After we finished our half-mile walk/hike around Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, we began our uphill trek to see two more beautiful Alpine lakes, Nymph Lake and Dream Lake. Our goal was to hike to both lakes, then return to our car for a late picnic lunch before hiking to Alberta Falls in the afternoon, although we held open the possibility of hiking on to Emerald Lake once we were at Dream Lake.
While our hike around Bear Lake was on a trail at an elevation of 9,475 feet that was basically flat, the trail up to the other lakes was a slow and steady climb, with a few breaks along the way. Fortunately, we were more acclimated to the high altitude on this day than we were two days earlier at Golden Gate Canyon State Park, when we attempted our first hike above 9000 feet and had to cut it short. In fact, we thoroughly enjoyed this particular hike to the lakes and got a good, calorie-burning workout in the process.
The entire hike was amazingly beautiful, and that is likely an understatement. This is one of the most beautiful sites that anyone will ever see, so rather than repeat that fact over and over again, I will try to refrain from stating this fact and just show a few photos to share that fact.
The first part of the hike to Nymph Lake climbed to an elevation of 9,705 feet over a distance of a half-mile, and the climb began right away once we left Bear Lake. It felt like climbing a long staircase for much of the way, but it did not take long to finally arrive at our first scenic stop at Nymph Lake. We had a nice rest break here, enjoying the view and catching our breath a bit. I was surprised to see that I actually had a little cell signal here, so I took that opportunity to take a picture with my phone camera and send it to a couple of good friends who were dealing with brutally hot weather at their respective locations that holiday weekend.
After taking photos and enjoying the views, we then continued onward and upward to Dream Lake, which sits at an elevation of 9,912 feet and is .8 mile from Nymph Lake. It was the highest elevation we ever attempted to hike, and thankfully, it was a great experience for us.
Dream Lake is just amazingly beautiful. There, I said it again. It is hard to not gush over the beauty of this place. We spent quite a bit of time here at the end of our planned morning hike and just enjoyed being there. I was quite surprised to see how many people were already there along the banks with their fishing poles, too. It was such a peaceful, serene place at almost 10,000 feet, and our reward for our climb was definitely worth it.
After hiking to the far end of the lake and just a bit beyond, we made a decision to return to the car for a late lunch, rather than skipping lunch to hike on to Emerald Lake. It was nice to hike downhill for a change, too. Just like a trip by car, the scenery is often quite spectacular behind us, and we discovered that happy fact as we made our way back to Bear Lake. It was just a grand hike in both directions.
Once we were back at the car, we enjoyed another picnic lunch in the park at a scenic spot nearby, which was handy for us. It was nice to not have to sit in the car to eat this time, as the weather was pretty much perfect. Clouds and cooler breezes began to roll in a bit, so we made it a quick lunch, then set out for our last adventure in the park on this trip – a hike to beautiful Alberta Falls, which I will share in my next post.
We love Sunday afternoon drives, but I will happily admit that our Sunday drive on this day in Rocky Mountain National Park was the best, and most memorable, one ever, especially after our gorgeous Peak to Peak drive this same day in the morning, which I described in my previous post.
After navigating a holiday weekend traffic jam in Estes Park just before noon, we finally made our way out-of-town, traveling west on Highway 36 to the Beaver Meadows entrance at Rocky Mountain National Park. Once again, we found another line of cars to get into the park, but it was nothing like the line we encountered a few years ago at Yosemite on our first trip there. It took about fifteen minutes to wait our turn in line and show our receipt, then we were finally on our way into the main part of the park.
After a fairly sunny drive into Estes Park on Highway 7, we found the rain once again inside the park. We did not let it dampen our excitement to finally be in the park, though.
Just prior to entering the park, we made a quick stop at the beautiful Beaver Meadows Visitor Center and bought a few souvenirs at the nice gift shop there, including a 100th anniversary poster that I just adore.
The architectural story of this building is significant, and it is a lovely place all around. The building was designed by Taliesin Associated Architects, a firm founded by Frank Lloyd Wright to continue his architectural vision after he was gone, and this building was one of the firm’s first major projects, completed in 1967. At that time, the building was known as the Rocky Mountain National Park Administration Building but has since become the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center. We loved how it seemed to blend almost seamlessly into the beautiful setting among the tall pine trees while still displaying a unique and inviting presence at the same time. The building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2001.
