September 4, 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the dedication of Rocky Mountain National Park. Each year, more than 3 million people visit the park that protects mountains, tundra, meadows, wildlife, lakes, rivers and incredible scenery.
But what are the top 7 don't miss, must see, things to do at Rocky Mountain National Park?
(Photo courtesy: Erin Krausman)
No. 7: Hear the elk bugle
Visit Rocky Mountain National Park in the fall to see the herds of elk as the large males gather their harems of cows. The highlight is hearing the bulls "bugle."
Research suggests that some bugles simply communicate that the bull is in the area with his harem, others communicate to the cows that they are straying too far from the bull or otherwise displeasing him and still others communicate to other bulls that they are too close to his harem, and that he is willing and able to defend his cows. Learn more here.
The peak of elk rut in Rocky Mountain National Park generally lasts from mid-September to mid-October.
No. 6: See a moose -- from a distance
While these magnificent animals are beautiful and tend to move very slowly as they eat their way through meadows, you don't want to get anywhere near them. A moose can weigh up to 1,500 pounds and can run more than 30 miles per hour.
Rocky Mountain National Park is a great place to spot a moose. Look for moose in ponds, lakes and places with willows.
Park officials say visitors see moose fairly frequently along Highway 34 in the Kawuneeche Valley. (That's on the west side of the park, near Grand Lake.) However, officials say moose are becoming more frequent on the east side of the park and enjoy riparian (river) areas and lakes.
No. 5: See the fall colors
Bring your camera and visit Rocky Mountain National Park in the fall to see the turning leaves. The trees put on an impressive show on the trail to Alberta Falls, the trail to Lake Bierstadt, even on a drive through the park.
No. 4: Drive Old Fall River Road
Speaking of taking a drive, don't miss the chance to drive Fall River Road. Opened in 1920, Old Fall River Road took visitors to the top of the park before the paved Trail Ridge Road was built.
Old Fall River is a one-way, 11-mile, mostly gravel road that takes visitors past Chasm Falls, past the trailhead for climbing Chapin-Chaquita-Ypisilon mountains and through some incredible scenery. However, the road is only open a few weeks a year in the summer, so you'll have to visit at the right time to enjoy this gem.
If you miss out on the drive, the road is closed to cars in the winter, but open to snowshoeing and skiing.
The road starts near the Alluvial Fan, a waterfall scoured out by the 1982 Lawn Lake Flood and a place worth a stop and short walk.
No. 3: Go for a hike
Speaking of getting out of your car, the best way to see Rocky Mountain National Park is by going for a walk or a hike. While dogs aren't allowed on the trails, there are short hikes for families and long, difficult hikes for fitness buffs and mountain climbers.
The Alpine Visitor Center is the highest facility of its kind in the National Park Service. Sitting at 11,796-feet high, the Alpine Visitor Center is buried under snow for several months a year. However, come May, crews start plowing the road to the Visitor Center and shoveling out the buildings in hopes of opening this high-altitude visitor center to the public.
At the Visitor Center, you'll find bathrooms, a gift shop, a short hiking trail and a snack bar. Colorado hiker Terry Housh recommends the pulled pork or chicken for lunch at the Visitor Center.
The Alpine Visitor Center is typically open from Memorial Day weekend to mid-October, depending on the weather.
Rocky Mountain National Park calls Trail Ridge Road its highway to the sky.
When the road was being built in 1931, Horace Albright, director of the National Park Service, said, "You will have the whole sweep of the Rockies before you in all directions."
Trail Ridge Road is a 48-mile paved road from Estes Park to Grand Lake. Eleven miles of the highway is above treeline and the highway hits a high point at 12,183 feet elevation.
Rocky Mountain National Park says visitors on Trail Ridge Road get, "thrilling views, wildlife sightings and spectacular alpine wildflower exhibitions, all from the comfort of their car."
No matter what you decide to do at Rocky Mountain National Park, you'll see fabulous, unforgettable scenery many people only see on a calendar. Learn more about Rocky Mountain National Park on the park's website.