By Roxanne Bichard
If you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck while traveling, hiking is the ultimate activity for travelers on a budget. All you need are a few essential pieces of equipment and you’re ready to take on the world! Colorado is renowned for its awe-inspiring wilderness, and continually attracts adventure-seekers wishing to face the elements. What better place to take in the Colorado scenery than on the most breathtaking mountain range in North America… the Rockies!
Any trip to Colorado is incomplete without a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park. A two-hour drive from Denver International airport, this park is truly a hiker’s paradise, with three different ecosystems to explore. Over 150 miles of streams and countless lakes can be found throughout the park. Pine and aspen forests are gradually replaced by spruce and fir trees at a higher elevation and once you reach over 11, 000 feet, tree-less alpine tundra.
On a hike through the Rocky Mountains, you’re guaranteed to come across some amazing wildlife, from hummingbirds and porcupines to bull elk and bighorn sheep. Alpine wildflowers add fragrance and color to your hike and offer some amazing opportunities for photography. Once sculpted by glaciers, the park’s dramatic peaks and valleys are a pure display of the sheer beauty of nature.
The best hike is a well prepared hike… and in the Rockies that can mean packing warm clothing and durable rain gear, as the afternoons are often subject to thundershowers that can become quite violent. Other essentials include bug spray, a pair of sturdy hiking shoes and an often neglected ally: multiple pairs of socks (expect to cross a stream or two). It’s recommended to stay on designated trails as getting lost in this vast wilderness can spell disaster. For those wanting to appreciate the wildlife, make sure to set the alarm clock early… this is when the forest comes alive!
Here are just a few of the best hiking trails in the Rocky Mountains, which promise an unforgettable and overall humbling experience. I know this sounds crazy, but trust me, a day’s hike is more invigorating than a day at the spa. You’ll feel just as great afterwards.
Bear Lake Nature Trail
This loop trail circles the beautiful Bear Lake and at 0.6 miles, it’s an easy, accessible trail that’s great for beginners. This rock basin was formed in the ice age by a glacier and is now surrounded by an enchanting pine, fir and spruce forest. Elk are no strangers to this area and can often be spotted right from the trail. Dotted with wood benches, the trail allows you to take your time and enjoy the atmosphere. The greatest part of this hike, however, is the interpretive guide which offers insight into 30 marked spots along the trail.
Beginning from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead along Bear Lake Road, Alberta Falls is another popular hiking destination. You will pass through several aspen groves, a pine forest, and finally, onto a ledge rock with spectacular views of Glacier Gorge. Continue on until you start to hear the roar of water and the beautiful falls come into view. The rock slabs that surround Alberta Falls are the perfect place to settle down for a picnic (from a safe distance, of course!)
Deer Mountain Summit
If you want fantastic views in all directions, a summit hike is the way to go. Scaling some of the Rocky Mountains’ higher peaks can not only be strenuous but can lead to altitude sickness. Deer Mountain’s broad flat summit plateau and relatively low elevation (10, 013 ft) allow you to enjoy sensation panoramas while looking down over Estes Park. As you will be climbing on an incline, this 3-mile trail is a moderate hike so be prepared to sweat a little.
Nymph, Dream and Emerald Lake Trail
Follow signs from Bear Lake leading to Nymph, Dream and Emerald Lakes, and see this dazzling trio. The first stop is Nymph Lake, small and speckled with pond lilies, and then onto Dream Lake, most likely named after its otherworldly beauty. Finally, you will arrive at Emerald Lake, a vision against a rocky landscape, framed between Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain. This well-marked, 3.6-mile trail takes about 2-3 hours round trip and is the most popular trail in the park.
One day in Rocky Mountain National Park is not enough for to truly appreciate the beauty of its scenery, but if you’re staying at one of the beautiful vacation rentals in Colorado, hopefully you’ll have the opportunity to go at least once. Stop by a visitor’s center and talk to a park ranger about local wildlife, and cross your fingers not to run into any lions, tigers or bears (oh my!). Although there are no tigers in the park, you can expect to make a few furry friends (don’t worry, usually harmless chipmunks and squirrels). One thing is guaranteed: you will come back with some truly amazing photos to show your friends. Though, truth be told, they can never compare to experiencing the real deal!
About Roxanne Bichard: a regular contributor to the Luxury Retreats travel blog, Roxanne is currently spending a semester abroad in Provence, France. An active traveler, Roxanne makes sure to enjoy the great outdoors on every trip, from the deserts of Africa to Northern Canada.