On Sunday we got back to Minneapolis after a way-too-short trip to Colorado. We needed to use up some expiring airline points, so we picked one of cheapest flights on the map – Colorado. At about $140 each roundtrip, the flights were affordable, and the payoff was *amazing*.
First up was Denver. We spent Thursday exploring a tiny fraction of the culture (Botanic Gardens, Denver Art Museum, walking for blocks and blocks exploring), food (Biker Jim’s Gourmet Hot Dog’s), and drink (Great Divide Brewery). We also got to have dinner with Jay’s cousin Kate, her husband Thad, and their adorable, lovely kids.
Early Friday, we headed about two hours north to Estes Park – the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. We stayed in a cute cabin just two miles outside of the park, and spent most of our time exploring. RMNP is simply stunning. The scorched, earthy tones of the alpine valleys give way to towering, snow-capped peaks and countless amazing views - I honestly kept saying to Jay "is this real? is this REAL?" I'm sure it got annoying.
We had big plans to hike ALL the mountains, but ya know, that is *really* hard. So, we scaled back a bit and picked a couple places this guy recommended. When we arrived on Friday, late afternoon, we cruised around the park and took quick hikes on small, super accessible trails. On Friday we woke up around 6 a.m. and headed to the Bear Lake Trailhead to hike to Lake Helene. It's not marked on the official RMNP map, so if you want to go there, read the description on the website I linked to, or ask a ranger when you arrive. The turn-off is easy to miss. Also another tip for first-timers -- everything we read online said this, but if you want to park at Bear Lake, you HAVE to get there early. Late October is off-season, but the lot was already filling up by 7:30 a.m. There IS a free shuttle that runs up to Bear Lake, but, idk, it was nice to have the flexibility of having our own car there, and getting started on the trail before anyone arrived. In total, the hike took us 5-6 hours, but I was also stopping constantly to take photos...sooo, I think it could probably be done in 4 or so.
Sunday we were hoping to make it to the top of Flattop Mountain (also accessed by Bear Lake trailhead), but it was extremely windy, snowy and icy a few hundred feet above treeline. We were definitely not prepared for that, so we turned around before reaching the summit. This hike was considered "strenuous" compared to the previous days' "moderate" rating. It was definitely doable, though we slowed our pace while trudging up the mountain breathing the thin air we were not used to.
All in all, a super-fun but too-short trip – we can’t wait to go back and discover more of RMNP! Oh, and let’s not forget the wildlife!! Throughout the trip I managed to shoot Elk, Whitetail Deer, Coyote, Pika, plus Gray Jays, Bluebirds, and Magpies!
Here are a few of my favorite pics from the trip (click to enlarge) :