is similar to the landscape changes you’ll encounter on a drive from Denver to northern Alaska… which will come later.

Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park

One of the highest NPs in the country, the hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park takes you through a wide variety of terrain, from windswept land above treeline and high alpine lakes to sandy red rock trails and forested valleys. Running through the center of the park is the Continental Divide which, as you can imagine, splits the country, and the flow of its waterways, in two.

Hiking Longs Peak via Keyhole Route: This iconic mountain rises above all other summits in the park (14,349 ft / 4350 m), and to get to the top will be one of the most grueling stairmaster sessions of your life (15 miles, round trip with 5,100 feet in elevation gain). Note that this is more technical than a typical hike, with class II, or even III, scrambling, sheer rock faces and narrow ledges.

Emerald Lake Trail: Enjoy three lakes in under three miles. Starting at the Bear Lake Trailhead you’ll follow a well-maintained and packed path for 3.6 miles round trip, with Hallett Peak (12,713′) watching over you the whole time.

Alberta Falls Hike: Is a good option for children. Take a short and mellow trail to a 30-foot waterfall.

Onwards and upwards

About 8 hours driving northwest brings us to the next destination.

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