Monday, May 28, 2018

McGregor Guest Diaries - Vol. 1 - The Allbaughs

Al and Vicky Allbaugh have been coming to the lodge for years and years. Since about 2001.

We want to highlight some of our long time return guests and show you what makes McGregor so special to so many folks. Being a place that provides cabins in such a perfect setting isn't enough for us. We want to create an environment that speaks deeper into our guests lives. A place that offers lifelong memories and creates a sense of community that truly makes this a home away from home. After all, anyone can throw cabins up in the mountains. We want more for you. We want you to feel at home.

Al and Vicky have endless stories from their trips to McGregor. When they are here we often sit and chat for quite some time about their experiences and favorite memories of McGregor and Rocky Mountain National Park. We've have gotten to know them so well over the past 15+ years and it's a true joy. We've even gotten to know their kids and many of their friends who they have referred to us here at the lodge.

We do this for a reason, and Al and Vicky are quite the testament to what keeps us going year after year. It's them. It's you. It's this land and the love we pour into our work here.


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Bighorn Sheep Facts

Large Ram at the lodge in December of 2003

Bighorn Sheep Info and Facts

Here at McGregor Mountain Lodge, we see a lot of bighorn sheep! We are actually one of the best places in the state of Colorado to get a view of these majestic creatures. We get a lot of questions about them and folks seem to be quite curious about this species in particular. A sheep on the side of the road, or even spotted high on the mountainside, causes an instant traffic jam as excited tourists are quick to get their cameras out to document this, sometimes, once in a lifetime experience!

So let's get to it. Here are some interesting facts about bighorns in general and even some info about the herd(s) we see here at the lodge.

Herd of ewes and lambs -April '18
Physical Stats 

Bighorn can live up to 15 years in the wild.
On average, they weigh roughly 200 lbs.
Average length is approximately 5.5 feet.
Females are called Ewes and have much smaller horns than the males (Rams). Ewes horn will never be larger than a half curl.


In the summer they eat grasses and sedges and will also snack on flowers and greening bushes. In the winter they will subsist on willow, sage, and other more hardy, woody foliage.


Their horns are a display of dominance. The older rams have larger horns (that can weigh up to 30 lbs) and this shows their rightful place in the herd. You can also tell the age of the rams by looking closely at their horns. There is typically a larger more prominent ring on their horns for every year they have been alive. Bighorns do not shed their horns, as horns are permanent, antler are shed annually (elk, deer moose, etc all have antlers).


Sheep are once again widespread over western North America. Through rehabilitation programs, their populations have returned to many places they were no longer seen. There are bighorn sheep from Texas to Montana and from Mexico to Washington and into Canada.


It is thought there are less than 70,000 sheep remaining. In the early 1800's there was thought to be close to 2 million animals in the American west. Though this number seems low in comparison, sheep are considered in good shape, population-wise, with healthy herds and growing numbers.

Social and Family

Most herds you see will be between 5 and 20 animals. Mostly ewes, yearling lambs and up to 2 year old rams. Adult rams will typically stay in smaller groups of up to five animals. Occasionally the female herds will band together in the winter and you may see herds of up to 100 animals, though herds that large are rare. It's more common to see winter ewe herds of 30 - 50 animals. Their mating season is in the fall (November/December) when rams compete for ewes with head butting contests. They can battle each other for up to 24 hours and can hit each other with both rams traveling 20 miles per hour. The resulting 'crack' can be heard from more than a mile away!

A large ram above the lodge - January 2009
Herds at McGregor 

While, technically, we see sheep from one herd, local biologists can differentiate sheep in two different sub groups. The Mummy Herd is characterized by a much lighter coat, almost white. They tend to spend more time in the tundra of the Mummy Range and are a bit more bleached, or sun kissed, than their friends in the Black Canyon Herd. Sheep in the Black Canyon Herd spend more time in the lower Mummy Range, in Black Canyon, and have a much darker coat from being below the trees more often.


Ram - December '03
Though very curious, they can become stressed very easily. They like to see what's going on, so will often approach a running vehicle or a construction project on the lodge grounds. They seem to watch closely to see what's going on. With that said, if they feel threatened or if their normal routes to food or water are encumbered, they can get very stressed and are much more prone to disease and illness. It's always a good idea to give them plenty of space and not try to approach them. Not only for your own safety, but also to make sure they always feel at home and safe wherever they decide to go.

Where to find them

When visiting Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, the very best place to find sheep is right here at McGregor Mountain Lodge. The south facing mountainside to our east and west are also great spots. Just drive toward the National Park and look up to the right (north) on the sunny hillside and you have as good a chance at seeing these creatures as anywhere in the world. The winter and spring months will increase your chances as they tend to move to higher ground as the snow melts in late spring and summer.

If you don't mind putting some miles under your legs, a couple of great hikes with good chances to see them are the hike to Mt. Ida from Milner Pass and the hike to Crystal Lake from the Lawn Lake Trail Head. Note that both of these hikes are quite difficult and will take most of a day to complete. Mt. Ida is 10 miles round trip and Crystal Lakes are about 14 miles round trip.

