• A translucent blanket of clouds hangs over the snowy continental divide above Bear Lake Road. NPS Photo by VIP Olsen

    Rocky Mountain

    National Park Colorado

History & Culture

The lands now known as Rocky Mountain National Park have been home to humans for at least ten thousand years. The landscape reflects the culture of the people who have walked it, from Native Americans to the modern visitor. The history and culture of Rocky Mountain National Park is dynamic and engaging. Exploring the past can tell us things about our present and future. In the Organic Act of 1916, the legislation that created the National Park Service, nature and culture were to be protected side by side. Check out the pages below to learn more about the people, places, and stories of Rocky Mountain National Park.

 
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Arapahoe at Rocky Mountain National Park; Toll Expedition, 1913.

NPS, ROMO 10235, Lantern Slide Collection.

People

Humans were walking the landscape of Rocky Mountain National Park, long before Woodrow Wilson signed the park into law on January 26, 1915. There is evidence of human occupation from 10,000 years ago! Many different cultures have staked their claim on the landscape at one point or another, from Native Americans to Euro-American settlers. Today, the National Park Service maintains the land and its rich cultural heritage.

 
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Holzwarth Historic Site (previously Never Summer Ranch) with Johnnie Holzwarth on the right.

ROMO Digital Image Archives, 12454.

Places


Rocky Mountain National Park has been a destination before the United States of America was even an idea. Human evidence surfaces in a range of places within park boundaries from the highest peaks and the lowest valleys. Archaeological and historic sites serve as a record of human activity. Historic buildings reveal the story of recreation and that of the National Park Service.

 
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Ranger campfire program.

ROMO Digital Image Archives, 6704

Stories


In the early 1900s, passion to conserve the area began to spread to Congress from chambers of commerce, conservationists, women's clubs, Enos Mills, Colorado Mountain Club, and R. B. Marshall of the U.S. Geological Survey. Congress heard opposition from the Front Range Settlers League of Estes Park, ranchers, cattlemen, and even miners. This controversy finally resulted in the formation of the national park in 1915. This decision to administer the lands as a national park has led to the recording of events that came before and events that came after. The stories of early native peoples, explorers, ranchers, Civilian Conservation Corps, mountaineering, search and rescue, wilderness designation, fire ecology, and the biology of the flora and fauna can all be discovered through ranger programs, oral histories, publications and government reports, artifacts, and even natural history specimens.

 
Curated butterflies

Natural History Specimens curated at ROMO

NPS Photo

Collections


The museum, archival, and library collections consist of both prehistoric and historic cultural artifacts, Artist-in-Residence materials, biological and geological specimens, and documentary artifacts such as publications, manuscripts, photographs, and oral histories that document human use of the land and record changes such as climate data and flora and fauna records. About 710 of these items are on exhibit throughout the park at visitor centers and the Holzwarth Historic Site. The curator also maintains online exhibits on the Preservation page.

Did You Know?