The Rocky Mountains are a vast and varied playground. Every year, the mountain range attracts hundreds of thousands of skiers, mountain bikers, and outdoor enthusiasts who come to explore the 3,000 miles of trails that wind through the peaks and valleys.
The Rocky Mountains divide North America in two, with the aptly named Continental Divide running right down the center. There are 13 National Parks in the Rocky Mountains, with 9 in the US and 4 in Canada.
Whether you’re looking for an adrenaline rush or a peaceful hike in nature, these National Parks will leave you in awe of the beauty of the Rocky Mountains.
The Rocky Mountains, often known as the Rockies, span 3,000 miles from western Canada to the US states of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona.
The Canadian Rocky Mountains are home to Athabasca Glacier, the most-visited glacier in North America. However, for the past 125 years, the Athabasca Glacier has been receding or melting.
The melting glacier has left a moonscape of jagged moraines in its wake, having lost half its volume and retreating more than 1.5 kilometers. The Glacier View Lodge recently opened across from the Athabasca Glacier and offers guests a thrilling view of the area in addition to private excursions.
Because the Rocky Mountains stretch for 3,000 miles, six states, and two nations, it’s no surprise that there are a lot of fantastic national parks in the Rocky Mountains. The contiguous national parks of Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho offer some of the most beautiful scenery and outdoor adventure opportunities in all of Canada.
Spanning more than 2650 square kilometers, Banff National Park is Canada’s oldest national park, established in 1885. The park is located in the province of Alberta and is the most visited National Park in Canada.
It’s not surprising that tourists flock to Banff National Park, with the breathtaking Lake Louise, the stunning views from downtown Banff, the epic Banff hikes, and the popular Instagram spot Moraine Lake.
There is no shortage of things to do in Banff National Park and spending time amongst the Canadian Rockies occupies a spot on many tourists’ bucket lists.
The largest national park in the Canadian Rockies, Jasper National Park spans more than 11000 square kilometers. Located in the province of Alberta, Jasper is Canada’s second most-visited National Park.
Jasper is known for its gorgeous wildlife, with elk, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats often spotted in the park. The town of Jasper is a popular tourist destination in itself, with a charming downtown area and a variety of outdoor activities to enjoy.
The Fairmont’s Jasper Park Lodge is one of the most iconic hotels in the Canadian Rockies and is located right within Jasper National Park. In addition, the stunning Lac Beauvert, located right next to the Jasper Park Lodge, is one of the most photographed lakes in Canada with its sparkling emerald green water.
Located in the province of British Columbia, Kootenay National Park spans more than 1400 square kilometers. The park is known for its dramatic mountain scenery, turquoise glacial lakes, and hot springs.
One of the most popular things to do in Kootenay National Park is to hike the Stanley Glacier trail, which takes you right up to the edge of a massive glacier. Another must-do activity in Kootenay National Park is to soak in the Radium Hot Springs, some of the hottest springs in Canada.
The smallest of the four contiguous Rocky Mountain national parks, Yoho National Park spans more than 1200 square kilometers. The park is located in British Columbia and is known for its dramatic waterfalls, towering peaks, and alpine meadows.
Yoho National Park is home to Takakkaw Falls, which at 380 meters high, is Canada’s second-highest waterfall. The park also boasts the towering President Range, which includes 11 peaks that are more than 3000 meters tall.
For a truly unique experience, visitors can do a fossil tour and see some of the 500-million-year-old fossils that have been found in the park.
There are nine US National Parks that include the Rocky Mountains range. Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Parks are most notable, but seven other parks offer unique experiences and scenery.
Established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park is located in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. The park spans more than 8983 square kilometers and is home to the Old Faithful geyser.
With almost 300 waterfalls, Yellowstone is one of the best places in the US to see a waterfall. The park is also home to a large variety of wildlife, including bison, elk, grizzly bears, and wolves.
Visitors to Yellowstone can go on ranger-led walks and talks, participate in Junior Ranger programs or go on a backcountry hike. Popular things to see in Yellowstone include Lower Yellowstone Falls, Grand Prismatic Springs, the Lamar Valley, and Mammoth Hot Springs.
