- Lawn Lake Trail
- Gem Lake & Balanced Rock Trail
- Toll Memorial Trail (aka Tundra Communities Trail)
- Lily Mountain Trail
- Ute Trail
The drive into Rocky Mountain National Park was amazing! It’s a beautiful drive with small communities dotted along the rocky mountainside. The shear size of the Rockies is humbling. They’re the young-thangs of the mountains of the United States. The RV park we stayed at was along a river in Estes Park CO. It was a great view to have for the week! We relaxed during our first day in Estes and took care of laundry and groceries. It’s always nice to have a down day 🙂
Rocky Mountain National Park is like a park in the sky! It consists of the Montane region (<9000ft), the Subalpine region (9000-11,400 ft), and the Alpine region (>11,400ft). The Montane & Subalpine regions hold most of the flora and fauna of the park. Since it receives the most precipitation, there are a variety of trees, shrubs, and wildflowers that grow and provide shelter and food for the animals in the park. The Alpine region was incredible! It’s high above the tree line with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. There are high winds, bitter cold, and strong UV light. The air is thin, the wind is biting, but the views are SPECTACULAR!
For our 2nd day we took a drive along Trail Ridge Road. It’s a great drive that takes you from the entrance gate at Beaver Meadows (or Fall River entrance on Rt 34) into the park. (We learned that the park is doing a timed entry by reservation only, so we had to enter the park a little later than expected today.) We drove the road until Rainbow Curve, which offered outstanding views of the Endovalley and Rockies. Because there was a heavy snow a couple days before, the rest of the road was closed for plowing. So, we turned around and headed to the Endovalley to see the Alluvial Fan. The Alluvial Fan was a result of the Lawn Lake dam breaking in the 80’s. Water roared down the mountainside, taking boulders and trees with it. The water was slowed by the valley below where it deposited the trees and boulders it picked up along the way. This created a fan of rocks and boulders, known as the Alluvial Fan. What is left is a beautiful waterfall that cascades down the mountainside. We hiked the Lawn Lake Trail along the waterfall, which abruptly ended, leaving us to find our way up rocks. We sat by the waterfall and enjoyed the view for a while. We walked along horseshoe creek toward Chasm Falls. It was a peaceful stroll through the meadow where we smelled the warmed pines the whole way.
The next day we enjoyed a leisurely morning and drove into the park in the early afternoon. We drove to Gem Lake to do the Gem Lake & Balanced Rock Trail. It was an 8+ mile hike that took about 5 hrs to complete. There was a lot of uphill to get to the lake. Gem Lake was small but pretty. The thing I will remember most are the chipmunks. They had obviously been fed by picnickers and knew the sound of a wrapper meant food. I sat down with a granola bar and had a chipmunk climb up my pant leg and onto my lap. It jumped onto my arm and hung off my hand, trying to get to my granola bar. This is what happens when you feed the wildlife. Absolute craziness. Anyway, after a quick break at the lake we continued on to Balanced Rock, which was pretty neat. It was a large boulder deposited precariously on another rock long ago.
Day 4 took us to the Toll Memorial Trail (aka Tundra Communities Trail). It’s a high alpine trail that is above the tree line, elevation 12,300 ft. So, it’s officially the highest we’ve been not on an airplane! And I could tell we were that high; the air felt so thin. The trail is a gentle uphill to the Mushroom Rocks and a rocky outlook that gave an absolutely beautiful 360 degree view of the Rockies.
The great thing about spending a week in a park is that you get to intersperse activity filled days with lazy ones. Our 5th day was one of those down days. Love those 🙂
Day 6 was a bit of a different experience. I’m not sure if it’s because of the weekend (Sunday) or because they’ve since opened up more amenities in the park since Covid, but the park was crazy today. We couldn’t get a time slot until 3pm today, so we headed to Lily Lake and the Lily Mountain trail, which is technically out of the park. The Lily Mountain Trail was a great hike with a good amount of uphill. The workout was completely worth it. The trail ended toward the top of the mountain and we climbed over boulders to get to the very top. The view was AMAZING! I could have brought a book and a lunch up there and spent the afternoon. It was another beautiful 360 degree view of the Rockies that will forever be imprinted in my mind. We enjoyed lunch on Lily Lake and made our way back into the park. We couldn’t believe the crowds! It was late afternoon and we still had to wait in a line at the gate to enter. Thinking about it, I guess we’ve been a little spoiled because we’ve started our trip at the beginning of parks opening back up to the public, so there had been far less people at the national parks. We finished the day at Bear Lake where we did the hike around Bear, Nymph, and Dream Lakes. All in all, another wonderful day!
Our last day in the park was awesome. We got into the park around 1p (12-2p admission window) and went straight to the Ute Trail on Tombstone Ridge (12,000+ ft). This hike was probably one of our favorite of all time. I mean it was SPECTACULAR!! We’re glad we brought layers because the wind was howling. The trail is above the treeline and awards hikers with views as far as the eye can see. We made friends with a pair of marmots and witnessed the awesomeness of nature in the form of tenacious wildflowers determined to grow in this environment. The trail is deep and worn, 2 feet in some spots. I thought maybe water from snow melt had created such a deep trail, but come to find out the Ute Trail is a path that has been walked by humans for millennia. From prehistoric humans, to the Ute people, to European settlers, this trail has provided passage for a very, very long time. We felt we had done something very special when we finished this hike.
We finished our visit to Rocky Mountain National Park by driving Rt 34 through the west part of the park. We took the road all the way to Grand Lake, which is a small lake community. We happened upon Shadow Mountain Lake, which is connected to Grand Lake, and felt inclined to kayak! We took our $75 inflatable kayak for its maiden voyage on the lake. It was late afternoon and the lake held a beautiful amber afternoon glow. The lake was very shallow in areas (even far from shore!), which made for a couple of fun surprises during our kayak. It held water and ran straight, which is all I could ask 🙂
We had a BLAST in Rocky Mountain National Park and will definitely be back.