Our first BIG adventure in our trailer was a trip to Colorado to visit Tim’s family and take in the sights in and around Estes Park. There was so much to do and see that I couldn’t contain it all to one post and do it justice. Make sure you read all of our Colorado posts to get the full scope of our trip.
We enjoyed our trip up Old Fall River Road and arrived at the Alpine Visitor Center at Fall River Pass where we were promptly greeted with traffic…so much traffic.
Estes Park was hit with a terrible flood in the fall of 2014, one in which they’re still recovering from. The tourism board was so concerned of the economic impact reduced tourism could have they have been pushing hard to promote the town and the area’s attractions. If you ask the locals it’s been a little too much. Tim said he had never seen the town or the park so crowded in thirty years.
Once we found parking we headed across the lot to the climb up to the peak of the mountain. If you’re not in good health I would probably skip this part. The National Park Service maintains a path up to the peak; while the change in elevation is only two feet it’s a steep climb combined with the thinner atmosphere making it a strenuous effort to get to the top. Our efforts were worthwhile because the views at the top were spectacular.
We made our way back down from the peak and spent some time inside the visitor’s center learning about the weather, history, and wildlife on the tundra.
We also bought our very first National Park Service passport book! A friend of mine introduced me to the passport book and the stamps you can collect. She wrote a whole post on her obsession (her word not mine). We bought our book, got our stamp, and then headed back to the truck for our trip down Trail Ridge Road.
Trail Ridge Road is a paved two lane highway (one way in each direction) that connect Estes Park (to the East) with Grand Lake (to the West). It intersects with Old Fall River Road at Fall River Pass and that’s where we picked it up. Horace Albright, the director of the National Park Service during the road’s construction, said “It is hard to describe what a sensation this new road is going to make”¹ and he couldn’t have been more correct. It’s an experience for sure. Driving it above the tree line gives you views for miles around.
We had been told by our local family members that if we drove the road in the late afternoon headed East from Grand Lake we would have a good chance of seeing a moose. Our plan was to drive into Grand Lake for a quick look around and head back during the afternoon and hope for a sighting. Luck was on our side though as we were making our way out of the park, we saw several cars pulled off to the side of the road; a sure sign there’s an animal nearby. We did the same and were rewarded with the sight of a young bull moose making his way across a field. It was barely one o’clock and there he was just taking a stroll.
He quickly disappeared from sight and we climbed back into the truck and continued on our way. We made it a few more miles before we saw more cars pulled off to the side of the road. People were walking into a wooded section and we asked someone what was back there. To our surprise and excitement he told us it was a moose cow and her calf! We made our way into the area and sure enough there was this beautiful moose with her baby just wading in the creek.
I will say this…we maintained a safe distance. Mother moose are extremely protective of their calves and will charge anything they deem a threat to them. (I feel you, mama!) With that said, there were a lot of people making some questionable choices about how close they got to this pair. The creek they were wading in was no more than twenty feet wide and people were standing directly across from the moose on the opposite bank. Not a wise decision in my book.
We got a lot of time with the mother and baby (maybe ten minutes) before we decided to head back to the truck. At almost the same time, the mother decided she had enough of the stream and headed off with her little one not far behind.
Our time in Grand Lake was short. We were exhausted from an early morning and afternoon spent enjoying the park, climbing to two miles above sea level, and spying moose. We poked into a few shops in the downtown area, grabbed ice cream cones, and then started to head back. Just a few miles back into the park we pulled over again for our fourth moose sighting of the day! This guy was shier than the other moose we saw so no pictures and not all of us saw him, which left some small children bummed.
As we made our way up the road, we stopped at the Continental Divide for a photo-op, bragging rights, and bathroom break (vault toilets were a surprise to the kids). The area was especially gorgeous (there’s really no bad spot in the whole park) and at least one trail head right behind the sign. It may possibly be part of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail but don’t quote me on that. I’d like to get more info on this and give it an attempt when we go back to Rocky Mountain.
Our last big thrill of the day was as we made our way past the Alpine Center again and passed a herd of elk grazing on the tundra. There were easily three hundred elk. It was my first time seeing elk and seeing a herd of anything that large before. I jumped out of the truck for some closer shots but they came out blurry because I didn’t adjust my settings (whomp, whomp) but trust me they were there.
And that wraps up our first day in Rocky Mountain National Park!