…And we were lucky to be there for the experience. After Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, we headed to explore the peaks and valleys of the Rocky Mountains. As a native southerner, this was my first trip to Colorado, and I was very excited to climb the Alpine Ridge Trail. Unbeknownst to the pre-planner in me, Mother Nature had a different plan. The forecast was calling for heavy precipitation, so after our morning hike around Bear Lake and to Alberta Falls, we decided to drive up to the Alpine Visitor Center instead of setting out on the long hike. This proved to be a wise change to our itinerary.

There was already left over snow on the ground around Bear Lake, however we didn’t really expect to see sleet and snow on our ascent up Trail Ridge Road. The temperature began dropping drastically… 3 degrees per minute…. and then the sleet, followed by snow, began to fall. It was absolutely gorgeous! The view from Rainbow Curve was incredible and it was fun to see everyone gathered around, some in shorts, basking in the sun while the snow steadily fell.

In total, the high points of Colorado saw 2’ of snow to welcome the first day of summer this year; the most snowfall this late in the season since 1928. We were thrilled to be there – like kids in a candy store – and experience Colorado transcending seasons over the course of a short drive and a few short hours. We experienced a 42-degree temperature change between Denver and at our highest point, Rainbow Curve, on Trail Ridge Road.

Exciting snow event aside, the hiking is gorgeous in @RockyMountainNationalPark. There’s an abundance of well-groomed paths in differing difficulty levels and wildlife is everywhere. Although we escaped any bear encounters, Mule Deer, Mountain Goat, Bighorn Sheep, Squirrels and Birds were greeting us throughout the park.

Immediately upon entering the park, there is an awe-inspiring feeling of wonder, modesty and Christmas. Yes, Christmas! It smells remarkably similar. The trees look like they were placed along the roadside as perfectly as a planned community. After gazing at the snowcapped mountains from Denver for 3 days, it was nice to be in the midst of them. It’s not far into the park that you realize that you are very much in the mounts, the snowcaps were suddently right in front of us – as close as a blood moon. And, as expected, the views from the peaks are breathtaking, but a nice bonus for me was to find the valleys equally intriguing. While there, it’s easy to let your mind wonder to what it must have been like to live thousands of years ago on the plain.

Without a doubt, place it on your “must do” list. We’re already planning our trip back for next year, with kids, and are looking forward to staying inside the park. There are a few established campsites, as well as backcountry wilderness campsites and cabins to choose from. If you’re looking for lodging outside the park with kids, there is a Jellystone campground on the outskirts of Estes Park. All options should be booked well in advance.

So, what should you bring to hike in Rocky Mountain National Park? The Olympia Hiking Backpack was perfect. Especially since it rained for about 3 minutes every 10 minutes while we hiked, the built-in cover was a lifesaver. I hiked with the Olympia Explorer 22L, my husband preferred the Olympia Hawk 32L. These bags have pockets and fasteners in all the right places and are easily accessible without needing to stop. The Explorer boasts a fold over top which is also nice on drizzly days. We also brought a pair of walking sticks, a AMK basic medical kit, raincoat, water and snacks. In researching the weather, it seems that rain is fairly common, so I would be prepared for some sprinkles while hiking there. Bring a raincoat or umbrella along with some sunscreen. For longer hikes, I would recommend having more food on hand along with a backpack water bladder. And be prepared to lose cell coverage – even in the towns outside the park. If you like having a music source, if only for the car road, load it on your phone. Allow more time than you think you’ll need. There is plenty to see and a few of the full hikes are day long adventures. Also, be prepared to pace yourself, although not debilitating, the difference in altitude change is noticeable. The Alpine Visitor Center is at 11,796 feet, Bear Lake is at 9475 feet and we could feel a difference.

If you plan to stay in Estes Park and like dining by the water, we enjoyed Mama Roses. The food was surprisingly modern, the inside feels homey and they have a very nice covered patio on the Big Thompson river. Poppy’s Pizza is next door; they also have an outdoor patio overlooking the River. If you’re looking for a waterfront place to stay outside the park, there are a plethora of options, but we enjoyed @CastleMountainLodge. The owners are very gracious and accommodating, the rooms are quaint and squeaky clean, and there are a lot of walking paths, Adirondack chairs, grills plus tables and chairs riverside.

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