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.


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.

Hallett Peak reflecting on Bear Lake

Rough trail

Smooth trail to Bear Lake

Brave kids walking through Bear Lake

When you go:

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.


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 amazing that we have these blessed national parks to visit. But remember, you are driving and could hit someone and cause 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.


For more fun things to do, check out Ken Dowell’s blog about his recent stay in Estes Park and adventures in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Our national parks and monuments are precious and the keeping of them the responsibility of every American and every visitor … what gorgeous spot is next on your trip list?