Located at about 2 1/2 hours or 76 mi from Denver are the Rocky Mountains and for me the Switzerland in the west. If you are fascinated by and love living and getting lost in the great heights, if you love wildlife left in the wild, you must definitely have the Rockies on your bucket list. The park during summer is very busy so you will have to make reservations well in advance if you want to stay at Estes Park.
There are a host of campgrounds here and the best way to actually enjoy the park would be to camp. Buses run inside the park for hikers and campers to go from one spot to another.
It is very difficult to capture the beauty of the park over a span of a few days (it has over 350 mi of trails) but I will start by giving you the highlights:
This is the eastern entrance to the Rocky Mountain National Park. It is popular for its summer resorts and is the closest town to the national park. The Lake Estes is a popular spot for a daytime picnic and water sports activities. There are a ton of eateries here including Nepal’s Cafe, Claire’s on the Park and Hayley’s Ice cream.
A popular landmark in Estes Park is the Stanley Hotel. This historic hotel is the inspiration behind Stephen King’s best-selling novel, The Shining. You can live in the hotel to witness the “paranormal activities”.
You can pay the entrance fee at the Visitor Center and also get information about the weather, road safety, hiking conditions, hikes and the best spots for photography from the Rangers here.
Trail Ridge Road:
The Trail Ridge Road is a 48 mi road leading from Estes Park into the Rocky Mountains. Located at 11,500 ft above sea level, this road offers visitors a thrilling view of the mountains and the wildlife. It is the highest continuous paved road in the United States and with its breathtaking view, the best one too.
You get beautiful panoramic views of the mountains and the tundra it is engulfed in. You will pass the continental divide driving through the road. The Trail Ridge Road is home to some amazing wild animals such as the Elk, Moose, Bears, Deer, and Mountain Lions.
The weather here can change dramatically so you need to be ready for it all. As the park is located at a high altitude, it can get really cold during summer. Mid-Afternoon thunderstorms are also a usual around here so be well prepared.
The Nymph Lake trail is on the way to the Emerald Lake and one of the most popular trails in the Rocky Mountains. Despite it being crowded by tourists at any given time, this is one of the most stunning lakes in the park. Surrounded by trees and tall mountains, you get a sense of zen while you are here. On the hike, you will pass through meadows, see waterfalls, unique flowers, and animals as well. The lake is full of lily pads and this makes the lake even more unique.
The Emerald Lake trail is a 4 mi round trip hike which can be categorized as moderate and I definitely recommend it. You can hike to the Nymph lake or the Dream Lake if you don’t want to hike all the way to Emerald Lake.
If you want to see a gorgeous lake without having to hike at all, this is the place you want to be. The Bear Lake is the most popular spot in the Park. Surrounded by the majestic mountains in all directions, this lake is a hidden gem and very easily accessible.
Since the spot is very popular, you may have problems getting a parking spot here. Be sure to arrive very early to get a spot to park your car and enjoy the lake. The loop of the lake is a 0.8mi trek and has many benches and rest stops along the way.
Exploring the Tundra Region:
The Rockies have a spectacular display of the high tundra wilderness. The harsh environment in the area allows only the strong and sturdy trees to grow and flourish. Because of the height, unpredictable and difficult weather and thin soil, surviving is a challenge for the wilderness here.
If you have never seen tundra-like conditions, this place is surely going to grant you that experience. If you want to have a moment where you can really enjoy the vast tundra here, I recommend the UTE trail. Although the trail is a 4 mi round trip one, you can turn back at any time or just sit back and take it all in.
Alpine Visitor Center:
Alpine is the highest Visitor Center in the United States, at 11,796 ft. It offers a 360 View of the mountains and is covered in snow even during summer. You can witness the unique tundra wilderness from the visitor centre from the large viewing deck located here. Since it is located at a high altitude, the visitor centre does not function year-long and can be accessed only during summer.
There are restrooms, café and a souvenir store here. You can have a pit stop to rest and enjoy the mountains. The Visitor Center is on the Trail Ridge Road.
Forest Canyon Overlook:
One of the most dramatic and panoramic views of the park can be seen from the Forest Canyon Overlook. It is located on the Trail Ridge Road and parking can be tricky here.
You can enter the Rocky Mountains from Aspen and Glenwood Springs as well. The joint trip will be more than a weekend-long but is an exciting experience. To know more about Aspen, Vail and Glenwood Springs, visit the blog post on Aspen!