Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Estes Park Wildlife Watching

ESTES PARK WILDLIFE WATCHING

Where Wild Meets Life



One of the most popular reasons to visit Estes Park, Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park is to see the abundant wildlife that call this corner of the Rockies home. And we see it all here at McGregor Mountain Lodge. Literally. We have seen each of the main large mammals that folks come to see, right here on the property. This includes elk, mule deer, moose, bighorn sheep, black bear, coyote, bobcat, and mountain lion. We have also seen just about all of the smaller critters, such as fox, stoat, rabbit, and marmot. While you could sit in your cabin and wait for the animals to show up, this article is meant to give you a nudge in the right direction so you can get out and see them other places as well.

We'll divide this up a couple of ways. We'll separate each of the large mammal species and give you a little info about them and where the best places to see them really are. We'll also give tips on how best to see them in various seasons, as the time of year can certainly effect the likelihood of actually spotting the beasts. 

Elk

Snow covered elk!
The big show. This is what most folks come to Estes Park to see. They. Are. Everywhere. It's really pretty easy to find elk in any season and you will most likely see your fill before you leave town to head back home. It always baffles us when we have guests that say they haven't seen any elk on their trip. While it occasionally happens it's definitely the extreme exception to not see a single elk. You'll probably see hundreds.

Where
The best places to see elk are in open mountain meadows, or 'parks', in both Estes Park and inside Rocky Mountain National Park. The golf courses in town are a great place to spot elk in the autumn, winter, and spring. As well as Moraine Park, Horseshoe Park, and Beaver Meadows within RMNP. In the summer months, you may have better luck hitting Trail Ridge Road as the elk tend to enjoy the cool summer days at higher elevations.

When
Anytime of year is great. The elk are at lower elevations in the park and around town in the autumn, winter, and spring. Once the grass starts greening in and around town in April/May there will be big herds around the golf courses. Then the elk follow the greening grass as the higher elevations shed their winter coats of snow and springs new growth emerges.

How
Actually, you'll have great luck just driving around in search of elk. You can come across herd on the trail but it's easier to cover more ground in your vehicle. 

Helpful Hint
For an up close and personal experience with elk, visit us between November and May and you'll get to meet our resident elk, Brat and Sven (among others). They spend every winter with us and may even nap on your front porch all day long! Just call us from your cabin and we'll shoo them away if need be!

Moose

Moose on the North Longs Peak Trail - September 2015
The nice surprise of the area! Traditionally a "west side" treat, moose are establishing themselves quite well on "our side" of the national park. There are more and more sightings each year with some even wintering in town here. However, moose are tricky to find. Ask around as they tend to hang in their same favorite spots so can be fairly predictable which can make it easier to spot one.

Where
Prolific on the west side of the park, you need to try a bit harder on our east side. Head up to the Sprague Lake area at dawn or dusk. There have been sightings in Wild Basin over the past couple of years as well. I ran into a HUGE bull on the North Longs Peak Trail as he was taking a stroll munching on Aspen leaves on the side of the trail.

When
Anytime of year is as good as any other. Winter may make them a bit more predictable as they tend to move shorter distances due to snow and food source availability. Dawn and dusk seem to be better times of day.

How
While you may get lucky and see one from your car, here on the east side of the park it seems like hitting the trails in areas where they have been spotted is a better method and gives you a better chance of spotting one of these massive animals. Keep your distance and never approach a moose. Never approach any wildlife, but moose can be extremely aggressive, so take extra care of you see one.

Helpful Hint
Check in with us at the lodge and definitely touch base with a ranger at one of the visitor centers. The best way to find out where they have been seen is through word of mouth.

Mule Deer

Autumn Mule Deer
Mule Deer are prolific throughout Estes Park. We see them daily at the lodge and around town. They usually move about in family groups and not in huge herds like the elk so you probably wont see as many "mulies." These are quirky and beautiful animals and always a joy to have around.

Where
Really anywhere in the Estes Valley and Rocky Mountain National Park are great spots to find mule deer. There are many on our south facing slopes from the lodge and back toward town. Lumpy Ridge is another area with healthy and visible populations as well as Horseshoe and Moraine Parks. You can find them at higher elevations throughout the national park during the summer months after the snow has melted.

When
Dawn and dusk are the best times to see mule deer but you will spot them at all times of the day. In the winter there will be more at lower elevations and, like many other animals, they move up higher during the summer.

