Rocky Mountain Park is noted for the many large animals you can see just about anywhere in the park. We were there when the male elk were battling it out over the females, and we saw this not only in the park but behind the Safeway store along the road. The elk wander around and are not afraid. This does not mean that you should get out of your car and walk up to them!
I was not sure that there were moose in the park, but as you can see from the photo, there are some. They do not come as close to people, and you have to look carefully. This is a time for binoculars.
At 11,000 ft this visitor's center is close to the parks highest paved areas and gives a good view of the Alpine tundra eco-system. Beware to account for the elevation, do not over exert, drink lots of water and wear sunscreen.
Not far from the Fall River Visitor Center, this trail crosses an alluvial fan via a wooden bridge. It gives you great photographic opportunites as you look up the fan and can go wide angle or narrow in on details with a telephoto. And, a nice thing, it is a short trail which goes through trees giving you more interesting shots.
There are many reasons not to visit this park in the winter. Most trails and sights are located above 10,000 feet and there is only a brief period of summertime when they are passable. In the fall, winter and spring, the majority of Trail Ridge Road is closed due to heavy snowfall, preventing a drive along the high road and making it impossible to see some of the park's best high altitude sights. In the heart of winter, trails remain covered in a film of ice and conditions are slippery and downright cold. Even the elk which roam the meadows in summer and fall are in hiding during this period of the year.
But, like most parks, a wintertime visit to Rocky is a visit in virtual isolation. Roads which are open have few cars. Parking is available at even the most popular trailheads. And, most striking of all, sapphire lakes become pristine white. Its a beautiful sight for those who brave the elements and come out to witness it.
Okay - not really. I am standing on a ridge that's maybe a mile from the divide.
So I think it looks stupid when young teenage girls wear really short shorts with something like "angel" written on their arse.
But it took the cake when a teenage girl got out of her parents car at Alpine Visitor Center. It was about 30 degrees, windy, and snow was falling gently. I was never a Boy Scout but I learned that "be prepared," is a good thing to take in your head. That goes for dressing warm or bringing an extra jacket.
It also goes for buying your beer for Sundays on Saturdays. Damn - it's Sunday and you would think that I'd get it by now.
Alpine Visitors Center has a gift shop, a small snack bar, and a visitors center. The visitors center is open until 5 pm.
We debated the summit to Longs Peak. After our hike to Odessa Lake and the night we spent there, I had some trepedations about intense hikes. We wanted to do a day hike that was challenging, scenic, but also would not kills us. We just happened to pick the most perfect trail for this and the most perfect day.
Since the road to Bear Lake is temporarily closed due to construction, you must park in the Park & Ride lot and take a shuttle to the Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead. The only negative thing about shuttling to the trailhead is that everyone who gets off of the shuttle, begins the trail at the same time. For the first mile and a half, the trail is quite busy. Then the daytrippers and elderly hikers either turn around or slow down enough to not be in the way. This is a busy trail, but it also provides you with plenty of moments of solitude as you hike up to Black Lake.
The trail begins as a very easy path with a slight ascent up to Glacier Falls. From there it gets a little more difficult as you climb up and down through the forest to Mills Lake (see photo). The lake is very picturesque and is a great place to stop and rest. Beware of the ducks in the lake though. Because I didn't give it any food, one tried to jump up on top of me, scaring me to death!
After Mills Lake, the trail becomes much more technical and difficult. There are many places for rests, but I wouldn't say that the trail is very strenuous (for someone of my age and health). It certainly was easier that climbing to Odessa Lake, which was also labelled as strenuous.
You must climb through a boulder field to get to Black Lake and up rock stairs, as well. We brought our lunch up to the lake and ate it on one of the rocks. The lake area is windy, but it is a very pleasant place to spend some time before hiking back down.
Our hike up took about three hours and our decent took two. The trail got much busier as we got closer to Mills Lake and the falls. After the falls, we opted to take the short hike to Bear Lake.
