By Cyndy Harrington
Unlike many parks, even National Parks, Rocky Mountain doesn’t have only one season to enjoy. This is an every season park. The mountains are some of the most spectacular you will see on the continental US. (We are also in awe at Yosemite, Tetons , and Alaska.) But, we are loyal Coloradans in that this is “our” park and for us, easy to get to in a few hours and for a quick get-a-way.
See below for some of the highlights, info and statistics on the park.
Look At The Rack On These Babes!!!
We take the short hop up to Estes Park at least twice a year. Every time we go it is a bit different in what we get to see. This last trip (taken Feb 7 and 8) was like the E Ticket Ride at Disney. (For you youngsters that an ancient method of ticketing the rides with E being the very, very best type of ride.) We like to get up early and get to the park before the crowds come but more importantly it’s feeding time for many of the wildlife. We go thru the Fall River Entrance gate flashing our annual pass and head up around the corner, take a right and as we head to the first corner whoa and behold! Five of the most beautifully racked bull elk we have ever seen! Now, not just within photo shooting distance – I mean right on the side of the road, munching away without a care.
From years of experience of park visitations we know this is a rare treat. Not only 5 bull elk, all together, but each has a perfect 6 point rack! Now elk in the park are kind of known to stay away from humans. You get to close and they will scuttle away. Most (and I’m talking 75% or better) of our elk pictures are rear-end shots. Rarely do we get a chance to photograph face on (or if we do it’s so far away that you don’t get a good shot). This time the planets and heavens lined up perfectly to get over 150 shots like this one. For us, this was an EE+ ticket! They weren’t skittish. Several actually posed. Cars would go by and they were not interested in the least. They were so close we couldn’t get all 5 in one shot!
This is why I love Rocky Mountain National Park – it’s full of surprises.
Like a time a few years ago we were driving down one of the main roads and a coyote was just walking along the side of the road. We got out to get a picture and this little fellow just was looking for a hand-out (a big no-no to feed the animals) and appeared to be as interested in us and we were in him. Then last year there was a small traffic jam as the “ladies” (female elk) decided to take a dreadfully slow walk in the middle of the road. We were in first position of the cars and had a great view and they gathered and meandered at their own pace. Then there was the time the ducks were being very friendly at Sprague Lake.
We’ll keep going back – it’s our park and there’s always a show. If not with the animals, then the change of seasons, the multitude of cloud patterns over the mountains and often spectacular sunsets.
The town of Estes Park is right outside two of the entrances to the park. It’s a nice little town with great shopping and many restaurants. The Fall River goes through town and in the summer it’s a wonderful place to sit and have lunch. The famous Stanley Hotel is right there (minus Jack and Shelley) as well as a twist and hairpin turn drive down Devil’s Gulch. There are an abundance of resorts, cabins and hotel/motels all around town. In the summer you should really have a reservation as it does get a bit crowded. In the winter there doesn’t seem to be any difficulty getting a place to stay at a reasonable price. Estes is a full service town with grocery and hardware stores, churches, library, post office, etc. If you forget anything, you can most likely find it in town.
We’ve grown comfortable and happy with “our” place to stay – Aspen Winds. It’s a nice place right on the river. Not very fancy, but the rooms are clean and spacious. The owners are exceptionally friendly and helpful with suggestions about a place to eat or an event that is happening in town. We can’t compare to other overnight establishments in the area as this is the only place we stay. It’s comfy.
On this trip we discovered a BBQ place that our son had told us about – Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ and Tap House. It’s located not far from the entrance to the Park at 820 Moriane Avenue. We thought it was excellent pulled pork, great fries and good cole slaw. I’m picky about my cole slaw and we both thought this was some of the best we’d had in a very long time (except Doug’s that he makes at home!)
Fun, Fun, Fun: Don’t be surprised if you see elk or a lot of elk in town! They definitely are not shy about moseying to town to see what’s going on. Last year (and I sure wish I had a picture to show you) a bunch of the “ladies” were in the little park in Estes, all huddled together, rear-ends pointing to the center and the faces out, almost forming a circle. This was, again, a once in a lifetime site.
Just a note: In the winter Trail Ridge Road is closed so you will not be able to drive through the entire park. It varies when it open up depending on the amount of snow.
Now here’s the information and statistics about the Park taken from the National Park Service map you get at the entrance.
Rocky Mountain National Park: 970-586-1206. It is located in north central Colorado. From the east it can be reached by car on U.S. 34, U.S. 36 and Colo 7, and from the west by U.S. 40 and U.S. 34. The nearest major rail, air and bus terminals are in Denver, 70 miles from Estes Park and at Cheyenne, 91 miles to the northeast.
Visitor’s Centers: There are 2 at the Estes Park side of the Park. Both have nice facilities, knowledgeable staff, plenty of displays, gift shops and they offer free shows (videos) about the park at intervals throughout the day. There are other Visitor Centers in the park and at other entrances.
Hiking for all endurance levels. Lots of self-guided nature trails. There are over 355 miles of trails.
Camping in the camp grounds, and reservations in the summer are recommended as sites fill very early in the day. Call DESTINET at 800-365-2267.
Backpacking/camping is allowed but you will need a permit. (Backcountry office: 970-586-1242)
Horseback Riding: They have two locations with the Park for guides and horses. Check some of the outside stables as they are also allowed in the Park.
Fishing: They have 4 types of trout – German brown, rainbow, brook and cutthroat. A valid fishing license is required. Check with the park ranger before you fish as not all areas are open for fishing.
Climbing: Climbing is allowed in the park but there are rules you must follow. The Colorado Mountain School is the park’s concessioner , operating a climbing school and guide service 970-586-5758.
Cross-country skiing and snow shoeing: Several great locations in the park to work out!
The park is very safety conscious and does a good job of providing applicable warnings throughout the park.
By Cyndy Harrington
More photos of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, And other Great Places by Doug Niedermiller at http://www.dougniedermillerphotography.com/