How
These guys are easy to find. Drive around to spot them or hit the trails and you'll probably have the same luck. They are all over the place. The do tend to like the sunny south facing slopes, especially in the winter.

Helpful Hint
Deer Mountain is named that for a reason. The main Deer Mountain Trail, that leads to the summit, is a great trail to spot mule deer. There is also a trail across the road from the Deer Mountain Trailhead that heads downhill for a mile leading to Upper Beaver Meadows. I bet I see mulies along this stretch 75% of the time I hike it. 

Bighorn Sheep

Sheep herd enjoying the sunshine on McGregor Mountain
This is a huge draw to the area. Estes Park is one of the best and easiest places to spot bighorn sheep in the entire country. And McGregor is, historically, one of the best places to spot bighorn in Estes Park. There are two main herds. The Black Canyon Herd, characterized by their darker coats as they tend to stay in Black Canyon for most of the year, below tree line so have a darker coat as a result. The other hers is the Mummy Herd. They have a lighter coat due to the fact that they stay higher, often above tree line, in the Mummy Range so their fur gets bleached by the intense sun at altitude. We see both herds, or parts of both herds, here at McGregor. 

Where
There are a few places in Estes and RMNP that give you a pretty good chance to see bighorn. The south facing slopes of Bighorn Mountain, McGregor Mountain, and Castle Mountain are about as good as it gets in and around town. Basically from Sheep Lakes in Horseshoe Park to Castle Mountain Lodge and Nicky's just outside of town is where you'll see them. Some other spots that require a bit of effort: Above Lawn Lake high in the Mummy Range. This is a +/- 7 mile, one way hike, but they are often seen below The Saddle. Also along the Continental Divide from Milner Pass below Mt. Ida. Again, a +/- 6 mile, one way hike. But I think I've seen bighorn every single time I've hiked that trail.

When
Bighorn follow no schedule. They aren't your typical dawn or dusk mammals. In fact, if I had to pinpoint a time they are most often seen it would be around lunch. We see them around town more in the winter and spring and higher in the park in the summer. 

How
Drive up and down Hwy 34 between town and the Fall River entrance to the national park and simply look to the south facing slopes on the north side of the road. Some folks have luck sort of camping out at Sheep Lakes in the national park and hope they show up, but that doesn't seem like an attractive way to find wildlife... but to each his own. Bring a lunch, a pair of binoculars, and a pack full of patience. Otherwise, hit the trails. Head up to Ida or into the heart of the Mummy's and keep your eyes peeled!

Helpful Hint
Head out about 11:30am. Drive up and down HWY 34 (Fall River Road) from about Castle Mountain Lodge to the Fall River Entrance to RMNP. Look to the North (the side of the road McGregor is on). The most common spots to see them along this stretch is here at the lodge (or about a quarter mile to the west on the open mountainside) and then east to Amberwood, another resort just down the road. You can certainly see them a bit beyond these spots on either end, but they are more commonly seen on this stretch.


Bear

Cute young Bear here at the lodge. June 2012.
Count yourself lucky if you see a bear! While we do see them relatively often, it's always a treat and we can certainly remember each time we've seen them over the past 15 years. We only have Black Bears here in the Estes Valley (and in Colorado). No Grizzlies. However, Black Bears, as a species, can vary in color from almost blonde, to cinnamon red, to dark black, and every shade in between. But rest assured that we only have Black Bears in our neck of the woods. While black bears are quite harmless and would rather keep their distance from you, you must always show them respect and keep the distance yourself. These are extremely fast, agile, and unbelievably strong animals and could do some serious damage to you very quickly if they feel threatened in any way. While it will be tempting to try to get closer for a better picture if you see one, don't give into that desire. Stay far away and simply enjoy the experience and count your lucky stars you even got to lay eyes on one. 

Where
Black Bears can be seen throughout the Estes Valley and Rocky Mountain National Park. I've seen them in my backyard, downtown, here at the lodge, Moraine Park, Hollowell Park, Bear Lake Road and in Wild Basin. And they are spotted throughout the area. Just keep your eyes peeled. 

