Rocky Mountain National Park is a classic outdoor adventure destination and a superstar of the National Park system, and so I put it on my Outdoor Bucket List a few years ago. I was able to check it off this past June. This was our first camping trip of the 2015 summer season and also the biggest. I was super stoked to see the Rocky mountains, and I had also never been to Colorado before. Everyone I knew who lived in Colorado regales me with tales of breathtaking summits, incredible wildlife, the best mountain scenery, and the best hiking and camping in the continental United States. Naturally, I was expecting RMNP to knock my socks off.
In the morning of June 13, a Saturday, we loaded up our ready-for-adventure Subaru Outback and kissed our little dog goodbye, and start the trek to RMNP. The drive was 18 hours. We drove for about 10 hours the first day and stayed in a hotel somewhere in Iowa.
We resume the drive the next day. As we got closer to the park, the mountains appeared in the horizon, and wow. It’s trite, but it was breathtaking. The jagged snow capped peaks look so dramatic against the bright blue sky.
We pulled up to the west entrance of RMNP around 8:00pm on Sunday. The park admission fee was $20 for a whole week. I’m a little blown away at how cheap it was. I mean, this park is one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. Only $20? I was glad to give them my money.
We were camping in Moraine Park Campground, the biggest campground inside the park. This was a modern campground, which means they are bathrooms with flush toilets and water taps. I prefer rustic camping and primitive campsites, but because I had never been in this area before, I decided to play it safe and reserve in the modern campground. Moraine Park is pretty typical of modern campgrounds in National Parks, except that each campsite has an excellent mountain view:
June 15, 2015
As is typical of most summer camping, I wake up at around 6am because the tent is flooded with LIGHT and my eyeballs can’t escape from it. And you can hear ALL THE BIRDS. Which is ofcourse a great thing, because ya know, we drove halfway across the country to be here in nature. But the first 30 minutes of waking up in a tent is always hard for me, especially if it was a cold night, which it was. It was in the low 40s and I woke up a few times from the cold.
But I also love camping early mornings because of the soft warm sunlight that makes nature look all fresh and new, and because I love making breakfast over a fire.
After we washed up after breakfast, we headed over the to Beaver Meadows Visitor Center. All the guide books recommend consulting the rangers at the visitor centers about trail conditions and the areas are currently open to the public. More importantly, we needed to get on the wifi because Kory teaches an online class that she needs to log on to everyday during the week.
Anyway, pro tip- Beaver Meadows Visitor Center has wifi and there’s a bench adjacent to the ranger desk that has an outlet, so you can charge your camera battery because you forget to bring a spare!
Kory logged into her class, we got some information about where to spot some big horn sheep because Kory really wants to see them, and I charged my electronics. We decide to check out the one of the most popular sites in the east side of the park- Bear Lake.
We drive out to this Park and Ride spot where we can take a shuttle to Bear Lake. The shuttle makes two other spots to other trailheads around Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain before the last stop at Bear Lake.
There isn’t actually a hike to get to Bear Lake. You get off the shuttle and you walk up a little hill and it’s right there. The loop around the lake is .6 miles.
It was drizzling on and off, and it was a little cold. There was a little bit of snow on the ground. Bear Lake is supposed to be one of the most picturesque lakes in the park, but because the weather was so dark and overcast, it was a little underwhelming. But one could definitely see that this spot would be absolutely gorgeous in better weather conditions.
Overall it was a easy walk around the lake and we ate our packed lunch with a nice view of the lake.
We get back on the shuttle to our car and head back to Moraine Park campground. This is when we notice the temperature/weather difference between the higher and lower elevations of the park. Up in the mountains in Bear Lake, I needed my fleece-lined triclimate jacket, but back down in the shuttle area it was hot and I wanted to change into shorts. The guide book said that the the park’s “high country” and “low country” could have radically different weather conditions. I’m glad that I was prepared with ALL THE CLOTHES.
We are driving down Bear Lake Road when we see our first elk sighting! There were two males eating grass by a bridge. It’s very exciting to spot these huge creatures just chilling and doing their thing.
After admiring the wonderful creatures from afar and taking tons of pictures with my zoom lens, we continue on back to the campsite. We went over a bridge that crossed this fast moving river with these huge boulders:
In Moraine Park, we saw our first herd of elk:
We finally got back to our campsite around 8pm, just in time to start making dinner. We basically spent the day getting our bearings and the lay of the land. Rocky Mountain Park was clearly huge, and we had driven quite a bit today, but we had only seen a tiny portion of it.
It was a dark clear night, and so we could see so many stars in the sky. Watching the starts is always so much better in the wilderness, but they seemed even more bright and brilliant here.