How to spend a long weekend at Rocky Mountain National Park – Part 1

May 25th – 28th ~ Estes Park, Colorado ~ Memorial Day Weekend

Dick, Karen, Joanne and Tim at Alluvial Fan Falls

Finding a spot for two RV’s, relatively last-minute over a holiday weekend, at a popular National Park, with a view of water, is not an easy task. We started looking several weeks in advance and everything was showing sold out on our online searches. 

Tim was our hero when he started calling around and found us two spots at Manor RV Park in Estes Park.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

The Rocky Mountains form one of the world’s longest ranges, stretching all the way from Alaska to Mexico. RMNP is located only 76 miles NW of the Denver International Airport.

“The Rocky Mountain National Park Act was signed by then–President Woodrow Wilson on January 26, 1915, establishing the park boundaries and protecting the area for future generations. The Civilian Conservation Corps built the main automobile route, Trail Ridge Road, in the 1930s. In 1976, UNESCO designated the park as one of the first World Biosphere Reserves.  In 2016, more than four and a half million recreational visitors entered the park, which is an increase of about nine percent from the prior year. The park is one of the most visited in the National Park System, ranking as the third most visited U.S. national park in 2015.” ~ Wikipedia

Friday: Arrival day and basics

Arriving early afternoon on Friday, we set up our RV’s, unhooked our tow vehicle and headed over to the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center (designed by the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture), only a short drive away. This was mainly a fact-finding mission to pick up a map, speak with a ranger to get recommendations for hikes, must see spots and best photo locations, and watch the movie on the parks history.

The Theil’s middle son, Brad (Cameron) and his son, Blake, joined us for the first two nights. We watched Blake play in the freezing creek, and later in the evening make s’mores with his grandpa.

Sitting beside the creek, enjoying the ambiance

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Saturday: Trail Ridge Road, Alluvial Fan, Chasm Falls

Our first morning, we chose to drive the Trail Ridge Road. This would take us to the highest altitude in the park. Called Natures Knife Edge, you climb through distinct ecosystems. Montane (below 9,000 feet), Subalpine (9,000-11,400 feet) and Alpine (above 11,400 feet).

Entering the park at Estes Park, we were in the Montane ecosystem, filled with evergreens, aspen and many animals.

From the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station, on Highway 36, you proceed to Deer Ridge Junction. Stay to the left onto Highway 34 which becomes the Trail Ridge Road.

There are numerous scenic pullouts as you wind you way higher and higher. One of our favorites was Rainbow Curve. From this vantage point, you can see Horseshoe Park far below.

View from Rainbow Curve

Dick and Karen at Rainbow Curve Overlook

At Rock Cut, you can park and take an approximate 1/2 mile hike along the Tundra Communities Trailhead. This pathway is asphalt and well maintained, but it is uphill. At this high elevation, take your time!

One of the highlights of this hike was seeing a mamma elk with a newborn calf. The baby was probably born within the past day as it was still a little wobbly.

Momma and baby elk

Baby elk nursing

Tim captured these brief video clips of the little one:

The tundra is stark, but still beautiful, in an other-worldly kind of way. Snow-covered mountains in the background added to the grandeur.

Bleak looking landscape

Bold rock formations broke up the otherwise bleak landscape.

Only a short six – eight week growing season

Mushroom rocks

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Continuing up the road to the Alpine Visitors Center, we were now over two miles high at the highest elevation visitor center in the National Park System. Situated at 11,796 feet (3,595 meters), you feel like you are on top of the world.

Alpine Visitors Center

360 degree views to grab your attention.

From the Alpine Visitors Center

Backtracking down the hill toward the Deer Ridge Junction

Viewpoint on the way back down

Returning to tree levels once again

A short stop at Hidden Valley for a brief easy hike along the creek.

Hidden Valley

Alluvial Fan:

At the junction, this time we turned left toward the Alluvial Fan. You can approach the falls from two sides. We first took the trail to the left of the falls.

Alluvial Fan from the left side

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Later in the day we hiked up the right side of the falls for a slightly wider view.

