tips for hiking rocky mountain national park

Now that I’ve done all of the recaps for our trips this past year, I really want to dig in and provide more tips and details for any of you that may be taking these trips yourselves! After highlighting the Rocky Mountains in my Top 12 Favorite Adventures ever post, I thought that would be a good place to start. If you’re considering a trip to Colorado and visiting the Rocky Mountains, then read on.

Getting There

First, when planning our trip to Rocky Mountain National Park I was pretty overwhelmed. The park website has a lot of good information but the park spans 265,769 acres making it one of the largest national parks in the United States so it’s hard to know where the start! The official park entrance and park sign is located in Estes Park, a small town that sits an hour and a half outside of Denver which is where we decided to enter the park. The drive from Denver to the Rockies is actually quite beautiful. Once you get closer to Estes Park you’ll take many winding roads. We kept thinking we were there but then would have 20 miles left! Estes Park itself is cute and has a few small shops and restaurants to visit before or after you enter the park.

What To Wear

This will depend on the time of year you’re visiting. We went in December which meant it was cold and there was lots of snow! I wore my toughest and warmest winter boots, a thick and long down jacket with many layers beneath. There is nothing but you and elements so dressing properly is important.

Park Entry

It costs $25 per car to get into the park.

Inside The Park

Right near the Estes Park entrance sits a park rangers office. I highly recommend stopping here to get a map and information from the professionals! Your hiking and exploring will be weather dependent so it’s best to get an understanding from them regarding which trails are open. We are inexperienced hikers and didn’t have official hiking gear so our guide recommended Sprague Lake and Bear Lake. The ranger handed us a map and highlighted the roads that were open/closed and directed us to follow the signs. The road inside the park was paved and easy to follow which was a relief to me!

Sprague Lake

This was by far the easiest hike and a nice, quiet way for us to get warmed up! For any inexperienced hikers I definitely recommend it here. The lake it fairly small, not even a mile long, making it easy to walk the path around the entire lake perimeter. It doesn’t have the best views of the mountains which from this lake seem to be set further back in the distance however the lake itself it beautiful enough. We saw families with small kids and dogs walking this trail too.

Bear Lake

Driving here was definitely more challenging as our elevation continued to increase. Once we arrived, there was a long line waiting for a parking spot too so keep that in mind as far as your timing if you’re visiting this lake. This area of the park was packed with skiers, hikers, and snowshoers compared to the quiet Sprague Lake. The views explained the hype though as the lake opens up to an even closer and more spectacular view of the Twin Peaks set against a deep blue sky. A light snow fell as we walked on the frozen lake and then around the perimeters marked path. We stuck close to the lake itself however there were many different trails within this area that are available.

Altitude Sickness

As we were in the car returning to Denver, I started feeling nauseous and sick to my stomach. We ended up having to make a few stops along the way home because my stomach was in knots and I had a headache. I have no way to know for sure but I think it was due to the elevation change! Denver’s elevation sits at 5,280 which is already significantly higher than New York. On top of that, at Bear Lake we were up to almost 10,000 feet of elevation. As soon as I started googling my symptoms I realized that I likely had altitude sickness. You can help combat it by drinking lots of water and taking it slow when you’re changing your elevation levels drastically. I had also drank some cocktails the night before which couldn’t have helped. If you’re visiting the Rockies then keep this in mind to better prepare than I did!

Restrooms

I wanted to create a section for this since you’re in the mountains and the bathroom situation is scarce. We did find a park restroom outside of Bear Lake but there was a line and the restrooms were very rough shape. You’ll hopefully be drinking lots of fluids so chances are you’ll need a restroom at some point. It’s worth it to come prepared with your own hand sanitizer and tissues for when you need to go.

 

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