Camping in Rocky Mountain National Park: Ain’t Nothin’ Like It

Last weekend we managed to ditch our regular lives and disappear into that fantastic world of campfires, bird song, fresh air, and bear poo. It was my first camping trip of the year and I feel like the summer camping season couldn’t have had a better start. We left Denver early and drove the hour and forty five minutes to RMNP where the line of cars to get in was already frustratingly long. Unlike when we had the whole place to ourselves (on a rainy Wednesday) this sunny Saturday the park was packed! The only open campground in the off season is first come first served, so we were anxious to see if we would even get a site. We shouldn’t have worried though, because most weekend campers were apparently sleeping in and there were plenty of places to choose from. I took the photo below from a meadow across the camp road from us. You can see my little blue car in the center of the foreground, and the background is dominated by Long’s Peak. Incidentally the meadow I was in was full of alllll kinds of poo, but mostly elk and a little bit of bear.

We decided to make Saturday a lazy camp day. T.G strung up a hammock and decided to nap and read a book in the shade of the trees. I had a hard time staying still, so I decided to go for a wander and check out our surroundings. Although the weather had previously promised rain and thunderstorms all weekend we had nothing but sunny weather! This meant plenty of other people to contend with in the park, but I kept trying to remind my crotchety introverted self that it was good that so many people wanted to visit a national park. A very good thing. Besides, we were tourists too, and had no more of a claim on the park than anyone else.

Having a lazy camp day, in my opinion, should definitely involved sitting around with a book and a mug of wine. Also, a hammock. This we did for a few hours. Later in the day we went for a walk through some of the camp loops that are still closed for the season. It turns out that they are all stunning, and with the recent heavy rainfall, numerous ponds had appeared, and all were full of singing frogs.

While sitting in camp we observed the camp life going on around us. The kids next to us argued about stand up comedians. A single guy cooked gourmet food at his site, and a van with Minnesota license plates pulled up and a bunch of college students came spilling out, obviously thrilled to be out of the car. Maybe the most entertaining thing we witnessed (besides T.G’s new bestie Darrel, the firewood guy) was the enormous and oversized camper that pulled in. It was ironically named ‘Solitude’ and was about three times the size of my apartment. The man in the driver seat struggled- and eventually failed- to park it at one of the campsites. It wasn’t for lack of trying though; his wife was “helpfully” yelling instructions at him the whole time. It was a bit sad when poor Solitude finally gave up and drove off.

Just after sundown, in that weird twilight time, we walked through the trees to observe the vast openness of the part of the park we were in. This meadow has a stream winding through it and is enclosed by mountains on all sides. We saw Long’s Peak still illuminated by all the snow in the darkness. Evening birds were calling out. The sounds of minivans and trucks were gone.

We cooked (tofu) brats over the campfire and went to bed not too long after dark. Thanks to my magnificent sleeping bag (I think I probably wrote a love story about my sleeping bag in an earlier camping post) I was cozy and slept pretty well. It did not rain, but a cold wind blew through from time to time. Just before dawn I got up to use the bathroom and enjoyed the early morning peacefulness of the park. My only companions were some mourning doves and a couple of crows.

The next morning we were up early to drink coffee and get started on a long hike. We ate a leisurely breakfast and then packed up. We planned to drive to the trailhead and let someone else take over our campsite.

In December of 2016 I hiked part of the Cub Lake trail and loved it. I was not used to hiking, and that plus incoming snow turned me around before I finished it. This time we were going to hike it all the way through and then some. The trail starts off in the flat land and follows a small stream more or less as you head towards the mountains. In 2012 it was an area that was partially burned by wildfire and the evidence was in the burn scar on the hill and all the charred logs near the trail. We passed ponds and boulder fields, and eventually the trail began to climb. There were a few other groups hiking around us, but for the most part this area of the park felt secluded. At one point, in a woodsy section, a couple of other hikers gestured to us. “Do you know if elk charge?” On the trail right in front of us were about six bull elk casually walking by. They were absolutely enormous! We could smell the animal mixture of sweat and ammonia coming off of them, and see the fine detail of the fuzz on their new antler growth. We proceeded cautiously.

