THE AMERICAN ROCKIES
WHAT TO DO IN ROCKY MOUNTAIN? MY JOURNEY
Before telling you about the hikes and viewpoints not to be missed at Rocky Mountain, let’s talk a little about logistics. Entrance to the park is included in the annual “America The Beautiful” pass. But for the summer of 2022, they had set up a reservation system to enter at certain times. The Bear Lake Road part started its reservations from 5 a.m. (and having been there before, it’s really early!), and the rest of the park was accessible without reservation before 9 a.m. Click here to see if the system is still in place when you go there. Once you are in the park, there are buses available if the parking lots are full at Bear Lake Road. Otherwise, the rest can be done by car.
BEAR LAKE ROAD
To start the day, I strongly advise you (and I insist) to go see the sunrise at Sprague Lake. You have parking next to the lake. Then, go around the lake until you arrive in front of the parking lot. From there you have a magnificent view of the lake and the snow-capped mountains. Sit down and admire the sun rising and giving this dewy color to the mountains. This natural spectacle is just a marvel! It is one of the most beautiful sunrises I have seen in the United States. The entire lake tour will take you about thirty minutes.
After, direction to the bear lake. You have a large car park at the beginning of the hikes in the area (be careful, it is large but quickly full so do not hang around too much). From there, you have the bear lake, a very pretty big lake! You can go around in less than an hour (0.5 miles / 0.8 km).
Then you have a great loop around several lakes. Depending on the lakes you are going to see, you lengthen the loop more or less. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how long the loop takes because for one of the lakes the trail was covered in icy snow. Not having the proper equipment, I did not feel comfortable going there so I turned around to take another path and see the other lakes of the loop. The hike will have taken me 5h30 in total. So still plan a good little day to do the loop I think. The loop starts from the Bear Lake parking lot. I advise you to do it counterclockwise because the lakes are more and more beautiful in this direction. You will pass by Dream Lake, which is very beautiful but honestly not my favorite, and then arrive at Emerald Lake which is a real beauty! When I was there, there was still snow and ice on this lake, a super beautiful landscape! Then, if the path allows you because I couldn’t, you can go to Lake Haiyaha. Then continue the loop on The Loch, a beautiful lake with the peaks of the mountains just above, it’s beautiful! And finally, end up with Mills Lake which is a big lake with a great view too! This is a really pretty loop and worth doing. You also have other lakes on this path, if you can, go explore them. I’ve only seen 5 of them and I’ve already loved 3 of them so I can’t even imagine the others. Seeing these lakes with these rocky mountains still snow-capped in some places is a real joy! I really advise you to devote at least one day to this part of the park. This is the best part for me.
TRAIL RIDGE ROAD
Trail ridge road
Trail ridge road
Trail ridge road
Before telling you about it, I know that this road is not open all year round so take a good look on the official NPS website when it opens exactly (weather permitting of course).
This part of the park is generally a road that passes through different points of view. There are a few long hikes to do but I don’t know what they are worth to be honest. To access some viewpoints, you have to take a short walk, but they are easy and in general the round trip is done in less than 30 minutes. I will not list the viewpoints here because they are marked on the map that you can pick up at the entrance to the park. But above all, I will tell you which are my favorites: Rainbow Curve, Forest Canyon (look around you, maybe you will see a marmot), and Gore Range. These 3 points of view are unmissable for me!
If you are there from July to September, you can also do the Old Fall River Road which has some viewpoints. But I can’t tell you more because being there in June, it was closed for me.
Holzwarth Historic Site
Coyote Valley Trailhead
I really liked this part of the park too. I couldn’t stay very long because the rain and thunderstorms were coming. But here’s what I was able to do.
First, there is the Holzwarth Historic Site. I didn’t expect to see this but it’s actually an old family run summer camp in the Rockies. You can see the interior of several habitats as well as those of tourists. It’s quite nice to be able to imagine yourself on vacation in this place.
Then you can do the Coyote Valley Trailhead. It’s not a big hike, I’d say about 1 hour max, but it’s very pretty. It runs along the river on one side and the great plains on the other side with a view of the mountains. A walk that I really enjoyed, very peaceful. And there were not many people in this part of the park.
Rocky Mountain National Park is super beautiful. It changes from the big red deserts that I was able to do the previous days. I really liked the lakes part at Bear Lake Road and the Timber Creek part. A great discovery!
WHEN TO GO?
I was at Rocky Mountain around mid June. I was lucky because the weather was nice the first day during my hike, but the second day it started to rain in the middle of the afternoon. And there was still snow in some places. With the mountains, you are never sure of the weather unfortunately.
I will say that 2 days is enough to do a big tour of the park. The first day in the Bear Lake part, and the second day on the road to the Trail Ridge Road with all the beautiful viewpoints in the park. But there are several long day hikes in the park, so as you wish.
MY 3 TIPS TO VISIT ROCKY MOUNTAIN
- Something I obviously did not do, but to do if you plan to go high in the national park, plan walking sticks and/or spikes for your shoes. Some passages still have snow and I couldn’t do them because I didn’t have the right equipment.
- Go see a sunrise at Sprague Lake, it’s definitely worth it! And getting to the park early will get you a parking spot near the Bear Lake Road hikes.
- See if you need to book your entry. If so, do it well in advance as places are taken.