Rocky Mountain National Park, Part Two The East Side

Hopefully you caught our first post about the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. This is the second post and it will focus on our visit to the east side of the park. Just to recap, we spent five days enjoying Rocky Mountain National Park in June 2019. We stayed on the west side at a resort called Winding River Resort.

Traveling between the east and west side you have to use Trail Ridge Road. The road is nearly 50 miles between the Grand Lake Entrance and the Estes Park entrance. Eleven miles of Trail Ridge Road is above the treeline so literally you are on top of the Rocky Mountains as you make the trip from one side to the next.

We were lucky during our visit that Trail Ridge Road was open. It shut down shortly after our visit due to snow storms. As we traveled the road to and from the east side, the roads still lined with walls of snow taller than our Ram 2500. The snow poles were sticking up serving as indicators for the snow plows to clear the roads. Old Fall River Road, another one way road from east to west RMNP was not open during our visit.

We stopped at the Alpine Visitor Center on our way over to the east side.  We could not walk to the summit as it was closed due to snow. The views of the mountains from the alpine visitor center are just breathtaking.

After leaving the Alpine Visitor Center, we stopped and did the short Tundra Communities Trail. This trail is short, only a half mile one way trip. It was snow packed, slippery but we were able to watch marmots when we arrived at Roger Toll Memorial. We were also able to watch a group of people slide down the mountain off in a distance. Sledding down the tundra looked like so much fun until we realized what goes down must come go up. The up looked incredibly hard!

Near Beaver Meadows Entrance Station we pulled over and found two sets of picnic tables for our lunch. When visiting any national park, we have finally wizened up that bodies in motion need fuel. I can’t not tell you how many times we set off for an adventure to find ourselves under packed for food and water. We were prepared this time. We had ample lunch food and snack food. During lunch we were visited by magpie birds. We have been infatuated by magpies since we were first introduced to them in Yellowstone.

Next we headed off to the Bear Lake area but first we made a pit stop for some elk viewing. Many people I talk to come to RMNP just to see the elk and I can see why. They are beautiful, large creatures with impressive antlers. During our visit the antlers were still in velvet (which might be my personal favorite time to see them).

Before we reached Bear Lake, we found a service road that had river access. Wayne and Jackie decided to spend some time fishing. Olivia and I found an area of thick grass carpet next to the babbling river and we just spend the time resting and watching the beautiful white clouds pass us by. I am not sure how but I fell asleep in that spot even knowing we were lounging in areas that animals frequented. I am pretty sure we hiked to the spot from a game trail and not a planned hiking trail. I could also see grass/weeds smooched down indicating the space where a large animal themselves had rested. I am sure you all can tell from my photos that I were corrective eye-wear. A few years ago I invested in some prescription sunglasses. As I slept that afternoon in that sunny warm spot near the river, I lost my prescription glasses. I think they fell out of my pocket. Thankfully, I realized what had happened and the fishermen were agreeable to stop fishing and help me locate my missing glasses. Leave no trace, right?!

Wayne had been told by the rangers at Kawuneeche Visitor Center that the best fishing in the park at this time of the year would be at Dream Lake and Emerald Lake. Emerald Lake is the fourth lake in a chain of lakes each set about a half mile apart starting with Bear Lake. Both are deep enough that the trout can live through the winter. It just so happened this was also on my list of places to hike so it was easily a win-win.

Wayne and I at Bear Lake

When we arrived in the area we quickly assessed how crowded it was. We could not park at the Bear Lake Trailhead so we headed up to Glacier Basin park and ride and we rode the bus to Bear Lake. The first lake in the chain is Bear Lake. It is easy to access, hard packed dirt surface. The hike between Bear Lake and Nymph Lake was no joke. It is short, approximately a half mile but the elevation change was 225 feet. The surface became a little more challenging, rockier and less smooth. the trail was busy. We encountered a lot of people.

After Nymph Lake, we kept climbing to Dream Lake. The elevation change was 430 feet and we encountered so much snow! The trail was often covered with melting snow so as we would take a step the snow below our foot would give out and we would fall into snow up to our thighs. Poor Olivia was hiking in her Chaco’s and her poor feet were cold! In addition to just how cold and slippery the snow was, we also encountered an entire group of teens on a church trip. They were much faster and more daring that Olivia and I were so they just bolted past you on the trail. The distance between Nymph Lake and Dream Lake was only a half mile but that was the longest half mile!

We arrived at Dream Lake both cold and wet. Olivia and I sat and enjoyed the beautiful view of the lake and Hallett Peak standing above us (elevation of that peak is 12,713 feet). As Wayne and Jackie fished, Olivia and I just bird watched. No fish were caught at Dream Lake and from there we made a very important decision. We chatted with many hikers returning from Emerald Lake  who told us that the snow covered trail continued. So, Olivia and I made the decision not to hike higher to Emerald Lake. We turned around knowing that the snow would be harder and more slick going down that it had been coming up. So, we found Olivia a sturdy walking stick to use and headed back. Wayne and Jackie caught back up with us right before we reached Bear Lake.  We passed another family headed up between Nymph Lake and Bear Lake and Olivia passed her walking stick along to their daughter. She just looked at her and told her, “Here, you will want to have this very soon!”

The snow added a layer of intensity to the hike. We were all pretty exhausted by the time we made it back to the truck. We ate our snacks and headed back over to the west side of the park as the afternoon was turning into evening. We were well rewarded with our return to the west side of the mountain by several moose sightings before we reached our campground.

Nine days after we traveled over Trail Ridge Road, on the first official day of summer, park services had to close the road again due to winter conditions in higher elevations. It was closed for another five days before it reopened. We knew traveling the beginning of June was a gamble but we picked these dates to see the moose. We felt very lucky to have seen moose and traveled across the park using Trail Ridge Road.

I leave you, with the moose we saw upon our return to the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Everything about him, makes me smile and takes my breath away.

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