Driving Peak to Peak

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.
Day 2 Drive
Day 2 Drive

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.

Driving to Boulder
Driving to Boulder

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.

Flatirons at Boulder
Flatirons at Boulder

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.

Boulder CO
Tree-lined street in Boulder
Hwy 119 scenic beauty
Hwy 119 scenic beauty

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.

Tunnel Hwy 119
A blurry picture is better than no picture, I guess.  It really is a pretty tunnel.

We drove past Barker Reservoir and saw the big City of Boulder dam once again, too.

Barker Dam at Nederland
Barker Reservoir and Dam near Nederland

Barker Dam

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.

Cyclists on the Peak to Peak Highway
Cyclists on the scenic Peak to Peak Scenic Byway
Scenic beauty on Peak to Peak Hwy 72 north of Nederland
Scenic beauty on Peak to Peak Hwy 72 north of Nederland

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.

Roosevelt National Forest Camping 1
Campsite at Peaceful Valley Campground with bear locker
Roosevelt National Forest Camping 2
Peaceful Valley Campground sits right on Middle St. Vrain Creek, and several campsites sit next to it.

 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.

Wild Basin Road
Road to Wild Basin Entrance Station at RMNP
Wild Basin Entrance Station
Wild Basin Entrance Station at RMNP

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.

Highway 7 Rain
Our Peak to Peak drive was both rainy and sunny.
Highway 7
Highway 7

 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.

Long's Peak entrance to RMNP
Long’s Peak entrance to RMNP
Longs Peak in Clouds
Long’s Peak was hidden in the clouds.
Longs Peak Sign
Long’s Peak is the tallest peak in the area, but it was hidden in the clouds on this day.

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.

Driving to Estes Park
Driving to Estes Park in the valley ahead

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.

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