I hope this gave a bit of insight into these awesome animals. If there is anything else you'd like to know, feel free to leave a question in the comments and we'll do our best to answer. And if you want to see them for yourself, come on out for a visit and we'll do our best to make sure the sheep are here to greet you upon your arrival! ;)

A small herd of ewes and lambs - April 2018

Monday, September 4, 2017

Old Fashioned Christmas Package!

Book by September 25th and get 10% off this package!

  • Any Two bedroom cabin or Suite, up to 6 people. $2295 Additional PPL. (7-8 PPL), $150 Per Person
  • Any 1 Bedroom Cabin or Suite, up to 4 people. $1595
  • 1/2 down at time of booking

Reflect, rejoice, and reconnect in the Rockies for the Christmas holidays with loved ones

Spend 5 days, 4 nights in one of our cozy cabins in the Rockies. Check-in on Friday, December 22nd with a checkout on Tuesday, December 26th. Additional nights may be added for our normal Holiday Rates Want to bring your 4 legged family member?? Dogs are allowed in select cabins for an additional $25/night. *Sorry that we are not able to accommodate arrivals on December 23rd.

Christmas in the Rockies. A memory you wont soon forget.
Venture in the back country to find that perfect tree.  Indulge and warm yourself through with Hot-Cocoa and fresh donuts.  

Hone your skating skills on the local ice-skating rink. 

Cruise down the snowy landscape on sleds which we provide.

Explore Rocky Mountain National Park in its winter majesty via snowshoes.

Indulge in a scrumptious dinner at Dunraven Inn boasting fine Italian dining.

Cozy up to a wood-crackling fire on the hearth with loved ones.

Soak your tired bones in our rejuvenating hot-tub

Catch the glow of the season with our ornately decorated mountain retreat.

Capture the spirit of the season waking to snowy vistas, crisp mountain mornings, and the warmth of loved ones.

Take home our keepsake 2017 Christmas Ornament.

Come, relax, embrace, adventure in the Colorado Rockies for Christmas 2017.  Book before September 25th and get 10% OFF!  Call 800-835-8439 for more information an to book your Magical Colorado Rocky Christmas!

One of the many families to enjoy our Old Fashioned Christmas Package.

Packages are non-refundable and non-transferable. Our standard guest and pet policies apply. Contact Us to make reservations or if you have any questions!

Friday, August 25, 2017

The 5 Best Summit Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

You roll into Estes Park and your breath escapes you. Not simply from the elevation, but from the grand landscape that is laid out before you. Mountains reaching to the sky, deep valleys, roaring rivers, abundant wildlife. It's all there. These mountains have drawn people to the Estes Valley and Rocky Mountain National Park region for, literally, thousands of years. And for good reason. 

These hills are special. Sure, it's an emotional experience to walk in the shadows of these giants but an even more rewarding experience awaits those who dare to venture to their lofty heights. To feel the ancient stone beneath your feet, let the thin air kiss your cheeks, and to experience the effort, struggle, and burn in your legs as you take one step at a time toward their summits. It's truly magic. The mountain is not something your conquer. The battle is on the inside and what you conquer is far more formidable. With each step you leave the hustle and messiness of our current lives and culture and get to experience what you were made to do. To explore. To move. To work. To look in awe at creation. To see, first hand, that conservation is essential and that wild places must be protected. It's the antithesis of how we live day to day and for some it is welcome and a relief, and for others it's a struggle and feels different and unfamiliar.

These summits are life changing in so many ways. I've seen it first hand in dozens of friends and have heard of more incredible summit experiences, from guests here at the lodge, than I can count. So hit the trail, and as the one and only John Muir so eloquently put it, "Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away like the leaves of Autumn."

So now you have the task of deciding which mountain to climb! There are so many within the borders of Rocky Mountain National Park so it can be hard to choose. Here are a few of our favorites to help get you going! Happy trails!

1. Mt. Ida

Distance: 10 Miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain: 2,122 Ft
Elevation of Summit: 12,880 Feet
SummitPost Link: Mt. Ida

En route to Mt Ida.

If you're looking for a gentle trail (it's all relative) in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park that leads you to a lofty summit with expansive views in a not-so-heavily-traveled area, then Mt. Ida is what you're after!

Head up Trail Ridge Road to Milner Pass and gear up. Walk along the trail that leads around the right side of Poudre Lake. It will head off to the right and into the forest where it will abruptly steepen into the trees. The steepness is short lived though and once you get above tree line the gradient will lessen a touch. Enjoy the rolling trail all the way to the base of the final summit push. Be sure to stop here and there and soak in the views of the Never Summer Mountains to the west.

Once you get to the base of the final summit push, the trail kind of peters in and out. But don't worry, just head uphill and before too long you'll pop out right at the spectacular summit! Be sure to check out the Gorge Lakes far below you. This is one of the more remote and rugged areas of the park and it's really cool to be able to peer into it from high above.

