The first time I visited Colorado, it was back in 2015 when I just started traveling. In fact, Rocky Mountain National Park was one of the first National Parks that I had ever visited! I fell so hard and fast in love with it that I swore to return again to explore every nook and corner of that piece of heaven on earth. And I did, four years later, on a chilly May long weekend and came back with my heart (and an 8GB memory card) full of snowy memories 🙂
Where to stay:
If you plan your trip early enough, I totally recommend booking a dorm room at the YMCA of the Rockies. The campus sits on a picturesque mountain and the whole setting looks straight out of a Hollywood movie’s typical-rich-kid-goes-to-boarding-school scene except the fact that here you’ll see Elks instead of kids roaming the grounds 😀
You can also find a lot of very cute and cozy Airbnbs inside Estes Park which are pretty affordable if you are traveling in a group. The one where I stayed at this time had a hot tub in the balcony with a view of the Rockies from every window in the house. Every morning, I watched a herd of deer graze the front lawn while sipping my tea, so I’d say it was a pretty good deal.
What to do:
Depending on whether you are a hiking enthusiast or not, there are different things you could do in the Rockies. During the late Summer months (July-September) there are a lot of places that you can just drive to and spend around 2-3 days in the park. A drive along the Trail Ridge road (North America’s highest paved road) is a must-do. There are multiple view points along this road and you can spend a day or two just driving along this route and I promise you won’t get bored 🙂 There are numerous lakes and small towns along this road which are perfect for a lunch picnic/pit-stop for your caffeine needs. One thing to note is that the Trail Ridge road opens only late May/Mid June every year so you need to plan accordingly if you only want to drive around with minimal hiking.
If you are like me and want to hike in the Rockies, well you have come to the right place in the world wide web, coz I’m gonna delve into details of everything the Rockies has to offer!
Hiking in different seasons:
The first time I visited the Rockies in the Fall season (September) so there wasn’t a lot of snow capped mountains BUT all the roads were accessible and the weather was very pleasant. This is a perfect season to hike if you don’t want to be bundled up in layers. I personally like snow-capped mountains more and so I decided to make the trip early in the year the second time during the month of May. I slightly under-estimated the amount of the aforementioned snow and we literally hiked in snowfall this time, but hey that counts as an experience too! 😀
One thing to remember if you’re visiting in May is that hiking shoes and microspikes are a MUST! It’s not at all fun to slip and fall on hard ice when you’re trying to carry your body weight + a couple more pounds thanks to the multiple layers of winter clothing.
Moving on, here’s a list of all the places we hiked inside the park –
Day 1 – Alberta Falls:
This is a short hike (1.7 miles roundtrip) that we did on the first day since we had a couple of hours before sunset and we wanted to test how comfortable we were with the microspikes. It was an easy and scenic hike with lots of snow and small creeks along the way.
Day 2 – Fern falls and Fern lake:
I really wanted to do the Sky Pond hike, but the Rangers informed us that the trail was completely covered in snow and people were not able to find their way. Since this gave me a solid case to put another visit to the Rockies in the books, we decided to skip it and do the Fern lake and Fern Falls hike instead. It is roughly an 8 mile hike with about 1400 ft elevation gain, which is exacerbated by the fact that you already start out at about 8000 ft elevation. About 1 mile before the lake, there’s a 60-foot falls called Fern Falls which was a welcome respite to my over-worked lungs where we stopped for a quick snack and a sip of water. The last one mile was brutal and my lungs were literally holding on for dear life as I scrambled up the mountain but when I reached the lake, boy-oh-boy, the view was OUTSTANDING! A lot of people turned back from the falls, so there were hardly any people near the lake. It was completely frozen and surrounded by towering majestic snow covered mountains on all sides. We spent a good 2 hours there, just lying down on the rocks by the side of the lake and staring at the mountains wondering how something so beautiful could possibly exist!
Day 3 – Nymph, Dream and Emerald lakes
The first thing the Ranger at the park station told us was that if we were to do one hike during our trip, it should be this ~4 mile roundtrip hike to see these three lakes since this is most scenic of them all. After seeing Fern lake, we weren’t sure if anything could be more beautiful, but we set out early in the morning on a cloudy day to find out. After a short 0.5 mile, we reached Nymph lake which seemed to be about the size of three soccer fields put together, albeit completely frozen. While we were trying to figure out which way to continue up onto the next lake, it started snowing! So I ended up hiking the next 1 mile amidst snow showers, occasionally sticking my tongue out and tasting the fresh snow whilst wiping my sunglasses clean to stare in awe at the white winter wonderland surrounding me. We then walked through a narrow snow field and my jaw dropped when we reached the clearing. You know when people use the phrase ‘This is what dreams are made of’ ? Well THAT VIEW WAS LITERALLY what my dreams were made of! And all I could think of is how apt the name ‘Dream lake’ suited that place. It was the most beautiful view I have seen (Mind you, I have seen a good share of snow-capped mountains). We spent some time there, before heading uphill to the last of the lakes, the Emerald. Obviously, in the midst of Rocky’s winter, the last lake was anything but Emerald, but it was gorgeous nonetheless. The ranger had warned us that the area was avalanche prone and we could see why. The lake was surrounded by sawtooth shaped cliffs on all three sides covered with snow precariously sitting on its smooth surface. There was snowfall again and I enjoyed every minute of it, freezing the moment in my memories forever. It was time to say Goodbye to this ever-so-beautiful snowy landscape!
Other things to do in Colorado:
If you’re flying into Denver, there are a bunch of places to visit if you don’t want to spend a lot of time in the Rockies (Although I don’t know why anyone would do that :P)
-> Red Rock Canyon, Colorado Springs – You can spend around 2-3 hours walking around this unique park full of Red Rock cliffs and a huge Amphitheater which makes for a perfect lunch spot! There are multiple hiking trails for varying fitness levels.
-> Royal Gorge river Rafting in Arkansas river – I did both the Clear creek white water rafting in Idaho Springs(~30 miles from Denver) as well as Royal Gorge rafting (~150 miles from Denver) and found that the Royal Gorge rafting was a better experience. The Royal Gorge has a lot of Level 3 and 4 rapids so get ready to get your hands (and more) wet 😀
-> Day trip to Aspen – If you have ever seen a list of places to visit in Colorado, you would’ve definitely seen Maroon bells. It is worth all the hype in my opinion. When I visited in Fall, I was stunned by the splash of yellow aspen trees surrounding the picturesque lake with the backdrop of the rockies and I realized this was the picture on every “Colorado in Fall” google search I had ever done! 😀
Colorado is on the top of the list of places I would go back to over and over again. I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I did reliving these memories.
Until next time,