Estes Park, Colorado

So ya wanna visit Rocky Mountain National Park?  The name Estes Park is synonymous with Rocky Mountain National Park.  This quaint town is considered the eastern gateway to the Park and is the most popular, well-known entry point.  Estes Park is a small mountain town catering to the needs of the many tourists from around the world embarking on a Colorado adventure.

in , USA
in , USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is an abundance of lodging (including campgrounds), restaurants, shopping, and sights to see.  The most famous lodging is the Stanley Hotel.  Al and I stayed at the Stanley when we celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary with a trip to Colorado.  Very romantic, I might add.  Oh, and yes, the hotel was built by and named after the famous Stanley Steamer inventor.

The Stanley Hotel is known for its architecture, beautiful setting, and famous visitors.  Most notable;  Stephen King’s “The Shining” novel, turned movie, was filmed at this amazing place.  The hotel is also known for being haunted and has been featured on several shows about the super natural, most recently on the Travel Channel.  Although this historic hotel is haunted, not to fear, the ghosts are considered to be happy ghosts.  No murders or unpleasantries took place here.

Trail Ridge Road – Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is a spectacular wilderness that has been protected for millions to see and enjoy.  This being said, commercial activity inside park boundaries is extremely limited.  So on any outing or activity, be sure to pack plenty of water and snacks.  Please remember to drink lots and lots of water to avoid even the mildest symptoms of altitude sickness.

Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous paved road in the United States.  It is also one of America’s top ten byways.  This road traverses through the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park from Estes Park to Grand Lake.  My favorite day and one I would recommend;  head out of Estes Park about 8 in the morning.  Dress in layers because it’ll be cool/cold in the morning.  Drive Trail Ridge Road and stop at EVERY scenic pull-out for a photo-op…….destination Grand Lake.  In Grand Lake enjoy lunch, a picnic, ice cream, coffee – whatever floats your boat.  If you stand at the water’s edge of the lake, you can feel the coolness of the water.  Kind of like opening a refrigerator door. Be sure and take a stroll up and down Main Street.  Grand Lake is one of my favorite mountain towns, a town we would frequent every winter during our Christmas vacations at Snow Mountain Ranch.  Although it is much more of a summer destination than winter one.

Al and Bear / Grand Lake, Colorado

After your Grand Lake tour, return to Estes Park.  Once again taking in all the sights.  I’m not sure why, and perhaps it’s just me, but the views from this direction take on a new personality.  So you won’t feel like you’re doing a repeat, not that this awe-inspiring scenery doesn’t need repeating.  Plan on taking the day to do this trip, and don’t be surprised if an afternoon storm rolls in.

Estes Park is a great jumping off point for a Colorado vacation, whether you stay in a hotel or a campground.  I personally wouldn’t recommend Trail Ridge Road for large RV’s, even though we see plenty.  The road is narrow and parking is difficult during busy summer months.  The majority of campgrounds within the park are geared toward tents and small trailers.  Most are not suitable for large RV’s and offer no hookups.  If I were tenting it, I would definitely stay at one of several campgrounds within Rocky Mountain National Park.  What an amazing backyard to enjoy.  I would also recommend checking out YMCA of the Rockies for lodging options in Estes Park.

No trip to Colorado would be complete without a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park.  I’m ready to go back today……

Ouzel Lake and Mahana Peak, Rocky Mountain Nat...
Ouzel Lake and Mahana Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA (misidentified as Bear Lake at source site — compare to photos at http://www.mendosa.com/fitnessblog/?p=625) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Daughter and I visit Rocky Mtn National Park

A year and a half after Al and I celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary in Rocky Mountain National Park, I found myself once again suffering from altitude sickness.  No wait.  We were living in a Chicago suburb with a mere altitude of about 600 feet.  Oops, that time my dizziness and nausea was not due to the altitude, but due to pregnancy; planned and wanted, I might add.  And what a beautiful baby she was!

