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'15 Places You Should Go' Part Two: Rocky Mountain National Park

The Loch at Rocky Mountain National Park. PN Photo/Mitchell Doub.

by Mitchell Doub, Reporter

Published March 1, 2021

It was my second trip to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), and I was ready to do some hiking. 30 miles over three days would hit most of the suggested views. On day two, I set out from Bear Lake trailhead on the Fern Lake Trail at 10:00 a.m. About two miles into the hike, I stumbled upon a rock outcropping that made me say, “Ok, this is it, the most incredible view I’ve ever seen.” I was standing on the top of an 11,000 foot peak looking into a gorge, surrounded on three sides by 12,000 and 13,000 foot rock-face mountains, half of them above the treeline.

Ten-thousand-year-old ice packs dotted the range. Through my binoculars, I could see the snake-like imprints of ski trails where extreme skiers had experienced 10 seconds of a thrill going down the pack. Below me were Lake Helene, Grace Falls and Odessa Lake. From that distance, they were small pools of ‘Carolina blue.’ I sat down to eat my meal while playing John Denver’s hit, “Rocky Mountain High,” from my iPhone.

RMNP is 415 square miles of beauty. Acquired in 1803, as a part of the Louisiana Purchase, it contains America’s highest paved road reaching 12,183 feet. Some are above the tree line giving you unobstructed views of miles of Rocky Mountain heaven. There are dozens of hikes ranging in difficulty from easy, with wheelchair access, to the extreme. In my view, the best ‘easy’ hike is the circle around Bear Lake. The best ‘moderate’ treks are to The Loch and the hike to Emerald Lake, all accessible from the Bear Lake Trailhead.

The park is relatively easy to reach, even from North Carolina. Inexpensive flights into Denver put you less than a two-hour drive to the Estes Park entrance gate. Due to COVID-19, you need to get a reservation, which is available online on the park’s website, to enter the park. On a positive note, this keeps the crowds down during the peak summer months as 3 million people visit the park each year on average before COVID-19.

Lydia Odom, a recent UNC Chapel Hill graduate who now lives in Charleston, S.C., visited the park in 2017. “I went to Rocky Mountain National Park with my dad in summer of 2017, I thought it was beautiful! There was a bit of traffic when we went, so it felt a little touristy in certain areas, but the views were gorgeous. I remember seeing some huge rock formations that were precariously balanced, which was neat. I would say that you should try to go on a day that is less busy to avoid traffic, and that you should plan in advance the hikes you want to do. We were just passing through, but I wish we had dedicated more of our trip to Rocky Mountain National Park,” said Lydia Odom.

Her father Sam loved the park as well. “It’s a beautiful national park with lots of hiking and wildlife viewing opportunities. The hikes are awesome … The beauty and solitude of Sky Pond is astounding. For shear majesty, before descending Fern Lake Trail toward Fern Lake, there was an awesome view of the Rockies surrounding you with the valley down below … The Trail Ridge Road over the mountains had breathtaking scenery,” said Sam Odom.

If you are like me and have always dreamed of seeing the Rockies, you will not be disappointed, it is just as beautiful as you imagine. From the rocky peaks to the crystal lakes, to the majestic waterfalls, to the amazing wildlife, Rocky Mountain National Park is a ‘must-see’ for every American.

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