Rocky Mountains NP Tour

Rocky Mountains NP Tour anaheimer

Denver Rocky Mountains - by James St John - WikimediaExploring the Rocky Mountains

My journey to Denver, the famed mile-high city, was filled with anticipation of encountering dense forests, meandering rivers, and the iconic snow-capped Rockies. However, upon arrival, my initial excitement gave way to a tinge of disappointment.

Denver, at first sight, resembled many other major American cities, marked by its extensive urban spread, a skyline punctuated by towering structures, and dotted with occasional green spaces.

Fortunately, my initial dismay was quickly replaced by awe as I began to explore the city's unique charm and the nearby majestic Rockies.

Discover more about Denver here. This article, however, is a tribute to the magnificent Rocky Mountains National Park.

Interesting Fact: Denver's elevation of 5,280 feet above sea level gives it the nickname "Mile-High City" and offers a stunning gateway to the Rockies.

The park, straddling the Continental Divide, is a haven of protected mountains, forests, rivers, lakes, and alpine tundra.

Rocky Mountains National ParkThe park's diverse terrain, from its majestic mountains and tranquil alpine lakes to its lush forests teeming with wildlife, provides a myriad of activities and adventures for both locals and visitors.

Here, you can engage in hiking, fishing, rafting, journeying along the highest paved highway in the US, marveling at the snow-laden mountains, hunting, or skiing.

The park is home to numerous peaks towering over 11,000 ft, with Longs Peak standing as the highest at 14,259 feet.

Tip: When exploring the Rocky Mountains, be prepared for altitude changes. Longs Peak, the park's highest summit, offers challenging hikes and spectacular views.

Seeking local insights for my exploration, I chose Aspire Tours in Denver to experience the Rockies.

Their service was exceptional from the start. The check-in was effortless, and the vans, designed for optimal viewing with large windows, accommodated up to 16 passengers comfortably.

Our rendezvous point was in front of Union Station, allowing me time to savor a delightful breakfast at Snooze before embarking on our adventure.

Downtown Lyons - by Billy Hathorn - WikimediaOur guide, Ty, was knowledgeable and engaging, enriching our journey with insights into the local terrain, culture, and history. As we neared Lyons, he described the Denver area's High Desert Prairie or High Plains environment, characterized by short grass and roaming small wildlife.

Our brief stop in Lyons was to gather lunch and water for the tour, but it also allowed us to enjoy the local flavors of coffee and pastries at Moxie Bread Co.

Lyons, once renowned for its sandstone quarries, now serves as a significant gateway to the Rocky Mountains National Park, adding to its historical charm.

Interesting Fact: Lyons, Colorado, played a pivotal role in the construction boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, supplying sandstone for major buildings across the USA.

As we neared Estes Park, our guide, Ty, captivated us with the tale of Rattlesnake Kate. She famously battled 140 rattlesnakes during a duck hunting trip while accompanied by her young son, Ernie. Read the full story here.

Traveling through the national park on Highways 36 and 35, we witnessed a remarkable landscape transformation and a noticeable temperature drop.

Ascending from Denver's elevation of 5,280 feet to 11,700 feet at the Alpine Visitor Center, we experienced a dramatic shift from a sweltering 93 degrees to cloudy skies with rain, culminating in a thunder snowm storm at the peak.

Rocky Mountains Alpine Visitor Center - snow stormThis unexpected weather change altered our tour plans, but our adaptable guide and driver provided us with equally thrilling alternative experiences.

The unique experience of a thunderstorm combined with snow was an exhilarating highlight for me. Given the chance, I would have opted to spend more time at the summit, embracing the snowy deluge.

Our day continued with a picnic lunch, a hike around Sprague Lake, and a visit to Estes Park, before we made our way back to Denver. Ty, ever the informative guide, shared his top picks for local attractions and dining spots in the city.

My time with Aspire Tours was enlightening, and I highly recommend their service to anyone visiting Rocky Mountain National Park for the first time.

Highlights of the tourĀ 

Wildlife Encounters

Rocky Mountains - ElkOn our descent, we were greeted by the sight of a large elk grazing beside a creek. The group eagerly stepped out to observe and photograph the elk, maintaining a respectful distance.

This solitary male elk was an unusual sight, as they typically graze in herds.

