It was just before sunrise when we drove up to the Fall River Entrance Station of Rocky Mountain National Park. It was one of those crisp Colorado mornings, the dry cool air was so refreshing that we decided to leave the car window open as we headed to Bear Lake Road for our first hike since we arrived in nearby Estes Park, CO.
It was almost 2 years since we had traveled to any extent due to the ongoing concerns of the global pandemic. But fully vaccinated, targeting a relatively less-traveled destination, and a desire to unwind in nature beckoned us to this iconic National Park. It was September and the cool nights and warm days were just what we needed to escape the Florida heat. According to scientists, being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature reduces anger, fear, and stress while increasing pleasant feelings. We certainly welcomed this news in light of our almost 2 years living hunkered down.
Rocky Mountain National Park was dedicated in 1915 due to many passionate advocates for the park including naturalist and guide, Enos Mills (1870-1922). Mills, an activist, lecturer, writer, and a lover of the park went on to become known as the Father of Rocky Mountain National Park. A statue of him and his dog Scotch is proudly displayed in downtown Estes Park.
As we approached the intersection of Bear Lake Road, we presented a Bear Lake Road pass to the temporary ranger station set up in the middle of the road. This time of year, Bear Lake Road is busy with nature lovers like us, so visitors needed to obtain an advanced pass to access the road and the limited-space parking areas. We kept our fingers crossed that there would still be a vacant parking spot despite the very early morning hour.
We were in luck! We parked the car in one of the few remaining parking spots and headed to the Bear Lake Trailhead. The night before, we decided we would hike to Emerald Lake, a 1.8 mi hike passing two other lakes on the way… Nymph Lake and Dream Lake. The 605 ft elevation gain seemed to be a good way to get our hiking legs in a little shape before hiking trails with greater elevation challenges. Our early start allowed us to enjoy the uncrowded forest trails and lake views. Of course, we captured many photos of the picturesque sights along the way.
After returning to the Bear Lake Trailhead, we decided to take a quick hike around the very accessible and busy Bear Lake Trail. The pleasant views of the lake and mountains along the 0.6-mile loop were a great way to cool down and relax a little before our picnic lunch.
On the second day exploring the park, we decided to hike to Gem Lake, a 1.7-mile hike from Lumpy Ridge Trailhead, just outside downtown Estes Park. After an enjoyable breakfast in town, we headed to the trailhead. Our hike to Gem Lake was certainly more challenging with an 830-foot elevation change but it seemed most of the elevation gain was in the last quarter mile! We found we had the trail almost entirely to ourselves, encountering only a few more hikers along the way after a we passed a large group of young people. Gem Lake was certainly appropriately named. Seeing the small mountain lake reflecting the rocky outcrops making up the shoreline was ample reward for the last few hundred yards that seemed almost straight up. Once again, we captured our hike and the beautiful lake in a few photos.
With our hiking legs in relatively good shape, we decided we would explore the park in the late afternoon too. We had two destinations in mind. First, we wanted to see Alberta Falls which was a fairly easy 0.9-mile hike from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, off Bear Lake Road. Although the trail was more crowded than our morning adventure to Gem Lake, we did not find the trail to be overrun with people. We enjoyed the cooler temperatures of the late afternoon and were rewarded with beautiful views of Alberta Falls.
Our second destination this evening was Sprague Lake. We had previously seen the lake and spotted what we thought was a perfect bench to enjoy a wine and cheese happy hour in the late afternoon. Our planning could not have been more perfect. The mountain breezes were quiet affording us spectacular reflections on the lake as we enjoyed our little “happy hour” while the sun sank below the mountains. We found a little wine along with nature helps increase those “pleasant feelings” that being in nature provides.
On our final day in the park, we decided to take it easy, so we selected another lake loop off the beaten path, Lily Lake. Hiking around Lily Lake and the Lily Ridge Trail is a 1.2-mile loop providing spectacular views of the beautiful little lake, Longs Peak (14,259 ft.) and Mount Meeker (13,911 ft).
Nancy and I barely scratched the surface of all the areas and spectacular scenery that Rocky Mountain National Park visitors can explore. However, our brief encounter provided a needed stress relieving time with nature and the mountain scenery. We can’t wait to go back to further explore this beautiful National Park.
Until then, keep exploring and capturing those special moments while you go. And as always, may only the most remarkable moments and photos be yours.