Daughter – Rocky Mtn National Park

When my daughter was three, we moved cross-country to Las Vegas, Nevada.  It was during this drive west, we stopped at a scenic overlook in Colorado.  Numerous tunnels are met when traversing Interstate 70.  The longest and most known is the Eisenhower Tunnel at Loveland Pass, elevation 11,990.  When traveling westbound on I-70, the moment you exit the Eisenhower Tunnel, you are greeted with the most spectacular “Colorado” mountain scene, and it only gets better.  After the tunnel but prior to the Frisco exit is a scenic overlook….overlooking Dillion Reservoir and the Continental Divide.  This scenic overlook is a MUST stop when traveling westbound (not eastbound).  It was at this point, daughter informed us, “I move to mountains when I big girl”.   At the age of three, she was so taken by the view that it left an indelible impression upon her.  And move she did! When she was eight years old, we moved to Colorado Springs.  This move made daughter very, very happy, even though she was leaving friends behind.  Daughter loves living in Colorado.  Over the years, she and I have been known to hop in the vehicle and explore our local Colorado attractions.  Mid July a few years ago, she and I visited Rocky Mountain National Park. We chose to go ‘the back way’.  We took I-70 west, headed north on Hwy 40, and spent the night in Winter Park.  From Winter Park we continued north on Hwy 40 to Granby.  At Granby we headed northeast on Hwy 34 toward Rocky Mountain National Park.  A stop in the small town of Grand Lake, just before the park, is a must. Rocky Mountain National Park was established in 1915 and encompasses approximately 415 square miles.  The Park is home to more than 60 mountains exceeding 12,000 feet in elevation.  Rocky Mountain National Park is known for its majestic mountain peaks, dense forests, rushing mountain waters, delicate mountain flowers, clear lakes, and plenty of wildlife. Daughter and I continued driving on Hwy 34 which turns into Trail Ridge Road.  Trail Ridge Road is one of America’s top ten byways.  As you travel and gain in elevation, the landscape changes from trees and meadows to alpine tundra.  Although the tundra is too harsh for trees and appears barren at first glance, the tundra is abundant with an array of delicate vegetation.

Daughter as we hike trail near Alpine Visitor Center – folks resting along trail

The Alpine Visitor Center is at an elevation of about 12,000 feet.  Even the fittest of persons seem to get breathless at this altitude.  There’s a large gift shop, restrooms, and snack area, as well as a nearby hiking trail.  Daughter and I have spent the past fifteen years living at 5000+ feet in elevation and are not as easily winded as most of the visitors.  We take the nearby hike to a scenic view-point…. Huffer’s Hill trail is aptly named.  Many tourists can’t seem to catch their breath and return to the parking lot.  Daughter and I walked a steady pace and passed others winded.  Hey, no altitude sickness for this ‘ol’ gal.  Could it be, I’m no longer a “flatlander”?  I even outpaced some high schoolers  🙂

Daughter heading back to the Alpine Visitor Center parking lot

Although Daughter and I were glad we did the short hike, similar scenes can be eyed from easier viewpoints.  Be sure and keep a sweatshirt or jacket handy during your explorations at Rocky Mountain National Park.  Weather can and will change swiftly.  Sunny, summer mornings are often frequented by formidable afternoon storms, complete with high winds and lightning.  So be sure and keep an eye on the sky for severe weather.  If you start your day early, you’ll have a better chance of seeing wildlife and do more activities prior to the storms rolling in in the afternoon….hike early and be off the trails before lightning strikes.  Happy Travels!

Snow still around in mid July

Rocky Mountain National Park

There’s a variety of ways to experience Rocky Mountain National Park.  You can enjoy an abundance of scenic drives, short strolls along a gentle trail, daylong hikes, strenuous vertical mountain climbs, wildlife viewing, horseback riding, and biking.  I would caution you to be humbly honest with yourself and your physical abilities before starting out….yes, speaking from personal experience.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

All of Rocky Mountain National Park sits 7500+ feet high in elevation.  Altitude sickness is a common occurrence, even among the young and fit.  My first visit to this gorgeous park was in the late 1980’s.  Al and I were celebrating our five-year wedding anniversary with a trip to Colorado.  My parent’s eagerly watched our son, their first grandchild, allowing Al and me a much-needed break from parenting.  We were young, in good health and fit, but “flatlanders” from Illinois.

Rocky Mountain National Park – Sept.

We stayed at the famous Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.  We explored the quaint town of Estes Park, a great jumping off point.  Day two, we embarked on several scenic drives through Rocky Mountain National Park, stopping at the many scenic overlooks and took in the sights.  We had not attempted any hiking at that point, as we wanted to acclimate to the altitude.  It was the morning of day three that I started feeling a bit under the weather.  I was experiencing symptoms of fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and shortness of breath; textbook altitude sickness, or bite your tongue, pregnancy.  Thank goodness it was altitude sickness……not without experiencing a few moments of terror  stress.  With son having just turned one, I was not ready to venture down the road of pregnancy again, just yet anyway.

The folks at the Stanley Hotel, recommended lots and lots of water with the occasional aspirin to overcome the sickness.  That worked, but I never did gain enough energy to hike.  Exploring by car and taking short strolls to witness the majestic towering peaks and deep valleys did not lessen our enjoyment.

I was overwhelmed and awed by the mountains, forests of pine trees, grassy hillsides, and rushing streams of water.  This was the perfect, most romantic place to celebrate our anniversary…..that is, once the dizziness and nausea subsided 🙂

Twenty years later, we revisit Rocky Mountain National Park. A little heavier, grayer, but more acclimated to the altitude. See age has nothing to do with it.