The hike was gorgeous. The halfway point was Cub Lake. We stopped to admire it for a bit, enjoyed the sight of some elk taking advantage of the water, and then headed on. By this point it looked as if some rain might come in, so we were motivated to finish the second part of the hike and get back to the car. We stopped for snacks along the way, but mostly kept moving. The trail now started going back down. I hadn’t realized how much elevation we had gained until we started to descend.

The last part of the hike was level and followed a creek. It was shadier than other parts of the trail and cooler owing to either the oncoming rain or the water, or both. I was pretty beat by the end of it, and glad to see the car at the trailhead. That doesn’t mean I was happy to be leaving RMNP though! I thought many unkind thoughts about the city and the crowds that were descending on my neighborhood for the Cinco de Mayo festival.

This has gone down as one of the best camping trips ever, in my book. Plus it was the first time I have camped in a national park and the whole experience was so much grander. The mountains and wildlife sightings definitely helped with that, of course. It also taught us about what to bring next time (obviously the hammock), what we needed for future use (hello pretty enamel camp mugs that-I’ve-been-holding-back-from-buying-but-now-I-have-a-reason), and what not to bring. I’m eager to go back, but with work getting busy and the summer tourist season approaching I’m not sure when that will be. Until then, I guess we can at least use our sweet annual pass to come back on rainy Wednesdays!

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The Day We Had A National Park To Ourselves

The crowds at national parks can be overwhelming, especially when you just want to get on the trail and bypass the touristy stuff. Nobody comes to a place like Rocky Mountain National Park just to sit in their vehicle while long lines of traffic stretch ahead.

It turns out, though, that there is a recipe for having a park all to yourself. It takes one part snow, one part weekday, and one part early morning to create the perfect mixture of calm, quiet, and empty roads. Having left Denver around 6:15 am we made good time to the park, and even beat the park rangers to the entrance! It was cold and the rain had turned to a mixture of sleet and snow, but we were undeterred.

We chose to turn left at the fork in the road and go up first. The roads started to get slick pretty fast as the snow and slush accumulated at the higher altitude. We tramped around briefly in the snow, but quickly decided to drive back down.

The roads were gloriously free of traffic and the park was silent except for the wind and the various bird calls. T.G has been working on learning not only to identify birds by sight, but also by their calls. We’re both novices at recognizing bird species, but when it comes to other animals there was no mistaking the big shaggy creatures clumped around the park. The famous elk of RMNP were out in full force on this day.

Can you spot where I am in this photo?

We got out to explore here and there, but we had been saving our energy mainly for a hike. There are so many trails in the park it can be hard to decide which one to take; however our choice was made easier by the fact that many of the trails with a higher elevation would be socked in with too much snow for us. The trail we ended up choosing was gorgeous. We enjoyed watching the view change from rainy forests with mist rolling over the landscape to silent snowy woods. T.G stopped to try out one of his bird calls on a chickadee, who was confused (I think), but not really fooled. We saw hoof imprints as big as my whole hand. We even lost the trail in the snow for a bit!

After our hike we explored more of the park. It seemed so open and huge! My special gift of summoning moose came into play again, as we saw a cluster of park rangers and a few other tourists (okay, so by this point a few other people had come to the park) pointing at one of the huge animals roaming around by the river.

We wrapped up our day with a quick jaunt over to Bear Lake and then some more elk sightings as we cruised some of the roads crossing the park. We were both pretty tired at this point, and craving fried food and beer. I think a good day of hiking and exploring is not complete without fried food and beer. I am lucky enough to have been to RMNP about half a dozen times, but this trip was definitely one of the best. Any trip is made better by having a companion who is just as excited about adventure as you are, and the rain/snow that deterred many people just made the landscape even more dramatic. We were thrilled by the isolation on the trails and road. I think this day was the perfect recipe for a day in a national park.

*Note: This is a rare photograph of T.G, who only gave his permission for me to post this because of how dark it is. I like it anyway.

