Rocky Mountains National Park! You know what … I thought this was a much bigger park but it doesn’t seem to be one of the more popular national parks. Also, the area we were in seemed to go by Estes Park more than Rocky Mountains National Park. I’m still a bit confused by this, but I managed to plan out a full day without knowing much nomenclature, thanks to two visitors centers.
We started the day with our Hampton Inn breakfast, OF COURSE! I had intended to start the day off very early, but we didn’t, and it ended up being exhausting anyway, and fairly well paced out. I originally planned to do this park on Monday, but it looked like it’d rain and snow in this area, so I moved some plans around (and it all worked out well!) There is a farmers market on Saturdays in Boulder, and it seemed to be very popular, so I wanted to stop by Pearl St for it. It also happened to be an Easter festivities day, so there were egg hunts for kids set up in the park. The farmers market ended up being much smaller than I was expecting – my favorite farmers market is still Ballard! This turned out well for us, because then we didn’t spend toooo much time here. We did end up getting pastries at this bakery stand and they were SO GOOD. We got an almond croissant, one of the best I’ve ever had, and a peach kouign amann. It seemed like the bakery lady could tell we were new buyers, and she turned around and cut a kouign amann in half and gave us each a third of it. It was quite a sizeable sample, and when the entire bill came out to $8 for two pastries, my mom was like “we got a $2 value!”
Then off we went to Estes Park, only an hour away. The visitors center was right across a pretty commercial center, with a Safeway and several fast food restaurants. I decided we’d get two Subway footlongs to go, which I’m REALLY glad that we did. For some reason I thought we’d probably only spend an hour or two hours driving in the park before returning out to hike. NOT SO. We were in the park for like six hours, and those sandwiches were a genius idea.
At the visitors center, I basically learned that the trail I wanted to do – Emerald Lake Trail – was under 45 inches of snow, so we wouldn’t be able to hike it. But, the lady at the desk gave me a very useful map showing me the main viewpoints to drive to. She told me to head to Alluvial Fan then Many Parks Curve Lookout. Per Google, alluvian fans “are usually created as flowing water interacts with mountains, hills, or the steep walls of canyons.” This alone took quite a long bit of our day, and I wasn’t expecting a short hike at the stop, but you do walk a bit to get to a giant rocky area with a waterfall.
Then we drove along and had a few occasional pullovers before reaching Many Parks Curve Lookout. We luckily snagged a spot – it was one of the most crowded parking areas. Oh, did I mention this weekend was free national parks day?!?! I was concerned about crowds but my mom was like “a busy day in Colorado is nothing like a normal day in California” which is totally true. She was basing this off the Easter Egg Hunt crowds earlier in the morning, which were not crowded at all. My mom was like “imagine this Easter Egg Hunt in Arcadia – the whole park would be packed!” Anyway, before we got out of our cars to lookout, we ate the Subway sandwiches in the car, which was a GREAT idea.
The lookout was cool but I’m sure there’s even better views once you are able to get out and actually hike. Then, I actually took a wrong turn and ended up continuing the drive down Trail Ridge Road – I thought it would dead end but it went much farther than I was expecting. This turned out to be a great accident though because when we eventually reached the end point of the road – they close it during the winter – I was able to snag a spot on the side of the road and walk on Trail Ridge Road where it’s closed off to vehicles. We went pretty far, and I wanted to walk more than my parents did, but I eventually did turn back. Major bummer that we couldn’t complete the drive to Alpine Visitors Center – another reason I have to come back!!!
From here, we drove back toward the entrances and I headed to Beaver Meadows Visitors Center. I don’t think I was expecting to spend much more time in the park, but I decided to ask the ranger there if it was worthwhile to drive down to the trailhead of Emerald Lake, even if we couldn’t hike the trail. She was like “YES absolutely!” and she recommended walking around Bear Lake and Sprague Lake. These turned out to be really worthwhile stops, considering we were about to leave without seeing them, and the walks really filled out the day! First, my mom spent a LONG time in the gift shop, taking forever to choose 6 magnets to purchase (they only had 8 designs to choose from so I have no idea what took her so long). Then we watched a 20 minute video to rest. Then we drove to Bear Lake, and there were a TON of people. Also, it’s possibly the largest parking lot that we saw in the entire park, so it is clearly a very popular destination in the summer months.
The walk to Bear Lake was only a couple hundred feet but it took us FOREVER because the trail was covered in snow and ice. Luckily no one took a tumble. Bear Lake was completely frozen over, which was NOT what I was expecting. There were several people who were brave enough to walk onto the ice – something I would NOT be doing. Somehow in the last ten minutes that we were there, the wind VERY suddenly picked up and it started raining, so everyone dispersed and we ended up being one of ~six people there.
From here, we drove back toward the visitors center before I made a last minute decision to go to Sprague Lake. This had not come up in any of my searches for top trails in the Rocky Mountains, but it was much more scenic than I would have expected. We decided to walk around the lake, it says it’s 0.8 miles but it really did feel longer than that… about half way through, it started to rain more heavily and my dad headed back to the car while my mom and I decided to finish the entire trail. Another excellent decision! It luckily never rained THAT hard and I’m glad we got to see the whole thing.
By then it felt freezing and it was raining so we headed out of the park. I stopped back at the Estes Park Visitors Center, with the idea of wanting to do the Lake Estes Trail. Surprisingly, both my parents were game for this … until we stepped out of the car and I was the first to say “UH it is REALLY cold!” The sun was also starting to set, so I decided we’d just drive back to Boulder, since I didn’t really want to drive in the dark. Also an excellent decision!
None of us were very hungry, even though I kept suggesting that we either go to Safeway or a fast food restaurant for dinner. For some reason, my mom was convinced that we had to go to Carls Jr, which was not something I really wanted to do, and we kept debating back and forth what we should eat (this is so much harder to do when no one is actually hungry). She thought my dad would enjoy Carls Jr, and after I laid out the options of 1) Safeway, 2) Carls Jr, 3) a new fast food restaurant we’d never been to, my dad commented “I never wanted Carls Jr – I don’t want to eat that while we’re not at home!” And my mom and I were both like, WTF why didn’t you say that EARLIER!?
Oh well – it ended up FINE because I found Good Times Burger is Boulder, and by the time we drove to the place and ordered, everyone was sufficiently hungry. I was not expecting this, but the place did not have any indoor seating and it was freezing outside, so I decided we’d take the food back to the hotel and eat in the dining area. My family’s never really done this, but the staff was SO nice about it. Turns out, eating in the hotel dining area is PERFECT because no one is ever there, but you have actual dining tables and chairs, and there’s usually hot water and tea available right there. Plus, all you have to do is dump the trash and then head up to your room! It ended up being my parents favorite meal of the trip, both for food and ambiance. I can tell this is going to be the new standard when traveling with my parents – buying take out and taking it back to the hotel.