First Lady of the Rockies: Estes Park Celebrates Isabella Bird

Longs Peak. Photo courtesy of G. Lamar via Flickr.

150 years ago, Isabella Bird arrived in Estes Park in her Hawaiian riding dress and summited the notorious 14er, Longs Peak. The prolific writer and explorer paved a path for women in the outdoors and put the Colorado Rockies on the map in a big way. We say that calls for celebration. See how Estes Park celebrates Isabella Bird this year!

Isabella Bird on a horse, Estes Park celebrates Isabella Bird.
Photo courtesy of Jo Woolf of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.

In honor of the “First Lady of the Rockies,” Estes Park is hosting an array of events and festivities that you can enjoy this summer. First on the list is the Longs Peak Reunion this weekend, August 18-20. Beginning with a free concert at Performance Park on Friday, a symposium on Saturday recounting historic events on the Longs Peak Trail, including a presentation on Isabella Bird and a picnic at Meeker Park Lodge to wrap up the weekend. While you’re up there, you can follow in Bird’s path and hike the Longs Peak Trail… Maybe even in a dress. Learn more here

Throughout the rest of summer and into fall, Estes Park will also host the Bettie Courses for women and conservation. In memory of Beatrice “Bettie” Willard, an inspiring leader at the Rocky Mountain Conservancy in the mid-1900s, each course will focus on connecting women in conservation efforts through educational and outdoor experiences. Gain confidence in ventures like hiking, climbing and fly fishing with other like-minded women. You can sign up here

It doesn’t stop there. The Rocky Mountain Conservancy is also offering Women of Rocky History tours starting mid-September. The program will take you on a scenic bus tour through Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, highlighting the influence that homesteading women like Isabella Bird, Anna Wolfrom, Ida McCreery and many more had on this iconic area. Grab your tickets here

A Bit More on Isabella Bird

Estes Park celebrates Isabella Bird
Isabella Bird. Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountain National Park via Facebook.

An independent-minded adventurer, Isabella Bird defied societal conventions before they were even recognized as such. She was a British travel writer who documented her experiences in vast lands across the world. As she journeyed, she did so in the most badass manner possible, with confidence and without fear. In 1892, she was the first woman to become a member of the Royal Geographical Society.  

Growing up in Victorian-era Britain, Bird was often ill, suffering from insomnia and chronic headaches. In 1873, she came to Colorado because she heard the fresh mountain air would bring her health and relief. Once here, she settled in Estes Park and went on to explore 800 miles of the Rocky Mountains. She did so with the notorious one-eyed bandit, “Rocky Mountain Jim” Nugent. They were rumored to be illicit lovers, but the world may never know. During her time in Colorado, she became one of the first women to summit Longs Peak. Her book, A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, was an archive of her experiences told through letters she sent to her sister in Britain. 

“Bird’s achievements are still relevant because they show what a lone woman can do,” says Paula Williams, Curator for the National Library of Scotland. “There are still many parts of the world where an individual woman is constrained by society — whether through religion or convention. By being curious, interested in your surroundings and kind and courteous to other people, you can make your own way in the world.” 

Through her magnetizing writings, Bird shed light on Estes Park and Rocky National Park, making it a must-see destination for people across the world. Her spirit of adventure, her ability to capture beautiful moments in time and her fearlessness to break barriers make the name Isabella Bird, one to remember.

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