August 2022 – After 20 years living in Florida, I finally visited the mid-western region of the United States. A place I’ve been wanting to visit was Colorado state, and with a crazy plan, I convinced my family to go on an incredible and amazing road trip in 2021.
I wrote about that amazing trip here fullofcoffeeblog.com/my-amazing-road-trip-from-florida-to-colorado. I wish we could repeat soon, if it wasn’t that far away from Florida. We may have to travel by plane. We drove about 2,000 miles each way: to get there and to go back home. During that trip, we visited the Rocky Mountain National Park. It was wonderful and unforgettable!
Let me give you some information about the Rockies. There are 63 national parks in the United States, all protected and maintained by the National Park Service, an agency that’s part of the Department of the Interior. The Rocky Mountain National Park was established in 1915, with the intention of preserving the ecosystems and wilderness in the area. This mountain range extends from Canada to New Mexico. The “Mountain” States include: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.
The ground elevation of the state of Colorado ranges from 3,315 feet above sea level to 14,433 feet – the elevation of Mount Elbert, the highest peak. The highest ground elevation in the state of Florida is only 345 feet. Meanwhile, the highest ground elevation in Puerto Rico is Cerro Punta in the town of Jayuya at 4,390 feet. The mountainous area where I grew up in Coamo, Puerto Rico, is about 1,900 feet above sea level. I always thought I lived high up in the mountains, but I don’t think it compares to these magnificent mountains in Colorado.
The Rocky Mountains include 110 peaks at 10,000 feet elevation, including 54 peaks exceeding 14,000 feet in elevation. Those are better known as the “Fourteeners”. (for more information, check the links I mention here, provided by uncovercolorado.com/rocky-mountains-colorado/).
These mountains are a popular tourist destination, with plenty of activities for everyone to enjoy, from just walking, to hiking, backpacking, biking, camping, fishing, hunting, skiing, snowboarding, and of course, to have a picnic. You’ll find lakes, peaks, rivers, and valleys. There are also a lot of animals that live in the park. For more information, visit the National Park Service page nps.gov/romo/index.htm.
There are four entrances to the park, all attended by super nice rangers that are available 24 hours/7 days. Yes, the park is always open, unless there is some time of emergency that poses a great risk to visitors and animals. There is an entrance fee, but once you enter you can stay until midnight.
Beaver Meadows Entrance Station and Visitor Center are located on the east side, along US 36 road. On the northeast of Beaver Meadows area, is the Fall River Entrance Station and Visitor Center, along US 34 road. The Wild Basin Entrance Station is on the south side, along Hwy 115. On the west side is the Great Lake Entrance Station and also the Kawuneeche Visitor Center. All visitor centers have information about the park and merchandise for sale.
According to the National Park Service, about 3 million people visit during the year! There are so many visitors during the summer, that the administration has to set up a reservation timed entry schedule for visitors to enter the park during the months of May and October. So, if you’re planning to visit during summer, visit the page to find information on the entry reservations. The rest of the year, no reservation is needed, unless you plan to camp in.
I chose the Fall River entrance, because I wanted to go by Estes Park, a beautiful town that my friend Sam is always talking about. Before arriving at the park, there’s a forest area, Washington Roosevelt National Forest, and the Fall River runs along the road. There are also plenty of beautiful wood cabins available for rent.
The park is so big! It’s better to plan your trip so you can visit as many places as possible. Since I only planned to visit for one day, I planned to visit one lake area, one valley area, and drive to the highest spot we could to find snow. That was our main goal: to see if there was snow anywhere over those high peaks.
Because we entered at four in the afternoon, and we had a reservation for Bear Lake area, we headed there first. Bear Lake is another area that my friend Sam had recommended I visit. There’s a trail that goes around the lake, and maybe because of summer season, there were a lot of people walking around the trail that day. We still enjoyed our time and the beautiful views.
On the way out of Bear Lake, we saw a herd of deer and stopped to see them up close and take pictures. Trying not to scare them, we walked closer slowly. They were alert, but they stayed laying on the ground.
We then headed to Trail Ridge Road. This road is the highest continuous paved road in the United States. As part of the US 34 road, it goes 48 miles from Estes Park on the east side, to Grand Lake on the west side. The higher part of the road, at around 12,000 feet of altitude, closes from October to May because of weather conditions, usually because of heavy snowfalls. The Alpine Visitor Center is near the top, at 11,799 feet. The Continental Divide is another interesting stop. It’s called like that because it actually divides the North American continent into eastern -Atlantic-, and western -Pacific-.
I wanted to take Trail Ridge Road to make it to a high spot and look for a spot with snow. Our intention was not to go hiking, just enjoy our time and find snow. I wanted to make it to the highest point we could before the sun went down. Well, our driver (the dad) started having anxiety because of the road’s altitude and narrowness. We had to stop and decided to turn back and go back down to the lower valleys.
We made it up to the Forest Canyon Overlook, at 11,758 feet! This high area is called the tundra, because of the land being under snow for a long period of time. There are no trees growing in this area, only a few wildflowers and grassy spots survive. We saw marmots! But they were hiding so fast, I couldn’t get them on any picture.
My kids were intrigued by how cold it was, around 50 degrees F, since it was summer. But they were a bit disappointed as we could see there was snow but not near the trail where we could touch it. On the way back to the valley, we stopped and I got out of the car to walk. I was a little frustrated, because I could see the snow, but it seemed like we weren’t going to be able to even get close to it.
I kept walking further to where I saw a big rock. I said to myself “I’ll go up to that rock. If there’s no snow, then we leave.” To my surprise, there was a patch of snow just a few feet from me. It was at a lower level than the rock I had walked to, but it didn’t seem unreachable. I walked back to were my kids could see me (they were still in the car), and waved for them to come over.
Yes, we found snow! Cold, tiny pieces of ice! We grabbed some, we were able to make our first tiny snowman, and threw over a few snowballs down the hill (hoping there wasn’t any animal around). After that stop, our humor changed. We found snow in Colorado during the summer!
We drove to the Alluvial Fan Trail, where we ate our snacks and walked around the Roaring River bank. It’s called roaring river for a reason. There are signs warning not to get close to the current. We also saw a warning sign of the possible sight of bears in the area, and that was enough to discourage us from hiking any further. No, thank you, we are not ready for encounter with bears. We were happy with what we got to see.
We left the park around 8 at night. My youngest reminded us about how close we were from Wisconsin, but couldn’t manage to convince the driver. We bought him fast food that maybe upset his stomach, because he spent that night and next day sick. I had to go buy medicine, gelatin, soup and clear liquids. But we enjoyed a rest day, and the next day we were on our way back home.
Now, we can’t wait to go back and see the ground covered in snow, and of course catch our first snow fall. I also want to visit the East coast mountain range, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. I know it snows there in the winter, and I’d love to see the park.
In 2021, I also went back to Puerto Rico. I’ll tell you about that fun trip soon. I have many more places to visit. There’s always time to dream of the next adventure. As always, thank you for reading! Time for my tacita de café. Salud!
Para versión en Español, vea Fullofcoffeeblog.com/mi-increible-viaje-por-carretera-el-parque-nacional-de-las-montanas-rocosas-de-colorado