colorado - fort collins and rocky mountain national park: part 2

if you read part 1 of my travels to fort collins then you know that we took a crazy overnight road trip, drank some amazing colorado craft beer, and ate some wonderful food. if you haven't read it yet, check it out here

day 3

when we last left off of we had turned in on saturday night after a full day of eating and drinking to get a good night's sleep before heading to estes park to hike at rocky mountain national park.

the original plan was to hike in the area around the fort collins, but after chatting with my family that lives in fort collins, we decided to take the 40 mile drive to the rocky mountains.


the entrance to rocky mountain national park is located in the town of estes park in northern colorado. a cute mountain town, you may recognize estes park and the stanley hotel from the movies the shining and dumb and dumber.

we picked what was apparently the second worst day to visit the park - the sunday before labor day. on one of our shuttle bus drives to a chain of lakes in the park the rangers told us that that they were expecting it to be their second busiest day ever with over 9,000 people visiting. their busiest was july 3 of this year with approximately 10,000 park visitors.

the drive from fort Collins to estes park is beautiful. once you get out of the loveland area you wind through the mountains of roosevelt national forest, then into the bustling town of estes park. immediately we encountered traffic and a very slowwwwwwww wait to get through the main stoplight in town. 

in addition we had to make a pit stop at a sports shop so dylan could get long sleeves for the park. the temperature was  progressively getting colder as we made our way into estes park, and we knew that as we ascended up the mountain he would need to have long sleeves (hey, what can we say - hiking was a new hobby to us and we don't have mountains in iowa, so we were learning!).

after getting proper gear we wove our way into the park, wanting to start at bear lake is a series of lakes that begin at a lower, but still high elevation of approximately 9,475 feet. the loop is 0.6 miles, but connects to a series of other lakes that were recommended we hike.


as we made our way to bear lake we were turned around because that area of the park was already at capacity. honestly, at the time i had no idea a national park could be at capacity (damn holiday weekends). to give a little perspective on how full it was, there are 3-4 "park and ride" spots along the road that lead to bear lake. you can park your car and hop on a number of shuttle's that come around every 10-15 minutes to take you to hike at bear lake. all of those shuttles, all of those park and rides - closed.

we turned around and headed up Trail Ridge Road, which is the highest paved road in the united states at an elevation of 12,183 feet (that's 48 miles tall, and 11 miles above the tree line!).

as you wind your way up you come to various scenic lookout points, as well as a handful of places to park and hike. rocky mountain national park has approximately 350 miles of trails to suit each person's level of hiking abilities, but the higher up you get, the more susceptible you are to altitude sickness which can present itself in a number of ways. we were lucky and only experienced mild headaches at that highest elevation.


the temperature dropped to it's lowest at 44 degrees at that elevation - a stark contrast to the 90-some degrees that fort collins was experiencing that day.

the entire drive was beautiful. In the car we talked about how much more we appreciated this trip and the beauty of the area than we ever would have as kids. at 10 years old my focus was on the next water park i wanted to go to, but i'm thankful that as i've matured and grown up i've taken to really appreciating the mountains, nature, and all of the amazing natural beauty that the world has.


upon studying our map of the park we realized that we continued on trail ridge road it would lead us out of the complete other side of the park, which was not estes park, and not where we needed to be. with over 400 square miles of land, the other side of park could mean an entirely different state, so it was time to turn around.

as we wound our way down the mountain we decided to try going over to the bear lake area once more. signs indicated that parking was full, but the road wasn't closed any longer so we took a chance. we parked at the very last 'park and ride' stop before bear lake and had the good fortune of pulling in right as someone was leaving the full parking lot.


this was the best stop we could have made to park. we were able to hop on the shuttle bus and 10 minutes later we were at bear lake.

the lakes were absolutely gorgeous and there were a number of different routes you could take depending on which lakes you wanted to see and the distance you wanted to go. Iiwould definitely put this area on my list to camp at in the future!

we made our way back to our stop, got in the car, and made the s-l-o-w drive back out of the park. as we crawled forward at a snails pace we were thinking we would be coming upon an accident at some point, but instead there were groups of elk that were sitting right by the road, and people were stopping to take pictures.

i have mixed emotions about this behavior. on one hand I completely understand wanting to capture a photograph, believe me, but on the other hand I couldn't imagine just stopping our car in the middle of the road because there weren't any more parking spots available to get a picture. i just couldn't in good conscience do that cause a major traffic jam. the benefit to us was that because of this traffic jam we were able to see the elk clearly from the car and take a couple pictures without disrupting the flow of traffic.


we eventually made it out of rocky mountain national park and onto fort collins to get showered and ready for dinner.

dinner was at a place called Restaurant 415. the menu sounded delicious and it was only a mile walk from our hotel.


after dinner we headed back to the hotel and packed up for our 6:15am alarm to make the 12 hour drive home.

although our trip was quick and a whirlwind, I'm so glad we took advantage of the holiday weekend to see another part of the country we'd never seen before. from the bustling and fun town of fort collins to the natural beauty of the rocky mountains we were so grateful for this little trip, and if you haven't had the opportunity see that part of the world, put it on your list - it's amazing.