A Quarter Century In Rocky Mountain National Park
I’d spent much of my childhood exploring the rugged peaks and lush valleys of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. This year, however, was going to be much more than just an ordinary family vacation.
I was turning twenty-five, and it was my last month at home before setting off to travel the World. I couldn’t think of a better way to bring in a quarter century as well as say farewell to my old life than to explore Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park with a few friends and family.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Located only an hour Northwest of Denver, Colorado, in the middle of the United States is the Rocky Mountain National Park. Created in the year 1915 by then-President Woodrow Wilson; RMNP is a mecca of free-roaming wildlife, fun family camping, and remote alpine excursions.
Starting at an elevation of 7,522 feet in the main town of Estes Park, and reaching a dizzying 14,258 feet at it’s highest point; Long’s Peak; the Rocky Mountain National Park leaves you with only one decision; on which trail do you want to get altitude sickness. ????
The Hiking Trails
Compared to the pancake-like prairies of my hometown in Kansas and the rolling Ozark Highlands in Arkansas; the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park are what you could call daunting. There are way too many in fact for a quick rundown, so if you are looking for the best hikes in RMNP, then check out this site.
For the special occasion, I wanted to find a trail, unlike the hundreds I had hiked growing up. After days of research and hairpulling, I finally found just the one.
Mount Ida Hiking Trail
Running along the Continental Divide and viewable from Trail Ridge Road; Mount Ida is a stunning hike with panoramic views nearly the entire way.
The trailhead is located down in a valley of pine named Miner Pass at Poudre Lake.
The beginning of the hike is no walk in the park (pardon the pun). One foot in front of the other is key as switchbacks take you slowly upward towards the timberline (the point where trees stop growing).
Caution: Keep an eye out for bull elk! They can easily sneak up on you in the dense foliage.
Past timberline is where the Mount Ida hike starts to get interesting. The three-hundred and sixty-degree views of the surrounding peaks was like nothing else I had experienced before in Rocky Mountain National Park.
My favorite part of the trail was the sense of being thrust into a different world. The old goat paths worn into the sizeable treeless ridge seemed to go on forever.
A Different World
Every now and again life presents you with a little gift for hard work. I like to think that these elk were brothers, just helping rub some velvet off each other’s racks.
About halfway along the trail, there is a beautiful valley with some alpine ponds. I strongly recommend taking a moment to drink it all in (not literally, of course).
The Halfway Viewpoint
I’m a firm believer in the idea that the greater the suffering, the greater the reward. One we were about three-quarters up the ridge, the mountain decided it was going to make it very difficult for us to reach the peak.
All Uphill From Here
The ridge was covered in large loose rock all set at a 45-degree angle, making it a long and arduous affair. I would go slow and steady, so you don’t break your ankles and have to get carried down the mountain. (It’s no fun for the people carrying you either).
All Up Hill From Here
Once atop Mount Ida, you get an unrestricted three-hundred and sixty-degree view of some of the most impressive mountain ranges in Rocky Mountain National Park and the North American mount range as a whole. Long’s Peak is visible to the South, and the Kuwuneeche Valley from the southwest.
Mount Ida Peak – 12,840 Ft.
After a few hours spent enjoying some of the most epic views I’ve ever witnessed, we packed up our gear and headed back down the goat trail.
Our journey wasn’t over yet though. After one makes the long drive to the Rocky Mountain National Park and spends the money to rent a nice place it would be a crime only to do one hike. Which is why we got to planning our next day’s adventure only this time we would be accompanied by the folks.
Mills / Black / Frozen Lake Trail
Starting low in the Rocky Mountain National Park at the Glacier Gorge trailhead; The Mill Lake, Black Lake, and Frozen Lake hiking trail has an array of landscapes, from dense misty forest to high craggy peaks.
Early Morning Fog
The hike from the trailhead is relatively easy as you make your way to Alberta Falls and Mills Lake. This part is perfect for families looking for an afternoon stroll.
Mill’s Lake – 9,940 Ft.
Old rough cut planks hover above dark swampy areas winding through the forested valley. The environment changes so rapidly from morning to afternoon. Erie and wet, to sunny and dry, the entire scene changes before you pass through it again coming down.
We hiked the trail in August, so the rivers were flowing, and everything was a bright neon green. Usually, you will find snow everywhere past Mills Lake.
Crawling up Ribbon Falls is much more pleasant when not confronted with snow-covered rocks and frigid temperatures.
Black lake, named for its dark water (due to its depth), is a gorgeous lake at the base of McHenry and Cheif’s Head peaks. I recommend getting there in the morning to catch the sunlight running through the trees.
Black Lake – 10,656 Ft.
The trail from Black Lake to Frozen Lake is not to be underestimated. If you get to Black and have plenty of gas left in the tank, then I would go for it. It is a fierce uphill battle starting off with a steep unmarked boulder staircase and leading up to a beautiful alpine valley.
The hike through the valley up to Frozen lake takes about half an hour depending on how much you stop to look around. There is almost no visible trail, so you will have to rely on the cairns (stacks of rock) set up by previous travelers.
Watch your step! There are lots of holes and small streams for you to fall into, hidden underneath the bright green alpine grass.
After what seems like an hour of suffering you will suddenly run right into Frozen Lake. It took me a second to realize that I had made it. The lake gets its name due to it being; well; frozen most of the year. Even in some of the summer months.
Frozen Lake – 11,614 Ft.
Warning! It can be extremely windy around Frozen Lake. I recommend you take something warm and wind resistant, to make sure you get to enjoy the reward.
The Perfect Send-Off
After a week of fun adventures and time spent with family in the Rocky Mountain National Park, I felt like a kid again, on vacation with his parents; no worries and no stress.
I don’t know if anything else in the World could have prepared me better for the whirlwind known as Mexico I was about to step into as I emerged from the plane less than a month later.
Thanks For Reading!!
Where are your favorite mountains?
Really nice job Grant. I enjoyed the hike and I wasn’t even there!
Your travel blog of the Rocky Mountain National Park was spot on.
We are in our late 70’s which allowed us to relive our experiences
of the same trails and destinations. You never get too old.
GREAT JOB! Grant
Thank you. Always glad to hear someone took something from my writing 🙂