From the right side of the falls

Falls River Area Trails:

A short drive past the falls you come to the start of the Old Fall River Road. This is a one way, narrow dirt road that is only open from early July – September. Memorial Day weekend, the road was still closed, but we had been told we could hike up the dirt road 1.4 miles to see Chasm Falls.

There are few parking spots available, but we managed to get off the road and hiked UP, UP, UP.

This was a pretty steep road

But eventually we got our reward!

Chasm Falls

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Trees and Terrain:

Shades of green

Small herd of elk

The many shades of green were stunning to behold. And if you took you time, you could spot many small and unimposing flowers along the way.

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And finally after a long, but satisfying day, we returned back to our RV’s for wine, dinner, and some surprise guests – ELK RIGHT IN OUR CAMPGROUND!

The Prism on the right is our RV with Jethro (white Subaru)

Not a care in the world

The entire campground came out to see the three males and three females

TO BE CONTINUED…

Gratitude Moment: Today I am grateful for the friendly, experienced, helpful and polite rangers and volunteers who were eager to share their knowledge of the park and surrounding areas. They helped us make decisions on which hikes to take, answered numerous questions, and gave us valuable tips and directions.

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About Tim and Joanne Joseph

Hi and welcome! We are Tim and Joanne Joseph and we have just embarked on our "next chapter". At a stage in life where traveling the world, taking pictures, and sharing our adventures with friends and family will be our dream come true.
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20 Responses to How to spend a long weekend at Rocky Mountain National Park – Part 1

  1. Darlene says:

    Stunning scenery. Love the Rocky Mountains!!

    Like

  2. Kings On the Road says:

    Thanks for the refresher on RMNP.
    Beautiful

    Like

  3. Tim and Joann,

    So thrilled you passed through our state. Great photos of your trip and I hope you enjoyed your time. Seems like you did. Come back anytime and kick your feet up awhile. There is a lot more park to explore for sure. Stay on the west side of the park and you will moose in your campground. Safe travels.

    Regards,
    Todd G.

    Like

  4. sheilsm says:

    Loved your post! On our way from Custer State Park, where we watch the Buffalo Round-Up (Something everyone should see at least once) to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, we always stop at RMNP. This is in late September, so the elk are out and you can find a small herd on a golf course in Estes Park! You can hear the male bugling!
    Your post reminded me of our many visits! Thanks for taking us along!

    Like

    • Thank you for the recommendation to check out the Buffalo Round-Up. The Albuquerque Balloon Festival has been on my wish list for years. We did Yellowstone NP in the fall a few years back and loved hearing the elks bugling. Such fun!

      Like

      • sheilsm says:

        You will definitely enjoy both!!! When you decide to visit the Balloon Fiesta..check out their website. You can dry camp close by for $30.00 a night and then shuttle over to the Balloon grounds. You can also pay more for hookups. I highly recommend volunteering to crew! You might be able to help a balloonist inflate their Balloon as well as chase after them once they are in the air, to help them when they land! All info is on the Balloon Fiesta site. Don’t wait too long to reserve your camp site! I would be happy to answer any questions that you may have. Same thing goes for Buffalo Round-Up. The year you decide to go…you want to reserve a campsite. Game Lodge Campground is the closest but will fill up first! All other campgrounds are wonderful! Lots to do in the area…like Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse. Right around the roundup…you might have the opportunity to walk to the top of Crazy Horse!!! I have done that twice!

        Like

      • Thank you for the clues. We walked out on Crazy Horses arm a couple years ago. Wonderful opportunity.

        Like

  5. Karen Theil says:

    Joanne, you really know how to plan a fun and breathtakingly beautiful day. We love having you as our tour guide on these wonderful RV trips.

    Like

  6. Rocky Mountain National Park is one of my favorite National Parks. Love the baby elk and the elk in the campground. Such a nice surprise at the end of an exciting day.

    Like

  7. TracyNicole says:

    I love when you share pics of waterfalls; they are some of my favorites!

    Like

  8. Kim Gorman says:

    It looks amazing, and the elk were beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

    Like

  9. Breathtaking! And I like the idea of sharing your Gratitude Moment for each trip.

    Liked by 1 person

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