As we walked back to our car, the rain began to fall in earnest. Our plan to enjoy our lunch at one of the nearby picnic tables at the visitor center quickly dissolved with the falling rain, so we decided to just drive around a bit to see if we could at least find a prettier spot for our “inside-the-car” picnic other than the busy parking lot of the visitor center. We turned onto Bear Lake Road and finally found a beautiful spot toward the end of the section of road leading to the Fern Lake trailhead where we pulled into a parking spot with beautiful views all around us.
After enjoying our little picnic in the car, the rain subsided, and we were finally able to roll down the side windows and just sit and enjoy the solitude, the scenery and the cool mountain air. That is when my “eagle eye” caught something flying around the top of a tall tree in the distance. Can you spot it in the photo below?
Perhaps zooming in a bit will help.
It was a huge nest in the top of a tall, dead tree in the distance, and as we began to watch it more closely, we saw two big adult birds flying around the nest and perching in it. I quickly knew that my decision to not bring a tripod on this trip would be one that I would regret, too. I dug out my telephoto lens anyway, determined to get a better view of the activities transpiring in the nest. While I never was able to get a good clear shot, of course, I managed to get a few shots that were better than I thought they would be without any camera stabilization, other than leaning the lens against the car door with the window rolled down.
We have not been able to absolutely identify these birds, and I do not think that they are bald eagles. I’ve watched the Decorah bald eagles online for a few years now, and these birds seemed a bit smaller and had different markings on their heads. I’m open to suggestions as to what they are… eagles, hawks, anyone? I wish I knew my birds better than I do, but it was a wonderful experience seeing these wonderful birds perched in their nest on high in person. I just wish now that I had packed the tripod, as it was such a wonderful quality photo-op missed.
After finishing our picnic lunch, we drove about a mile to the end of the road and the Fern Lake trailhead. We knew that we did not have time to hike the trail, but I did capture a picture of the most inviting trailhead.
There was also a bear locker nearby for people to stash any food that they might have in their car so that bears would not be tempted to break into the hikers’ vehicles. I would love to return to hike this trail on a future trip, for sure. The road to the Fern Lake trailhead was a beautiful, secluded drive with ferns and aspen trees all around the further we went. I’m sure the hike is absolutely gorgeous, just based on what we saw of the area on our drive.
We also made a quick drive through the Moraine Park campground nearby on this same road, and we decided that we likely would not bring our RV to this campground in the future. Since we returned home, however, I have read that this campground will be repaved soon, which is a good thing. For people with smaller RVs or tent campers, this would be a lovely place to camp.
As it was now around 2:30 pm, we decided to make our last scenic drive of the day up to the Alpine visitor’s center on the famous Trail Ridge Road. At last. 🙂
Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous road in the United States, and the top elevation on the drive is 12,183 feet. Thankfully, it is a very well-built two-lane road, which is a good thing because there is a significant amount of traffic on it during peak months. We even saw a couple of RVs headed toward us as we made the drive up, too. The road connects Estes Park to Grand Lake as Highway 34, and it is 48 miles from town to town. Reading more about this unique road is well worth a few minutes of your time, and that information can be found at the link provided. To say that this is an impressive drive is an understatement. To say that it is a once-in-a-lifetime drive would be a much better description, at least for us!
We had an issue to consider before making this drive, though. Our hideous rental car tires, which were past their lifespan at over 40,000 miles, would not hold pressure. The warning light had come on a bit earlier for the first time, just after we left Estes Park. Of course, there was nowhere to get air for the tires once we left town, and we did not want to return to town to get air and get stuck in the holiday traffic once again, as it would impact what we would be able to see in the few hours of daylight we had left on this day. After looking over the tires carefully, Hubby made the call for us to just continue with our scenic drive plans but to cut our drive short and not take the road all the way to Grand Lake. We drove to the Alpine Visitor’s Center, then turned around and drove back to Estes Park for the night, and the tire pressure warning light continued to flash on and off the entire time. Long story short, we made it back to town just fine with no issues.
