Rocky Mountain National Park
The Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most famous national parks in the USA, founded in 1915 by President Woodrow Wilson it is a collection of sweeping mountain ranges, alpine lakes, deep valleys and home to a wide variety of animals. It was named a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 1976 and in 2018 more than 4.5million people visited the park recreationally, making it consistently ranked as one of the most visited National Parks, ranking third in 2015.
When to visit:
During winter, Colorado becomes entrenched with snow. Some of the best skiing in the world can be found here with famous resorts like Vail, Aspen, Breckenridge, Beaver Creek and Keystone to name just a few. So unless you enjoy winter driving and hiking in snowshoes, the best time to visit is in summer (The main road through the National Park is also closed during winter) The higher peaks will still have snow pack on them for those beautiful photographs, but you can also stretch your legs out and hike in boots amongst the abundance of animals and wild flowers.
Where to stay:
The closest town to the main entrance of the Rockies is a town called Estes Park, you can find a large amount of different types of accommodation, lots of spots to grab some food and a large supermarket for all your picnic needs, larger towns like Boulder, Fort Collins or Denver all have easy access to the Eastern entrance of the park. Personally I found staying at Grand Lake or Granby located at the South Western entrance provided quicker access to the park, less people, better traffic conditions, as well as the lakes near there provided a beautiful spot to unwind at after a long day of hiking. It also appeared to be the cheaper option when comparing prices to Estes Park.
What to see:
TrailRidge Road – This is the main road through the park (Only open during summer) And the panoramic views from here are just amazing, there are a lot of scenic vista points along the road, and if you see that all the cars in front of you have stopped or slowed down, it’s just because some animals are close to the road, so slow down and enjoy gazing at the abundance of wildlife like mule deer, moose, big horn sheep and mountain goats. Through the entirety of the drive, snow capped mountains appear on every angle while deep valleys provide views of the rivers and lakes below.
Hike Mt. Ida – This was our favorite hike in the rocky mountain national park, it begins at Milners Pass on the western side of the park, away from the traffic and noise of the main loop near Estes Park. This hike is a 16km (10miles) long round trip with an elevation climb of 670m (2,200ft). The first third of the ascent is in the tree line where we spotted woodpeckers, deer and moose, this is also the hardest part of the climb physically, the rest of the hike is above the treeline with very limited coverage, so make sure you have sunscreen on. In the alpine we saw only 5 other people the entire day and watched marmots and pikas run amok at the summit, as well as a flock of big horn sheep sitting casually in the meadows that we stumbled upon. The other concern is that due to the high levels of exposure at the summit and the likelihood of afternoon storms in the Rockies, you will want to do this hike early in the morning so that you don’t get trapped, I would suggest starting no later than 8am.
Alpine Lakes – Relaxing next to an alpine lake while eating a picnic is one of the most enjoyable things you can do. There is an abundance of lakes in the area, so simply choose one that you are near at lunch and set up there. If you are looking for an afternoon spot I would also recommend heading to lake Granby and staying until the sun goes down. We were privileged enough to see one of the most amazing sunsets.
Moraine Park – A large expanse of a mountain valley, a river runs through the middle that provides anglers an opportunity to fly fish, while Elk roam the meadow uninterested by the people around. Picnic benches provide a place for lunch while a multitude of hikes can be accessed from this point.
Be aware of the altitude – with over 12km (8miles) of road at an elevation above 3300m (11,000 ft) shortness of breath and over exertion can come on quick. A 10mile hike at sea level may seem easy but it can be a different kettle of fish at this altitude, so take it slower then usual and have more stops if needed.
Drink more water – Due to the altitude, certain sections will be colder then you may have anticipated, this doesn’t mean that your body isn’t sweating and you need to replace these fluids.
Chat with the National Park Rangers – These guys are a huge source of information, they can provide you with maps, weather information, trail closures, hazards and many other things. I always have a chat with them before heading out.