There are 58 mountain peaks in Colorado that reach further than 14,000 feet into the air. Most are concentrated in Colorado’s western slopes, but there are towering peaks scattered along the Rocky Mountain ranges. When Taylor moved to Colorado, she decided to tackle 10 before the end of the calendar year. To start the task, she and I took a day hike to the tops of Grays and Torreys Peaks.
An early start helps ensure favorable weather while hiking up and back down any 14’er, so Taylor and I left Denver with our dog Maria and headed for the Grays Peak Trailhead at 4:20AM. Roughly an hour later, we exited Interstate 70 and began to climb Stephen’s Gulch Road. The two mile road is steep, rocky, and narrow at times, but we parked at the trailhead after Taylor skillfully maneuvered the dark, bumpy road.
Sunrise colored the sky deep purple as we crossed the footbridge spanning Stephen’s Gulch and began our first journey to 14,000 feet. From the trailhead to the summit, Grays Peak Trail is 3.5 miles long with 3,000 feet of elevation gain. Nearly every step we took after the footbridge was a step up, but every step was filled with beautiful sights.
As the sun erupted over the McClellan Mountain Ridgeline, wildflower colors burst from the grassy sides of Grays Trail. Reds, pinks, and lavenders lay among numerous white and yellow patches on a lush, green canvas for over two miles of the trail. Quayle creek cuts through the vegetation and its source marks the beginning of a different landscape.
The ascent routes to the summits were unmistakable as Taylor and I climbed into fields of broken and strewn rocks. The path was littered with hikers, but the traffic could not affect their majesty against the blue morning sky.
Thankfully, the traffic didn’t affect several snow white mountain goats either. A watchful mother, several fluffy little ones, and a few distant loners made appearances as we climbed higher looking for a suitable place to have ‘lunch’ at 8:30 AM.
After a short break, one half mile of switchbacks through the mountain’s shed rocks led us to the payoff we’d been anticipating. The top of Grays Peak is a platform where hikers were relaxing, chatting, taking photos, and gazing over the vast range of Earth.
After marveling for ourselves and determining that Keystone was the visible ski area, Taylor and I began descending to the saddle between Grays and Torreys to approach our second peak of the day. A 500 foot ascent from the saddle led to the more pointed Torreys Peak.
Our first experience taking the dog down steep slopes was a bit difficult, because she gets anxious around heights. A pulling dog does not mix well with a trail littered with large stones and loose gravel. We made the descent more quickly than we should have, but we made it safely.
It took us roughly an hour to go from Gray's peak to the top of Torrey's. The climb to the top of Torreys was a bit more crowded and much more steep. The switchbacks were shorter and more narrow. Everyone on the trail was moving at the slowest pace of the day.
When we got to the top, weary hikers crowded at the area soaking in their accomplishment and the warm sunshine. We sat and soaked in the views until the wind made Taylor chilly. We considered taking a class three trail back to Grays Peak Trail, but we quickly reconsidered while watching climbers traverse the spiny and icy path.
The hike down Torrey's Peak Trail leads across Grays and Torreys Saddle and across the eastern face of Grays before tying back into Grays Peak Trailhead. A small patch of slushy ice and the rocky descent into the Stephen’s Gulch were the last difficult segments of our day.
In the noon sun, the fields of flowers, grasses, and shrubs of the gulch were even more vivid than they had been that morning. Taylor and I bubbled with wonderment and pride as we discussed the beauty and difficulty of our first two 14’ers.
Road tripping out to Yellowstone National Park was a last minute decision. Thanks to crazy weather, our Fourth of July plans were changed several times just a week before we left. We decided on Yellowstone National Park and it’s Thorofare Trail for our first ever backpacking trip thanks to its fishing accessibility and it being free of snow. You can read all about it in this separate blog post here!
Since most of our trip was spent in the backcountry, we didn’t really plan for anything outside of that - and we did a lot of planning (you can read about it all here.) When our backpacking trip was shortened by two days, we decided to wing it and drive through as much of the park as we could.