Simply return the way you came. Note that 95% of this hike is above tree line and there is no easy place to return to the safety of the trees in the case of a fast approaching thunderstorm. This is a trail that is exposed to elements, so be sure to play it safe and bail out of your summit bid if storms are approaching.  

2. Hallett Peak

Distance: 10 Miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain: 3,263 Ft
Elevation of Summit: 12,718 Feet
SummitPost Link: Hallett Peak

Hallett Peak as seen from the flanks of Flattop Mountain
Hallett Peak is one of the more popular summits in the National Park and for good reason! It's summit cone is aesthetic, it's a spectacular hike from trail head to summit, and it's a mountain you can see from just about anywhere in the Estes Valley so it's one that many want to say they have stood atop.

Head to Bear Lake and as you're skirting the right side of the lake you'll come to a trail junction with the Flattop Mountain Trail. Take a right here and head another half mile up to another junction. This time with the Bierstadt Lake Trail. Take a left to stay on the Flattop Trail. At the next junction (with the Fern/Odessa Lake Trail), about another half mile up, take another left. Just follow the signs, it's easy to navigate.

You'll soon pop out at the Dream Lake overlook and a good spot for a breather and to snap a few pictures of Tyndall Gorge far below. You'll head back into the forest as you continue to gain elevation. The trees will start getting shorter and before you know it you'll be above tree line and at the Emerald Lake overlook. Again, another good spot for a snack and some pictures. Be sure to get a shot of Hallett Peak! It's looking formidable, but keep making your way up Flattop and you'll be on the summit in due time.

From the Emerald Lake overlook the trail traverses just about the entire eastern flank of Flattop then turns west toward the summit. Keep plodding up the steepening trail and head for the large snowfield below the summit. Before you reach the snowfield there will be a hitch rack. This is only significant because it's a well known feature of the hike and kind of acts as a launching point for the final summit push for Flattop and, ultimately, Hallett Peak.

You'll make quick work of the snowfield and the hike across the long, broad summit of Flattop to a trail marker pointing toward the North Inlet and Tonahutu trails, which lead to Grand Lake. From the sign, take off south (left) across the tundra via an easy to follow social trail. The summit cone of Hallett will be looming high above. Keep making your way around Tyndall Glacier (of which you should, carefully, go take a gander) and you'll soon be grunting toward the summit.

Enjoy the steepness. Look behind you at Grand Lake and the divide as it snakes its way to the west and north. Gaze over at Flattop to see where you've come from. The summit will materialize sooner than expected and you'll be on top of one of the best summits in the park. Enjoy it and bask in your accomplishment!

Be sure to fuel up, because now you have a 5 mile hike back to Bear Lake. Just go back the way you came.

Bonus: If your feeling up to it, if the weather is good, and if you have the right gear, keep heading south along the dive and summit Otis Peak. From there you can descend via Andrews Glacier if you have proper traction and experience on steep ice and snow. You would then return via Glacier Gorge to Bear Lake. A classic RMNP alpine route! 

3. Mt. Alice

Distance: 18 Miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain: 4,810 Ft
Elevation of Summit: 13,310 Feet
SummitPost Link: Mt. Alice

Mt Alice from an unnamed tarn near Lion Lake #1.

Mt. Alice is one of the more aesthetically pleasing mountains out there. It's one that always captures my imagination when I first lay eyes on it and is the main reason why Lion Lake #1 is so beautiful, in my opinion, as it looms high above the lake creating just about the perfect alpine backdrop. There aren't too many other scenes as beautiful.

But this mountain makes you work. It's a long and steep approach, the final summit push doesn't come easy, from Hourglass Ridge anyway, and it gets you high into the thin air at well over 13,000 feet. So wear your big kid pants for this one and be ready for a super rewarding day in the hills!

There are two main routes that lead to Alice's summit; Hourglass Ridge and South Ridge. I'll briefly touch on both. You can combine these to make a lollipop loop but I'd recommend going up Hourglass Ridge and down South Ridge.

Hourglass Ridge
This is the most scenic route to the summit. Begin at the Wild Basin Trail Head on the southeast side of RMNP. Hike up the Thunder Lake Trail, past Calypso Cascades and Ouzel Falls, for 4.5 miles to the Lion Lake Trail. From here, things start to get steep. In 1.75 miles you'll come to Lion Lake #1. Follow the trail and cairns around the right side of the lake, crossing a couple of little streams. You'll work your way up to and above Trio Falls to Lion Lake #2. From there, gain the prominent ramp on your left that leads to the saddle between Alice and Chiefs Head Peak. This ramp is a highlight of the hike with incredible views, wildflowers (in season of course), and marmots!

Once at the saddle, turn left to traverse Hourglass Ridge. This is a fun ridge that leads to the north slope below the summit of Alice. It's a little scramble but no climbing of any sort. Just a fun little ridge. But now the real fun starts! Head up the steep north slope which is kind of a series of ledges choked with talus. It's steep but a lot of fun!

