109 Years of Rocky Mountain National Park

The Aspire Team
January 30, 2024

January 26, 2024, marks 109 years of our favorite, the mighty Rocky Mountain National Park! As we raise our glasses to toast the anniversary, let's explore the park's history, far more than 100 years in the making.

Founding Rocky Mountain National Park

Picture this: it’s January 26, 1915. President Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States drew his signature onto a bill that birthed the 10th American National Park, what we know today as Rocky Mountain. This act set aside 415 square miles of Colorado's unique ecosystems, wildlife, geological wonders, and pristine wilderness for protection, for future generations to enjoy.

This marked the realization of a longtime dream held by conservationists and nature aficionados alike. One of these conservationists leading the movement was Enos Mills, a naturalist and writer who dedicated his life to ensuring that the splendors of the Rockies would endure for future adventurers. Without Mills’ tireless efforts and advocacy work, there’s no guarantee that RMNP would be what it is today. 

Rocky Mountain National Park Opening. September 4, 1915. Photo: University of Southern California

Geological Marvels 80 Million Years in the Making

While the park was designated only a little over a century ago, the Rocky Mountains themselves have existed for much, much longer. The geological story of the park began about 80 million years ago when the uplifting forces of the Earth's crust started shaping these majestic peaks. For a deeper dive that’s beyond our capabilities to properly explain, check out this breakdown from the US Geological Society.

Indigenous Roots and Human History in the Rockies

Indigenous peoples are deeply connected with these ancient mountains, primarily the Ute peoples, who have occupied the land for some 11,000 years. Other tribes including the Arapaho, Eastern Shoshone, Apache, Comanche, and Cheyenne have also traversed the area. These indigenous peoples were true stewards of the land, making use of the area’s diverse ecosystems, green valleys, tundra meadows, and crystal lakes.

Photo: Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Denver Public Library

The arrival of European explorers, fur trappers, and settlers in the late 1700s brought significant changes to the region. Spanish explorers and French fur trappers made incursions into the area, impacting the traditional lifestyles of the indigenous communities and causing territorial disputes. More settlers ventured into the area after the Louisiana Purchase made the Rockies officially part of the US in 1803. 

The 1800s saw a complex interplay of exploration, settlement, and the encroachment of the Utes' traditional territories as pioneers and prospectors came to Colorado for the gold rush of 1859. Fortunately, after the park's establishment in the 20th century, the national conservation movement gained momentum, leading to increased recognition of the importance of the cultural heritage of the indigenous peoples who had long called this region home.

Today, trails once used by both the tribes in the area including Trail Ridge Road serve as essential transportation routes in the park. 

The Legacy Continues

As we celebrate 109 years of Rocky Mountain National Park, we honor those who envisioned this haven of natural beauty. The legacy invites us to explore, learn, and become stewards of this wilderness paradise.

So, whether you're a seasoned park enthusiast or a first-time visitor, let the spirit of adventure guide you through the rich geological history and untamed landscapes of Rocky Mountain National Park. It's a place where echoes of the past harmonize with the rustling leaves and rushing streams, creating a symphony of nature as timeless as the peaks themselves. 

At Aspire Tours, we’re proud to offer epic excursions into Rocky Mountain National Park every day of the year. Join us for a full day of sightseeing or hiking with expert, local guides. Our guides are among the most knowledgeable people out there when it comes to Rocky Mountain National Park – we even have a geologist in our midst! If you’re looking for more than just sights and sounds, we’ve got the added value for you. That’s the Aspire difference!

Book your sightseeing tour in Rocky!
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Happy 109th birthday, Rocky Mountain National Park!


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