Rocky Mountain Facts

The Rocky Mountains are a mountain range in western Canada and the United States, extending from the northernmost part of British Columbia to the southernmost point of New Mexico.

The Rocky Mountains were formed when a number of plates began sliding underneath the North American plate and were eroded by glaciers. Humans began living in the mountains at the end of the ice age.

The Rocky Mountains consist of 78 of the 100 highest peaks, including the 30 highest peaks.

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How old are the Rocky Mountains

They formed 55 million to 80 million years ago when several plates moved underneath the North American plate and were sculpted by glaciers and tectonic activity. 

Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Montana, and Utah have the highest peaks in the Rockies.

There are a number of passes such as Kicking Horse Pass and Rogers Pass that formed and used all the time.


In 1752, the mountains were called “Montagnes de Roche” by Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre.


The central Rockies are formed by the Rocky Mountain Trench, the western edge of the Rockies includes the Wasatch and the San Juan Mountains, and the southern edge includes the Bitterroot Mountains and the Sawtooth Mountains.

The Canadian Rockies include the Muskwa Ranges, Hart Ranges (collectively called the Northern Rockies), and Continental Ranges. They do not extend into Yukon, Northwest Territories, or central British Columbia.

In the Rocky Mountains, the Continental Divide of the Americas marks the point at which waters flow to either the Atlantic Ocean or the Pacific Ocean.

The human population is not dense in the Rocky Mountains states, but it increased rapidly between 1950 and 1990 and has doubled in some areas.


A deep-sea deposited limestone and dolomite in western North America during the Paleozoic period.

The Ancestral Rocky Mountains were formed by mountain-building during the Pennsylvanian.

For over 350 million years, terranes began colliding with the western edge of North America, causing the Antler orogeny.

The Canadian Rockies arose from the Laramide orogeny, which was analogous to pushing a rug on a hardwood floor.

Scientists believe the Rocky Mountains in the United States were formed as a result of a shallow angle between the Farallon Plate and the North American plate.

The current southern Rockies were created through sedimentary remnants of the Ancestral Rocky Mountains. The sedimentary remnants were tilted along with steep angles along the flanks of the current range.

Recent glacial episodes in the Rockies include the Pinedale Glaciation, which occurred from 15,000-20,000 years ago.

All of these geological processes exposed complex rocks to the surface. The San Juan Mountains contain volcanic rock from the Paleogene and Neogene periods.

Ecology and climate

Ecologists divide the Rocky Mountain into biotic zones, with the Great Plains being above the treeline for the Rocky Mountains and the Alpine tundra occurring above the treeline.

The USGS defines ten different forest zones in the Rocky Mountains based on the presence of pinyon pines/junipers, ponderosa pines, or oak mixed with pines in the southern and warmer regions.

The Rocky Mountains are home to many well-known animals.

The status of many species in the Rocky Mountains is unknown, but the European-American settlement of the mountains has adversely impacted native species.


For thousands of years prior to European contact, the Rocky Mountain region was inhabited by Native Americans from various tribes, including the Apaches, Arapahos, Blackfeet, Cheyennes, Crows,

European exploration

The Spanish explorer Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, along with his soldiers, missionaries, and African slaves, marched into the Rocky Mountain region. The French fur traders Pierre and Paul Mallet discovered a range of mountains at the headwaters of the Platte River.

On July 20, 1793, Alexander MacKenzie became the first European to cross the Rocky Mountains and reach Bella Coola.

Lewis and Clark collected specimens from the Rocky Mountains to support contemporary botanists, zoologists, and geologists.

From 1720 to 1800, mountain men sought out mineral deposits and furs and established trading posts in the Rocky Mountains, including the North West Company’s Rocky Mountain House in 1799.

The United States and the UK agreed to share lands further west to the Pacific Ocean in the Anglo-American Convention of 1818.


Fur traders and explorers established fur trading posts in the Rockies south of the 49th parallel after 1802, including William Henry Ashley, Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, John Colter, Thomas Fitzpatrick, Andrew Henry, and Jedediah Smith.

Among British and American diplomats, the Oregon Dispute played an important role in the geopolitical diplomacy between the British Empire and the new American republic.

Thousands crossed the Rocky Mountains in the 1840s, the Mormons settled near the Great Salt Lake in 1847, gold was discovered from 1859 to 1864, and the first national parks were established, including Yellowstone National Park and Jasper National Park in Canada.


The Rocky Mountains have many economic resources, including coal, natural gas, oil shale, and petroleum. Several coal mines exist in the Rocky Mountains.

Abandoned mines with toxic wastes and mine tailings dot the Rocky Mountain landscape. One major example of mining effects is a zinc mine in the Eagle River in north-central Colorado.

The Rocky Mountains contain large amounts of coalbed methane, which is separated from the coal bed by dewatering or by using water to fracture the coal to release the gas.


Every year, millions of tourists from around the world visit the scenic areas of the Rocky Mountains.

Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park contains several ski resorts in the Columbia Mountains and Glacier National Park in Montana.