You top out on the summit with a couple of 'options.' The little knob to your right (west) is the true summit. The one on the left (east) has better views. They probably differ by a foot or so, so who really cares. But if you just have to make sure you tag the actual summit, it's the westward one. So there.

South Ridge
This is the easiest route to the summit. Again, start at the Wild Basin Trail Head. This time go all the way to Thunder Lake, 6.2 miles from where you started. You'll find a trail that goes past the patrol cabin and skirts the northern side of the lake. Just follow this for a bit over a mile to Lake of Many Winds. This is a pretty steep little climb with one more super steep push to come. From Lake of Many Winds you'll see Boulder/Grand Pass looming high above your. Follow the trail around the south (left) side of the lake and do your best to gain access to the top of the pass. Note that this is extremely loose and steep terrain so take care not to knock rocks down on hikers below you and pay attention to what is going on above. If possible, go through this stretch one at a time. Or at least the more loose sections of the pass.

One on the tundra at the saddle between Alice and Tanima Peak, turn north (right) and enjoy a pleasant tundra hike for just over a mile to the summit.

Again, you can make a loop out of these two routes. I just prefer to climb up the steep north slopes instead of down climb it. So up Hourglass Ridge and down South Ridge.

4. Mt. Chiquita

Distance: 6 Miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain: 2,049 Ft
Elevation of Summit: 13,069 Feet
SummitPost Link: Mt. Chiquita

Kidding around on the summit of Chiquita!

If you're wanting to see what it's like above 13,000 feet but just want to kind of dip your toe in to test the waters, then this is the mountain for you! And don't worry... you wont be giving up a thing even though Chiquita is arguably the easiest 13er in the state. You'll still experience a challenging hike along one of the national parks best and most scenic trails.

To get to the Chapin Pass Trail Head you'll need to drive up Old Fall River Rd. This is a spectacular one way dirt road that is just open from July 4th through mid-Octoberish or as long as the weather stays good. You can get to Chiquita without Old Fall River Road or Trail Ridge Road being open, but it changes the nature of the hike entirely. So head up Old Fall River Rd for approximately seven miles to a small trail head with very limited parking (maybe 15 cars) along wide spots in the road.

Gear up and hit the trail by making the initial grunt a quarter mile or so to Chapin Pass proper. Turn right by following the signs to Chapin, Chiquita and Ypsilon Mountains. The trail from here remains steep, but kind of rolls for a bit through beautiful intimate scenes, cliffs, tarns, and scenic overlooks. There will be another trail junction in this stretch but just follow the sign to "All Summits."

Once you clear tree line the grade eases a bit as you traverse the entire lower slope of Mt. Chapin to the saddle between Chapin and Chiquita. From here it is a steep grunt up the elephant of a slope to Chaquita's wonderfully scenic summit. Watch for pikas and marmots along this trail through beautiful alpine tundra. Once you near the summit there is a little rock hopping as the grade flattens a bit. The summit is broad and there are good views to be had from anywhere, so poke around a bit. Take some pictures and be sure to breathe that thin, fresh, and crisp rocky mountain air from 13,069 feet above sea level. 

5. McHenry's Peak

Distance: 14.2 Miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain: 4,147 Ft
Elevation of Summit: 13,327 Feet
SummitPost Link: McHenry's Peak

McHenry's Peak is one of the burlier non-technical summits in the park, and one of the prettiest, both the mountain and the route, in the entirety of Rocky Mountain National Park. Hit the trail at the Glacier Gorge Trail Head and follow the signage to Black Lake. These 5ish miles are worthy of the outing in their own right, but it just gets better.

Once at Black Lake, follow the trail around the left side of the lake. Oh, and be sure to check out McHenry's looming high above you to your right (west). The trail will lead you away from the mountain up a steep gully that, when in season, can be chocked full, and I mean full, of wildflowers. Once on the shelf above the lake, follow faint trails back toward McHenry's Peak. Here, you'll also have a great look at Stone Man Pass, your first objective. You can see the scree and snow filled gully leading up to the namesake Stone Man high above. Work your way over and begin the climb. Just note that early in the season this can be avalanche prone and once the summer heat hits the snow it turns to hard ice and crampons and an axe may be needed to safely ascend. You can usually ascend on one side of the snow or the other and stay relatively safe but use caution here.

Once at the pass turn right (northwest) across a choppy, boulder strewn slope to a series of gullys that lead to the summit. It is essential that you pick the correct gully in order to keep this route non-technical. Take the second gully (there should be cairns leading the way). It's a series of 3rd class rock ledges that lead you to the summit. Be sure to take note of where you are coming from. As important as it is that you pick the right gully on the ascent, it's more important to know which one to descend and it may not be as clear when looking from above. So take a few breaks to note your surroundings on the way up... especially when you top out.

This is a spectacular summit, truly. The views of Long's Peak are unreal, as well as the views in any direction you look. Soak it in, weather permitting.

