The Colorado Adventure: Day 2
The most amazing place I have encountered to date is Rocky Mountain National Park! That place will forever be my spirit animal (as they say)… Let’s start at the beginning as we will continue to do for the 2017 Family Vacation. If you’re new to this string, keep reading.
If you’ve read about our adventure before, skip to the next picture.
I must give credit where it is due. While the majority of the trip were places we knew about, the specific itinerary ideas were thanks to a YouTube channel called Less Junk, More Journey. The channel is a regular vlog about a family traveling around the country full-time in their RV. I used locations from their videos that really interested Cheryl and I, and formed a route that covered most of the state of Colorado. The route’s intention was to give us a taste of what every area had to offer so that we would know what we wanted more of. We consulted the kids to get their input and set our plans in motion.
First stop on the list was Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). I always knew that RMNP was one of the most popular parks of our national park system, but I didn’t understand exactly what that meant in terms of visiting it. Thanks to the YouTube channel describing it as being similar to Disneyland, I was far more prepared. We were going to be visiting in mid-July, the height of the tourist season for Colorado, hence why we were there.
Our plans were to hike from the Bear Lake trail-head to Emerald Lake and back. There is a small parking lot at the Bear Lake trail-head, but it fills up quickly according to many sources. So the other option is to park a little further back and hitch a ride with the free shuttle service. It is only about a 10-15 min drive by car between the parking lots, but the shuttle makes multiple stops, so expect about an hour once you get on from what people are saying.
Being someone who is willing to sacrifice a little sleep in order to get on the trail at sunrise, I informed the family that they were going to be sacrificing their sleep as well. There might have been a couple unamused faces after gaining this information… The dark of night was just fading as we pulled out of the hotel parking lot in Loveland on our way to Bear Lake. My intent was to beat the crowds and get one of those coveted parking spots at the trail-head. As we pulled up to the entrance there was only one other car driving in, things were looking good. We proceeded to weave through the park and found that the elevation change for these Iowa lowlanders was starting to affect Titan, so we had to pull over for a couple of minutes. We got back on the road once he felt better and hit the parking lot a few minutes later. The sun hadn’t crested the mountains yet and the Bear Lake trail-head parking lot was already 1/4 full. There were a few hammocks hanging around the lot, so some had been there overnight. At any rate, success! We got a spot!
We stretched our legs a bit and got ready to hit the trail, even though Titan and Odessa were a little grumpy still at the early rising, you could sense the excitement of hiking in the mountain for the first time. We stepped into the trees and started down the well-worn path. The trail was extremely well maintained, which was to be expected, it is a national park and this is one of the most popular hikes in the park. It didn’t take long to confirm the efforts put into planning were well worth it, the views were breathtaking as I… I mean we… finally got to officially be in the mountains!
Another perk to getting out on the trails early, there weren’t many other travelers to jockey around for position amongst the congestion. We didn’t have to wait in line to take the shot we wanted, or have to worry about the discourteous visitor jumping into your shot because they only cared about getting theirs. By 10 AM the trails were already starting to see a large influx of people on the trail as we were heading back to the parking lot. You could actually begin to time the buses as we would encounter very large groups of people every 15-20 minutes.
The hike from Bear Lake to Emerald Lake is 2.3 miles (4.6 round trip), but there are two other lakes along the way. The first one you come to is Nymph Lake after about a 1/2 mile of steady climbing from the trail-head, which produced some initial huffing until we got our legs under us a bit. On the way down more than one person asked how the rest of the hike was, because the first section was obviously working them. After Nymph Lake it was a lot easier. It is the smallest of the four we visited that day, and completely shrouded by the mountains. The light was trying to creep in, but the mountains blocked any hope it might have had of reaching the surface of the lake until late in the day. As a consequence, the mosquitoes were quite thick along the shore. Fortunately this was the only place we encountered any mosquitoes during our visit through the entire state. Nymph Lake had all of Colorado’s mosquitoes in one place!
We stuck around for only a little bit to try to capture some images, but the low light and mosquitoes won out, and we decided to try later on the way back. By the time we returned both were far better. As we moved on to our next stop, Dream Lake, the trail continued to climb, but with far less grade to it. This section of the trail provided the most spectacular views along the hike. There are two specific locations that really lend themselves to photographs, the first was the rock introducing this post. It is directly above Nymph Lake, so you can look down into it, and the forest surrounding it.
The second is several yards down the trail where you get an open view of everything you think of when imagining a national park in Colorado. Both of these locations were spots I watched visitors trying to “fight” for position to get pictures (notice us early risers don’t have any other people in our shots…).
After about another 1 mile we arrived at Dream Lake. Dream Lake was filled with such crystal clear water that you could see the trout swimming around logs and rocks resting on the bottom. There were a good number of fisherman spending their morning with rod and reel here. We didn’t see any of them catch anything, but that’s not the purpose of fishing right?
