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The call of the Colorado Rockies

By ALLEN HOLDER
The Kansas City Star

TRAVELER'S CHECK | ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

Getting there

Rocky Mountain National Park is in north-central Colorado, about 70 miles northwest of Denver.

From Denver, travel north on Interstate 25 to Loveland, then follow U.S. 34 through Big Thompson Canyon to Estes Park and the national park. Another route: Exit I-25 at Longmont and follow U.S. 36 west.

Round-trip, restricted airfare between Kansas City and Denver recently ran from about $110.

Getting in

A seven-day vehicle permit costs $20. Individual seven-day passes are $10 and sold to pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcycle and moped riders. Annual passes cost $35.

If you're planning to visit several national parks in the next year, an America the Beautiful annual pass costs $80 and permits access to national parks and other federal recreation sites. Call 1-888-ASK-USGSÖ or see store.usgs.gov/passÖ.

A lifetime senior pass for citizens or permanent residents 62 or older costs $10. Lifetime passes for permanently disabled American citizens are free.

Getting around

Free shuttle buses operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily through Sept. 30 along the Bear Lake and Moraine Park loops. The Bear Lake shuttle runs every 10 to 15 minutes. The Moraine Park shuttle runs every 30 minutes. A hiker shuttle runs hourly from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. from the Estes Park Visitors Center. The hiker shuttle season ends Sept. 3.

For shuttle maps check the Rocky Mountain National Park newspapers available at park visitor centers.

Trail Ridge Road, the nation's highest continuous paved road, cresting at an elevation of 12,183 feet, has been under construction this summer, often causing traffic delays. The higher parts of the road usually close for the season in mid-October.

Where to stay

The Estes Park area is filled with lodges, cabins, condos, hotels, bed-and-breakfast inns and chain motels. For a list, contact the convention and visitors bureau at estesparkcvb.com.

The Stanley Hotel, 333 Wonderview Drive, is best-known as the inspiration for Stephen King's classic horror novel The Shining. It was built in 1909 by F.O. Stanley, inventor of the Stanley Steamer automobile. 138 rooms and suites from $169 in mid-September. Daily ghost tours are offered for $10 a person. 800-976-1377, stanleyhotel.com.

Holiday Inn, 101 S. St. Vrain, Estes Park, has 150 guest rooms and suites from about $110 in mid-September, dropping later in the fall. 970-586-2332 or holidayinn.com.

Six drive-in campgrounds are available inside the park. Fees range from $3 a person at group sites to $20 per site at other campgrounds. Most of the campgrounds are first-come, first-served. Call 1-888-448-1474Ö or see recreation.gov.

For information about backcountry camping, call 970-586-1242.

Where to eat

Big Horn Restaurant, 401 W. Elkhorn Ave. American and Italian specialties. Rocky mountain trout, $14.50; New York strip, $16.95; lasagna, $13.75; manicotti, $11.25.

Grubsteak, 134 W. Elkhorn Ave. Burgers and steaks. Ribeye, $23.95; elk sirloin, $26; venison ravioli, $17.50; burgers from $7.10.

Trailhead Restaurant, 3450 Fall River Road. 12-ounce prime rib, $24.95; elk stew, $14.95; bison chili with roasted red peppers, $12.95; mountain man meat loaf, $10.95.

To learn more

Contact Rocky Mountain National Park at 970-586-1206 or nps.gov/romo.

Contact the Estes Park Convention and Visitors Bureau at estesparkcvb.com or 800-44-ESTES.

WATERFALLS

Rocky Mountain National Park is rich with icy streams rushing over the rocks. Many of them feature beautiful waterfalls. Check these out, suggested by “Hiking Adventures in Rocky Mountain National Park” ($1 at visitor centers):

Alberta Falls: 0.9-mile from Glacier Gorge Trailhead, also reachable from Bear Lake.

Fern Falls: 2.7 miles from Fern Lake Trailhead.

Ouzel Falls: 2.7 miles from Wild Basin Trailhead.

Cascade Falls: 3.5 miles from Tonabutu/North Inlet trailheads.

Ribbon Falls: 4.8 miles from Glacker Gorge Trailhead.

GREAT WALKS

Sprague Lake. Hardened half-mile path around lake rewards hikers with views of Otis Peak, Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain. Popular place for catch-and-release fishing.

Bear Lake Nature Trail. Pick up a $2 brochure before proceeding around the lake to learn about history, plant and animal life.

From Bear Lake Trailhead: Follow about 2 miles past Nymph Lake (pictured below), Dream Lake and Emerald Lake. The farther you go, the better the view. Elevation of Emerald Lake is 10,080 feet, about 600 feet higher than Bear Lake.

Lily Lake. South of Estes Park on Colorado 7, this 0.8-mile trail has great views of Glacier Basin, plus wildflowers, waterfowl and Colorado native greenback cutthroat trout.

Ute Trail: Four-plus mile trail downhill from Alpine Visitor Center is known for its display of wildflowers.

ANIMAL WATCH

Elk: About 3,000 live in the park and in the Estes Valley. In summer they move to higher elevations to escape the heat, but you may still find them between dusk and dark on Estes Park golf courses. As the weather cools, they'll become easier to spot. Fall is an especially good time to see herds as breeding season approaches. Look in Horseshoe Park, near the Fall River Visitor Center. They're also very visible, along with mule deer, in winter.

Bighorn sheep, pictured below: About 350 sheep live in the park, including a herd on Bighorn Mountain, near the Fall River Visitor Center. They're most likely to be seen between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., descending the peak and crossing the highway for the mud and water of Sheep Lakes. Be patient.

Moose. “It's rare to see moose on the eastern side of the park, but we definitely see them,” said park information officer Kyle Patterson. They're more likely to be on the park's western side, especially in the Kawuneeche Valley near Grand Lake.

Black bears: Only about 20 live in the park, so your chances of an encounter are slim.

Yellow-bellied marmots: These bristly haired rodents are fun to watch. You may find them in meadows or in aspen and pine woodland areas.

Chipmunks and ground squirrels: They're everywhere and hard to distinguish from one another to casual viewers. One way to tell: Chipmunks have stripes on their faces.

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