Just north of the village of Allenspark, a road leaves west from Highway 7. Follow this road and you will find yourself in one of the quieter corners of Rocky Mountain National Park. This is the Wild Basin Area of the park. The hikers come here, not the drive-through tourists. A man I began talking to on the trail said "there is a lake up there," as we talked near a cascade. No trail, and up he went. Bushwacking is the way of the true outdoorsperson. Because the best places are where no trail leads, where it doesn't exhist.
The Wild Basin trailhead is a fee area, and it will be collected at the paystation. The most heavily used trail travels up North St. Vrain creek, taking you past several small waterfalls. Further up the trail you have the choice of venturing further to the lakes of Thunder, Bluebird, and Lions. These alpine lakes are usually snowed in until the peak of Summer. The lower elevations can be open if the sun has been shining and the snow a distant memory.
Mills Lake and Black Lake are gorgeous lakes and easy to get to in a single day hike.
Start at Glacier Gorge Trail Head and enjoy! Every body and their dog (!) goes to Alberta Falls but once you get past there, you can enjoy increasing solitude and beauty.
Mills Lake is first and very, very nice. If you can get an early start (say 15 minutes before official sunrise time), you can be at Mills Lake before the sun comes up over the western mountains and then watch the sun change the lake as it begins to bask it; it is a glorious sight.
Further up the same well-marked trail is Black Lake. There were few people there because it's about 6 miles or so from the trail head. I encountered two pleasant gentlemen from Loveland, CO and four nice ladies (in a separate group) also from CO. All of us were 45 to 60 year old age range; so, you youngsters should have no problem with this hike! For the better part of more than an hour, I had Black Lake to myself for lunch and leisure.
Take a lunch and a sleeping bag to nap on. Get some of the glorious mountain air and sun that mid-day brings....
From striking out to getting back to Glacier Gorge trailhead was about 7 hours but I wasn't hurried nor hurrying. It was an excellent way to spend a day.
There are birds everywhere! Keep your peeled. We spotted a Stellier's Jay, a magpie and a hawk. Pretty cool. If you're really interested in birds, the rangers offer a free bird walk (check their paper for times and meeting places).
As always, one of my favorite things to do is meet the people. I met a nice family from Iowa and another from Nebraska (with twins). I also met and talked to several rangers. Take some time to meet the people as you travel.
There are a number of places in the park to have a picnic, however, many of the stops along the Trail Ridge Road do not have picnic sites. This one is near the entrance to the Holzwarth Historic Site.
One of the other building that is open for view and with displays is the Taxidermy Shed. Lots of the people who came to the lodge came here to hunt and fish. This is where their trophies were prepared.
This is the main building for the lodge. This is where the Holzwarth Family lived and Sophie cooked up her famous combinations of German and Western US cuisine. There are also several other building onsite.
At one point the trail leading to the lodge crosses the Colorado River. This mighty river, the same one which carved out the magnificent Grand Canyon, begins ten miles north of here. There is little hint at this point of the great river that will be formed when hundreds of other rivers, creeks and streams feed into it along its path.
One stop that I would designate as a must see is the Holzwarth Historic Site. People have been coming to this area for at least 6000 years. The Ute Tribe lived in the area 6000 years ago. The Arapahoe moved into the area in the 1800s, followed by miners, fur trappers, and other explorers. John and Sophie Holzwarth then established the Holzwarth Trout Lodge here from 1920 to 1929. The remains of a miner's cabin, the Holzwarth Lodge and a few buildings associated with the lodge are preserved here. They are accessible down a short paved trail that crosses the Colorado River and has some great views. I got a great shot of a young girl dressed in period clothes hand washing clothes; but I do not have permission to use it here so I won't.
419 Garfield Street, PO Box 1286, Grand Lake, Colorado, 80447, United States
Good for: Business
County Road 491, Box 629, Colorado, 80447, United States
Good for: Business
Ten miles north of Grand Lake Entrance, Colorado, United States
Good for: Couples