Return, safely and carefully, the way you came.

BONUS - Longs Peak

Distance: 15 Miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain: 4,859 Ft
Elevation of Summit: 14,259 Feet
SummitPost Link: Longs Peak

I couldn't make a list of summits in the park and not include Longs. No way. So here it is. The crown jewel of Rocky. The big dog. I'm not going to go into much detail about this 'hike' here as there are far better resources for gathering info about Longs Peak and if you really want to do this hike, or any hike on this page for that matter, please don't use the info here as your sole source of beta. But I'll give a bit of a rundown of Longs and maybe it will encourage you to dig a little deeper and start the planning process of summiting this incredible, awesome mountain.

Once thought to be unclimbable, Longs Peak is one of the most popular 14ers in the country. It's a huge achievement for a seasoned alpinist or a casual peak bagger. There are more routes than I can count up the mountain with the easiest still coming in at 3rd class if the weather is good, which only happens a couple months of the year. Most routes are considered technical even in perfect summer weather, and all routes are technical when the snow is on the ground (which can be from September through June, and even sporadically in July and August!).

The standard route, known as the Keyhole Route, is the easiest route up the mountain. From the trail head to The Keyhole is pretty straightforward, it's what's beyond the keyhole that gives this route its character. You have four distinct sections. Just past The Keyhole are The Ledges. A choppy series of ledges with some considerable exposure in spots. This terrain rises and drops to the base of the next section known as The Trough. This thing is a beast. 1,200 feet or so of steep up in a loose chossy gully. I try to make it up this as fast as possible to avoid getting pinged by a rock set loose by a fellow hiker above me. There is a 3rd class step at the top which spits you out onto The Narrows. Right at the start it's a little narrow, but has good holds. But the rest is like a highway and is a bit overhyped in my opinion. But to each his own. I think that the final section, The Homestretch, is the 'scariest' on the route. A steep slab with cracks leading you up to the summit. But it's definitely steep. And smooth in spots. There are a lot of people crab walking up and down this section as it commands your attention. A fall here could be, and has been, fatal. Use caution.

The Homestretch drops you right off at the summit. The summit is big, broad, and high! Enjoy the view and take a bit to explore the massive 360 degree views...

Helpful Information

We hope this at least helps steer you in the right direction when planning your summit hikes. A few other favorites are Mummy Mountain, Thatchtop Mountain, Mt. Meeker, Little Matterhorn, and/or Mt. Lady Washington. Each of these are incredible hikes and will give you everything you're looking for!

There are also a lot of great resources out there for more specific trail information. Utilize the following:

RMNP Trails - Facebook Page: RMNP Trails
Weather: Bear Lake NOAA

Just a little disclaimer. Go prepared. Do your homework. It's your responsibility to know the rules of the National Park and to travel in the back country safely and responsibly. These are only suggested hikes and your fitness level and experience level may not be what it needs to be to tackle any or all of these outings. Use common sense, choose safety first, and prepare as best you can.

If you have any other questions or would like any more info, please leave us a comment below and we'll try to answer as best we can!

Happy Trails!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The 3 Best Lake Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park!

If you're reading through our blog, you're probably aware of Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) and are, most likely, also aware that RMNP has hundreds of miles of some of the most scenic hiking trails in the world! With over 350 miles of hiking trails, over 150 lakes, countless waterfalls, and 125 named summits, it can be overwhelming when you begin planning your hikes and planning which destinations will be the focus of your trip.

Well, we're here to help! We'll be doing a small series on our blog about some of the better hiking destinations in the park to help guide you in the right direction. This post will focus on some lakes that are sure to please! One of the great things about RMNP is that many lakes are very easy to access, but there are some that do take a bit of work to get to and are well worth the effort... let's get to it!

1. Dream Lake

Hike Length: 2.2 Miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain: 450 Feet
Elevation of Lake: 9,900 Feet

Dream Lake
You can't have a list of the best lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park without including Dream Lake. This is probably the most popular lake in the park, and for good reason! It's in an absolutely beautiful setting, the hike to get to it is relatively easy, you start the hike from the most popular trail head at Bear Lake, and did I say it's in an amazingly stunning setting?

Head up to the Bear Lake Parking Lot. If it's summertime and 7:00am or later, just head to the Park and Ride along Bear Lake Road and take the shuttle to the parking lot/trailhead. It's easy. Walk past the ranger cabin, cross the bridge and follow the signs to Dream Lake. You'll climb gently to Nymph Lake in about half a mile. Stop here for a little breather and to soak in the views. During the summer you can also enjoy the lily pads on the lake. Follow the shoreline and when the trail turns hard left, look up and you can see Hallett Peak standing high above Tyndall Gorge (the valley you're walking into).

Keep on trucking for another six tenths of a mile over rolling terrain. Some parts will be steep, some flat, but you'll keep climbing higher into the gorge. You'll be short of breath but it wont be from the elevation or the steep trail, it will be because the views done stole it. You'll be able to look into Glacier Gorge and will have views of countless mountains including the spectacular Longs Peak. 

