Exploring Colorado: A Journey Through Rocky Mountain National Park

Posted: Friday, March 29, 2024

Exploring Colorado: A Journey Through Rocky Mountain National Park

Life can move at such a fast pace when returning to our “real” lives - our amazing Colorado trip already feels like a distant dream. We’d like to take this opportunity to reflect on our travels before too much time goes by.

We started at the Denver airport with our first adventure in the parking garage maze, searching for our awaiting vans! However, it didn’t take too long before we were on our way to Boulder, headed for the mountains. Sitting at an elevation of about 5,300 feet, Boulder was the perfect place to begin our acclimation to the altitude. We headed to the vibrant, bustling area of Pearl St., where we had a wonderful dinner at West End Tavern before retiring for the night at our nearby University Inn. 

On Sunday, we continued to acclimate by hiking in Boulder at an extensive and beautiful trail system. Andre had scouted the Mesa trail, and it turned out to be amazing. The trail gave us climbs, descents, views, and wildflowers the whole way. We finished at Chautauqua Park, where everyone could enjoy a cold drink while the guides retrieved the vans. Then it was on to Estes Park, with a short stop in Lyons for needed supplies. The drive up to our house was full of crazy steep switchbacks, but we finally arrived. What a view - mountains seen from every window! After getting settled, we enjoyed dinner, had a briefing about our hike for tomorrow, and turned in for the night. 

The next morning, we loaded into the van for our first excursion in Rocky Mountain National Park! We drove to the Fern Lake trailhead and started up toward its namesake lake. This area experienced the East Troublesome fire of October 2020, and standing trees were burned everywhere. The day warmed as we climbed past Fern Falls, then up to Fern Lake at last!  We stopped there for a bit, then continued almost another mile to the beautiful Odessa Lake. Wow! What amazing views of the surrounding mountains: Notchtop, Flattop,  Little Matterhorn, as well as a huge waterfall. That night we enjoyed dinner and relaxation back at our spectacular mountain home before getting some well-earned rest. 

On Tuesday, we drove the famous Trail Ridge Rd, the highest continuous paved road in the U.S., traversing the entire park from east to west. We were treated to blue skies and stunning views the whole way. Upon our arrival at the Alpine Visitor Center, we began our hike along the Ute Trail downhill to Milner Pass. Although the wind was strong and chilly above the 11,796 treeline..  we were rewarded with blue skies and delicate alpine flowers, allowing us to appreciate and marvel at their beauty. Our hike took us past amazing vistas, small alpine lakes, and meadows on our way down to Milner Pass, where Trail Ridge Road crosses the Continental Divide. After a yummy picnic lunch and stroll at Lake Irene, we headed back up to the Alpine Visitor Center to be tourists for a bit. That afternoon and evening, we were free to explore Estes Park's shops and restaurants, as well as a great little Thai place. After an impromptu PT session back at the house, we prepared our packs for the next day’s early start, then headed to bed to rest for our hike up to Hallett Peak! 

Wednesday was the first of our early departure days. We loaded into the vans and drove to the Bear Lake trailhead, where we started up the trail to Flattop Mountain. Along the way, we experienced lovely overlooks of Dream Lake and Emerald Lake. We climbed and climbed well above the treeline. At one point, Odessa Lake was just visible from the high vantage point near the top of Flattop Mountain. Just below Flattop, we encountered a small snowfield safe enough to cross. For some, the altitude of 12,000+ feet on Flattop was plenty, so we enjoyed lunch there, which had a view across Hallett Peak. Afterward, others took on the challenge of climbing to 12,718’, summiting Hallett Peak, and taking stunning photos of the amazing views. All returned to the house tired, happy, a bit sunburned, and feeling quite accomplished. We enjoyed relaxing in the hot tub, playing pool, and a dinner of delicious local pizza with a big salad bar before retiring for the night to rest up for our next adventure.

The following morning once again started early as we drove to a new area of the national park - Wild Basin trailhead. The climb today was mercifully more gradual and was incredibly beautiful as we passed a rushing stream cascading most of the way. We worked our way up and up, crossing bridges over the thundering Calypso Cascades and on past Ouzel Falls. We carried on toward Bluebird Lake, but the weather, a daunting climb, and a snowfield right before the lake turned back all but a few. After enjoying a much-needed lunch, we worked our way back to the trailhead, where Tali was relieved to find that her wallet was not lost in the parking lot, privy, or woods! The rest of our group must have been inspired by the lakes named after birds and “flew” back down the mountain to arrive at the trailhead almost at the same time! We made it back to our beautiful house and enjoyed a delicious supper of Glory Bowls.

Our last hiking day dawned bright and clear. Several of us still felt up for the challenging Chasm Lake hike and left early for that adventure. Others were in search of a slightly less strenuous day and accompanied Tali to Bear Lake, where a magical parking spot opened up at just the right time. We hiked past all the lakes we had seen from above on the Flattop Mountain day: Dream, Emerald, and the glacial blue Hiayaha before returning to the van and a stop at the Beaver Meadow Visitor Center to see the resident show-off deer and park movie. The Chasm Lake group encountered a snowfield that was unfortunately not safe to traverse and had to reverse course. On the return hike, they explored Eugenia Mine and the small ranger station/shop at the trailhead. We returned to the house to prepare for our last dinner together. 

Our celebratory dinner was at Bird and Jim, named for local guide Mountain Jim and Isabella Bird, a Scottish woman who ignored Victorian-era constraints by seeking travel and adventure alone. We reflected on our week here, where each of us felt challenged and inspired. We enjoyed delicious food, the company of new friends, and incredible mountain vistas. 

We loved sharing this week with you, hearing your stories, and all that you learned. We hope to see you again on another AGC trip in the near future! 

To adventure and friends!

Andre and Tali


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