Dream Lake is long and narrow so there was really only one shot of note for most people, a large rock outcropping at one end with the length of the lake stretching out and leading to the base of a mountain peak.
Of course we joined in and took our family photo! All four of us had a camera of some sort, so after we all were satisfied with our photos we began our trek to Emerald Lake.
We started to run into the remnants of that winter’s snow along the way which surprised the kids since they didn’t comprehend that snow can stick around well into July due to the elevation and low sunlight, etc. Heck, as some readers may remember, I was praying for snow in Iowa this year and didn’t get a chance to test out my new snowshoes until late January or February, and that snow only lasted a couple of days!
There were a couple climbs along the way, but overall the elevation gain felt relatively mild. It was roughly 3/4 of a mile from Dream Lake to Emerald lake. Aside from the fact that Emerald Lake was beautiful, I noticed that it felt more secluded than the others. The trail did terminate there, forcing you to turnaround and head back to the trail-head, so that could have been part of it. The other lakes had open areas around the lake with wide trails where one could easily move around. At Emerald it felt like the mountains shot straight up from the shoreline, and visitors only had a small 30 foot circle to gather and enjoy the sight.
Even though it was still quite early and the main traffic hadn’t started yet, there were a good number of people hanging out in the small area. Like Dream Lake, there was really only one point of view that was attractively photogenic, and everyone that arrived wanted their shot from it. Yes, including me. The annoying part, the majority of us that stopped for a breather and a snack, stuck to the outer areas of the circle, back from the edge of the lake. Except one lady. She decided she wanted to sit on a rock protruding out into the lake a touch that was the only good spot for pictures, and refused to move. Of course she was European, possibly only spoke German it sounded like, and didn’t understand a group of us would like pictures of the lake without her in it. Eventually, after multiple people started to stand around her in awkward ways to try to get photos without her, she caught the hint and left. Then we all took our turns, got our photos, and moved away for the next person.
That lady was the only negative encounter we had though, but remember, the crowds hadn’t started to arrive yet. I started to feel a little bit of the elevation once we got to Emerald Lake; probably due to the combination of elevation, carrying CJ, and failing to drink enough water on the way up. (Elevation reduces the amount of oxygen in the air, water is partly made up of oxygen, drinking it helps add oxygen into your body.) I downed a good bit of water during the break and felt better for the return. I made sure that I continued to drink water regularly for the rest of our adventure in Colorado, and didn’t have an issue again. Once everyone felt rested and finished their snacks we put our packs back on and started back to the trail-head.
The little over 2 mile journey back was one of mixed sadness. I was loving every minute I got to spend on the trails within the mountains, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit sad that I knew we were heading back to the car so we could leave and continue on down the road (Cheryl is still suffering from the loss…). Along the way we kept running into large bus load after bus load of people on their way to Emerald Lake. We got some more photos as we could, stopped at Nymph Lake to try to get some better ones (which we did), and eventually made it back to the trail-head.
We were ahead of schedule, so we decided to sneak over to Bear Lake since it is only a 1/2 mile trail around it. Well, on paper it looked and sounded bigger than it was. The lake is only about 50 yards from the trail-head, and once we got to the shore we saw that you could see every bit of the lake from that one spot and to hike around it would just be for exercise as the views weren’t going to change. So we decided that was good enough.
So with big smiles, but slightly sad hearts, we walked back to the car. Here is where the “circus” began. The parking lot was full and there were a couple of cars circling like buzzards waiting for something to open up. Once they realized we were heading to our car the race that wasn’t a race was on! the First one there proceeded to block everyone else (one lane loop) while they waited for us to drop our gear, pack up the cameras, get CJ and the packs loaded into the Jeep, film the talking head part I do about the conclusion of the trail, and finally back out and leave. On the way out Cheryl wanted to stop at the gift shop so another encounter was incoming. heh. We got lucky and we got the last available parking spot immediately upon pulling in. However, the discourtesy among the majority of the people at the gift shop was amazing. People were walking out in front of moving vehicles with total disregard, or just simply standing in the middle of the roadway talking as cars are trying to leave. Others sending their young children to run ahead of other cars and stand in and block open parking spots, with vehicles basically informing the child move or get run over. The ugly selfishness of the human race showed its face for certain. It was only a little after noon!
In closing, even though the gift shop soured the experience a little, Rocky Mountain National Park is absolutely amazing! Just make sure you arrive just before dawn to beat the crazies. We’ve agreed that we’ll be returning for an extended trip with the goal of hiking as many of the trails as we can in the years to come. If you’re wanting to visit RMNP and don’t know what to do, the Bear Lake to Emerald Lake is very popular because it is so accessible. We saw a multitude of walks of life with varying physical conditioning along the trail. Just remember to take your time if you need to, and plan for a longer day. Make sure to bring plenty of water and some snacks to help keep you going. Even if you don’t take a lot of pictures, the experience would be good for your mind and body!
Now get out there and go for a walk!