Before you know it you'll pop out at Dream Lake after winding along the quaint and beautiful trail. Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain will dominate your view and it's one of kind. Stop, have a snack, put your feet up and soak in your surroundings. It's a pretty rare thing to be in a place like this. Take your time and enjoy it!

Bonus Points: Continue up the trail another seven tenths of a mile to Emerald Lake. Worth it. 

2. Sky Pond

Hike Length: 9 Miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain: 1,720 Feet
Elevation of Lake: 10,900 Feet

Cathedral Spires above Sky Pond

Now we're going to up the ante a little bit. While Dream Lake would be a worthy destination if it was 20 miles from the trail head, it, luckily, happens to only be a mile from the parking lot. But this is a rare thing and most other lakes within the borders of RMNP require a little more work to get to. Sky Pond is one that needs to be on your list and, while it is a significant day in the hills, it's nestled in one of the most scenic high valleys in Colorado.

So how do you get there? Start by heading down Bear Lake Road. Again, if you're getting to the trail head after, say, 7:00am, just Park and Ride it. If you're an early bird, or very lucky, you can park at the Glacier Gorge Trail Head. This is a mile or so below the Bear Lake parking lot. Now that you're there, gear up and hit the trail... times-a-wastin'!

The trail is actually pretty mild and climbs gradually with the exception of a few steeper stretches. There are some spots that are even flat or a kiss downhill for a spell. About a mile in you'll pass Alberta Falls. Take a quick photo and keep on trucking. After another mile or so you'll come to a junction. I know it as the "Loch/Mills Junction" and use it as a landmark to gauge how well I'm moving that day. Follow the sign to Sky Pond (go right). 

From here the trails climbs a bit more before dumping you out at The Loch, another truly stunning lake and worthy of your efforts in its own right. Again, take some pics, maybe use this beautiful spot for your snack break, and then get back on the trail! From here the trail is relatively flat for quite a while. You'll be able to see the next climb at the head of the valley with Timberline Falls roaring above. Once past the far end of the lake the trail begins to climb steadily though gently. That is until you near Timberline Falls, then the real work starts.

Sky Pond and Taylor Peak
Up, up, up you go! Take your time, take deep breaths, be sure to look at the incredible place you happen to be in, and just keep your forward progress going! Soon you'll be just below the falls and wondering why there is a little sign saying "Sky Pond" which is pointing you up a cliff. Take a few minutes to enjoy the falls and get your wits about you. 

From here you have a little scramble. Only 3rd class, but if scrambling on steep, wet rock isn't your thing, you may want to choose another destination. On the right side of the falls there is a little cliff band you need to scale. It's easy climbing, but please use caution. People do fall here and I've even helped a man get down who blew his knee out on the steep trail just above those cliffs. 

But overcoming your fear and using a bit of caution has its rewards. In a minute or two you'll be on the shore of Lake of Glass. It's amazing and may even be prettier, in my opinion, than Sky Pond. Arguable. But why not continue down the krummholz choked trail a bit farther to make that call for yourself? Oh, and look around you. Yeah, insane, right? Have you ever seen anything this beautiful?

Relax on the shore, take some photos, have lunch, and try to pick out the climbers over on Petit Grepon, one of the awesome looking spires on the northwest side of the lake. Once you've had your fill, or run out of time, just head back the way you came. Please use extra caution descending the little cliffy section below Lake of Glass. 

Bonus Points: Once back at the Mills/Loch Junction, hike the .7ish miles up to Mills Lake.

3. Lion Lake #1

Hike Length: 12.6 Miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain: 2,580 Feet
Elevation of Lake: 11,080 Feet

Lion Lake #1 and Mt. Alice
Lion Lake #1 will always be one of my favorite lakes in RMNP, or anywhere for that matter. It's location is so picturesque that sometimes I don't feel like it's real. It sits in its own little paradise. The pristine lake, 13,000 foot peaks surrounding it, waterfalls cascading down cliffs, streams winding through open meadows choked with wild flowers. It really can't get much better. 

To get to Lion Lake #1 you'll want to start at the Wild Basin Trail Head. It's on the southeast side of RMNP. Just head down Hwy 7 and you'll see a big sign for it about 5-7 minutes after you pass the Longs Peak area. Drive down the narrow, winding dirt road to the trail head and get going!

After a third of a mile you come to a 'waterfall' named Copeland Falls that includes a couple of little lookout areas to view the falls. Keep on winding up the gentle trail and soon after you cross a large footbridge over a roaring St. Vrain River you'll come to Calypso Cascades. The trail just below the falls steepens a bit, but thus far the trail has been quite mellow. This is a good spot for a quick snack but only another three quarters of a mile up the trail is Ouzel Falls. The trail to Ouzel steepens in spots but isn't too bad either. 

