I’m usually not big on hikes, trips to the middle of literally nowhere, and places where there aren’t malls within a reasonable driving distance away. However, since moving to Northern Colorado a little over three months ago, I’ve had no choice but to become acquainted with the Rockies, and quite frankly, we have fallen in love with each other.
I’m not going to say I’m a world traveler, but after seeing some of the most famous places in the world first-hand, I can honestly say that some of the most incredible views in the world can be seen in my backyard at Rocky Mountain National Park. It doesn’t matter what time of year you go — the sights are always spectacular.
As soon as my husband and I moved (all the way from blazing hot Jensen Beach, south Florida) to Fort Collins, he was dead-set on showing me how much I would enjoy being out in nature. But let me tell you, I was dreading it. The thought of climbing up a huge mountain in the dead of winter with a 40-pound pack on my shoulders and zero mountaineering experience terrified me. For the past two years, I had been a sun-tanning, beach-going, tennis-playing, paddle-boarding, Lily Pulitzer type of girl and I doubted anything was going to change that. Nevertheless, we had become a part of NoCo, and NoCo had become a part of us, and it was not only my duty but my obligation to find out what the heck the big deal was about Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.
One weekend, over Thanksgiving 2017, when my parents were in town, the four of us took the two-hour trek all the way to RMNP. Not sure what to expect, we stopped in Estes Park for lunch at Casa Grande Mexican Restaurant, a quaint little restaurant on a hill overlooking downtown Estes. The food was great, but rule No. 1, if you’re looking for a cheaper route for lunch, try Subway across the street or pack your hiking bag with some protein bars because everything in Estes Park is very expensive.
After lunch, we got to the park and made the first mistake of buying a day pass, which is $20 when a year pass is only $40. The mountain ranger working at the entrance wasn’t much help in suggesting any easy trails (and they are usually not), so we decided to go ahead and figure it out for ourselves with the trusty, little map they hand out.
Rule No. 2: If the temperature is 65 degrees in Fort Collins, the temperature in the mountains is at least 15 degrees cooler in the mountains, and usually much windier, too. That day, it was about 34 degrees, but the wind chill was much cooler.
There I was, freezing, in my little pink tennis shoes and Lululemon leggings thinking, “How in the world am I about to climb a mountain like this?”
The great thing about RMNP is that you can pick a short one-mile, easy trail with no elevation; you can pick a longer trail with a little elevation, or you can literally climb a fourteener if you want!
Very unprepared, we decided to do two hikes anyway — (Rule No. 3: arrive early. Parking is a mess if you arrive in the middle of the day). We parked at Bear Lake Trailhead, huddled together and walked the mile hike around Bear Lake. This took about 40 minutes to get around (we stopped a lot and took a ton of photos – the frozen lake was so incredibly beautiful that I forgot about how cold I was). Next, we got back in the car and drove about a mile to Glacier Gorge Trailhead, which is one of my favorite trailheads in RMNP because there are so many views and different trails you can take off it. Alberta Falls is about a mile from the trailhead where you can park, but the elevation gain is about 160 feet. It’s a great hike even in the winter and the ice-covered waterfall and the view of the mountains from the top will not disappoint. The hike is a little more challenging because it’s harder to breathe, and I quickly realized that even my little workouts at the gym couldn’t compare to this.
It’s also a little dangerous to come down the mountain without crampons: these are chains that strap on to your shoes or boots and dig into the ice and snow so you don’t slip. They also make it easier to walk — unlike snowshoes.
At the end of our day in the mountains, we stopped at The Warming House – a little hiking shop on Moraine Ave. “Paw-Paw,” as he is so affectionately called, is the owner and he has hiked mountains all over the world. You can stop by his store to grab anything you might need for your future hiking trip (such as crampons) or stay a while and listen to one of his many stories about his trips around the world.
So, the next time you’re wondering whether to try out RMNP, take a chance, you might never want to hike another park again – at least that’s what happened to me. Once you go to the Rockies, you’ll never go back.