Home » 2001 Cross Country Road Trip

Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Saturday, July 14, 2001 - 2:00am by Lolo
10 miles and 0.25 hours from our last stop - 1 night stay


One of the best things about traveling in the West is the endless variety and how one day's drive can deliver such an entirely different experience. Just yesterday, we were crossing the Great Plains gazing at seemingly endless miles of farmland, complaining about the oppressive heat. Now here we were, a day later, clad in jeans and sweatshirts gazing at snow-capped mountain peaks, this time complaining about the cold.

Glacier Basin SunriseGlacier Basin SunriseSince we had camped the previous night in Estes Park right outside the park gates, we were able to get an early start on our exploration of Rocky Mountain--a good idea in a park as popular as this one. At the South Entrance, rather than continuing on the scenic Trail Ridge Road (that was for tomorrow), we turned south on Bear Lake Road, cruised right past the Glacier Basin Campground (where we had reservations for that night), and managed to nab the last RV parking spot at the Bear Lake Trailhead, the starting point for several nice hikes in the park. Then, like practically everyone else in the parking lot, we chose to hike the 3.8-mile out and back Emerald Lake Trail. Although crowded, the scenery really was lovely, especially the reflection of the snow-capped mountain peaks in the three pristine lakes we passed along the way. After a brief snack back in the RV, we ventured out again to hike to Alberta Falls, a perfect second hike for the day--short, easy, and a great scenic end point, the beautiful Alberta Falls.

Family at Emerald LakeFamily at Emerald LakeAfter the hikes, we headed back to the Glacier Basin Campground to settle in for the day. We love camping in the National Parks because they give you plenty of space and are usually located in some of the most beautiful places. This one certainly was. We were literally in a basin, surrounded by the Rockies. We were lucky enough to get a site on the end where we had an unobstructed view out the back windows of the mountains rising up from the beautiful alpine meadow.

We spent the next few hours truly enjoying the meadow. Herb and I plopped ourselves in beach chairs in the middle of the meadow with good books, and the kids played baseball and Frisbee. A little while later, back in the RV, Herb was using his ham radio to talk to different people around the world. He was feeling pretty good about having brought his family thousands of miles across the country to this spectacular location. Just as he was extolling the joys of traveling and bonding with his kids to a fellow "hammer" in Germany, Tommy nailed Herb in the side of the face with a suction cup dart from his recently purchased blow gun. The motor home became totally silent as Herb mouthed the words, "You're history." I don't think Tommy's defense which consisted of, "But I was trying to hit Andrew," helped his case much. Tommy wisely went back out to play in the meadow. Andrew, who was very much enjoying the trouble Tommy had gotten himself into, went out to join him. When I called them in for dinner about an hour later, Tommy hung back saying, "but I can't go home." Although Herb had already forgotten about the incident, I suggested to Tommy that he apologize rather than just say that he hit the wrong family member. Family harmony resumed and we strolled down to the creek in the campground after dinner to fish.

Boy's at summit of Alpine Ridge TrailBoy's at summit of Alpine Ridge TrailThe next morning, the 3 Gaidus men rose early to photograph the sunrise over the mountains from the meadow. Never a morning person, I chose to open the back curtains and watch it from the comfort and warmth of my bed. It truly was spectacular.

That day we drove the 50-mile Trail Ridge Road across the park, one of the most scenic highways in America. The changes in climate and ecosystems along the way were amazing. From grassy meadows, through dense forests, to alpine meadows filled with wildflowers, and then above the treeline to tundra, similar to what you would find in Alaska or Siberia. From the Alpine Visitor Center, we climbed a series of steps along the Alpine Ridge Trail to an excellent viewpoint. What would normally seem like a very easy climb was difficult at this altitude--breathing was harder and we all had slight headaches. We were also freezing and starting to question why we weren't spending our summer vacation on a warm beach somewhere--but it really was beautiful. We continued our drive along the alpine ridge crossing the Continental Divide, and then gradually descended to Grand Lake and the west entrance of the park.


Rocky Mountain National Park in north central Colorado encompasses 415 square miles of towering mountain peaks, alpine glaciers, dense forests, beautiful alpine meadows, and pristine lakes. Within the park there are more than 75 peaks above 12,000 feet, the highest of which is Longs Peak, at 14,255 feet. One-third of the park is above the treeline, where tundra predominates.

Bear LakeBear LakeThe major activities in the park include hiking and backpacking along the more than 355 miles of trails, mountain climbing the many peaks, and wildlife viewing (mountain goats, elk, deer, bear, and bighorn sheep, which have become the symbol of the park).

Boy's at Emerald LakeBoy's at Emerald LakeAn excellent way to see many of the park's highlights is to drive the scenic 50-mile-long Trail Ridge Road, which rises to over 12,000 feet and crosses the Continental Divide. The road crosses the park from Estes Park in the east to Grand Lake in the southwestern corner of the park winds it way 12,183 feet above sea level into a world similar to the arctic regions of Alaska and Siberia. Along the way there are spectacular views of snow-covered peaks, alpine meadows full of wildflowers, deep forests, and much wildlife. Because of snow, the road usually does not open until Memorial Day and closes again in October.

About halfway along Trail Ridge Road, at a 12,110 elevation, is the Rock Cut parking area, which is the trailhead for the Tundra Nature Trail, an easy ½ mile hike that provides a close-up look at the hardy plants and animals that survive the harsh tundra environment at this elevation. A little further along the road is the Alpine Visitor Center. From here the short Alpine Ridge Trail climbs from the Visitor Center up a series of steps through the tundra to an excellent viewpoint.

Lookout off Trail Ridge RoadLookout off Trail Ridge RoadThere are many other excellent hiking opportunities in the park, including several along the Bear Lake Road. Most of these hikes offer tremendous views of mountain lakes and waterfalls. The 3.6 mile round trip Emerald Lake Hike starts at Bear Lake and goes past 2 more lakes before its final destination, Emerald Lake. The 1.2 mile round trip Alberta Falls Trail is an easy hike along a creek to the very pretty Alberta Falls.

There are 4 RV campgrounds in the park, only 2 of which take reservations. Campgrounds usually fill up by noon.

Jim on May 7, 2013

We took the fall river road to the top, in our jeep. In tee shirts. Once up there, me and Riley our Elkhound tried to stay warm while Carol and son Brian went into the visitor center / gift shop to find some badly needed outerwear. I froze, Riley, being an Elkhound, liked it a bunch, cept he kept trying to drag me down the glacier to chase the elks...

We went out to Grand River for lunch, and of course it started raining. And none of the resturants would let Riley in!
So we got carry out bar burgers, and ate them under the shelter of the gazebo in the town square.

Can't wait to visit here again.

ps. those long travel days of yours are killers. wonder if you break it up more as I work my way out of the distant pass?
We go by the 3 3 3 rule. I don't recall all the details, but I will drive the motorhome no more than 300 miles in a day, and we will stay over more than one night, every third night.


Herb on May 8, 2013

Jeeping through the Rockies has to be a lot of fun. In later years we rented a Jeep for a day and explored the trails around Breckenridge.

Your right about the long travel days. This trip was the one where we learned that you could push too far,,, and with potentially disastrous consequences. We have definitely learned our lesson, and have learned to pace ourselves.


Rocky Mountain National Park location map in "high definition"

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