Once past Ouzel, just stay on the Thunder Lake Trail. It will be fairly gentle as well until you reach the cut off for Lion Lakes. Head right and uphill. Yes, it's steep. Your legs and lungs will remind you of this with every step! This trail isn't travelled nearly as much so it's a bit more rugged and narrow but it makes you feel like you're really out there exploring the aptly named Wild Basin. 

Though steep, the pull of the higher valleys will lead you on. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and before too long the trail flattens and you pop out at a little pond just below Lion Lake #1. It's a gorgeous little spot and one where I always stop to take pictures. Keep on the muddy trail and you soon turn the corner with Lion Lake #1 sprawling before you. The scene may seem a bit overwhelming with the expansive valley before you. 

Just sit on the shores and soak it in. The pointed peak is Mt. Alice, the one to your right is Chief's Head Peak, and on the other side is Tanima Peak. The water fall above and to the right of Lion is Trio Falls which is the outlet from Lion Lake #2.

When you feel like you have to leave, just turn around and head down the same way you came in. Don't try to wipe the smile off your face... it's impossible. 

Bonus Points: Follow the faint footpath and cairns around the right side of the lake and up toward trio falls to visit Lion Lake #2 and Snowbank Lake.

Bonus!! - Chasm Lake

Hike Length: 8.4 Miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain: 2,380 Feet
Elevation of Lake: 11,780 Feet

Chasm Lake and The Diamond (east face) of Longs Peak
Nestled all cozy-like right at the base of the Diamond on Longs Peak (the iconic mountains east face) this high mountain lake is one of Colorado's jaw droppers. The immediate scenery is so dramatic that I often can't take it all in. And it never fails, every time I'm coming down from the lake I think about something I forgot to check out. It's an overwhelming view. 

Hit the trail at the Longs Peak Trail Head. This is pretty straightforward. The Longs Peak Trail is fairly steep, especially compared to the other trails in this article. You simply follow the Longs Peak Trail all the way to Chasm Junction. From there, follow the signs to Chasm Lake. It will take you on a descending trail for a bit, where you'll cross a considerable snow field early in the season. Use great caution crossing this as as fall could be dire and crampons and/or and ice axe may be needed to cross safely. Later in the season it's just dry trail and of no consequence. 

Once across the snowfield, you enter Chasm Meadows and your jaw will drop! You'll cross Roaring Fork and marmots will scurry about as you trip over rocks while you're looking up at Mt. Meeker and Longs Peak thousands of feet directly above you. When peaking, the flowers here are hard to beat. Follow the trail past the Ranger Patrol Cabin, and negotiate the broken cliffs (follow the sign). Soon you'll be looking down at Chasm Lake in awe of where you're standing! 

Take a break, but keep your food stashed as the marmots up here are little thieves and will steal any food you leave accessible. Return the way you came and try to figure out how to properly convey the beauty you just saw when you tell your friends about this hike. Don't worry, you'll fail miserably, but that's okay... just take them up with you next time you go.

Here's a little 360 degree image to let you know what you're in for! Just click and drag on the image to move it around... it's much cooler in full screen as well...

Helpful Information

We hope this at least helps steer you in the right direction when planning your hikes. 10 more lakes could have easily been added to this list. If you want to look into more suggestions, do a little research on the following lakes: Mills Lake, Black Lake, Thunder Lake, Lake Nanita, Lawn Lake, Bluebird Lake, Gorge Lakes, Lake Haiyaha, Timber Lake, and/or Lake Helene.

There are also a lot of great resources out there for more specific trail information. Utilize the following:

RMNP Trails - Facebook Page: RMNP Trails
Weather: Bear Lake NOAA

Just a little disclaimer. Go prepared. Do your homework. It's your responsibility to know the rules of the National Park and to travel in the back country safely and responsibly. These are only suggested hikes and your fitness level and experience level may not be what it needs to be to tackle any or all of these outings. Use common sense, choose safety first, and prepare as best you can.

If you have any other questions or would like any more info, please leave us a comment below and we'll try to answer as best we can!

Happy Trails!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Exploring Glacier Gorge

Nearing the Mills/Loch Junction - Thatchtop Mountain holding court.

I always imagine the aspen leaves applauding the spring weather this time of year. They seem giddy that the snow is melting and the winds have died down and celebrate in their characteristic quaking. I was running through that little aspen grove right by the old Glacier Gorge Trail Head and was greeted by this classic and welcoming sound! I'm not sure of a better way to start a jaunt into the high country.

Alberta Falls
The agenda was The Loch and Mills Lake. I didn't have enough time to grunt my way up to Sky Pond or Black Lake, unfortunately, but I was happy to be leaving from the Bear Lake Trail Head on a run... it had been a looong while!

