Rocky Mountains, Colorado

Rocky Mountains

Also referred to as the “Rockies”, the Rocky Mountains are a significant mountain range that dominates the western part of the North American continent. The Rocky Mountains extend for a distance of about 4,800km and are considered North America’s largest mountain system. The Rocky Mountains are bordered by the Great Plains on the east; and by the Canadian Coast Mountains, the Interior Plateau, the Columbia Plateau, and the Basin and Range Province of the United States on the west.


Rocky Mountains
Rocky Mountains in Colorado, United States. 

The Rocky Mountains stretch from the northernmost portion of Western Canada to the State of New Mexico in the southwestern United States. The mountain range passes through the US States of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, and New Mexico, and the Canadian Provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. The Rocky Mountains contain more than 100 individual mountain ranges which are further organized into four broad groups. These groups include:

The Canadian Rockies

Rocky Mountains
Rocky Mountains and Moraine Lake, Alberta, Canada. 

The Canadian Rockies extends southeastwards for about 1,600km from the northern part of the Canadian Province of British Columbia and forms a major part of the natural boundary between the Canadian Provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. Located within the Mount Robson Provincial Park in the Canadian Province of British Columbia is Mount Robson, which rises to an elevation of 3,954m and is the highest point in the Canadian Rockies. The Canadian Rockies are further divided into three major groups: the Continental Ranges and the Muskwa and the Hart Ranges that are collectively known as the Northern Rockies. The Northern Rockies also include the Lewis and Bitterroot ranges in the western part of the US State of Montana and the northeastern part of the US State of Idaho. The Rocky Mountain Trench forms the western boundary of the Canadian Rockies and separates the Columbia Mountains from the front ranges of the Canadian Rockies.

Rocky Mountains
Mount Robson in the Canadian Rockies. 

The Middle Rockies

The Middle Rockies include the La Sal Mountain Ranges that are located along the boundary between the US States of Utah and Colorado; the Uinta Mountain range of the US States of Utah and Wyoming; and the Teton Mountain Range of the US States of Wyoming and Idaho. The Absaroka Range extends from northwestern Wyoming into Montana and acts as a link between the Middle and the Northern Rockies. The Central ranges of the Rockies are characterized by high mountain peaks with glacial tops.

The Southern Rockies

The Southern Rockies are found in the US States of Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah. The mountain ranges that form a part of the Southern Rockies include the Front Range and the Wet and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains along the eastern slopes and the San Juan Mountains, the Sawatch ranges, the Park and Gore ranges on the western slopes. These eastern and western ranges are separated by many high basins including the San Luis Valley, the Arkansas River Valley, and the North Park.

Rocky Mountains
Mount Elbert. 

The mountain ranges of the Southern Rockies are comparatively much higher than the Northern and Middle Rockies. Located in the Sawatch Mountain range in the US State of Colorado is Mount Elbert, which rises to an elevation of 4,401.2m and is the highest point in Colorado as well as the entire Rocky Mountains.

The Colorado Plateau

The Colorado Plateau Province is a physiographic region of Intermontane Plateaus that is mainly centered on the Four Corners Region in the southwestern part of the United States. It includes parts of the US States of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah.

Rocky Mountains
Loveland Pass in Rocky Mountains, Colorado. 

The Rocky Mountains vary in width from less than 100km in the Canadian Rockies to about 600km in the Middle Rockies. Of the100 highest mountain peaks ocated in the Rocky Mountains, 78 high peaks are located in Colorado,10 in Wyoming, 6 in New Mexico, 3 in Montana, and 1 in Utah. The Western Continental Divide runs through the crests of the Rocky Mountains in northwestern Canada and the continental United States. The Continental Divide serves as a hydrological divide separating the waters that flow into the Pacific Ocean from the waters that drain into the Arctic or Atlantic Oceans. Located in the Lewis Range of the Rocky Mountains in the Glacier National Park is the Triple Divide Peak, where water falling on the mountain drains into the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans as well as the Hudson Bay.

Rocky Mountains
Hiking towards the Emerald Lake in the Rocky Mounatin National Park, Colorado. 