A Long Weekend in the Mountains

This past week I took some time off work to spend time in the mountains. The boyfriend, who values his privacy, offered up his mountain home as our base of operations. I’m going to refer to him as That Guy, or TG.

We were treated to some stunning sunrises and sunsets, some crazy high winds, and plenty of warm winter sunshine. The stars were out in full force up there since there only a handful of neighbors and no city light pollution. I have to admit that I was so much of a wuss about the cold nighttime temperatures that I pretty much ruined every attempt we made at stargazing by dashing back inside the house after only a minute or two.

The sunrises were visible from the big picture windows in the main living room of the house, which also looks out over a valley. It’s a pretty good spot for sipping coffee in the early mornings. To observe sunset we followed a trail that led up and away from the house and over the remains of an old mine. The elevation is right about 9,000 feet so even this short trek left me out of breath.

We did plenty of hiking during the day, and we even explored some of the old mines in the area. TG has sworn to do more research on the area to find out more about these slightly-creepy-yet-fascinating ruins. This area was one of the original gold rush towns, and the hills surrounding the main city are dotted with heaps of mine refuse, old tunnels, and mysterious pits that have been somewhat filled in. Curiously, we also noticed that many of the pits have had a tree planted (or maybe it just grew?) right in the middle.

The wind gusted up to 70 mph during our last few days, and although the sun was out and warming up the air, it was still cold outside. We made a few forays outside to check the big wood-burning boiler (which was responsible for heating the house and all the hot water) and enjoyed some leisurely drinks around the fire. Mostly though we stayed inside and watched the olympics in PyeongChang, or experimented in the kitchen to create more and more potato themed meals…

Coming back to the city on Sunday required some adjustment. While I was happy to be back in my own little studio apartment, and happy to see my kitties and bunny, it was bittersweet to leave the valleys and trees and see instead the traffic and hear the ambulances rushing by.

We enjoyed a delicious lunch in the sunny nearly-70-degree weather with my brother, who had flown into town for the weekend. Then *le sigh* it was back to business as usual. Back to work. Goodbye to the mountains, the bracing hikes (yikes, breathing and exercising at 9000 feet is no joke!), the lazy afternoons with a glass of wine, the potato hash for breakfast, and the exciting rounds of hike-n-go-seek in a big house. That’s the thing about living in Colorado: you can love the city life, but travel even just one hour away from home and you find yourself in a landscape so exciting you can’t help but get lost in it.

Thoughts On An Early Morning Hike in the Mountains

Dog and I went camping again yesterday in the mountains (where else?).  I am normally and early riser anyway, but especially when I am camping and haven’t slept too well anyway.  I am excited to see the morning after a long night in the tent.  I was much warmer on this trip (thanks to a better sleeping bag, kindly lent by my roommate), and extra blankets.  Dog was perfectly comfortable, sans blanket.  Still, when I woke up and saw sun creeping across the sky and heard the birds chirping away in the cheerful morning chatter I was glad.  The air outside the tent was coooooold and I regretted my decision to leave my blanket nest, but Dog was ready to go so I didn’t have much of a choice.  April in the city of Denver is much warmer than April in mountains, and the air had a special spring chill.  Refreshing and sweet, but cold.   Anyway, I layered up, and after a hasty breakfast Dog and I set off on the trail.  Here are some reflections on early morning hiking.


1) You will meet a whole different set of birds.  I WISH I WISH I WISH I hadn’t left my new Rocky Mountain Bird identification book at home, but I could tell even without it that the birds I was seeing and hearing in the morning were different from the ones I encountered in the day and evening.  For one thing, the woodpeckers- a species different from the kind I was used to in Wisco- were voracious, and their pecking echoed all around the forest.  Dog and I had a good time watching all the early morning birds swoop around and call to one another.

This woodpecker was attacking the phone poll.

2) If you prefer the trail to yourself, you’ll have it.  I did see two trail runners go past, but apart from that we had what felt like the whole mountain to ourselves.  Most of the other campers were still asleep, and the day trippers weren’t in the park yet.  The stunning views of Panorama Point were OURS, muahahaha.  I also felt less inhibited about sitting down in sunny patches to catch my breath or to snag a snack.

