Written by Brad
I love to travel. It is thrilling to experience new and different locations and cultures. I’ve been lucky to have opportunities to travel throughout the U.S., for both work and pleasure, and about 11 months ago had the great pleasure of traveling abroad for the second time, experiencing the wonders of Italy, which you may have read about in Donna’s blog. Within the last few months, Donna and I have also been to Washington, DC, Boston and Pittsburgh. All were great experiences; each city with its unique vibe.
My latest excursion took me west with my 2 sons, to Colorado. My sons, while single, are both in serious relationships and I don’t know how much longer they will want to travel with their dad, so the timing was perfect.
We explored Denver and all it had to offer, took in a Rockies baseball game, and experienced a concert at Red Rocks, but the highlight of the trip, by far, was our day exploring the sprawling Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). The park covers 415 square miles and is home to 147 lakes, 124 named mountain peaks, the continental divide, and 355 miles of hiking trails, which is probably the biggest draw of the park.
RMNP is northwest of Denver and I recommend getting there early, both to beat the crowds and to better see wildlife. National Parks now require a timed entry and we arrived just after 6am, not an easy task talking my sons into getting our of bed at 4! Our early arrival paid off though as we saw a small herd of female elk and a large bull elk just after entering the park, offering an early glimpse of what the park has to offer.
Hiking Bear Lake Trail was first on our agenda. The glistening lake is stunning in the morning sun, reflecting the cerulean sky and green trees in the crystal, clear water. We were instantly in awe of our amazing surroundings, snapping photo after photo. The short hike around the lake filled our lungs with crisp, clean air and warmed us up for our next trail, the more challenging hike to Emerald Lake. This is a much more strenuous hike, but well worth the effort. There are stunning vistas and beautiful valleys, carved by glaciers centuries ago, that are filled with pristine aspen, birch, pine, and spruce trees as far as the eyes can see. The trees all seem to point to the heavens, the peaks reaching into the clouds.
Along the way to Emerald Lake there are streams and lakes filled with colorful trout and multitudes of flora and fauna. This hike, to me, encapsulated the majesty of the massive park. I was constantly surveying the rocky gorges, taking photos of the spectacular sights all around me. After finally reaching Emerald Lake we were all astounded by this stunning lake at 10,000 feet, hidden at the base of peaks the likes of which we had never witnessed. It was truly a sight I will never forget as we paused on a gigantic rock to eat, drink, and take in the wonder of nature.
After hiking back down the trail, descending was much easier than climbing!, we chose a shorter trail to Alberta Falls. This trail offering gorgeous aspen and birch trees, which I’m sure explode with color when the leaves change later in the year. We were aware of our approach to the waterfall long before we could see it, the thunder of water filling the serene air. The roaring waterfall was another grandiose sight.
Unfortunately, thunder, and not the water cascading over the rocks, forced us to hurry back the trail and retreat to shelter as a thunderstorm moved in. Since we couldn’t explore on foot due to the rain, we decided to drive Trail Ridge Road. Built in 1931, it is the highest continually paved road in the country. The views, even in the rain and clouds, were awe-inspiring, as we climbed 4,000 feet in elevation, above the tree line. Finally reaching the peak, at 12,000 feet, it was 38 degrees and sleeting, on Aug. 28, and there was snow on the mountaintops. We snapped a selfie we will never forget in the cold air.
I can think of no better place to convene with nature. While the breathtaking scenery is the obvious draw and highlight, I was also captivated by all the smiling faces we encountered. Everyone was there because of the allure of nature and to share this amazing experience. Over and over, pleasantries were exchanged with strangers along the trail and we did not see even one piece of trash on our miles-long hikes, everyone aware of making no impact on the ecosystem.
If you feel the call of the wild, this should be your destination. Rocky Mountain National Park is truly a national treasure and a sight to behold. It was a perfect day with my sons, bonding us in a way that could never be replicated and creating memories that will last a lifetime.