By the time we made it to Rocky Mountain National Park via the town of Estes Park, Colorado on our summer road trip, we’d been to:
- South Dakota’s Badlands
- Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains
- Montana’s Beartooth Mountains
- Wyoming’s Wind River Canyon
You would have thought we’d reached the point of saying if you’ve seen one mountain you’ve seen them all. That’s so not true.
Each range, canyon, river, road, trail had something individual and unique to offer us, from the Badlands’ eerie landscape to the Alpine lakes of the Beartooths, to the soaring grandeur of the Rocky Mountains.
Strips of roadway scar the Rockies in the park causing you to think how sad that they are blemished that way—and in the next instance, thinking how exciting that you can drive those roads and see more. The park is 265,000 acres and impossible to traverse it all if you took a week to do it. So the roads get a lot of use, as do the pullouts for picture taking.
Speaking of the roads… When you see wooden poles jutting up from the berms, realize those are snowplow guides for deep winter navigation. The roads are narrow and lack guardrails, often with a steep drop-off looming from the edge.
There was a spot where we two middle-ages folks stood with jaws gaping in awe at the vista sprawling out before us. A family walked up and the somewhere near 16 year-old-boy scoffed, “We paid 20 bucks to see this?” Yes, the redhead in me wanted to turn around and slap some sense into him. Or the parents. Hm, hadn’t thought about that—where did his non-value of the beauty of nature come from? Maybe it was just being 16 and as dumb as most of us are at that age. Maybe he’ll grow up to be a backcountry park ranger.
Don’t be a stupid person and get this close to the wild animals. From elk to bison to moose to bear, these animals will turn and charge you if they feel threatened.
Great Hiking at Rocky Mountain National Park
We hiked from the Bear Lake shuttle drop off to Bierstadt Moraine, around four miles. It’s not a difficult hike and there are many spots that are tree covered. Still, keep your hat on, the summer sun can be tough. There are spots that are quite rocky (get it?) and demand that you pay attention or twist an ankle.
At Bear Lake, with Hallett Peak huge in the distance, we came upon a group of teenagers led by an indulgent adult. She must have done this class before because when the teens ventured into Bear Lake while we were snacking, she let them go. Imagine our surprise when it was no more than waist high on most of them! They walked the breadth of it and except for the occasional laughter, “It’s cold,” the group seemed to enjoy the refreshing chill.
The American Alpine Institute offers guided rock climbing in the park—and others—but that’s over our heads.
As much as you may look up for climbers and around for animals, don’t forget to look down and right beside you. There’s pine needle artwork on the ground and the most amazing striations to be found in the boulders. The park is full of spectacular sights at every turn and will make you ponder extending your stay another day … or more.
When you go:
Many of the trailhead parking areas fill up very early, so unless you’re rising with the cock-a-doodle-doos, plan on using the bus service. It’s a longer ride than you think and the bus will be packed. Be patient, once at the trail, 90% of the people with you will walk a half mile or less and head back to the bus stand.
Pay attention! In front and behind you are people not paying attention to where their vehicles are going, so you have to. They’re gawking at the amazing scenery (ok, you are, too) and the wildlife and thinking, like you are, how blessed we are to visit national parks. Remember, you are driving and could hit someone, causing the end of their vacation, so watch where you’re going.
Check the forecasts and watch the sky. Sometimes you can see the weather rolling in. While it can be artistic to watch a storm heading your way, getting stuck outside in it won’t feel very good when the temperature drops and rain or hail starts striking you.
Related reading, Kansas City’s National World War I Memorial and Museum
Wonderful post RoseMary. Food for thought. I hope my 13 year can still find it in himself to be impressed when we get there!
I think you have instilled a joy of the new in your son, so you’ll be safe from his sarcasm in the face of such beauty!
Magnificent place. I am adding it to my bucket list after reading your post! How many days would you recommend staying there?
You could quite easily spend a couple of weeks in Rocky Mountain National Park to just begin to see it.
Those pictures are so beautiful. I’m so glad you got a picture of the teenagers walking through the lake. I wouldn’t have believed it unless I saw it. I will say, I probably would have been unimpressed by this at 16 years old too. Now I would be in heaven.
Rocky Mountain National Park was a bit like heaven, Erica. You have such joy in you that I doubt you would have taken it for granted even at 16.
What a great article and stunning view.
I am saddened that some of these states, are de-regulating, allowing people to clear cut, and mine mountains, until they are completely gone. Our descendants might not see this view anymore.
Me, too, William. I hope that things change and that saving these places becomes our priority. Thanks for liking the article!
I’d love to go back to Rocky Mountain National Park. I was able to drive through in early June 2011. There was a ton of snow, but I didn’t have a chance to do even a short hike. The scenery was breathtaking nonetheless and I had the best hot pot ever at a sushi restaurant in Boulder that night.
Jeri, I love your comments as mini stories. The park would be gorgeous with snow all over it–even in June.
That looks (and sounds) so beautiful. Living on the other side (almost) of the continent I have never seen the Rocky Mountains. You have some great, actionable, tips for enjoying yourself at these type of busy national parks.
Thanks for stopping by, Jess. There’s so mucho four country to see in so many different places. Glad you got some use out of the tips and I hope you get to a national park near you!
These are beautiful photographs RoseMary. I thought of peace and tranquillity. There is such beauty all around us (well in some parts of the world anyway).
I remember my trip to Austria with girl guides age 11 or 12. There were mountains all around us as we went about on our daily excursions. I was mesmerised.
Perfect thoughts, Phoenicia, for what I intended the photos to convey. Yes, beauty can be found in many places. Austria … oh, how I would love to see that place.
Just beautiful RoseMary. I’ve also been there, but as you and others have pointed out, a few days isn’t nearly enough to see all that this spectacular area has to offer. Thanks for sharing!
Glad that we have another park in common, Marquita! I’d love to go back and stay for a month.
Hi Rose. I didn’t realize there is a Rocky Mtn National Park in Colorado! We have the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, Canada, and I’d not thought about them continuing south to Colorado. They sure are magnificent.
Hilarious! Doreen, our two countries are in sync!
I loved Rocky Mountain National Park. Spent three days there and felt like I only scratched the surface.
I loved your blog about it, Ken–as you can see by the end of mind!
Beautiful scenery! Glad you were able to visit!
You’ll have to scoot south next summer and see it all for yourself!