Established in 1915, Rocky Mountain National Park is located in Colorado and spans more than 1070 square kilometers. The park is home to Longs Peak, the tallest mountain in the park at more than 4300 meters.
Rocky Mountain National Park is a popular destination for hikers, with more than 350 miles of hiking trails to explore. The park also has a variety of scenic drives that offer stunning views of the mountains.
Popular things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park are driving Trail Ridge Road, heading to the Forest Canyon Outlook, admire Bear Lake and Alberta Falls.
Established in 1929, Grand Teton National Park is located in Wyoming and spans more than 310,000 acres. The park is home to the Grand Teton, the tallest mountain in the park at more than 4000 meters.
Grand Teton National Park is a popular destination for climbers hoping to reach the top of one of the iconic peaks. The park also has a variety of hiking trails and scenic drives.
Popular things to do in Grand Teton National Park are driving the 42-mile scenic drive, visiting Inspiration Point and Hidden Falls, kayaking on Jenny Lake, and heading to Schwabacher Landing for an epic view of the Teton Mountain range.
Established in 1910, Glacier National Park is located in Montana and spans more than 1 million acres. The park is home to about 25 glaciers, including Grinnell Glacier, one of the most popular trails.
The park also has a variety of scenic drives that offer stunning views of the glaciers. Take the Going-to-the-sun for one of the most beautiful drives in the US. Other popular things to do are horseback riding in Lake Mcdonald Valley, clinging to the cliffs while hiking on the Highline Trail, or riding the vintage Red Bus tour.
Established in 1939, Badlands National Park is located in South Dakota and spans more than 982 square kilometers. The park is known for its unique geologic formations and wildlife, including bison, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn.
Popular things to do in Badlands National Park include:
- Driving the Badlands Loop Road.
- Heading to Pinnacles overlook.
- Watching a sunrise over the Badlands.
- Taking the Notch Trail for a short but fun adventure.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, established in 1933, is located in Colorado and spans more than 124 square kilometers. The park is known for its steep cliffs and deep gorges carved by the Gunnison River.
Things to do in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park include:
- Driving the South Rim Road.
- Hiking the Oak Flat Loop Trail (which is NOT flat!).
- Stargazing under the night sky.
- Doing a boat tour on the Gunnison River.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, established in 2004, is located in Colorado and spans more than 344 square kilometers. The park is known for its massive sand dunes, some of which are more than 750 feet high.
At Great Sand Dunes National Park, you can walk on the dunes, hike the tallest dune in North America, go sandboarding or sand sledding, drive the Medano Pass Primitive Road, or camp overnight in the backcountry under the stars.
Established in 1978, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is located in North Dakota and covers more than 70,446 acres across three units. The park is named after US President Theodore Roosevelt, an avid outdoorsman who helped establish the national park system.
The Little Missouri River flows through all three units within the park, and there are many popular things to do. Hike to the Petrified Forest in the South Unit, take the Scenic Drive in the North Unit, or enjoy the solitude in the Elkhorn Ranch Unit.
Established in 1903, Wind Cave National Park is located in South Dakota and spans more than 114 square kilometers. The park is known for its unique geologic formations, including one of the world’s longest caves.
You will want to do a cave tour when you visit. Still, other popular things include:
- Seeing bison along SD-87 and US-385.
- Visiting the natural entrance of Wind Cave.
- Hiking one of the extraordinary trails like the Rankin Ridge Trail.
The Rocky Mountains sit on many tourists’ bucket lists for a reason. Instead of a hotel stay at a ranch and experience living in wide open spaces while you visit the National Parks. With so many incredible national parks to explore in the Rocky Mountains, it’s impossible to see everything in just one trip. However, once you experience these spectacular mountains, the lure of the Rockies will keep you coming back again and again.
This article by Cassandra Karpiak of Karpiak Caravan Adventure Family Travel originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks and, was republished with permission.
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