Rocky Mountain National Park covers 415 square miles and has 6 visitors centers, so you need to plan your time accordingly. Make sure you aren’t staying in Estes Park with plans to hike in Granby.
We woke up in the hotel as early as we could manage (by this I mean I dragged myself and my family to get our breakfast as we all whined) and we headed off to RMNP. The drive was about 1 1/2 hours from our hotel and we made stops along the way because the view is just spectacular.
We stopped for a good long rest and yummy lunch in Estes Park. There was a lovely view and we were so pleased to be back in nature where we feel at home. Cities are fun and we love to see them, but we are country mice and feel so much more relaxed when we are away from the hustle and bustle of urban life. I grew up a stone’s throw from the most vibrant city in the US, but I have lived in North Carolina for 16 years and my connection to that kind of life has waned.
We had rented a condo in Granby, which is on the other side of the continental divide. We knew that some of the best hiking was on the Estes Park side of the mountain, so we wanted to get in a big hike before we checked into our rental.
I had asked around about the best hike to expose us to RMNP and found that the Emerald Lake Hike was a good fit for us. Challenging for out of shape folks like us, but full of beauty and wonder. It was absolutely perfect for us.
The hike starts out at Bear Lake, a very popular place to start a hike. We were late enough in the day that we were able to find a parking spot in the lot, which was a small miracle in itself. We used the primitive bathroom facilities, filled up our water bottles and headed off.
After a short and manageable walk, you will come to Nymph Lake. This is a beautiful lake with blooming yellow lily pads and alpine trees all around. If you are not in good shape, but want to see a beautiful mountain lake, this would be a very good choice.
After Nymph Lake the trail starts to get harder. This trail is rated as an “easy” but I found it to be challenging because it’s uphill the entire time, the air is much thinner than what we are used to and because I’m not in the best shape. Your mileage may vary!!
As we passed the cascades, my children had to have a sip of fresh mountain water. They said it tasted good and they didn’t get sick. I guess we were lucky. 😃
We finally reached Dream Lake, another beautifully clear mountain lake with alpine trees and Rocky Mountain peaks surrounding it. Gorgeous! My kids couldn’t help themselves but put their feet in!
We hit the trail again and continued up, up, up. We reached Emerald Lake and took a big sigh of relief. Snow is still visible on the mountain side! There were cheeky little chipmunks at this lake that came up and scared you as you relaxed. I didn’t like it but my children thought they were hilarious!
Our descent was much easier and we enjoyed speeding down the mountain.
We got back to the parking lot, hit the bathrooms, refilled our empty water bottles and took a minute to catch our breath. It was getting late into the afternoon and we knew this was prime time to spot some wildlife and the Granby side of the mountain is known for moose sightings!!
We drove over Trail Ridge Road with white knuckles. It was the scariest place I’ve driven and I was too scared to make any of the stops along the way. (although I truly regret this decision because I have heard the views are outstanding) We made it across the road, thank goodness and headed towards Granby.
We were so so so lucky that we spotted a female moose from our car. She was grazing in a small wooded field beside the road.
As we drove further there was a commotion from other drivers and a big bull moose walked across the road and up the side of a hill! Amazing!! My one wish for wildlife at RMNP was fulfilled on our first day!
We checked into our condo and slept soundly after a great first day!
The next morning we enjoyed the pools at our condo and had some lunch at “home”. The next stop was the Kawuneeche Visitors Center to work on the children’s Junior Ranger Badges. We learned a lot working on the badges together and the children finished the paperwork quickly. We enjoyed the small center and Andrew was very impressed with the moose antler that was as big and heavy as he was!!
We had booked a horse ride for today with Sombrero Ranch. The ride was fun, although it was a little scary going up the mountain on a horse. Surprisingly the horses are very steady and don’t seem to loose any footing on the trails. The ride was two hours long, about an hour longer than my assssset could handle! 😂 But I was glad we did it and even got to spot another female moose while she was taking her daytime nap!
We headed back to our condo and relaxed in the pools for the evening.
The following day we wanted to check out the Holzwarth Historic Site, an old hunting ranch that was acquired by the park in 1974/75. It was used for people wanting a hunting and fishing vacation right next to Rocky Mountain National Park. The family and guest cabins are still there and it’s a nice walk through Kawuneeche Valley to the stream that eventually becomes the Colorado River.
The Ranger will bring you through the family cabin to the old kitchen where Mrs. Holzworth would cook dinner for the guests. I have so much respect for the woman of the west!
Behind the cabin is a nice area to dress up in some gear from the Old West and do some laundry using a ringer. The kids really enjoyed this part and I enjoyed seeing the kitchen and imagining cooking for many guests for every meal every day.
After our time at the historic site, we decided to do another hike to Adams Falls. This hike is very short and easy and the kids climbed rocks and ran and burned off a lot of energy having fun.
If you are visiting RMNP, I suggest you visit both sides of the mountain. Based on my very short visit, I think the hiking on the Estes side is good and the wildlife on the Granby side is super! Here is a blur shot of some of the many herds of elk we got to see. Go to your National Parks! They are a national treasure!