Founding of Rocky Mountain National Park

Learn about early protection of the land that would become Rocky Mountain National Park, and the steps that were taken to establish the national park for future generations to enjoy.

In the late 1800s our nation began to realize the devastating impacts of unbridled logging, mining, hunting, and ranching on western lands. As a result, the United States government formed the US Forest Service, which oversaw the issuing of permits for business activities on public land. This helped to reduce some of the impact but still made even the most delicate lands available for commercial use.

In the little community that would become Estes Park, residents felt the protections didn’t go far enough and decided that the area should be designated a national park to ensure that this fragile and inspirational place would be protected and preserved. At the time this was a very new concept with only a small number of parks in existence.

Moraine Morning
Moraine Park

Enos Mills, a local guide and lodge owner spearheaded the movement to create Rocky Mountain National Park. Years were spent battling competing interests such as mining and logging operations, settlers, ranchers, and even the US Forest Service. There were so many who wanted to extract what they could from the land.

The initial proposal for the national park stretched from the Wyoming Border in the north down to near where I-70 runs today and from the town of Lyons at the edge of the Great Plains in the east across to the Never Summer Mountains in the west, an area spanning one thousand square miles (1609 sq km). After five years of debate the size was considerably reduced and in January of 1915 President Woodrow Wilson signed the 360 square mile (579 sq. km) park into law. The official dedication of Rocky Mountain National Park took place later that year in Horseshoe Park on the afternoon of September 4, 1915. Since then, the park has slowly grown to around 415 square miles (668 sq. km) through property acquisitions.