Now, about that drive! What a fabulous drive it was for us, and it is one that I will always remember, for sure. We are flatlanders, so any mountains always impress us, but this was just literally “over the top.” Even though we were unable to pull over at any of the scenic overlooks on the drive, due to the number of people already parked at each one, we still enjoyed this drive so much. Hopefully on a return trip, we will be able to go during a less crowded time, stop at these scenic overlooks and hike in the tundra area, since it is such a unique ecosystem.
I will just let a few pictures tell the story of our drive to the top.
We spent about thirty minutes at the Alpine Visitor Center to give Hubby a driving break, see the landscape, take photos and buy a few more souvenirs. The largest gift shop in the park is located here, along with an adjacent restaurant, which are both located in a separate building next to the Alpine Visitor Center. The views of the tundra from this location are quite stunning, even from inside the gift shop looking out of the windows.
The drive back to Estes Park was just as beautiful as the drive up the pass. We were glad to finally be back in town where we would not worry quite as much about the tires, too.
In my next post, I will share a little story about my “history” with Estes Park and why we opted to stay where we did that night, as well as “who” we slept with! We also spent a full day back in RMNP on Monday, Labor Day, as the weather cleared and we took two fabulous hikes in some gorgeous locations, and I’m so excited to share that day’s adventure here soon, too.
On Sunday, the second day of our Colorado Rocky Mountain adventure over Labor Day weekend, we retraced some of our drive from the previous day as we headed toward Rocky Mountain National Park for the first time.
Side note: Thankfully, we had a gas station with a car wash next to our hotel, and we took that opportunity to finally wash the car before beginning our scenic drive for the day. Our entire rental car experience is another story about this trip, and perhaps I will share that after my trip posts are done. Let’s just say that one particular car rental agency at the Denver airport has some serious issues that someone needs to address… quickly… as this was, by far, the worst rental car experience we have ever had, and the condition of our car unfortunately impacted part of the drive we intended to make at RMNP later this day.
The first part of our drive took us back to Boulder, and this part of the drive looked quite different to us than it did the evening before, when we were headed out of the mountains toward Thornton to our hotel for the night. On Sunday morning, the mountains loomed beautiful and large directly ahead of us.
The mountains at Boulder are called the “flatirons” for their distinctive shape. We had a much better view of these mountains this morning than on the previous evening when we drove through the area in route to our hotel during a misty rain.
Boulder is such a pretty and seemingly vibrant town, with beautiful tree-lined streets and bike lanes along the river. I would love to return sometime and explore the town much more. And, as I mentioned in my previous post, the scenic drive between Boulder and Nederland was fabulous once again, too.
There is a scenic tunnel on this drive, and I wanted to get a good picture of it as we drove back through this area, but I forgot to watch for it with camera in hand. It surprised me once again while we were driving, and this blurry photo was the best I could do as I hurried to get my camera in hand.
We drove past Barker Reservoir and saw the big City of Boulder dam once again, too.
After arriving in Nederland, we turned north on Highway 72 and once again resumed our drive on the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway. We were amazed at how many people were out on bicycles on this beautiful stretch of road, too. We agreed that while we enjoy riding our bikes, tackling the hills on this road is something we would not be excited to do, unless we could somehow find a way to only ride the downhill parts, of course.
Since part of our purpose for making this trip was to check out possible RV campsites, we made a quick stop at the Peaceful Valley campground in the Roosevelt National Forest, which we easily accessed just off of Highway 7 – a continuation of the Peak to Peak route from Highway 72. It was a truly beautiful place, but given the other nice campgrounds that we saw during our trip, we would likely pass on this one unless we just wanted a quick overnight stop. It sits on a pretty creek, and each site has bear lockers. Most sites seemed to be set-up more for tent campers, rather than RVs, and the only facilities were vault toilets. Over the holiday weekend, the campground was almost full, too.
We returned to Highway 7 and continued to drive north on the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway. Soon, we found ourselves along the eastern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, and while Highway 7 is not actually in the park, several places in the park are accessed from it, as there is not a park road available to get to them.
