14 Mar
2016
Posted in: travel
By    Comments Off on Take a Trip: Rocky Mountain National Park

Take a Trip: Rocky Mountain National Park

This year is the 100th birthday of the National Park Service. There are over 400 entities run by the NPS. I’ll share tips from different National Park Service sites we’ve visited throughout 2016.

My husband and I spent 44 hours this weekend without children enjoying the tail-end of winter in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. The start of 2016 has been rough, and we needed to regroup. Snowshoeing in the park was the most peaceful I’ve felt in months.

This visit to the park was our fourth, but the first during winter. We’ve experienced warmer temperatures in the west over the last few weeks, so the area leading to the park was free of snow. It wasn’t until closer to 9,000 feet above sea level that the snow made an appearance.

Couple at The Loch in Rocky Mountain National Park

Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park is closed over the pass so the area open to visitors in the winter is much smaller than warmer months allow. Coming from the east side of the mountains via Estes Park, Colorado we chose to park at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead (Bear Lake area) and trek to The Loch, a lake located in Loch Vale. A ranger at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center said the area we would be hiking still had 44 inches of snow pack.

The Loch in Rocky Mountain National Park

The snow was slushy and slick on parts of the packed trail, but plentiful. We hiked up to The Loch in our snow boots using trekking poles. The poles made me more confident with the slick trail conditions. The hike to The Loch is an elevation gain of 990 feet putting us over 10,000 feet. The end of the winter trail takes visitors through a gorge and is a steep final push before opening up to The Loch. The views in Rocky Mountain don’t disappoint. The Loch sits at the base of craggy rocks with peaks towering on all but one side. Timberline Falls, Lake of Glass and Sky Pond are farther in Loch Vale.

Woman snowshoeing up a mountain pass in Rocky Mountain National Park

Even in winter, Rocky Mountain National Park is a popular destination. There were several people on the trail and some enjoying The Loch when we arrived. We put our snowshoes on at The Loch and continued another mile up the vale. We found peace and quiet in that short excursion. Quiet in the wilderness in the winter is different than the summer months. I sat on a rock in the Loch Vale and heard only a breeze and my breathing. The mountains are where I run to clear my mind of the anxious thoughts that overcome me at times. Loch Vale did its job well. We opted to turn back before Lake of Glass in order to view Mills Lake on our trek back to the parking lot and to not trek too far into avalanche territory. We also knew the forecast called for snow during the afternoon, and the clouds were darkening.

Woman sliding down a mountain gorge in Rocky Mountain National Park

We left our snowshoes on for the hike to Mills Lake and back to the vehicle. Slushy snow is slick heading downhill. While Craig opted to walk down the steep portions without incident, I sat on my snowpant-covered rump and slid down all steep portions of the trail. It was exhilarating, fun, and as one other hiker muttered, goofy. Intentionally sliding is better than falling.

Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Mills Lake is a short distance (0.7 mile) from The Loch on the same trail system. Mills Lake is beautiful with towering peaks, boulders and driftwood dotting the landscape. Visitors won’t regret hiking for the view. We were roughly one mile from the parking lot when the snowflakes started to fall. By the time we reached our vehicle, the area we had visited was obscured by clouds and falling snow.

Man snowshoeing at The Loch in Rocky Mountain National Park

I tend to take issue with other visitors at national parks. People seem to lose common sense at national parks. We saw several groups of people who weren’t prepared for the weather — wearing shorts, sweatshirts and basic tennis shoes. One group didn’t think there would be snow on the ground in the park, let alone that it would be snowing. If you’re planning on visiting a national park entity, check its website. Information visitors need to know before visiting, including weather and seasonal closures, will be on the site.

Elk with a bird on its head in Rocky Mountain National Park

We’ve seen elk each of the four times we’ve visited Rocky Mountain National Park. On Saturday, we witnessed people out of vehicles and alarmingly close to a small elk herd. The animals were being stalked by paparazzi inching ever closer to them while they ate. The elk were close to the highway and easily visible from a vehicle. We’ve seen this at several places in the country, but the poor choices being made by tourists last weekend were some of the worst we’ve come across. The animals in national parks are wild. Let them be.

Man snowshoeing to The Loch in Rocky Mountain National Park

I hope next winter to visit another national park, possibly Crater Lake National Park to snowshoe, or spend some more time in our own backyard at Grand Teton National Park. Maybe our next adventure without kids will be at least 72 hours long.

 

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