Rocky Mountain National Park and More

After enjoying Dinosaur National Monument, we headed East toward Rocky Mountain National Park. On our way there, we stopped in Steamboat Springs and Fort Collins. 

Steamboat Springs

Since visiting Crested Butte, we had been wanting to find some hot springs in Colorado.  We came across Strawberry Hot Springs in Steamboat Springs. Because of the coronavirus, they were only allowing reservations for 2 hour increments and were totally booked for the day we wanted to go. Fortunately, there were some cancellations the morning of and we were able to snag a spot early in the afternoon. It ended up being a warm day and the pools were even hotter but we were determined to get our money’s worth and stayed in the 100+ degree water the entire time. This was a beautiful spot and we will definitely keep this place in mind during future winter visits to Colorado.

Strawberry Hot Springs in Steamboat Springs

Fort Collins

According to Alan, Fort Collins has a pretty awesome craft beer scene so off we went to scope it out. It was a cloudy day and rain was headed our way.  Most of the breweries were only allowing patio seating and to avoid contact with staff, we were able to order from our phones. We enjoyed beer from O’dell, New Belgium, Funkwerks and Jessup Farm Barrel House. We wrapped up our beer tour with more carbs at an Italian restaurant called, Cacciatore. Very happy bellies!

O’dell Brewing Co.

Rocky Mountain National Park

On our first day at Rocky Mountain, we decided to hike to Chasm Lake. This is a 9.4 mile out and back hike with an elevation gain of 2,601 feet. Chasm Lake sits at 11,760 feet. This hike was lots of fun and got a little scary as we reached the lake at the top.

Snow traverse to Chasm Lake

The first 2 miles or so took us through sub-alpine terrain featuring 100 ft tall Engelmann Spruce and Flat-Needled Fir trees. As we climbed higher, we found ourselves above the tree line in steep alpine terrain with sandier soils, little vegetation, and unobstructed views of the surrounding mountains. Then, we got to the scary part, a snowy 200 foot long traverse on a sleep hillside 100 feet above sharp, rocky rubble. Luckily, we had our trekking poles with us so we were able to cross with minimal slippage.

After this, we scrambled up some rocks to get to the beautiful Chasm Lake. This lake wins most beautiful mountain lake to date. We soaked in the views of the lake while snacking on peanut butter and crackers and then made our way back down.

Chasm Lake

Trail Ridge Road

Once we finished our hike, we hopped in the van and drove the scenic Trail Ridge Road to see the various points of interest throughout the park. Along the drive there are turnouts at each overlook that allowed us to park and take in the views. We even saw some wildlife along the drive including elk, moose, and marmot.

Gore Range Overlook

Sky Pond

On our second and last day at Rocky Mountain, we hiked up to Sky Pond from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. This trail is 9.5 mile out and back hike with an elevation of 1,837 feet. This trail was much busier than Chasm Lake so we sped through some of the early waterfall overlooks to get ahead and away from the larger crowds. We came across some beautiful calm lakes throughout the hike. As we neared the top, we came across some slippery slushy snow patches and a challenging scramble up a waterfall.

Sky Pond

Takeaways

This park is every mountain lovers dream! The great views are endless, and the mountain lakes are breathtaking. There is so much to do in and around the park. We will definitely be back!

Thanks for reading!

– Ashby

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Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument consists of 210,000 acres along the Colorado and Utah border. The Colorado side of the monument features vast canyons surrounded by mountainous terrain and offers spectacular views of the Green and Yampa rivers. We did not explore the dinosaur fossil areas on the Utah side of the park because the visitor center was closed for covid precautions. We spent 4 nights within the monument at a free spot on some BLM land adjacent to the park.

Harpers Corner Road

Harpers Corner Road is a scenic drive through the center of the monument with many points of interest and scenic sights of the park. Echo Park Overlook was our favorite of the stops because of its awesome views of the Yampa River canyon below.

Ruple Point Trail

On our second day, we hiked Ruple Point Trail which is a 9 mile out and back trail that winds through hills of sagebrush and juniper trees until eventually terminating at its namesake overlook that has incredible views of Spirit Mountain Canyon and the Green River below.