It was a relatively warm morning with the temps in the mid or upper 40's and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Water was flowing everywhere and there were a few lingering snow patches on the way down toward Glacier Gorge. It had been a long time since I been by Alberta Falls and I was soon in earshot of its roar! Alberta is running full right now and it's pretty amazing to see and hear! There was a pretty good sized crowd at the falls so I took a couple of quick snap shots and boogied up the trail. From Alberta, the trail climbs steadily for a bit, winding through the lower reaches of Glacier Gorge. It then flattens out a bit, and even descends, to the Mills Lake and The Loch Junction. From there you have a choice and either one is the right call!

You can head to the left and head into Glacier Gorge proper and Mills Lake or you can head right into Loch Vale and The Loch will greet you a bit under a mile later. I chose to go right and head up to The Loch first. There was a bit more snow from this point on but it wasn't an issue. What snow was there was firm and easy to walk on. I had old running shoes that were pretty slick and didn't have any issues. Before long I popped out on the banks of The Loch with its icy water lapping against the snowy shore. A few rainbow trout protested my arrival by retreating to the deeps as I pulled my camera out to try to capture the spectacular scene before me.

The snowy banks at The Loch
I chatted for a few minutes with a mother and daughter who were on their way to Sky Pond and then I pointed my nose downhill and made quick work of the trail back to the Mill/Loch junction. The sound of Glacier Creek was almost deafening. Watching the cycles of rivers throughout the seasons is an interesting thing. Personally, I forget how full of life they become in the spring and, likewise, I forget how slow and quiet they are in the winter. Well, Glacier Creek is full of pep at the moment and it's awesome!
Heading toward Mills Lake

At the junction there were a couple of guys who were a bit "lost." They were trying to find their way to Mills Lake but didn't know where to go. They were looking at the sign but the snow in the direction of Mills was definitely more substantial. Plus, it is covered by a smattering of dirt and debris such as pine needles and cones. To me, who knows this part of the park like the back of my hand, it is obvious where to go. But these guys had never been out there before and we a bit frustrated that the trail wasn't easier to spot. I think they were a little embarrassed too. So... just a reminder. Bring a map with you! It's easy. And a compass can help too. However, if you're still confused, do what these guys did and ask! And don't be embarrassed. Better to ask and not get lost than to guess and turn your hike into an epic!

I encouraged them to keep on going and I moseyed up the trail. The snow up to Mills was definitely worse. More of it and a bit punchier. I never post-holed, but it was a little sloppy and there was one stretch I couldn't run as it was just a kiss too slick.

The slabs just before Mills Lake seem like a gate into an incredible new world. Then the gorge opens up before you and your jaw drops. At least mine does... every time. That view. It really is one of the best in the entire National Park, if not Colorado. And that's saying something!

Mills Lake

I took in my surroundings for a few minutes and began my descent back to Bear Lake. I opted for the fire trail on the descent as it would bypass the crowds at Alberta Falls. That was a fun but very wet and muddy decision! The quaking aspen near the old Glacier Gorge Trail Head cheered me on as I got ready for the half mile grunt back up to Bear Lake. This hill always hurts no matter how much I've been hiking and/or running. It's a steep sucker and I think the Park Service made this trail as punishment for not getting up early enough to get a parking spot at the Glacier Gorge Trail Head. But hey, it'll make me stronger for my next outing...

Happy Trails!


Just below Mills Lake

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Newborn Elk Calf in Estes Park

Elk Calf in Estes Park

It's that time of year again! Spring is welcomed by every creature as a time of renewal, rebirth, and an awakening as life returns to this, at times, harsh and demanding landscape. Once the grass is tall and lush, once the aspen leaf out, and once the rivers and streams are running strong from the snow melt, the elk begin giving birth! It's a truly magnificent time to be in the Estes Valley and Rocky Mountain National Park.

I was on my way home from the lodge yesterday afternoon when I noticed a cow laying in the grass maybe 50 yards to the west of Hwy 7 just south of Estes Park. I also noticed that she was eating what looked like a piece of plastic which I soon realized was the placenta still covering most of her newborn calf laying flat in the tall grass. 

I rushed home, told my two young daughters about the baby and we strapped in and went to watch this miracle unfold before our eyes. When we arrived she was still cleaning the calf and hadn't moved. We settled in on the side of the road and watched for about half an hour. 

She continued to lick and chew off the remaining placenta, bathe her little one, and every once in a while just nuzzle it. It was precious! We all got excited when the baby started trying to stand. Only one failed attempt led to a short but shaky walk a few feet from its mother before returning to nestle into her neck as she continued to bathe it. 

It's these kind of scenes that make the harsh winters, and the promises that spring brings, all worth it. Seeing the snow capped giants in the background while enjoying the warm temperatures and lush green all around us in town, and getting to see one of the more anticipated events in our little world unfold before our eyes, all help to bring the cycle of the seasons, and of life, full circle. 

Watching this calf begin its life reminded me of being honored enough to share life with Brat and see the end of his days play out along side us. I wondered where Brat was born. Where his mother taught him the ways of this land and raised him to be the strong and regal bull he became. I couldn't help but say a little prayer for this new life, the fulfillment of a promise, and hope that this elk lives a long time in this landscape we're lucky enough to share.