Did You Know? Elk males are the only ones to grow antlers, which can sprout up to an inch per day in the spring and are shed each winter.

In a vast meadow, we were fortunate to spot a herd of elks congregating near a watering hole.

Exploring Estes Park

Estes Park RiverwalkEstes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, offers visitors a chance to stock up on essentials or enjoy a meal before venturing into the wilderness.

This quaint town is a hub for outdoor activities like hiking, cycling, rock climbing, and whitewater rafting. It's also a popular starting point for guided tours into the Rockies.

Interesting Fact: The term "Park" in the names of many Rocky Mountain towns signifies a valley formed by glacial activity.

Stanley Hotel Estes Park - by Rominator - WikipediaOur return journey included a stop at Elkhorn Ave in downtown Estes Park, known for its unique shops, eateries, and a scenic Riverwalk stretching a mile behind the storefronts. Despite the chilly drizzle, it was a welcome change from the storm at the summit.

Interesting Fact: The Stanley Hotel, overlooking Estes Park Lake, famously inspired Stephen King's novel "The Shining".

The Riverwalk offered a picturesque and rejuvenating hike but for those seeking a more extensive trail, the path around Lake Estes is an excellent choice.

For breathtaking panoramic views of the valley and mountains, the Aerial Tramway is a must-try, taking you over the treetops to the summit of Prospect Mountain.

Sprague Lake

Sprague LakeOur tour included a picturesque lunch stop at Sprague Lake, offering breathtaking views of snow-capped mountains.

Located on the south side of Glacier Creek, about two miles south of the Hollowell turnoff, Sprague Lake is a serene spot named after Abner Sprague, an early settler and entrepreneur in the area.

Abner Sprague, who homesteaded here in 1874, later established a lodge for dude ranching, hunting, and fishing. He also created the lake by damming one end to enhance fishing opportunities.

Sprague Lake picnicWhile our guides prepared lunch, we embarked on a leisurely half-mile walk around the lake. This accessible trail features boardwalks and bridges, offering stunning views of Flattop Mountain and Hallet Peak.

The lake is also a popular spot for Brook Trout fishing and fly fishing enthusiasts.

Historical Note: In 1919, guests at the Sprague Hotel paid $6.00 for a room with a private bath and $1.00 for meals. The hotel, now gone, was once located near the current parking lot area.

Trail Ridge Road

Trail Ridge Road - by DariuszKowalczyk - WikipediaOne of the park's marvels is Trail Ridge Road, a 48-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 34 that cuts through the park from Estes Park in the east to Grand Lake in the west.

Along with the connecting 6.9-mile Beaver Meadow Road (U.S. Highway 36), it forms the 55-mile Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow National Scenic Byway, designated as an All-American Road.

Peaking at 12,183 feet, Trail Ridge Road holds the title of the highest continuous paved road in North America.

Bear Lake

Rocky Mountain NP signThough not part of our itinerary, Bear Lake deserves mention as a key destination within the park. It's a stunning lake with panoramic views of Hallett Peak and the Continental Divide, serving as a trailhead for several hikes.

Formed during the ice age by glacial activity, Bear Lake is surrounded by several moraines, offering a glimpse into the park's ancient geological history.

Hiking Trails

The National Park is a haven for hikers, boasting a wide array of trails. Among the most popular are Emerald Lake, Sky Pond, and Chasm Lake. Find more trails here.

Tip: When hiking in Rocky Mountains National Park, always be prepared for sudden weather changes and check trail conditions in advance, especially for the more challenging hikes like Sky Pond and Chasm Lake.

Park Information

Rocky Mountain National ParkSpanning 415 square miles (265,807 acres), Rocky Mountains National Park is a mosaic of mountainous environments, featuring lakes, rivers, meadows, and towering peaks.

Planning is key to experiencing this vast park. Visitors need a timed entry reservation or a camp/lodge reservation for entry.

Make your reservation here. This site also offers information on purchasing annual passes.

During peak season, parking can be challenging at popular spots. Consider using the park shuttle, which starts in Estes Park and accesses various points of interest. More details on the shuttle service here.

For a list of fees and passes, visit this link.

Important: The park's shuttle service is not only convenient but also helps reduce the environmental impact on this pristine natural area. Utilizing it supports conservation efforts and ensures a more enjoyable experience for all visitors.