A blurry goofy picture of me playing around with the self timer on my camera near Panorama Point.

3) The freshness of the air and the sun coming up behind peaks and trees is unbeatable.  Yeah, I’m sure the air is always fresh up there, but something about the brisk temps and bird chatter just made the scent of the trees and chipper mountain streams fresher.  It was a joy just to breath.  Stopping to take great big lungfulls of air I was also in awe of the views of the sun rising from behind forested peaks.  It wasn’t dark when we set out from camp, but there was definitely a sharp contrast between the places on the trail where tendrils of sunlight had sneaked in and where it hadn’t.

The change of night to day.

4) The feeling of accomplishment when you saunter back into camp having completed a somewhat grueling hike while everyone else is just starting their day.  I took a one hour victory nap in my tent to celebrate.  So did Dog.

Things I Learned Hiking With A Dog


I love dogs (and cats.  I’m adamantly both a dog and a cat person) and I work with them every day.  Growing up my parents constantly adopted rescued dachshunds who had various scars and sad stories, but who turned into cuddle bugs and snuggle monsters.  I worked in shelters consistantly after graduating college, as well as being a dog walker and a receptionist at a vet clinic.  Yeah, I’ve seen some dogs.

It wasn’t until recently, however, that I lived with a dog who is- shall we say more a dog in the traditional sense of the word?  I refer to her as Dog on social media, where she has been cropping up a lot lately, and she receives a fair amount of attention.  Dog looks like a big black German Shepherd and she loves people, she loves adventure, and she loves exercise.  My roommates say that Dog doesn’t sleep, she waits.  Waits to play or run or explore.  She just waits.  Dog comes to work with me a couple of times a week, but on my days off I have started taking her out on hiking adventures.  This is Colorado, after all, where both dogs and adventures are the lifestyle.  Hiking with just a dog and no other human companions has taught me a thing or two.


1) You WILL become tired long before the dog and she WILL constantly look back at you with a disappointed look on her face.  Bless Dog’s heart, she always waits for me…except for yesterday we we descended a trail on a mountain side that was coated with ice and snow.  I ended up “surfing” part of the way down as Dog pulled and I clung to the leash, unwilling to let go.

2) No matter how sociable dogs are when in the dog park/doggie day care/a friend’s house/the neighborhood, etc meeting another dog on leash can be stressful.  The dogs might be tired or on edge from the hike, or picking up on whatever it is you the leash-holder are struggling with.  They don’t necessarily want to become friends with every other pup on the trail, so just greet the other hikers politely and move on.

3)I hope you packed dog-appropriate snacks!  If you didn’t pack some specifically for Fido then at least did you bring some that are safe to share?  I fully expected that half of my little Baybels cheese wheel would disappear into Dog’s maw and I’m okay with that.  Of course, the car was also stocked with a variety of treats so Dog could have a little power snack to reboot after the hike.

4) Dogs don’t chatter and they don’t get bossy about which trails to hike.  Well, maybe some dogs do…I enjoy hiking with friends too, but there is something wonderful about the peacefulness that comes from taking in a breathtaking view in silence with your canine by your side.  Dog is very good natured and listens pretty well (my roommates trained her well) so no matter how exciting or dull the trail I pick it, she’s enthusiastic about it.  That’s rare in a friend.

5) Don’t be a douche- bring plastic bags and throw away your dog’s waste!  Do not just leave it hanging from trail signs.  That is disgusting and lazy and hello!  Part of bringing the dog means taking responsibility for them!  Ugh, rant over, just pick up your dog’s poo please.

If you’re inspired to take your adorable canine for an adventure be sure to check if your intended destination allows dogs on the trail.  The rules can be kind of convoluted (like that many state and national parks allow dogs in campsites and anywhere cars go, but not on hiking trails).  Make sure you leash Fido too, because no matter how well behaved she is, there are bears and shit out there, so watch out.

Also, shout out to the Alt National Park Service for their bravery  and dedication to science and truth.  If you appreciate their work follow the link and show your support.  Follow them on Facebook or Twitter as AltNationalParkService.  Don’t forget Rogue NASA!