I used to complain a lot about how there is nothing good to do around here. Social media has a way of infecting your mind with this notion. I have a collection of friends that spans the globe. A lot of them do things that I consider extremely interesting. They travel to places I haven’t been but have lusted after for years. They get there on motorcycles, airplanes (sometimes their own), ships, trains, and even on foot. I have seen the omnibus of their collected travels and wonder what the heck I’ve been doing all this time! The funny thing is there are actually psychological studies about this, and how social media actually makes you feel worse about yourself.
I live on the Colorado Front Range. If I were to go outside right now, I could see the mountain range that makes up Rocky Mountain National Park. Much like inhabitants of New York City, not a lot of Coloradoans go to RMNP unless they have friends from out of town they are showing around. I can tell you from experience that getting a year long National Parks Pass is worth the investment when you live only about an hour away from this place. Who knew that all this time, I was making my friends from other places jealous that this is what I can see after a 45 minute drive up the canyon.
This is where all your Denver friends will take you if you are visiting town. It is a big, beautiful glacial lake surrounded by mountains and there is a good chance if you have seen RMNP in pictures, this was the setting. Avoid it like the plague. Bear Lake is crowded. I’ve seen less people at the Denver Zoo on a weekday. Due to its popularity and ease of access, buses shuttle tourists in by the droves about every fifteen to twenty minutes. Their primary goal is to get off the bus, use the bathroom, try to adjust to the altitude before taking some pictures at the lake and then filing back onto the buses to head to lower elevations where they can breathe again. Also, there are probably no bears. Maybe some freeloading squirrels.
The good thing about Bear Lake is the shuttle makes other stops One of these is an area called Glacier Gorge.
Hop off the bus at this stop and start walking. Not as easy a trek as Bear Lake, Glacier Gorge Trail offers a little less foot traffic, a more challenging hike, and some stunning vistas heading up towards Black Lake and the North West side of Longs Peak. The area itself is the backside of Longs Peak, which is just about the only mountain most people in the Northern Colorado end of the Front Range can name.
It was carved out by glaciers descending Long’s Peak and other mountains, crushing and grinding rock into majestic valley during the Ice Age. Along the way are roaring waterfalls, Mills Lake (more impressive than Bear Lake, but with a less impressive name).
Even if you don’t make it all the way to Black Lake, there is some excellent hiking, less people, and actual wildlife to see other than squirrels and mosquitoes. You can hike all the way back to Bear Lake too, if that’s your thing.
Much like Bear Lake, this is a very popular destination. Just a few miles of moderately difficult, yet well-maintained trail. The attraction is an area that allows wading, a strip of rocky “beach” and a nice bluff of rocks where you can climb and catch some sun. Very crowded at times, this trail has the advantage of being challenging enough for kids and adults to feel like they are on a good, healthy hike, without being lost in the woods. Interesting rock formations, such as a natural keyhole, and a good vantage point which overlooks Estes Park are nice features too.
Ideal for groups of people with varying skill-levels of hiking and plenty of places to stop and rest. Gem Lake is the perfect place to get your boots off and soak your feet before returning to the car. It’s also not a bad place to take some pictures to make your friends jealous on social media without beating yourself up too bad.
The trailhead actually starts not far from the Stanley Hotel!
More challenging and less crowded than Gem Lake, Lawn Lake is at the end of a six mile hike to the base of the Mummy Mountain. The elevation gain is gradual, but I probably wouldn’t recommend it to anyone with altitude sickness issues. The trail is well-maintained, yet challenging at times. The Lawn Lake trailhead used to be more popular until decades ago when a dam burst and washed the area out entirely.
I hiked the trail in November. I brought snowshoes but didn’t need them due to lack of snow. Only in a few places was the trail very snowy or icy. Fun fact. I never actually made it to Lawn Lake, since I saw a freakin’ wolf about a half mile from the lake. I have seen my share of dogs, huskies, coyotes, and from 200 yards off, I could tell it was a wolf. Since it was getting dark and I was hiking solo, I decided to listen to my instincts and head back down the trail before nightfall. At this time of year, the trail had not been hiked for about a week about three miles in, so I was blissfully all on my own. Just off Fall River Road.
Not very hidden. Everyone in Estes Park comes here to sled. It’s a decent enough hill. A little crowded for my tastes and nowhere near as good as the Walden sledding hill.
Trail Ridge Road
This is a beautiful place if your thing is tundra, craggy peaks, snowy alpine passes, and lots of elk. The wildlife here is diverse, from adorable pica, to chipmunks, to giant marmots. You might even see ptarmigans! Unfortunately if anyone sees elk, it can turn into a parking lot. A nice windy drive to the western side of RMNP which is often more wooded, but less crowded. Also a good way to explore Grand Lake, Granby, and even Winter Park beyond! The gift shop at the top of Trail Ridge Road is a lot of fun to visit too. But don’t forget Specimen Mountain and the headwaters of the Colorado River! Warning, the pass is very, very high and caution should be taken if you are not used to the altitude. Also, traffic can suck.