We quickly discovered the National Park’s campsites were all booked up for the Fourth of July holiday, so we had to find a place to stay each night, and most nights we also wanted a hot meal. Other nights, we ate our Mary Jane’s dehydrated foods, but we only had a few leftover from the trail. It wasn't easy every night, but we managed to find some pretty awesome spots along our route.
This post will lay out how we found a place to lay our head every night and the awesome spots we stumbled upon to get some grub!
Our first night off the trail, we headed out the east entrance of the park to Cody, Wyoming. It was 53 miles from the park entrance to the town center. When we arrived in town, we learned that we had missed the 100th annual Cody Rodeo Fourth of July show. It was disappointing, but we were hungry anyways so we kept driving and found Buffalo Bill’s Irma Hotel and Restaurant.
This site, since remodeled, was put on the national historic registry of sites due to its influence on the town and early settlers. We had no idea about this until we were inside, so it was a wonderful find, and the burgers weren’t bad either!
After we got our fill, we tried to find a hotel in town, but there were no vacancies for almost 100 miles due to the rodeo and holiday. We were slightly prepared for this by having our car camping rig in the back of my car. We didn’t know, though, was that it would be difficult to find a campsite between Cody and the park or how spotty cell phone service would be.
Luckily, while we were driving down highway 14, we noticed the Four Bears Bureau of Land Management site. We quickly pulled over and parked the car for the night. When we woke up the next morning, we had stunning views of the surrounding mountains and were very happy to discover a restroom - a rare find at most sites like this!
Before entering the park and before losing cell service again, we looked at the park map and decided we could make it all the way through to the Mammoth Hot Spring area and stay in Bozeman, Montana. We went to Hotels.com and quickly found a cheap room for the night at the Lewis and Clark Motel in Three Forks.
After a full day inside the National Park that started with a close encounter with a bison and ended at Mammoth Hot Springs, we started the more than 85 mile drive to our hotel. We could not have made it without a stop for dinner at the Emigrant Outpost.
It turns out that small town restaurants in Montana either completely shut down or stop serving food close to dark. We pulled into several different parking lots, but nearly everything was closed. We finally found Emigrant Outpost, outside of a town called Pray, and they were only serving fried foods, but beggars can’t be choosers. We enjoyed our wings and beers, and for the first time in almost a week, we were able to shower and lie down in an actual bed.
There wasn’t much to The Lewis and Clark Motel , and it actually had nothing to do with Lewis and Clark, but it served all of our needs. Including a warm shower, with a nice little heat lamp if I might add, a clean bed, and some pastries and coffee in the lobby. We woke up refreshed and ready for another full day.
We got on the road hungry and decided to check out what Bozeman had to offer. We found Main Street and Stuffed Crepes and Waffles. We sat at a sidewalk table and enjoyed our crepes and coffee before continuing the drive back into the park. We were going the same way we had come the night before.
After a full day of geysers, hot springs, and mud pots we, again, found no open campsites inside the park. We did find out that the price of a room for the night at the Old Faithful Inn was $450!! After politely declining their offer, we cooked one of our dehydrated dinners and drove out the west entrance to West Yellowstone, Idaho.
We found a campsite on freecampsites.net at the Targhee Creek Trailhead. It was quick and easy to find, but there were lots of other cars parked for the night. When we found an open spot, we sat outside the car for a while to admire the incredible amount of stars we could see. We hopped back in the car camper for some sleep after marveling at our night lights.
We woke up ready for our last day in Yellowstone. All we had left to see was an Old Faithful eruption, so we were in no rush. We stopped right outside the park in the town of West Yellowstone for a hearty breakfast at Old Town Cafe.
After our meal, we drove through Yellowstone National Park one last time and saw the crown jewel erupt. It was the perfect ending to our trip, and even though we had found great places to eat and sleep, we were ready to be home and sleep in our own beds!
Talkin' 'bout Tacos:
I'm Taylor, aka Tacos! I am sharing my journeys and experiences from across the world hoping to inspire travel and adventure in all who read!