Well now, we had a travel hiatus didn’t we! So my Sidekick’s Southwest companion pass was only good for 2019. I managed to snag the normal one from them early in 2020 just in time for the old pandemic. Great timing! So anyway, my Sidekick and I decided that the best course of action was to enjoy the outdoors and decided to go for it a couple times in 2020.
Due to the pandemic a lot of non-stop Southwest destinations dried up. We were looking for non-stop only flights that led to cool outdoor options. So, naturally, Colorado fit the bill, even if it was the third time in as many years that I have visited the state! We decided to get into Denver and head on up to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park and stay a few days up there!
We stayed at a fairly no frills hotel near the lake, but it was reasonably priced compared to everything else around there. Highlights of the trip included a visit to the top of Trail Ridge Road, summiting Deer Mountain in Rocky Mountain Park, doing a cool hike to Dream, Nymph, and Emerald Lakes, seeing some elk and checking out the Stanley Hotel.
As I mentioned in my first Colorado post, Estes Park is a really pretty spot at decent high elevation surrounded by 10k plus peaks and, of course, is at the entrance on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park.
So my Sidekick and I have done a lot of traveling together now and we have our way of doing things which is basically getting into the place we are staying to check over things and then go out and do some recon. This one was a little tricky. Due to covid restrictions, RMNP was/is doing a timed entry and requires tickets for specific time frames. Luckily we were able to get in when we were supposed to and took the drive up to the Alpine Visitor center at the top of Trail Ridge Road. I would say that among the national parks I have been to so far, this road is probably tops in terms of grand scenic views, and I think it would be very difficult to top for sure. It is also a high elevation road up to 12000 feet!
I went ahead and reserved tickets for entry each of the days we were there but honestly, the thing about some of these parks that are very popular and crowded, and especially if one is hiking in these high altitude locales, you have to start early. The main reasons are logistics and atmospheric. These are national parks, not malls. There are very small parking lots, no parking garages, and when they are full, that’s it. Also, it seems that many do not know the actual hours of the parks. Very few of them actually ever lock the gates. Many of them have posted hours for paid entry (I have an annual pass) and visitor center and restroom access, but, generally speaking, you can come in and leave whenever you want. With RMNP doing that. it meant getting around the ticketing system and ensuring a parking spot for our hikes. The other reason is that weather in the mountains gets suspect after midday and if you happen to be in an exposed spot and are the highest thing above the ground, that means lightning is not your friend. Plus you get down from a hike and still have a lot of the day left! We did a couple nice big morning hikes on this trip. The first one was the Emerald Lake Trail, accessed on the Bear Lake side of the park. Again, even though this parking lot is decent sized, we were there before sun up and it was already filling up! The hike was about 3.5 miles out and back, with 700 feet of elevation gain. We had our packs and second breakfast and a couple beers for the end of the hike. And, we got to catch a killer sunrise!
After this hike we checked out the Estes Park Brewery for a brew and a sandwich. We later checked out the historic Stanley Hotel. This hotel served as the exterior for the hotel in the movie The Shining. It is an operating hotel and has a restaurant and bar that we actually visited the next day for some really good food and cocktails!
So the next day was supposed to be some hike that I had my eyes on, but neither of us were really in an 8 mile hiking position so we pulled an audible. We spied a mountain hike at a mountain called Deer mountain with a trailhead just off of the road and decided on that one. Again, we got up early to hit the very small parking area for this one. Deer Mountain Trail, is rated hard at 6 miles and 1400 feet of elevation gain up to the summit at 10000 feet, and features killer views! And, also some very hungry chipmunks! We stopped along the way for 2nd breakfast and then at the top had either 3rd breakfast or 1st lunch and the chipmunks were literally climbing on us! Gorgeous hike, though.
Fun outdoor trip and the perfect recharge from a weird year.
Overall impressions: Pros: Beautiful National Park. Great hiking. It was not terribly overcrowded, with the timed entry ticketing Cons: None. This is a must visit, period.
The Adventurer Final Word:
5 Stars! Must go!