Takeaways

We were considering skipping this location because it was a little out of the way on our path through Colorado. After spending a few days here, we were glad we decided to make the trip and hope to return to the “fossil” side of the park later this year when we are in Utah.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is in southeastern Colorado near the town of Montrose. The park is relatively small comprising of the canyon and surrounding area. We spent one day exploring the park after a nights stay at a BLM campsite just outside the park border. The canyon stands 2,722 feet at its deepest point and is made up of sheer, narrow, vertical walls of appearing dark colored rock. Parts of the canyon only get 33 minutes of sunlight a day and shadows make the canyon walls appear dark and almost black. Some of the dramatic overlooks even made Ashby woozy and weak in the knees.

Oak Flat Trail

Upon entry to the park we proceeded to the visitors center which was closed due to covid precautions but fortunately, a park rangers stood outside to answer any questions. We obtained a map and decided to take a hike down the Oak Flat Loop which took us below the rim of the canyon a couple hundred feet and provides some great views along the way.

While hiking the trail, Ashby of course had to stop to observe and photograph all of the unique flowers she saw.

South Rim Drive

After completing our short hike we drove down the south rim scenic drive. This road took us along the canyon and has several scenic viewpoints where we stopped to take in different parts of the canyon. We stopped at all viewpoints along the drive, our favorite of which was “Painted Wall”, a massive rock wall with multi-colored bands that happens to be the tallest cliff in Colorado.

Takeaways

This is a unique natural wonder that is almost unworldly. Had we planned more time here we would have taken a day trip to the canyon floor for a true “under the rim” experience. We hope to return someday and experience the canyon from the banks of the Gunnison river.

Crested Butte and Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness

After exploring Hartman Rocks, we found a neat area in Gunnison National Forest to camp in. This spot wins the award for most picturesque campsite to date. We were surrounded by beautiful wildflowers, lush green mountains and rustling Aspen and Birch trees.

The next day, we woke up early and went into Crested Butte for some fresh bagels at Butte Bagels before our hike. We devoured the bagels and even purchased two more for lunch on the trail. Carbs don’t count when you are hiking, am I right? Just trying to make us feel better for eating 4 bagels in one day.  

Copper Creek Trail to Copper Lake

Copper Creek Trail is a 12.4 mile in and out with 2431 ft elevation gain. This hike wins the award for most fun and challenging hike to date. We knew this hike would take us about 5 hours so we had to move quick to beat the bad weather that was headed our way. Early in the hike we came across a fast-flowing stream that had a rocky bottom and was about two to three feet deep in some areas. There were two people putting their shoes back on after trying to cross the stream unsuccessfully. Alan and I decided to give it a shot, we took our shoes off and stuffed them into our daypacks and then charged through the 45-degree water using our hiking poles to help us maintain our balance through the stream. The rocks were slippery, and the water was so cold it numbed our feet! After successfully crossing the stream, we had to wait a few minutes to let our feet defrost before putting our boots back on. Encouraged by our successful crossing, the other couple decided to make a second attempt and succeeded. Little did we know, this was the first of five stream crossings on the trail. Luckily, we only had to take our shoes off for two of them.

Alan crossing stream on Copper Creek Trail

The trail continued through a valley with mountain views on both sides. The wildflower scene was amazing so of course I had to stop to take a photo of each unique flower that I saw.

As we got closer to the lake, the skies began to darken, and we could hear thunder in the distance. We began to pick up our pace to try and beat the weather. On the last mile, we encountered snow and much steeper terrain. As soon as we reached the lake it began to sprinkle and hail. We quickly soaked in the views, snapped some photos and began our descent. Fortunately, the weather was moving in the opposite direction and skies quickly cleared up as we hiked back down.

Copper Lake

Takeaways

We had a lovely time exploring this area and are excited to return in the future. The scenery was awe inspiring and we couldn’t get enough of it. It was after this visit that we even talked about moving to Colorado. Too bad we love Texas too much!

Note to future selves: Conundrum Hot Springs and Peak trail would be the perfect backpacking trip.

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Thanks for reading!

