Temperature: not sure, but definitely cold enough to snow
Visit Date: May 29
Partner in Crime: Kim Thomas
Route taken: Estes Park to Grand Lake over Trail Ridge Road, then back to Estes Park via the Fall River Visitor Center
Kim is a recent transplant to Colorado from Charlotte, North Carolina. We planned to go to Rocky Mountain National Park, hoping that the rangers are able to clear Trail Ridge Road early enough that I can show it to her. It opened the day before, but tentatively, and only during daylight hours.
I picked Kim up in Boulder, and we headed up to Rocky Mountain through Estes Park. Since Rocky Mountain is the closest to my home, it felt like visiting an old friend. As I started up the road, I pointed out the remnants of the old ski area, and explained to Kim what treeline was. Treeline was one of those things that my Dad always pointed out when we were adventuring, so I explained it to Kim as well. We stopped at the Lava flows, which was still wholly covered by snow. We took the requisite photos of us standing in front of the plowed snow bank that was well over our heads. Mental note: don't forget to take a sweatshirt or more layers-even in the summer time, Rocky Mountain National Park can have unpredictable and cold weather, even in mid-summer.
Next we went to Forest Canyon Overlook, where most of the visitors were more than happy to take pictures of the obliging marmots just below the rock wall. From here the vistas are beautiful. Mental Note: even though the parking lot is often full, be patient and wait for a spot so you can visit this overlook. There are two hanging lakes on the other side of the valley that I have long dreamed of setting up my tent for a week with my journal and just enjoying. Someday...
At the Alpine Visitors Center, there was a fabulous snow carving for the centennial. Despite it only being the second day Trail Ridge Road was open, there were quite a few people up there, and everyone wanted a picture of the NPS100 snow carving. The Visitors Center still had a significant amount of snow piled up partially blocking the usually impressive view down the valley. The snow was coming down, and the temperature was definitely not anything like the 70 degrees in Boulder. Mental Note: don't forget some extra layers if you're headed up to Trail Ridge Road- it was actually snowing up there.
We continued on down Trail Ridge Road; despite Rocky Mountain being my home park, I had never gone past the Alpine Visitors Center towards Grand Lake. Mental note: a quick hike around the Holzwarth Historic Site is perfect for a family with kids who can't go too far but still wants a great reward at the end of the hike. It used to be a retreat in the days of prohibition, offering fishing, horseback riding, and overall relaxation. Now it is volunteer housing during the summer months. While there, we met a woman who has been a volunteer for the last 25 years who told us about the property. She had decided this summer would be her last, and the mix of emotions in her was palpable as we talked. I wish I had gotten her contact because I'm sure she has some stories after 25 years working in the park. The hike back to the car was a quick but peaceful one as the deer grazed in the distance.
As we continued on to Grand Lake, there was a moose by the side of the road around the Green Lake trailhead area. I am quite impressed at how the park has wildlife monitors- those folks who hang around and make sure tourists respect the animals' space while being able to have that up close experience with them. Mental note: keep an eye out for wildlife as well as the cars that get backlogged around the wildlife-the winding road doesn't always allow for extra visibility.
After a quick lunch and visit to Grand Lake, we headed back over Trail Ridge Road. It was raining at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center, so I was a little concerned about the weather up higher. Luckily, the weather cleared at the top, and the views were stunning in all directions.
Rocky Mountain is a beautiful place with a rich history and numerous options for all activity levels. A little extra planning will go a long way to making sure your visit is an enjoyable one!