When
While they are seen from Spring through Autumn, they become very active in those Fall weeks leading up to the first big snows. They are really trying to pack on the pounds before they enter their torpor. An interesting fact is that Black Bears don't truly hibernate. They enter what's known as a state of torpor. It's similar to true hibernation but on a slightly reduced scale. The animals will enter a state of reduced body temperature and metabolic activity so as to survive the long winters with limited food. But on warm days in the winter, Black Bears have been known to come out for a few hours of foraging before retreating into their dens for some more zzzz's. 
As far as time of day, you will usually see black bears during the daylight hours. You may catch them napping in a tree downtown, or in the park, or moving from dumpster to dumpster trying to break in. However, they are definitely more active at night, it's just harder to see them, for obvious reasons.

How
The best way is to cover a lot of ground. Drive around and hope you get a glimpse of one crossing the road. Ask rangers where they have been spotted recently (the past 12-24 hours) in RMNP, and ask us here at the lodge. We often hear of current sightings in and around town from friends. But there really isn't a sure fire method that gives any certainty to seeing these awesome beasts. You will need to have a bit of luck on your side. 

Helpful Hint
In September/October we will have a bear visit the property on most nights. Depending on their mood, they may stick around and explore the property for a couple of hours, or just buzz through on their way to greener pastures. But we hear countless stories from guests. They were sitting out on the porch at dusk only to have a bear turn the corner on the side of the cabin and scare everyone, including the bear, half to death! Also, while we do have a bear proof dumpster, it doesn't stop them from trying to break in. So if you hear banging on the dumpster in the middle of the night, throw a robe on, hop in your car (please don't walk over there), and drive over to the dumpster and you'll probably get a glimpse of the bear running away from you in your headlights.


Mountain Lion

Lion finishing off a young elk at McGregor Mountain Lodge - Nov. 2004 - Remote Game Camera
Good luck! While there is a very healthy population in our area, and a healthy population on McGregor Mountain, is it VERY rare to see one of these truly magnificent creatures. They actively try to stay hidden and out of site, move around at night, through drainages that provide a lot of cover, and can have relatively large territories.

Where
You can see mountain lions throughout Estes Park and RMNP. Rough terrain with a lot of cover in the form of drainages, rock outcroppings, brush, etc, is where they frequent, but this also makes it harder to spot them. 

When
At night. While there have been sightings in the middle of the day, it's pretty rare. The only times I've seen one in the sunlight was right at dawn or dusk. Once was a big cat crossing the road on the south side of Deer Mountain at about 6:00am in August, and it had 3 coyotes hot on its tail. The other time was at dusk as I was coming back from hiking in the park. I was about 80 yards from turning back into the lodge driveway and I saw a lion running down through the middle of the property here at the lodge. It crossed the road heading downhill and was gone. The other few times I've seen them have been after dark. A couple of times while driving, and a few times when I'd go up to observe a kill just above the property here, where the lion would return each night to feed on a young elk it had brought down. 

How
Your best bet is in your vehicle. Driving around at dawn or dusk in areas with a lot of Mule Deer seem to be relative hot spots. And you'll need a strong dose of luck as well. I know folks who have lived here for decades and never seen one. But I also know guests who have visited only a handful of times who have had several sightings. May the force be with you.

Helpful Hint
There really isn't anymore we could tell you. But, the more you get out and look, the better your chances. You wont see one while you're sitting by the fire in your cabin.



Seasonality

I'll break it down into seasons with a short little list of what animals are more often seen in which seasons and where. Obviously, this is a very rough "guide" and by including an animal in a season may mean that it's easily visible in an entirely different altitude zone or area of the park. For example, you typically wont find a mule deer and a pika in the same spot. But they may both be easily found during the same season. Hope this can be helpful!

Winter

Coyote feeding on an Elk. November 2004.
Winter is a great time for wildlife watching. It concentrates most of our big species into the lower elevations around town. While some animals, such as Bears, Marmots, Pika's, etc, wont be seen, you're almost guaranteed to see elk and mule deer daily. 

What to expect: Elk & Mule Deer. And a lot of them. 
Likely: Coyotes. Bighorn.
Possible: Bobcats, Mountain Lions, Moose
Smaller Critters: Fox, rabbit.


Spring

A fox enjoying a nap in the warm sun and newly green grass!
Much like winter, spring is fantastic for spotting wildlife around town. And, can you say BABIES??!! The elk and mule deer drop their calves during the late spring and it's a glorious time as the rest of the landscape is coming alive as well. And just a note, be sure to give mamas and their calves a TON of space. Especially the elk can be extremely aggressive surrounding birthing time. Mule deer can be as well.

