Rocky Mountain National Park

August 05, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Rocky Mountain National Park is the sixth most popular national park in terms of visitors, partially due to its proximity to Denver, but primarily because of its easy access to alpine, tundra, and meadow landscapes. It is also the highest national park by average elevation, with 60 peaks over 12,000 feet. Its popularity as a weekend getaway for locals made it an easy decision to visit the park in mid-week right after we arrived in Colorado.

We spent what was left of our first day on Bear Lake Road, scouting Sprague Lake for sunrise the next day, and hiking to Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and partially around Bear Lake. Our breathless hike (due to the altitude and little time for acclimating) around Nymph Lake and to Dream Lake was rewarded by the sights of elk feeding near a pretty lake surrounded by mountains, a fisherman casting in a small pond, and a rather close encounter with an elk wandering near the shore looking for something to eat. After hiking back down from Dream Lake, we walked to the north side of Bear Lake to catch the last light of the day shining on Longs Peak.

 

Fisherman near Dream LakeFisherman near Dream Lake Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain rise above Dream LakeHallett Peak and Flattop Mountain rise above Dream Lake Sunset at Bear LakeSunset at Bear Lake Longs Peak Reflection in Bear LakeLongs Peak Reflection in Bear Lake

 

Early the next day, we made our way back to the area to catch twilight on the mountains above Sprague Lake and hiked back up to Nymph Lake and Dream Lake. We saw a pretty orange sky on the hike up and stopped to photograph Tyndall Creek cascading its way downstream after leaving Dream Lake.

 

Morning twilight at Sprague LakeMorning twilight at Sprague Lake Orange sky from Dream Lake trailOrange sky from Dream Lake trail Tyndall Creek CascadeTyndall Creek Cascade

 

We spent our last day in the park traveling the 48-mile Trail Ridge Road that bisects the park from Estes Park to Grand Lake. More than 17 miles of the road is in the Alpine zone and is home to the tundra. The road also took us to the homes of some of the park’s wildlife. We saw bighorn sheep, marmots, pikas, herds of elk, and of course, mountain peaks long the northern stretch of the road.

 

Tundra at Ute Trail pulloutTundra at Ute Trail pullout Wildflowers in the tundraWildflowers in the tundra Resting ElkResting Elk Yellow-bellied marmotYellow-bellied marmot Hoodoos on trail at Rock Cut overlookHoodoos on trail at Rock Cut overlook Bighorn SheepBighorn Sheep Never Summer Mountains, where the Colorado River beginsNever Summer Mountains, where the Colorado River begins

 

Near the Alpine Visitor Center, the road makes a turn toward the south and descends into the Kawuneeche Valley. Before the turn are sweeping 360º views of mountain ridges as far as the eye can see. We made our way up the Alpine Ridge Trail (climbing 209 feet in elevation over three-tenths of a mile) to take in the rarefied air and scenery.

On the western side of the park is the Kawuneeche Valley, with the historic Holzwarth Homestead. The Colorado River (to the left in this picture) meanders through this grassy valley. Here we saw a number of moose, including babies with their mamas along the East Inlet Trail near Grand Lake.

 

Old hay rake at Holzwarth Historic SiteOld hay rake at Holzwarth Historic Site Mama and Baby MooseMama and Baby Moose Sunset near Grand LakeSunset near Grand Lake Roadside ElkRoadside Elk Near where the elk and moose like to roamNear where the elk and moose like to roam Elk in field near Coyote Valley trailElk in field near Coyote Valley trail Along the East Inlet Trail, with Mt. Craig in the backgroundAlong the East Inlet Trail, with Mt. Craig in the background

 

Next up: Garden of the Gods


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