Rocky Mountain National Park – Wild Basin

So I ended up “stuck” in Colorado over the weekend on a business trip.  Fortunately Saturday was beautiful and I was free.  Decided I’d head over to RMNP since it was less than an hour drive.

I know I should have checked the park website to see if there were any “conditions” to be aware of, but I got sidetracked on other things and never did…  Driving towards Estes Park there seemed to be a lot of traffic, but I figured “it’s just a Saturday morning and it’s beautiful”.  Then I saw the first sign indicating there might be an issue – something about only shuttle access into the park, uh-oh.

As I got closer, the traffic got even thicker and I saw another sign mentioning the shuttle.  Then I hit Estes Park and it was a mad house!  I turned around and headed back out of town and pulled over to do some investigation.  OK, there is a major construction project to renovate the main road through the park.  Only shuttle access between 9am-4pm.  Expect delays of up to 2 hours!  No thanks.  Checked the map and decided to head to the Longs Peak area about 10 miles south.

That’s when I discovered the real reason for the traffic and crowd in Estes Park – Scottish and Irish Festival days, apparently one of the biggest of it’s kind in the country.  Took me about another half hour to get thru town, but then I was finally free!  Got down to Long’s Peak but given it was already about 10:30 the parking area was filled and the road down the hill was fully lined with cars.  OK, plan C; a bit further south to the “Wild Basin Area”

Finally, no major crowds and parking only about 3/4 mile from the trail head, this’ll work!  Finally got on the trail a little after 11 and made my way out to Ouzel Falls.  The destination was a bit underwhelming but the journey was worth it.  The day was clear and cool with a nice breeze – absolutely perfect for a stroll through the mountains!  On the way back to the car, I decided to take an alternate route based on the park map I had.  It looked only slightly further than the route I had gone in on.


A topo map would have been helpful.  Turns out this route took me up the valley that I had come in on which was great for the views, but I wasn’t prepared to keep going up…  It was worth it in the end – or what I thought was the end.  I reached a distance marker at one point expecting it to be a bit less than a mile further to the car.  Turned out to be almost 2.5 miles!  Oh, well.  I finally made it back to the car around 5 and was beat!  Checked the map and plotted a course around Estes Park and was back to the hotel around 6.  Time to relax!

Day 5 – OK, so it can reaallly rain

I woke up to a cloud filled sky, so I just kind of hung around camp for awhile before I made up my mind to go.  I headed into the park planning to go on a fairly long hike, but as I got closer to the trailhead, the clouds never seemed to clear.

Rather than having to hike in the rain, I decided to drive the Trail Ridge Road up to the Alpine Visitor Center, which is at the midpoint of this road .  This is the same road I’ll be taking tomorrow on the way to Utah, so I figured I would save time by getting some of the photo stops in today.  The Alpine visitor center is situated at 11,796 feet above sea level which makes it the highest visitor center in the entire National Park System.

It was a nice cool morning, so I drove with the top down.  The temperature drops rapidly as you ascend so I had to put a sweatshirt on about halfway up.  I made a few stops along the way and took lots of pictures.  It was cloudy so the lighting wasn’t great, but I still got some good shots.

At the visitor center is a short hike up to a scenic viewpoint at just over 12,000 feet.  I hiked up there only to have the batteries in my camera run out – and wouldn’t you know this was the time I left everything in the car.  Oh well, I went back down to the visitor center, had some lunch, grabbed new batteries and headed back up.

As I was on my way back up, I noticed lots of rain cells over various peaks and one that appeared to be headed my direction.  I hustled up to the top, snapped a few pictures and got back down as fast as I could.  I couldn’t believe I was passing people going up – most with no rain gear whatsoever, and it was only about 55 degrees as well.

I made it into the visitor center just in time to miss the downpour and hail and luckily stayed dry.  I hung out there for about an hour waiting for the rain to let up and then listening to a ranger talk about lightning – very appropriate topic!  He also explained that the afternoon thunderstorms were more or less a daily occurrence during the summer due to the morning heating of the east and south faces of the mountains – now I find this out!

I made it back to my campsite about 3:30 and decided to take in a movie – Pirates of the Caribbean as I didn’t feel like hanging out at the campsite.  The movie was pretty good, I’ll definitely see the next one, just to know how things wrap up.  As I walked out of the movie there was a huge thunderstorm blowing through, so I hung out in the lobby for about a half hour waiting for it to let up – no sense going back to the campsite just yet.  Afterwards, there was a tremendous double rainbow that I snapped a couple of pictures of.  An for about a half hour after the rain stopped, the clouds were making all sorts of spectacular patterns in the sky, got some pictures of those too.

The good news is that through all the rain today, my tent stayed nice and dry – OK there were a few drops that managed to sneak through but they wiped up easily.  I’m looking forward to the next couple of days as I’ll be out on the basin and range area of Colorado, Utah and Nevada which are arid regions.  So I should stay dry at least until I reach Yosemite.

Day 4 – so it can rain

Got up to another beautiful morning today.  I hadn’t actually slept much since the campground is right next to one of the main highways going through Estes Park, oh well the morning was sunny and cool.  By the time I made breakfast and got everything squared away at my campsite it was starting to warm up.

I left about 9 o’clock with the top down.  I entered the park and picked up a map, not really sure where I wanted to go.  I spent about an hour just driving around and taking pictures.  I settled on hiking the Bierstadt Lake trail as it sounded like a nice hike to start things off, only 1.2 miles (one way).  However, what the signs don’t specify is that the first .8 miles is an uphill climb.  It was worth it though, as I was rewarded with some spectacular views along the climb and then lunch next to a beautiful alpine lake.

By the time I got back to my car it was really warm, but I put the top down anyway and just went for a drive to the end of the road I was on and then back down to the visitor center.  By the time I came out of there, it was looking like rain and the first drops started as I pulled out of the parking lot.  A nice thundershower quickly became a downpour.  I got back to my campsite and sat in the car until it let up then crawled into the tent for a nap – I’m on vacation remember.  It rained for about 3 hours and then finally stopped and I was able to assess the damage.  Not too bad, just a few things got a bit damp but they’re drying out now.

I think I’ll go find someplace to eat – I don’t feel like dealing with the wetness and it looks like it could rain some more yet this evening anyway.