On Sunday, August 11 –
After breakfast, we drove by the famous Stanley hotel in Estes Park before beginning our tour of Rocky Mountain National Park. We entered the national park at the east side Fall River park entrance.
Like many visitors, we spent most of our park visit driving the famous Trail Ridge Road. Also known as the Beaver Meadow National Scenic Byway, it is the highest continuous paved road in the United States. The road runs from Fall River to the Grand Lake park entrance in the west.
We were stunned at how pretty the drive was. We saw beautiful Bear Lake, at the foot of Hallett Peak and the Continental Divide, which is popular with hikers. We stopped at fantastic overlooks along the way to admire the views of the valley below and a ridiculous number of peaks taller than 10,000 feet. In fact, the park features 72 peaks higher than 12,000 feet. The highest point of the park is Longs Peak, which rises to 14,259 feet.
Around 9,000 feet, the vegetation changed from forests to subalpine forest with mostly Engelmann Spruce and Subalpine Fir. Not long afterwards at around 11,500 feet, we crossed the tree line in our car. It was weird being above the trees and seeing only vast alpine tundra around our SUV!
At 12,183 feet, we reached the high point and stopped to visit the Alpine Visitors’ Center. We saw exhibits on wildlife in the park such as elk, bighorn sheep, black bears, mountain lions and moose. In fact, we saw some of these animals on our journey. Climbing back into the vehicle, we descend and passed some touring cyclists on their way up! We crossed the Continental Divide at Milner Pass, the headwaters of the Colorado River and looked up to admire the road we had traveled down. It was easy to see why Trail Ridge Road is closed during the winter and remains closed sometimes to early summer depending on the snowpack!
As we arrived in the valley, we admired the views of Grand Lake, Colorado’s largest natural lake. A huge glacier carved the Kawuneeche Valley to the north of Grand Lake. The rubble pile left behind now forms the lake’s natural dam. We stopped at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, a National Historic Landmark, designed by the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. There we watched a film about the park before concluding our visit. We then visited the nearby small historic town of Grand Lake where he had a late lunch at the Sagebrush BBQ & Grill.
We headed back like a silver bullet towards Golden, home of Coors Brewing and passed through Denver on our way north. We drove along I-25 north through Fort Collins, home of Colorado State University. That evening we crossed the state line into Wyoming and arrived in Cheyenne, where we stayed for the evening.