Rocky Mountain National Park boasts 191 craggy peaks within its 415 square miles—113 of them more than 10,000 feet and 78 above 12,000 feet. The granddaddy of them all, Longs Peak (14,255 feet), most likely inspired the well-known lyrics that celebrate America’s purple mountains’ majesty. Views of these peaks are unsurpassed on the Trail Ridge Road, billed as the highest continuous highway in the United States, raising to over 12,000 feet at its apex. Built in 1932 along the route of an old Indian path across the Continental Divide, this is a road trip extraordinaire, offering unsurpassed, sometimes dizzying vistas.
More than 350 miles of gentle nature trails give visitors the opportunity to get off the always busy Trail Ridge Road and into the solitude of the park’s splendid backcountry, with its cool, dense forests, rushing streams, glacier-gouged lakes, and alpine meadows. The entire park is a wildlife refuge, with some creatures proving to be elusive (like the bobcat and mountain lion), while others are more commonplace—like elk, mule deer, and the bighorn (or Rocky Mountain) sheep, which has become the park’s emblem.
There are no accommodations within the park, but 3 miles from the eastern entrance is Estes Park and the well-known Stanley Hotel, inspiration for Stephen King’s spine-tingling thriller The Shining, much of which was written by the vacationing author in room 217. Built in 1909 by F. 0. Stanley, who coinvented the Stanley Steamer automobile, this neoclassical-Georgian member of the National Register of Historic Places is all about its gorgeous setting, rich historic ambience, and sweeping views of Lake Estes and the Continental Divide.