-Ashby

Hartman Rocks

Located near Gunnison, CO, Hartman Rocks is an area with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The area consists of rolling hills with large granite formations and boulders. There are many gravel roads that were somewhat easily navigated in our van throughout the park. We mainly chose this location as a stopping point before heading north to Crested Butte. We were surprised to find that all the campsites were designated and that there was at least 50 sites within the park. We spent 2 nights here before heading on to Crested Butte.

Since this area was so nice, we decided to take a day hike on a loop comprised of many different trails around the park. This area is well renowned for mountain biking and we mostly saw cyclists cruising the trails. This area is also a well-known climbing destination and being there inspired us to buy a bouldering crash pad so we can boulder at future locations.

Takeaways

All in all, this was fun place to stop before heading up into the mountains. We were able to find a camping spot high up with scenic views of the park and surrounding rocky mountain peaks. We will definitely keep this place in mind for a stopping point when traveling through the area in the future.

Browns Canyon National Monument

This 22,000 acre national monument belongs to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the US Forest Service. The park is located near Salida, CO along the Arkansas River. We stopped here on our way west from Colorado Springs for a quick hike in the afternoon then stayed in a dispersed campsite on the southern end of the monument. We hiked the Turret Trail to a beautiful spot overlooking the river. Along the way we were rewarded with beautiful views of the Collegiate Peaks, a string of 14,000 foot mountains in the area.

Pike National Forest & Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

Our first few days in Colorado were a little uneventful because while hiking in Palo Duro, Alan was breaking in some new hiking boots and got huge blisters on his heels. Once they healed and we started hiking around, we quickly fell in love with Colorado’s majestic mountain scenery!

Pikes National Forest

We were lucky enough to find a great campsite within Pikes National Forest that became our home base for a few days. While in the Colorado Springs area, we drove up the infamous Pikes Peak scenic drive. Unfortunately, we could not make it to the peak due to poor weather conditions. We were still able to stop for some scenic views on our way up the mountain.

The view from our campsite

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is one of the richest fossil deposits in the world. While exploring the park we hiked a multitude of small trails that amounted to 6 miles and saw some massive ancient petrified redwood stumps. We were especially surprised to find out that a lush redwood forest existed in Colorado 30 million years ago!

Ancient petrified redwood stump

Takeaways

Pike National Forest was our first stop in Colorado and was a great first impression to an amazingly scenic state.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Palo Duro Canyon State Park is in the Texas panhandle near the city of Amarillo and is the second largest canyon in the United States. This state park is one we have wanted to see for a long time but because it is a 9-hour drive from Houston, it would be difficult to make it during a weekend trip. Since we were heading north towards Colorado, we decided this park was a good stopping point to breakup the miles. In all we spent 3 nights below the rim of this beautiful wilderness.

GSL, Lighthouse, & Paseo Del Rio Trails

On our first full day in the park we hiked from the Givens, Spicer, Lowry (GSL) trailhead to the Lighthouse trail then connected back on the Paseo Del Rio trail. Our main objective of the hike was to reach “The Lighthouse”, a rock formation resembling its namesake. Having reached the Lighthouse, we took a break for lunch then returned via the Lighthouse Trail passing a formation known as “Capital Peak” then connected back to the GSL trailhead on the Paseo Del Rio Trail. On our way back we also passed a reconstruction of a 19th century dugout used by cowboys during the period.

The Lighthouse
Capital Peak

The Big Cave & Rock Garden

During our next exploration day, we visited “The Big Cave”, a large hole in the canyon wall approximately 20 feet wide and 30 feet tall. Then when hiked the Rock Garden Trail though an ancient landslide in the form of a large boulder field. We were most impressed with the large size of many of the boulders and were surprised to see that some of them had chalk from where climbers had scaled these immense rocks.

The Big Cave
Looking out of The Big Cave
The Rock Garden

Takeaways

This is one of the more scenic Texas State Parks and is worth a visit when passing through the panhandle.  Our only issue was because of it was early June when we visited, the temperatures were in excess of 100 degrees during the day. Next time we visit it will be in the spring or fall.

Thanks for reading!

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