What to expect: Elk, Mule Deer, and their little ones! Moose on the west side of RMNP.
Likely: Coyotes, Bighorn.
Possible: Bears, Bobcats, Lions
Smaller Critters: Fox, Rabbits, Marmots & Pikas (in the tundra)


Summer

Brat, "our" resident elk, enjoying his summer months in the tundra. Spotted on Trail Ridge Road at 12,000 feet.

While spread out over a larger area due to the snow being gone in the Alpine, summer is a wonderful time to do some wildlife watching. Great weather, active animals, and long days make for a near perfect wildlife watching experience. 

What to expect: Elk, Mule Deer, Moose, Bighorn, Marmots, Pikas
Likely: Coyotes
Possible: Bears, Bobcats, Mountain Lions, Badgers. 
Smaller Critters: Fox, Rabbits, Stoats, Martins.


Autumn

Bugling Elk in Moraine Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. 
If you want to see elk in all of their glory, come in the autumn. It's the big show. The days are getting shorter, crisper, the aspen are turning their signature hold, and the sound of elk bugles echo through the valleys. Not sure it gets much better. 

What to expect: Elk, Mule Deer, Moose, Bighorn, Marmots, Pikas
Likely: Coyotes
Possible: Bears, Bobcats, Mountain Lions, Badgers. 
Smaller Critters: Fox, Rabbits, Stoats, Martins.


Again, this is a rough guide about most of the animals that folks come hoping to get a glimpse. It won't be 100% accurate but should give you an idea of what to expect and hopefully help point you in the right direction so you can see what you came here to see! 

If there is an animal you want more info about, on the list or not, please leave a comment!

Thanks and remember to always give our wildlife plenty of space. Use a telephoto lens to get close... not your legs. And never, ever, feed the wildlife. 

Bighorn sunning above the lodge.











Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park

Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park!

An Introduction




The winter months are becoming increasingly popular in Estes Park, Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park. And for good reason! Our little corner of the rockies transforms into a winter wonderland with our quaint little village as the centerpiece with a backdrop of the majestic, snow capped, peaks along the continental divide standing high above. The wildlife moves down to lower elevations in and around town, so we see elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep daily, among many other smaller critters. And one of the best things about it is that it's quiet! All of the crowds are jamming into the ski resorts, shelling out thousands of dollars to get a few ski runs in with thousands of other people. 

While more and more people are catching onto the serenity and solitude that Estes and RMNP have to offer, it is still far less crowded than any ski area, without question. With that, we get quite a few guests who are new to winter travel and winter activities. They are intimidated by the idea of snowshoeing in the mountains or venturing off into the wilderness with nothing more than big, funny looking, tennis racquets on their feet.

Let me just say that if you can walk, you can snowshoe. It's that easy. Here, we offer a few tips that can make your first few snowshoe trips even better!

Nearing Dream Lake

Layers

Sure, it may be super cold when you head out into Rocky Mountain National Park. But once you don your snowshoes and start slugging away up the mountain through deep snow, chances are your brow will be damp with sweat! Layers are key. Once you warm up and your inner layers start wicking a bit of moisture, you'll want to shed your shell or your puffy layer. Why? Try this... stop. Sit down for 5 minutes. That moisture on your inner layers will get very cold quite quickly. Now up the ante. You sprain an ankle and can't get back to your car under your own power, or you have to move excessively slow. That same cold moisture against your skin will drop your core temp faster than a toupee in a hurricane! So layer up and shed as you get warm. Sweating is for suckers. 