We opted to go ahead and pay our park fee here and hopefully see just a bit of this side of the park. We paid our fee at this small station pictured above, but just after we drove in the park, the rain began to fall in sheets, and we could barely see in front of our car. We were able to see a small lake nearby, but that was about it.
Rather than sit and hopefully wait for the rain to subside a bit, we made our way back to Highway 7 and just continued north toward Estes Park and the main entrance to RMNP. Thankfully, the rain quickly began to subside, and it even cleared off nicely for a while.
A few miles later, we passed the sign for the park entrance at Long’s Peak, but once again, we opted to just continue our drive north. We pulled over shortly, however, to try to get a picture of Long’s Peak. Unfortunately, the clouds were still hanging around right over the peak.
We continued our drive toward the beautiful and scenic town of Estes Park, which sits in a pretty valley just a few miles from two of the main entrances to Rocky Mountain National Park.
By now, it was getting close to lunchtime, and we debated whether or not to eat lunch in Estes Park or drive on to the national park. Since we already had our picnic lunch packed, we opted to just forego lunch in town and drive directly to the Beaver Meadows park entrance. Even though we ran into quite a bit of traffic in town as we made our way to the park, fortunately it did not take too terribly long to get through town and to the park entrance. We knew there would be crowds over Labor Day weekend and had already adjusted our expectations accordingly for our time in this area.
In my next post, I will share the rest of our fabulous Sunday drive, including our experience in driving the famous Trail Ridge Road highway to the Alpine Visitor’s Center at almost 12,000 feet for the first time.
This will be the first of several posts on our recent trip to Colorado! I’m excited to share this beautiful journey here, too.
Over Labor Day weekend, we visited the greater Denver area on a little reconnaissance trip of sorts. We are interested in making a trip in our RV to this area sometime in the future, but we wanted to first check out several areas and RV parks before making that very long drive. We also wanted to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the very first time on this trip, and we were able to secure flight reservations on the days we wanted to travel, despite the fact that it was a busy holiday weekend and we had waited fairly late to make our reservations.
On Saturday, the first day of our Rocky Mountain adventure, we flew to Denver, then drove to Golden, Colorado. We arrived in the town of Golden at lunchtime, and after walking around the main area of town a bit, we finally opted to dine at a tiny little restaurant called El Callejon that served Colombian and Mexican food, primarily because most of the other restaurants were quite crowded with longer waits. As it turned out, the food at was very good, and we were quite happy that we ate there.
If we are ever back in the area, we would dine at El Callejon again. While my lunch was a break from my usual diet, it was worth it on this particular trip. At least I had a diet soda. 😉
Golden is a neat little town and one that we would like to revisit again sometime, since we did not have much time to do so on this trip. Of course, the Coors brewery is there, and we saw it in the distance as we were leaving town. I’m sure that it draws many visitors to Golden, too.
After lunch, we drove to nearby Golden Gate Canyon State Park for the afternoon, as we especially wanted to check out this particular park in person for a possible RV trip sometime in the next year or two. While checking it out online, it seemed like a nice park in a pretty area, and it also showed to have 50 amp hookups for RVs, something we always look for when traveling in our motor home, especially in summer months. Even though we opted to take Golden Gate Canyon Road from Golden to the park, we would likely take another route in the RV, as this road was a little too twisty and steep for our taste when driving the RV. As I understand, Highway 119 is a better route, even though a bit longer, and RVs must come into the Reverend’s Ridge Campground via 119 and Gap Road anyway.
The park did not disappoint at all, and we would love to camp here sometime in the future, if time permits us to make such a long trip for vacation.
The office area has a nice little welcome center, information area and souvenir store, and there is also a small trout pond in front. Fish food is available to feed the fish for a quarter, which proved to be a popular activity for most visitors in the short time we stopped there. We found the park staff to be extremely friendly and helpful, too.
The Reverend’s Ridge campground is very nice with several loops for RVs, and it also hascabins and big yurts to rent as well. Electricity is available at the RV sites, and water is available to fill tanks at different points in the campground. After seeing these nice options for the cabins and yurts, we are even discussing the possibility of just renting one of them instead of bringing the RV. The fact that dogs are not allowed in these is complicating that decision a bit, though. We like to bring the dogs with us when we go camping, both for enjoyment and to avoid expensive boarding fees for two big dogs.
