Trail Ridge -- Many Parks Cruve

The imprint of ice.

Much of the surrounding scenery was shaped by glacial ice over 15,000 year ago. During that time, the cold climate allowed glaciers to form in mountain recesses high above. Eventually, all of the major canyons in and around Rocky Mountain National Park were filled with tongues of ice, some to a depth of 1,500 feet. As these frozen tributaries descended to lower elevations, they scoured and polished the landscape, creating the striated slopes and u-shaped canyons.

In the valleys below, glaciers formed a massive plug 200 feet thick and more than 8 miles long. These icy giants dominated the scene until approximately 13,000 to 14,000 years ago when a warming climate caused the glaciers to begin their retreat. Vast quantities of debris released by melting ice formed huge mounts called moraines. In Moraine Park these features appear as long, three covered ridges.

Though the ancient glaciers have long since wasted away, imprints of their passing remain as some of the most spectacular scenery in North America.

About Glaciers.

Glaciers began as snowfields high above the thaw line. As these snowfields become deeper, they compact into granular masses of ice. Gradually these ice fields thicken until their own internal weight, combined with gravity, causes them to flow as glaciers.

Glaciers shaped the landscape by plucking, shearing and compressing as they move. Movement inside the ice mass is always forward, so the collected debris is always carried toward the front, adding to the glacier's abrasive power.

Though glaciers may last for thousands of years, the ice may actually be only hundreds of years old. The ice constantly being replenished from above, lasting as long as it take to move from the cirque to the front of the glacier. It crawls from several inches to several feet per day.

When glaciers recede faster than they advance, they release a vast amount of rock, sand and other debris, which was picked up along the way. When left in elongated piles, the material forms the lateral and end moraines, the latter marking the farthest point reached by the ice fields.

What you can see:

  1. Deer Mountain (10,013)
  2. Eagle Cliff (8,906)
  3. Twin Sisters (11,413)
  4. Moraine Park
  5. Estes Cone (11,006)
  6. Mt Lady Washington (13,281)
  7. Mount Meeker (13,911)
  8. Longs Peak (14,255)
  9. Storm Peak (13,326)
  10. Pagoda Mountain (13,497)
  11. Chiefs Head Peak (13,579)
  12. Mc Henrys Peak (13,327)
  13. Powell Peak (13,208)


From their origins in the high country, mighty mountain glaciers advanced time and again during the past two million years to reshape the land. The tree-covered ridges before you are the lateral moraines of glacial debris pushed or deposited to the sides of glaciers during the past 150,000 Years. More ancient glaciers did their work here too, but there is little evidence of their passing.

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