Be Prepared

You will be heading into the backcountry. A demanding landscape in harsh conditions that can change rapidly. Be ready! Bring enough layers, water, food, etc to be able to get through a variety of scenarios. I've experienced the coldest weather of my life and also felt incredibly hot with snowshoes strapped to my feet. 
  • Water/sports drink. Prepare to hydrate! Bring enough water (fluids) for twice as long as you're planning to be out. Just in case.
  • Calories. If you're new to snowshoeing, you may be surprised as to how hungry you'll be out there! You burn a lot of calories stomping through the snow and would be well served to replace a good chunk of those. Once you get more experienced, you can dial in what you need to carry as far as food goes, but it's wise to grossly overestimate your needs at first. Again, just in case. Some great options? Nut butters, VFuel Endurance Gels, a good ole PB&J, nuts, Epic Bars, etc...
  • Sunscreen. The sun can bake your skin. Literally. Apply a generous coat of sweat resistant sunscreen and bring it along to re-apply. 
  • Sun Glasses/Goggles. Don't forget to take care of your eyes. This is simple. You'll thank yourself. Trust me.
  • Extra Gloves. I learned the hard way. -20F at Timberline Falls. I took my gloves off to take pics and they froze solid, from the inside, in about a minute. One of the most painful experiences of my life. I *always* have a second set of gloves in my pack and they have come in handy several other times. 
  • Check the weather. This has a couple of uses. One. It can help you plan your clothing. Simple enough. Two. It can help give you a mental edge. If you know you will experience 50mph winds, you'll be ready to face them when they about rip your car door off at Bear Lake. Or, you can decide to go on a better day. 

On the slopes of Flattop Mountain.

Choose your trail

Much easier said than done! There are 350+ miles of hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park. Once the snow sets in a good chunk of those get hard to access, so it narrows it down a bit for you. But we can help fine tune which trail you end up picking depending on a few factors. The point is, you want to pick a trail that suits you. Length, difficulty level, features, etc... all play a roll. 

If you're a complete newbie, it's easy. Head to Bear Lake and hit the trail to Nymph, Dream, and/or Emerald Lakes. It's very easy to follow the trail and even if you only go part of the way to Emerald, it's still a spectacular outing. Plus, the scenery is classic RMNP. Differential Glaciation at its finest! The spectacular NE face of Hallett Peak and the Flattop Spires will loom above you from start to finish. Just go here. You won't be sorry!

If you have a few snowshoe outings under your belt, or you want something a bit more challenging, head into Glacier Gorge to Mills Lake or the Loch. You'll pass a frozen Alberta Falls along the way which is always fun to see! 

Some other great options are the Wild Basin Trail and even heading up the Longs Peak Trail. If you'd like more info on the trails, give us a call or check out some of the great resources below.

Groups are great!

There is strength in numbers! Hit the trail with someone more experienced than you. This can help give you confidence and give you peace of mind as you try your hands at a new-to-you sport. You can also pick up great tips you might otherwise have to learn yourself, the hard way. In addition, it is much safer and the recommended best practice to head into the mountains with at least one other person.


Ask us for help!

We are always excited to help someone discover the joys of heading out on the trails in the winter months. It's great to see folks realize that they aren't limited to getting out only when the weather is warm and the grass is green.  We can help you pick out snowshoes, help you decide on what layers/gear to wear, help guide you to the right trail for you, and simply give you any tips or answer any questions you may have.


Just give it a shot...

Just go! Get out and enjoy the trails! Endless adventure, beauty, and winter solitude await you when you leave the trail head and enter the splendor that is winter in Rocky Mountain National Park! Be cautious, use your head, but get out and explore the wintery scenes that await!

Exploring the Sprague Lake area.

Snowshoeing Packages

We have two very popular snowshoeing packages we offer here at McGregor. Our basic package gives you snowshoes to use and some other perks, where our Guided Snowshoe Package offers a guided trip for you and your family with lunch, hot cocoa, and an experienced guide to help along the way! You can learn more here: McGregor Snowshoe Packages

Resources:

We rent snowshoes for $10/pair for your entire stay. Inquire when you check-in.
Our phone number: 800-835-8439
Email us with any questions: info@McGregorMountainLodge.com
Check out this comprehensive book on trails and destinations in RMNP: Rocky Mountain National Park: The Complete Hiking Guide
RMNP Info: NPS RMNP Website
Forgot any gear? Head here: Estes Park Mountain Shop


Thanks for reading and be sure to share your experience with us on Facebook or in the comments below!

Happy Trails!



In Tyndall Gorge near Emerald Lake.


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Estes Park Dog Friendly Hiking

Estes Park Dog Friendly Hikes


Most of our guests come visit McGregor Mountain Lodge to get out and explore Rocky Mountain National Park. And for good reason. The natural beauty is breathtaking and "The Park" offers hiking options that are second to none. But there are no dogs allowed! So how can you get out with your four legged friend and where can you go to enjoy this magnificent corner of the Rockies?!

