ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, Colo. -- --
I grew up in the Northeast, a region without many national parks; so one of the reasons I was excited to move to Wyoming was for the opportunities I would have to visit the various parks located in the states surrounding Wyoming. There are fourteen national parks in the states bordering Wyoming, and so far I have visited three: Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Rocky Mountain.
Over the Labor Day holiday weekend, a friend and I took a day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park and had an amazing time taking in all the wonderful views. Rocky Mountain is one of the highest parks in the national park system, with 60 peaks over 12,000 feet, and many of those reaching over 13,000 feet and one reaching over 14,000 feet. The continental divide runs through the park, and about 1/3 of the park is above 11,000 feet in an alpine tundra environment.
Rocky Mountain is one of the most visited in the national park system, so it requires reservations between May and October. We made an early reservation in hopes of beating the majority of the crowds. So, if you plan on visiting the park in the warmer months, I recommend getting there early in the day.
We entered the park and made the first left to the Bear Lake area, the most popular and busiest section of the park. Luckily, we got there early enough that we were still able to find parking in the small lot, so the walk to the trailhead was short.
Bear Lake is a large lake at the base of a mountain trail, and also where the Bear Lake Trail is located. The trail is less than a mile, offers amazing views of the landscape and the water is so clear and calm that there are gorgeous reflections of the mountains as well. There are multiple places around the trail to stop and sit and enjoy the views. This may be a short and easy trail, but well worth your time, I’d say!
Near the Bear Lake trailhead, there are also a few other trailheads. We also hiked the Nymph, Dream and Emerald Lake trail, which is a little less than two miles one way, and has three lakes along the way. Nymph Lake is the first and smallest of the three lakes, but quite pretty with the trees and reflections. Dream Lake is the second lake on the trail and is crystal clear, allowing us to see dozens of fish swimming around. Emerald Lake is at the end of the trail and in my opinion, was the prettiest of the three lakes. The lake is at the base of the mountains and is so clear you can see the mountains in the water. This trail was by far my favorite of the day, it wasn’t too long or hard and the views were worth the time.
The final trail we hiked at the Bear Lake area was the Alberta Falls trail, which was about one mile and mostly downhill one way, but fairly easy. The trail had a small canyon about halfway through with water running through it, a few bridges crossing streams and Alberta Falls at the end. The falls were only about 30 feet tall, but the landscape surrounding the waterfall was the best part for sure.
After finishing the hikes at the Bear Lake area, we headed to our next destination. We followed the park map to Old Fall River Road, the original road that led into the park. The road is a one-way, 11-mile-long dirt road full of switchbacks that lead to the top of one of the park's taller mountains. Along the road, there is a pull off for a short walk to Chasm Falls, a beautiful 25-foot water fall. Along the rest of the road we drove under mountains, through forests, over the valley below, saw some wildlife and even got to hear an elk bugle. Right before we reached the top, we pulled off again to hike to the peak of the mountain we had just driven up. The hike put us on the peak of one of the 12,000-foot mountains and we were able to look into the valleys and atop the surrounding mountains.
Fall River Road led us directly to the Alpine Visitor Center, also known as the highest visitors center in the national park system at 11,796 feet. In the center, I learned about the park’s wildlife, the alpine tundra environment and about the park in general. We also bought our park souvenirs here before heading out.
Our final adventure in the park was driving Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in the nation. The road is 48 miles total from one side of the park to the other, reaches its highest point at 12,183 feet of elevation, drives through the tundra and above the park's tree line and is a great place to see wildlife from cars. The road has many pull offs for hikes, overlooks and scenery, including my favorite pull off to view the lava cliffs.
Rocky Mountain National Park had absolutely amazing views and some really great hikes. I would recommend anyone to go, both avid hikes and beginners, because there are trails for everyone. This was my third national park, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I hope that if you go, you have just as good of a time as I did!