Colorado Recap Part 3: The Rocky Mountains

Here’s Part 3 of my Colorado recap series!  If you missed them:

Let’s talk about the mountains.

Our Road Trip to the Rocky Mountains

On Saturday morning, we woke up pretty early and started our day with continental breakfast at our hotel.  I love me some free breakfast!

I loaded up on oatmeal with a scoop of plain yogurt, walnuts, raisins, and sliced banana.  I knew this would keep me feeling full for the morning.  I also “stole” some bananas and apples to have on hand for the day.  No shame in that!

The Rocky Mountains are about a 40 minute drive from Boulder, so Tim and I decided to dedicate our Saturday to exploring there.  We seriously spent ten hours driving through and enjoying all the sights of the Rocky Mountain National Park.  And even that much time wasn’t enough time.  There was so much we still wanted to do and see, and this is why you seriously need over a week in Colorado!  Next time.

Tim and I collectively took over 200 pictures of the Rocky Mountains.  They are seriously just amazing.  I weeded through and cut down to 178 photos, but there is no way I have the time to upload all 178 to the blog.  If you guys want to check out all our amazing pictures (seriously, everything is just so BREATHTAKING) you can click to this link for the full photo album.

I started snapping pictures the second we were in the car, because you could see the mountains just getting bigger and bigger as we drove closer and closer.

Sidenote — look how ACTIVE everyone is!  Bike riders EVERYWHERE!

Before we hit the visitor center we were looking for, we came to the Estes Park pullout.  We got out to snap some pics.  We did this a LOT!  Seriously, in and out of the car we hopped all day.  I thought every view was so amazing, and they just got better and better as the day went on.

We could see the smoke from the crazy wildfires that have been going on in Colorado… luckily while we were there we weren’t affected, but days after we left they swooped down on the parts of Colorado we were in.  Kind of crazy.  See the smoke?

After Estes Park we eventually found the visitor center, we stopped in to get a map and ask a park ranger what to do.  Now I had clearly looked up tons of information ahead of time, so I knew that there were lots of hiking options but we were planning to hike in Boulder the next day so we were looking for driving options instead.  In my research, I had found two driving routes to the top of the Rockies using this helpful link:

1.  Trail Ridge Road
This road is one of ten America Byways and a nationally designated All American Road.  This road also takes you up to the top of the Rockies, but is paved and much wider and quicker.   It covers the 48 miles between Estes Park on the park’s east side and Grand Lake on the west.

2.  Old Fall River Road
This road opened in 1920 and was the first auto route in the Rockies that offered access to the park’s highest points.  Unlike the Trail Ridge Road which is the highest continuous paved road in the nation, the Old Fall River Road is known as a “motor nature trail.”  AKA:  a primarily gravel, one-way, very narrow & curved uphill road with a 15 mph speed limit and NO GUARD RAILS.  This road starts in Horseshoe Park and leads you up 11,796 feet above sea level to the Alpine Visitor Center.

Now, in my mind (my very scared of open edges mind!) I was set on driving up the Trail Ridge Road.  But at the visitor center, the ranger (and Tim) convinced me otherwise…. so off to the dirt path we went.


Before we got to the start of the Old Fall River Road, we saw a bunch of elk!  Crossing the road too!

We also stopped at this little river and one pullout scenic overview before even getting to the start of the road!  Three stops and not even on the road yet, it’s no wonder we made a ten-hour day of this.

Finally, we made it to the start!

Yes, THIS is the road that scaredy-cat me drove up 11,000 feet.  Well, patient Tim drove.  I just covered my eyes and kept saying “slow down!” even though we were going a whopping 5 miles per hour.

Here are some of my favorite pics from our ride up:

We finally made it up to the top!  We stopped to pee, and then scarfed our packed lunches from the day before.  We reviewed the map, asked another park ranger for more advice, and decided to drive down Trail Ridge Road to Grand Lake, then loop back up and around.

We got to see the Continental Divide, the spot where the watersheds in the mountains divide and flow either into the Pacific or into the Atlantic.  Pretty cool.

We also saw more animals throughout the drive, we were SO close to them:


Eventually we got to Grand Lake, which was a super cute town.  I bet it’s a huge vacation spot in Colorado.  We wish we had time to go for a swim and try out a restaurant, but I guess we’ll just have to come back.  Look how pretty it is!  Beautiful water right in the middle of the mountains, I love it!

Technically you have to leave the park to get to Grand Lake, but that’s okay because then we snapped photos of this huge sign on the way back in:

And finally, a couple of pics from the rest of the trip back:

What an awesome day with so much sightseeing!  And it only cost us $20 for an entrance pass into the park — and bonus, that entrance ticket is good for an entire week.  Such a good deal.  Next time we’ll definitely pick out a few hikes or trails to tackle and stay longer at Grand Lake.

So fun!  Again, for the full album of pictures (it was REALLY hard to pick out my favorites, they are all so good) — click here!

Anyone ever been to the Rocky Mountains?  Would love to hear your experiences, takeaways, recommendations for next time, etc. 

Off to Two A Day Tuesday — I’m teaching both classes tonight!  Hope to see you there!

6 thoughts on “Colorado Recap Part 3: The Rocky Mountains

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