Well, we have some perfect options for you!

Greater Estes Park


Homer Rouse Trail

On the south side of Estes Park there is a local's secret that, for some reason, hasn't made it onto the typical tourists radar. Maybe it's because it's hard to find any good info on except by word of mouth. We're here to help! The trail doesn't offer spectacular vistas, or lead you to any top secret destinations. It's a simple trail. One that invites you into a nice walk. Or begs you to appreciate the smaller things such as the infant waters of upper fish creek. Or a song bird encouraging more steps along the trail. It's a mix of dirt road and single track trail. You'll meet locals and their dogs and enjoy views of Twin Sisters Mountain. The end of the trail spits you out at the Baldpate Inn and Lily Lake. A delightful trail that you'll make a staple for you and your pup when you visit.


Stats:
Distance (RT): 3 miles
Elevation Gain: 350 feet 
Difficulty: Easy/Beginner


Red Tape: None. Just know that when you reach Lily Lake you are now on National Park Property and dogs are not allowed on trails.

Daisy enjoying the Lily Mountain Trail on a warm March day!

Lily Mountain

This easy to moderate trail is located just south of Estes Park on HWY 7. It's a short but somewhat steep trail that offers wonderful views and is a fantastic option with your pooch. This is a must-hike every year for many who bring their four legged friends to Estes. The trail can fool you though as it starts off uphill, then it descends a bit before turning uphill steeply and winding through the forest to the summit. The summit block is quite slabby and blocky, so it may pose issues for smaller dogs. 


Stats:
Distance (RT): 3.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 1466 feet 
Difficulty: Easy/Moderate


Red Tape: None. 


Enjoying a swim in Lake Estes after a warm hike!


Lake Estes

Lake Estes has a great paved trail all the way around it! If you do the full loop it's 3.75 miles. There are several parking options on any and every side of the lake but we find it better to park at the dog park so you have a couple of options for your pooch. You can head into the dog park and let your dog run and swim free, or you can keep the leash on and hike or jog your way around the lake. It's a win win! This one's pretty self explanatory and is a go to option when all else fails. Beautiful scenery, easy trail, super close, etc...


Stats:
Distance (RT): 3.75 miles
Elevation Gain: 100ish feet 
Difficulty: Easy/Beginner


Red Tape: None. 


Pole Hill Road

Pole Hill Road is a 4x4 road that can get you all the way to Loveland. It's rugged and a favorite spot for some serious off road enthusiasts. But it's also a perfect spot for a hike or run with your dog! There are many options on this road with several roads intertwining and intersecting up there. Bring a map and pay attention. It's not that you could really get lost, but, if you're not too familiar with the area, you could get turned around a bit. Don't let that scare you off though! It's beautiful up there! The views are great and in the autumn there are some perfect aspen groves! If you can find your way, go check out the fire tower on the summit of Panorama Peak!


Stats:
Distance (RT): 1 mile to 7+ miles
Elevation Gain: 250 feet to 1,500+ feet 
Difficulty: Easy/Beginner to Moderate


Red Tape: None. The trail is always open to hikers even if it is "closed." It is usually designated as closed from Dec. 1st until the snow melts. Be aware of adjacent private land.


Indian Peaks Wilderness

Daisy en route to Pawnee Peak, just below Pawnee Pass

Pawnee Peak




In the heart of the Indian Peaks Wilderness lies Pawnee Peak just above and to the north of Pawnee Pass. This is a spectacular summit in an equally spectacular setting. The summit is reached via a 4.55 mile (9.1 mile, roundtrip) trail that gains roughly 2,500 feet, topping out at 12,943 feet. But if you don't want to make the trek all the way to the summit, you can turn back at many of the worthy destinations along the way, such as Long Lake, Lake Isabell, and Pawnee Pass. This trail begins at the Brainard Lake Recreation Area.

Stats:
Distance (RT): 9.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,400+ feet
Difficulty: Strenuous


Red Tape: $10.00 per vehicle entrance fee per day. You simply pay at the entrance. Easy and obvious.


Mt. Audubon

Another wonderful summit, and probably one of the most popular in Indian Peaks Wilderness, is Mt. Audubon. While the trail is shorter, only 7.9 miles round trip, it is certainly steeper. It gains 2,800 feet in that shorter distance. So get your uphill legs ready! The views are spectacular and well worth the effort, so don't let the fact that it's a tougher trail scare you off. The summit reaches 13,233 feet and also begins at the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, but at the Mt. Audubon Trailhead.