We spent quite a bit of time driving through the campground, checking out RV sites, and we were happy to know that we would be quite satisfied with just about any of them. Specific sites can also be reserved through Reserve America’s website, too. Since none of the picnic tables are covered, we also made a note to pack our EZ-Up awning for this trip if we come back. While rain is usually not an issue where we tend to camp most of the time, we realized that it actually rains here in Colorado, so having the awning over the table would be a big plus.
RVs are not allowed to drive on the park road from the visitor’s center to the campground, and they are required to come into the campground from a different park entrance nearby via Hwy. 119 and Gap Road. Even though Gap Road was in great shape, I can see where it might be a bit difficult to drive on if rain is an issue.
The short road to the campground from Highway 119 is a packed caliche road, and it was in very good shape. There is no cell or internet service in the park, but we found a pay phone in the campground, just behind the office and close to the amphitheater.
We also questioned whether or not we would be able to get a signal on our satellite dish, due to the abundance of many wonderful tall trees throughout the campground. Having no cell, internet or television signals would give us a real getaway-from-it-all vacation, for sure, but on a week-long trip, we have found that relying solely on movies can get a bit old. However, just being in such a wonderful new location with so many new sites to see would likely be our main entertainment anyway. Since it is quite a drive to the nearest grocery store, we would want to make sure that we carried all of our needed food items and other supplies into the park and not rely on a drive back to Golden or elsewhere for supplies.
We then drove up to Panorama Point, which is just up from Reverend’s Ridge Campground and took in the amazing views of the Rockies to the west. “The boardwalks of Panorama Point offer sweeping views across a 100 mile stretch of the Continental Divide.” – Protrails Website
We also hiked part of Raccoon Trail, just down from the overlook, for about 45 minutes. It turned out to be a fairly steep hike from the overlook, and we found that we felt the altitude a bit the longer we hiked. So, we cut our hike short, but we enjoyed it nonetheless. We just needed a bit more time to adjust to the 9311-foot altitude, and we had no issues the rest of our trip while hiking, even at altitudes slightly higher than this.
One of the most interesting sites that we saw while hiking this trail was the abundance of mushrooms in several different colors, a site that was most definitely new for us to see while hiking.
By the time we ended our hike, the sun was beginning to creep down toward the horizon, and it was time for us to begin our drive to our hotel for the night in the Thornton area, just north of Denver. The view as we exited Panorama Point was beautiful!
Rather than return to the metro area via the interstate once again, we opted to take a more scenic drive to the north, and this particular drive turned out to be a treat of gorgeous scenery. The first part of the drive on Hwy. 119/72 to Nederland is actually the southern end of the famous Peak to Peak Scenic Byway, and the drive on Hwy. 119 between Nederland and Boulder was absolutely stunning as well. We even stopped at several points to take a few pictures, especially between Nederland and Boulder as the road cut through large cliffs and alongside the flowing creek. This entire area is part of the Roosevelt National Forest. In fact, we found ourselves in the forest lands most of the time we were gone, except for the times that we were physically in the state and national parks.
It would have been nice to stay in the beautiful town of Boulder for the night to save a bit of driving on this trip, but our hotel was free on points for the night in Thornton, which also worked out just fine, too. I’m always good with free.
After driving through the scenic town of Boulder, past the University of Colorado and on to our hotel, we ate dinner at a nearby Perkins Family Restaurant, then made a quick dash to a nice Wally World nearby for a few supplies for our trip to Rocky Mountain National Park the next two days. We were well advised to carry a picnic lunch and water bottles into the park both days due to lack of dining facilities in the park, and that was excellent advice, for sure. A quick stop for a small collapsible cooler bag and a few groceries proved to be a great decision for us, and we will enjoy having the little $10 cooler bag to pack on future trips by plane, if needed, as it folds down flat and is easy to bring along. It also kept our food and drinks very cold for the entire day each day, too.
The next two days of our trip took us to Rocky Mountain National Park for the first time, with an overnight stay at a nice little motel in Estes Park. More to come!