The mountainous landscape of the Rockies is protected by several national parks including the Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, Waterton Lakes, Yoho, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Sawtooth National Recreation Area, etc. The Rockies are also very popular tourist spots and attract visitors from all over the world. The mountains offer many recreational activities like hiking, mountaineering, camping, mountain biking, snowboarding, skiing, fishing, etc.


The Rocky Mountains form the easternmost part of the North American Cordillera and were formed during the Laramide Orogeny between 80 to 55 million years ago. During this mountain-building period, the ancient Farallon oceanic plate moved underneath the North American Plate at a very low angle. This unusual subduction and strong tectonic activities caused the piling of the crust sheets on top of each other and resulted in the formation of the Rocky Mountains along the western part of the North American continent. Further tectonic activities, erosions, and the glaciers of the Pleistocene and the Holocene Epochs helped in carving out the mountainous landscape and creating the rugged Rocky Mountains. The ice ages also led to the formation of massive glacial landforms, cirques, and U-shaped valleys.

The 15 Highest Peaks Of The Rocky Mountains

Rank Name Height, Meters (Feet) Province or State


Mount Elbert

4401 (14440)



Mount Massive

4398 (14428)



Mount Harvard

4395 (14421)



Blanca Peak

4374 (14351)



La Plata Peak

4372 (14343)



Uncompahgre Peak

4365 (14321)



Crestone Peak

4359 (14300)



Mount Lincoln

4356 (14293)



Castle Peak

4352 (14278)



Grays Peak

4352 (14278)



Mount Antero

4351 (14276)



Mount Evans

4350 (14271)



Longs Peak

4346 (14259)



Mount Wilson

4344 (14252)



Mount Princeton

4329 (14204)



Rocky Mountains
Scenic Winter Views of the Rocky Mountains in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada. 

Two vertical zones exist throughout much of the mountain range. The lower zone is characterized by a ‘cool temperate’ climate with relatively cold winters and cool summers. The higher zone is characterized by a tundra-like climate with severe winters and short and cold summers. The precipitation increases from south to north, where the northern parts receive about thrice the amount of precipitation than that of the south. The major amount of precipitation in the south is received as snowfall during winters while local, afternoon thunderstorms are common during the summers.  


The plant communities of the Rocky Mountains vary greatly according to elevations. The lower elevations are characterized by cottonwoods and other broadleaved deciduous species. The middle elevations are characterized by various trees like aspen, Douglas fir, pinon pine, etc. The subalpine forests are characterized by Engelmann spruce, western red cedar, western hemlock, white spruce, and lodgepole pine. An array of wildflowers like bunchberry, Indian paintbrush, columbine, larkspur, etc. are also found on the mountainous terrain. The tree-line elevation of the Rocky Mountains varies from 3,700m in New Mexico to about 760m at the northern extremity of the Rocky Mountains. Alpine tundra that is characterized by low flowering plants is found in the regions above the tree-line.

Rocky Mountains
North American Elks on Rocky Mountains. 

Some of the notable faunal species that are found in the Rocky Mountains include white-tailed deer, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, elk, moose, grizzly bears, black bears, lynxes, cougars, prairie dogs, squirrels, pika, marmots, beavers, etc. Some of the avian species that have been recorded in the Rocky Mountains include bald eagle, great horned owl, Canadian geese, turkey vulture, peregrine falcon, etc.

Brief History

Archaeological evidences have revealed that humans started to live in the Rockies between 10,000 and 8,000 BCE. The Rocky Mountain area was inhabited by members of various indigenous tribes like the Apache, Shoshone, Cheyenne, Crow Nation, Nez Percé, Blackfoot, Shuswap, Sekani, Kutenai, and others. All these tribes left their indelible marks on the Rockies with their distinctive cultures, artworks, etc. These Paleo-Indians also hunted the ancient bison and mammoths in the valleys and foothills of the Rocky Mountains. In 1793, Sir Alexander Mackenzie became the first European explorer to cross the Rockies. In due course, a series of explorations were carried out by the Anglo-Americans and the discovery of fur and precious minerals led to the beginning of the economic exploitation of the Rocky Mountains. In 1872, the world’s first national park - Yellowstone National Park was established by the US Congress. Subsequently, several national parks and forest reserves were established to protect the mountainous landscape of the Rocky Mountains.  


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