Stats:
Distance (RT): 7.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,800+ feet
Difficulty: Strenuous


Red Tape: $10.00 per vehicle entrance fee per day. You simply pay at the entrance. Easy and obvious.


Tanner likes to get out in any weather!


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Friday, December 23, 2016

Tree Cutting Day - 2016

Time to cut!
It's the big day for those who purchased our Old Fashioned Christmas Package! Tree Cutting Day!

We all load up in our cars and head into the mountains just outside or Roosevelt National Forest. The road gets steep and the snow gets deep. Those with two wheel drive have to bail out and pile in the lodge truck or in one of our four wheel drive vehicles. We keep winding up into the forest and finally arrive! The hot cocoa comes out, the donuts are unboxed, we pass out the saws and point everyone in the right direction... It's time to cut your tree!

This is a truly wonderful experience for families spending their Christmas here at McGregor Mountain Lodge. Traipsing through the snow with your loved ones to find that perfect tree that will add that ever-so-important Christmas cheer to their cabin. Once they pick their tree most families take a family photo in front of it, then take it back to the truck where we label it, and load it up!

After some time playing in the snow and finishing off the donuts and cocoa, we head back to the lodge to deliver the trees to their respective cabins. Our staff follows behind and sets the trees up in our guests cabin(s) all ready for the family's decorating expertise! Most families choose to head out into the park for a day of snowshoeing and maybe some more sledding before coming back to the lodge to begin the decorating!

If you're interested in booking the Old Fashioned Christmas Package, give us a call at 800.835.8439 for more details, or visit our Specials and Packages page on the site here: Packages.


 A few more photos from the day...











Video from the 2015 Tree Cutting Day!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Brat!

As you may know, we host one of the most famous elk to ever walk the Estes Valley. With the exception of Samson, Brat is the biggest "Elk Star" in Estes Park history. He's had his own section of the local paper, he is sought out by guests not even staying at the lodge, and he's had bloggers and newspapers across the country write stories about him.

Brat being Brat.

He showed up about 8 years ago as a majestic bull in his prime. We've seen him every year since. He shows up on the property between the end of October and the end of November, and stays with us, for the most part, until the grass begins greening in May/June. The past few years he has been on a slow decline, for lack of a better word. It's just obvious that he's getting older. He bows out of the rutting festivities earlier and earlier each year, some years he's returned with some gruesome injuries, and his rack has been getting smaller for the past three years.

Making himself at home in front Columbine Cottage #6

Guessing that he was 7 years old, give or take, when he first arrived, that would put him around 15 years old this year, which is quite old for a wild elk. Their average life span is 10-13 years. But without any real natural predators and being protected from hunting in the National Park, the elk here can live a bit longer than their species' average life span.

You can usually find Brat lounging on our mountainside, sometimes directly in front of a cabins door! While he seems to be a gentle giant, we always respect his size, speed, and strength and give him plenty of room. Occasionally, he'll live up to his name and get quite ornery with us and/or guests. A few signs that you're *way* too close: Lowered head, curled (snarled) lip, teeth grinding, hissing, and other vocalizations. He's pretty good about giving subtle clues when he's unhappy. But as a rule, just give him, and all wild animals, a wide berth.

Brat is easy to identify with his mangled left ear. An injury afflicted during the rut a few years ago.
Many ask how he got his name. When he first arrived, he wasn't the dominant bull on the property. We had another beloved "resident" named Lefty who was a massive bull and ruled the property. Brat played 2nd fiddle for sure and had to get when the getting was good. Brat knew he was bigger than us, so when Lefty would run him off of the bird feeders, Brat would follow Steve around in the golf cart and eat birdseed out of the back of the golf cart. We couldn't shoo him away if we wanted to! Brat must have been on edge when Lefty ruled the roost as he could be quite aggressive with us. There were several time we had to run him off the property with a vehicle.

But over the years, and after Lefty failed to return one year, Brat settled into his role as the dominant bull in the valley. This must have given him a bit of comfort as we really calmed down and made himself at home on the property. He was no longer a nuisance, and became a wonderful addition to our regular wildlife visitors which included Mama (a mule deer who would bring her fawns by every spring), Tippy (a beautiful red fox and her kits), and Shadow (another beautiful mulie).

