We arrived at our base for exploring the Rocky Mountain National Park on Saturday afternoon, the last weekend of June.
Our accommodation for the weekend was at the Coyote Mountain Lodge, a simple mountain lodge hotel with a small pool, five minutes from the Estes Park town center, ten minutes from the main entrance to the Rocky Mountain National Park.The town was moderately busy, but not quite in full swing yet. The busiest time would be the six weeks period from mid-July to end of August because this is the only period that is generally free of snow at the alpine area.
We started our exploration with a late afternoon drive on the Bear Lake Road out to one of the most popular area of the park, the Bear Lake corridor, on the east side of the park. We stopped at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, then strolled around scenic Bear Lake. Just as we finished our stroll, rain started to fall so we returned to our hotel.
The next morning, Sunday, we awoke to a cloudy sky but it was not raining. So we proceeded with our plans to hike to the Deer Mountain summit, a popular but still challenging 5 km hike to 10,013 ft.
We drove on the Trail Ridge Road to the Deer Mountain trailhead. We were warned by the park ranger parking is limited as parking is only along the road. Thankfully, we were early enough to secure a good parking spot for our car.
The 5 km trail started quite gentle through an open valley. Then the trail entered a steep forested area with eight switchback that makes the climb easier. The last third of the hike started with a slight downward slope through an aspen forest, and then the final ascent are steep stone steps that goes up to the peak.
At the top, 10,013 ft, there is summit marker to officially “bag the peak”.
There were nice views all the way along the trail and the view at the top was really expansive. The town of Estes Park can be clearly seen from the summit.
While we were enjoying the summit views, it started to snow. Our hike up to the summit was one and one half hours. Our hike back down to the trail head was only slightly shorter at one hour and twenty minutes.
We were tired and quite cold after the hike so we returned to our hotel for lunch, rest and to warm up. It was certainly a good decision to be staying close to the park entrance.
In the afternoon, around 3 pm, the rain stopped and the sun came out. We returned to the Park to continue our exploration. We drove to the Fall River section of the Park, where there is also a visitor center to accommodate the large number of visitors to this park. The Rocky Mountain National Park was the 3rd most visited Park in the US in 2018, with almost 4.6 million visitors in 2018.
We enjoyed an informative 25-minute film on the Rocky Mountain National Park at this visitor center and received two recommendations for spots to visit in the afternoon.
We drove out to the Dear Ridge Junction and continued all the way to Rainbow Curve. Unfortunately, the most scenic portion of this drive, the Trail Ridge Road was closed. The Trail Ridge Road is supposed to be really scenic, going up to 12,000 feet alpine area. But it was closed due to excessive snow during the last week. We had to be content with the views at the Rainbow Curve outlook.
Next, we drove to the Endo Valley area and hiked around the based of the Alluvial Fan. Hiking around the roaring river run off really gave us an appreciation for the force of nature.
On the way out of the Park, we were treated with several sightings of park wildlife. We spotted many deers and elks.
We could have easily spent a full week in this National Park. There are so many scenic drives and hikes to explore, from lush valleys to craggy peaks. There are more than 500 km of walking and hiking trails to mountain lakes, waterfalls and spectacular view. No wonder it is the third most visited national park in America.