On Top of the World in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National ParkWe started our summer of alliteration by spending two days in Rocky Mountain National Park, just about two hours outside of Denver. Erin was hoping to get into a night sky photography class up there those two days, but it didn’t work out. Instead, we were free to roam about the park. #winning

Our original plan was to do a 5-6 mile hike in the popular Bear Lake area. However, when we got to the visitor center, where we had planned to talk to a ranger about where we might hike, the visitor center was not yet open. (Believe us, we are not often up & moving that early in the day!) We decided to make Plan B, and headed up Trail Ridge Road instead.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Is he not the cutest?

We wound our way up to the Alpine Visitor Center on the top of the world (okay, at elevation 11,796 feet). Much of the drive was through beautiful pine and aspen forest, but when we passed the treeline and got up into the tundra that’s when we got to Erin’s favorite part. Except for those pesky high elevation headaches (drink more water and eat some candy was the ranger’s advice for getting rid of them), alpine tundra is one of her favorite ecosystems. You can usually see for miles, and the tundra has a stark beauty to it with lots of little surprises if you keep your eyes open. Tiny flowers, little alpine ponds, and fat marmots sunning themselves in the rocks. We also saw a very large herd of elk in a meadow up on the Trail Ridge Road, mostly cows and calves, but some bulls too!

The sun was out, but up high in the mountains it was also very windy, so it was colder than we expected or planned for. Rookie mistake on our part. It’s easy to take layers off, so bring them along. It’s also a good idea to have rain gear along when you’re in the Rockies, because there’s an afternoon thunderstorm many days. Luckily, we were under cover having lunch at the Moraine Park Discovery Center (Junior Ranger Headquarters for RMNP!) during Saturday’s downpour.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Erin crossed a stream on a log!!

We did get in three short hikes on Saturday. We did a hike at Medicine Bow Curve which was lovely. We could see for miles, and once we got about 100 yards off the parking lot, we couldn’t hear any more traffic and we didn’t see any people. We were hoping to see Ptarmigan along the path, but instead we saw a fluffy marmot. He kind of reminded Erin of a puppet the way he was popping his head in and out of his den checking us out.

After the rainstorm at Moraine Park, the sun came out and we did our second hike: a short loop hike along a stream that even included a stream crossing via logs. At first Erin didn’t want to do it, but Jeff convinced her she could. What do you know, he was right!

Rocky Mountain National Park

Alluvial Fan

Our last little hike was at Alluvial Fan. An alluvial fan, I just read, is a triangle shaped area of silt, sand, and rubble that’s usually deposited by water at the base of mountains. In this case, there’s that and then a bunch of giant boulders left from a flood. But the real star here is the waterfall, assumedly the very water creating said alluvial fan. It’s a really big waterfall with smaller little side falls coming off it. There are two parking lots, west, and east, one on each side of the river. Both have access to trails that go up the river to the waterfall. The views are slightly different, but both are good. This trail requires some hiking up over rocks and is definitely not handicapped accessible. The waterfall can be seen from the road for those who can’t manage the hike.

Even though we went with Plan B for our day, it was a great day of exploration in a gorgeous park. Enjoy your next national park adventure — Plan A or Plan B — whether it’s for a week or a weekend!

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