So here we are. Brat is most likely in his final couple of years with us and the new generation is patiently waiting. Many of you know Sven as well. He is a younger bull just hitting his prime. Massive wide rack, healthy coat, quick and agile steps. While we hope to have Brat around for years to come, we are sure happy to see Sven settling into his role here at the lodge.

If you happen to be in Estes Park, and not staying at McGregor (why in the world would you stay anywhere else ;) be sure to swing by and say hi to our resident elk and one of Estes Park's most famous residents.

Silly ole Brat.


Friday, November 18, 2016

Winter finally arrives!

We have had an unusually long autumn with warm, almost summer-like days, and little to no wind. But yesterday our winter weather finally arrived, even if it was about a month behind schedule. We awoke to cool temps and an overcast sky. The air just smelled of moisture. Late morning was when the snow started falling here at the Lodge and in Rocky Mountain National Park. The day before had seen temps around 70F so the snow started by sticking to the rooftops and the trees, but just making the roads wet. When the temps dipped form 35 into the mid 20's is when the roads started to get a bit icy and the winter wonderland really took over!


Sven enjoying the nice chilly morning.

We went to sleep yesterday with light flurries falling and a fire crackling in the living room. This morning was truly spectacular! Some low clouds but otherwise bright blue skies greeted us as the sun rose higher int he east. Everything was coated in a nice 3"+ thick blanket of fresh white stuff, and the wildlife was moving around thick! Just one of the perfect winter like mornings here at McGregor!

It looks like it will warm up a bit for the next few days then another chance of snow early next week... we'll keep the camera handy! Enjoy the pics...

Michael
The large outcropping just above the lodge on the slopes of McGregor Mountain.
Deer Mountain
The chimney of the Old Caretakers Cottage and Deer Mountain


A busy woodpecker

Looking west from the Columbine Cottages at Sundance Mountain.

Trail Ridge Road as seen from the lodge.




Thursday, October 6, 2016

Autumn, the First Snow, and BRAT!!

Seasons are Changing!


This is always a special time of year as the seasons really begin to transition from warm summer-like temps to chilly winter weather. The trees have been putting on quite the show this Autumn and the high country has already had a few small snowstorms rip through bringing the winter chill back to the tundra. 


Here at the lodge, the aspen start to turn in mid/late September and the ground covers displays brilliant reds and yellows to add to the fall atmosphere. The mornings become crisp and we all pull our jackets out of the closet for our morning rounds. Smoke starts rising from the chimneys as a crackling fire certainly adds to the ambiance as guests enjoy their morning coffee and the spectacular views from their cabins. 


On the slopes of Deer Mountain, across the Fall River Valley, the aspen put on one last display before their winter dormancy. We know that the first snow is only days away and our winter preparations get going. We get the plow ready, we order or sand for sanding the driveway, we stock up on firewood, and get jackets/hats/gloves ordered for staff to make sure they are warm enough out and about during the winter months. 



The wildlife also starts behaving a bit differently. Bears are frantically downing as many calories as possible. The mule deer are constantly foraging as their winter coats start coming in and the elk begin take part in the annual rut which, if you've never witnessed it, is a truly magical thing to witness. The bull's bugles fill our valley with enchanting sounds that help to welcome winter once again. 


First Snow

And then the first snow comes! The pics above were taken yesterday (October 5, 2016). It was a bluebird day, sunny, mild, and beautiful! We awoke to snow falling and an inch or so on the rooftops, trees, and grass. The low storms clouds were hanging below the visible summits  revealing only the occasional ridge lines and outcroppings. We are certainly looking forward to the beautiful winter ahead!





Brat is Back!!!


He's back! Your favorite elk is now back "home!" He showed up this morning, gave us a few bugles, raked some bushes with his antlers, then settled in to chew his cud in front of our Knotty Pine Rooms! As always, it is so good to have him back with us! He has called McGregor his winter home since the autumn of 2008, and has been back every year since! At that point, he was already a large and mature bull, probably 7 or 8 years old. So we guess that he's 15 or 16 at this point. Be on the lookout for a lot more Brat pics on our Facebook and Instagram pages and here on the blog!








Thanks for reading and we hope to see you soon!