The Rocky Mountains are an iconic North American mountain range. From breathtaking peaks and vast alpine meadows to cascading waterfalls and diverse wildlife, the Rockies offer a fascinating natural world.
In this article, we delve into the wonders of the Rocky Mountains and discover 35 remarkable facts that make them a must-visit destination.
Let’s get started!
1. The Rocky Mountains, known locally as “the Rockies”, are the largest mountain range in North America. The Rockies stretch 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometers) from British Columbia and Alberta in Canada southward almost all the way to the US-Mexico border.
2. The Rocky Mountains were named by the Cree natives that lived near the mountain range. The name “as-sin-wati” means “rocky mountain”.
3. The Rocky Mountains extend through parts of seven different US states. These states are Washington, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico. Collectively, they are called the “mountain states”. The state flags of Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Idaho have images of mountains, or colors that represent the Rocky Mountains, on them.
4. The Rocky Mountains started forming around 80 million years ago during the Laramide Orogeny. During this period, a number of plates began sliding underneath the North American plate. At the time, dinosaurs like T-Rex and Triceratops ruled the region.
5. Several national parks and protected areas lie within the Rockies. These include Rocky Mountain National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and Glacier National Park in the US and Jasper National Park, Banff National Park, Waterton Lakes National Park, Kootenay National Park, and Yoho National Park in Canada.
6. The region is home to various Indigenous peoples who have inhabited the Rockies for thousands of years. Each group of Indigenous people has its own distinct traditions, languages, and histories.
7. The tallest peak in the Rockies is Mount Elbert, towering at an impressive 4,401 meters (14,440 feet) above sea level. It’s located in Colorado, USA, and is almost half the size of Mount Everest (8,849 meters or 29,032 feet tall). The tallest mountain the Canadian Rockies is Mount Robson, at 3954 meters (12,972 feet). Both Canada and the US have taller mountains, but in other ranges.
8. The width of the Rocky Mountains varies quite a lot. At their widest point, the range spans over 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) from east to west (that’s almost four times wider than Chile!) Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park and Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada are the narrowest part, less than half as wide as the widest point. The spot is sometimes called the “Crown of the Continent”.
9. The exact volume of the Rocky Mountains is difficult to determine due to variations in height and width along its vast span. However, it’s estimated to have a total volume of approximately 1,845,900 cubic kilometers (442,300 cubic miles). For reference, the entire Sydney Harbor in Sydney, Australia is only half of one cubic kilometer.
10. The Rocky Mountains are one of the largest mountain ranges in the world, but they are dwarfed in size by some other notable ranges. The Andes hold the title of the longest mountain range, stretching over 7,000 kilometers (4,300 miles), while the Himalayas is the highest mountain range, with 14 peaks standing over 8,000 meters tall.
11. From the Rockies, water flows west to the Pacific and east to the Atlantic. In other words, the Rocky Mountains serve as the backbone of North America, forming the Continental Divide.
12. The Rocky Mountains are part of a larger mountain system called the North American Cordillera, which extends from Alaska to Mexico. This system includes several other mountain ranges and plateaus. Alaska and adjacent Yukon territory in Canada is where you’ll find the two countries’ tallest mountains.
13. The Rockies are a treasure trove of geological wonders, showcasing fascinating formations like the Garden of the Gods in Colorado, hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park, and the turquoise lakes of Banff National Park.
14. The Canadian Rockies also boast stunning icefields and glaciers, including the Columbia Icefield, Peyto Glacier, and Gannett Glacier. Columbia Icefield of the Athabasca Glacier in Canada is the most accessible and visited glacier in North America.
15. The Rockies were heavily influenced by glacial activity. This left behind stunning landscapes such as U-shaped valleys, cirques, and glacial lakes like Moraine Lake and Lake Louise in Canada.
16. This mountain range has yielded numerous paleontological discoveries, including well-preserved dinosaur fossils. The Dinosaur National Monument, located in Colorado and Utah, showcases an extensive collection.
17. The Rockies experience opposite temperature extremes throughout the year. This means you could be suntanning in a bikini or dog sledding in the same spot, depending on the time of the year.
18. Temperatures plummet as you go up in the Rockies. Generally, as you ascend in elevation, temperatures tend to drop by about 1°C (1.8°F) for every 180 meters (590 feet) gained.
19. There are also distinct microclimates within the range. For example, it’s possible to be wearing shorts, sunglasses, and tank top in one valley, then face a snow storm in the next one.
20. The Rocky Mountains are home to a remarkable array of wildlife, including elk, moose, bighorn sheep, black bears, grizzly bears, and mountain lions. The region is also home to numerous smaller mammals, such as beavers, porcupines, marmots, pikas, red foxes, coyotes, and various species of squirrels and chipmunks.
21. The Rockies support a diverse bird population, including raptors like golden eagles, bald eagles, and red-tailed hawks. Other notable species include mountain bluebirds, Clark’s nutcrackers, white-tailed ptarmigans, and various species of woodpeckers and songbirds.
22. The Rocky Mountains are also home to a variety of fish species. Common species include trout (such as rainbow, brown, and brook trout), salmon, grayling, and whitefish.
23. The Rockies boast a diverse range of plant species, adapted to the mountainous environment. The range is covered in Alpine meadows, coniferous forests, and aspen groves. Wildflowers found in the region include lupins, Indian paintbrush, and fireweed.
24. In 2021, a new plant species was discovered in the Rockies. The plant was called the Wishbone Moonwart and is fern-like.
25. Rocky Mountain National Park is the most visited park in the US Rockies, while Banff is the most visited in Canada. Together, these two parks alone receive 9 million visitors per year, or 4.5 million each.
26. In the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, the first of its kind in the world (shared by two countries), hikers can trek from Canada to America – there’s even a border crossing guard on the trail!
27. The Rockies offer extensive hiking trails. The most famous of these is the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), which spans approximately 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) along the Rocky Mountain range from Mexico to Canada.
28. The Rocky Mountains are renowned for their world-class ski resorts, including Vail, Aspen, Jackson Hole, Lake Louise, and Fernie, attracting winter sports enthusiasts.
29. The Rockies offer incredible scenic drives, such as the Trail Ridge Road in Colorado, Going-to-the-Sun Road in Montana, and Icefields Parkway in Canada, allowing visitors to soak in panoramic views.
30. The Rockies has a rich mining history, particularly during the Colorado Gold Rush. Gold, silver, and other mineral deposits attracted prospectors from across America and helped shape local communities.
31. British stuntman Simon Crane earned a Guinness World Record for performing the most expensive stunt in history in the Rocky Mountains. He performed a daring plane-to-plane zipline walk for the film “Cliffhanger” (1993) which cost more than $1,000,000.
32. The 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, was a frequent visitor to the Rockies. Roosevelt’s dedication to preserving natural spaces led to the establishment of national parks, including Rocky Mountain National Park.
33. The late singer-songwriter John Denver was closely associated with the Rocky Mountains and frequently referenced the region in his music. His love for the mountains inspired songs like “Rocky Mountain High“.
34. The renowned landscape photographer Ansel Adams captured stunning images of the Rocky Mountains. His black-and-white photographs of national parks and wilderness areas, including those in the Rockies, are iconic.
35. The Rocky Mountains have been the backdrop for various movies and TV shows. Some of the most popular include “Jeremiah Johnson” (1972), “The Shining” (1980), “Dances with Wolves” (1990), “Brokeback Mountain” (2005), and “The Revenant” (2015).