After taking Aspen for her obligatory swim at Shadow Mountain Lake we decided to take a drive into Rocky Mountain National Park and to the East side along Trail Ridge Road. Referred to as the “highway to the sky,” the drive from Grand Lake takes you across the Continental Divided at Milner Pass at an elevation of 10.758 feet or more than 2 miles above sea level.
The views are spectacular as vast mountain peaks are visible from near and far. I can never truly take it all in as I need to keep my eyes on the road; there are no guardrails at this elevation. Eventually, we crossed the highest point of the road at 12,183 feet, thus earning Trail Ridge Road the designation of the highest continuous paved road in North America. We began our descent towards Estes Park, marveling at the spectacular scenery before us.
Arriving on the East side of the park, we started our trek back over Old Fall River Road. Opened in 1920, Old Fall River Road was the original auto route from Estes Park to Grand Lake; however, it is now commonly referred to as the motor nature route. The oneway, unpaved road typically opens around the July 4th holiday and will remain open to vehicle traffic until early October, weather permitting. Unlike the well maintained Trail Ridge Road, Old Fall River road is not for the squeamish, as there are no guards rails on this narrow path to the Alpine Center.
The road itself loosely follows Fall River up until a series of switchbacks take you to the Chapin Pass Trailhead. There are several pullouts along the way and we found ourselves stopping at Chasm Falls. Dropping nearly 25 feet through a narrow gorge, the river itself starts near the Alpine Center, flowing 17 miles before its confluence with the Big Thompson in Estes Park. After admiring the beauty of the falls, we continued our motor trek to our next destination. Nearing the top and back in the alpine tundra ecosystem, you are able to see the source of Fall River very clearly in the distance located within the cirque of Fall River Pass.
At our final stop before the Alpine Center, we pulled off to the side of the road for another first inside Rocky Mountain National Park, the hike to Marmot Point. Stella has been wanting to hike Marmot Point since our first drive over Old Fall River Road in 2016. From afar, the hike looked as if it would take hours to complete. But it is roughly a mile out and back, or really up and down. The hike itself is fairly steep in a few sections. During our ascent, we happened upon three female elk sunning themselves on the lush green vegetation of the alpine tundra. At the summit looking north, on a clear day you can easily see into Wyoming. Glancing to the West you find yourself gazing down upon the headwaters of the Colorado River at La Poudre Pass. The views are magnificent and well worth the climb.
Sunday solo hike… I hiked the Colorado River Trail. Surprisingly, the trail closures and detours have ended as the logging operations in and around the trail have essentially wrapped up. The hike itself is an out and back with a loop near the Colorado River in total about 5.65 miles with an elevation gain of just 189 feet. The trail has been mostly cleared of the fallen pine trees killed to due to the mountain pine beetle. The hike is relatively easy as it meanders through the standing pine forest and ponds dotting the first half of the hike. As I crossed what I would have assumed to be an old logging road, you begin your trek towards the river. A few weeks back the Colorado River was raging as the winter run off was in full gear.
Upon my arrival, I found the river a bit more tranquil but still flowing steadily towards Shadow Mountain Lake. Completing the loop below the river, I started my journey back to the ponds. Stella always points out the beauty of the lily pads dominating the surface of the water.
I heard a crack of thunder and had flash backs of last year, when on a mostly sunny day, we hiked to the river when the weather suddenly turned to a downpour. Positioning myself on a rock near the waters edge, I snapped a few pictures of the bright yellow flowering lily pads. Shoving the camera into my pack, I made my way to the trailhead and home to base camp.