Every time I have been to the park I hav been with a different friend, family member, or hiking partner to explore this rugged wilderness with, and every time I am left feeling thankful and blessed to be so close to some place so special.
Living in Denver gives me many opportunities to see truly incredible places near home, and Estes Park, where Rocky Mountain National Park is located, is one of those magical places. Sadly, I don’t come here enough, but when I do, it is a special occasion.
There are many ways to travel throughout the park - by car, bus, foot, bike, or even horseback, I am going to lay out the ways I have traversed through the park and give some insider recommendations!
Know Before You Go:
New in 2020 and remaining through 2021 is a permit system to enter the park. You must have a timed entry permit to make it through the Ranger's gates.
Permits can be purchased, here: https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/timed-entry-permit-system.htm
Summer Vs. Winter
Rocky Mountain National Park is open year round from the east side, or Estes Park entrances, but certain roads close at the start of winter and the entrances from Grand Lake become far less in the winter. This includes leading up to The Alpine Visitors Center, which is also closed in winter. (It took me seven trips to the park to time make it there!)
I personally do not think you can go wrong in either season, but one time of the year definitely has more open and accessible - and that would be summer.
To handle the influx of people in the summer, there are more visitors centers and restrooms open, and the towns are bustling with people and open shops. It's a plus and minus to have people and operating businesses, but its nice when you are with other tourists just bumping around!
Things really pick up after Memorial Day and stay busy through August. I personally like May (if you are okay with the chill!)
Driving Around The Park:
The easiest way to the most of the park is drive yourself! There is a bus you can take from point to point but I have never personally ridden.
I recommend starting from Estes Park and working over towards Grand Lake, or even turning around at The Alpine Visitors Center or at the winter gate of Highway 34. There is a lot more to do near Estes Park, and as of 2020 the wildfires have really closed off the western park of the park.
I usually just drive clockwise around Highways 36 and Highway 34 and only one time did I make it up the road during the right season to go to The Alpine Visitor Center.
Watch more from the time I drove my grandparents through the park! This is the only time I have ever drive all the way through to the Grand Lake side.
Hikes I Have Been On Inside The Park:
I say “trail”, because we would find out that we were not following the trail at all! Instead, we were just following another group's shoeprints in the snow. We knew that the lake is at the top of the hill, so we kept trekking and eventually made it to our destination and back onto the proper trail.
Bear, Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes
We had intentions to hike all day and see as much as we could, but an afternoon storm drove us back to the trailhead just after noon.
At Loch Lake, the winds were released, and we found ourselves in a tornado of whipping gusts. It didn't stop us from strapping on our skates and trying out the ice. The ice was extremely bumpy, because the water froze in place as the wind pushed it into waves. Needless to say, it was difficult to skate on, and compared to my friend Natalie who was a collegiate hockey player, I was an embarrassment! We let the wind push us around the ice until we nearly froze. Then, we took off our skates and quickly made it back to our cars.
Each of my experiences inside the park has been such an adventure, and I cannot wait to go back and explore even more. The park has so much more hiding inside its thousands of protected acres, and I cannot wait to see what I discover next time!
See more from Colorado's other National Parks on my "Parks Page"
The Four Pass Loop is a 26-mile roundtrip hike that entails almost 8,000 feet of elevation gain, passes two lakes, three “14’ers”, and is one of the most scenic places in the entire state of Colorado.
We completed the loop the first weekend of August 2021, and it took us four days and three nights to make it all the way around.
We decided to start our hike from Crested Butte instead of the more traditional route from Aspen, because coming from Maroon Lake near Aspen requires a parking permit or a shuttle ride up to the trailhead.
We really didn’t want to do either, so we decided to add a few extra miles and start form The West Maroon Trailhead outside of Crested Butte.
Day One: West Maroon TH over Frigid Air Pass
(Miles 0 - 7.5)
We could tell things would be a bit different from here on out. The trail became more rocky, and the color of the rocks changed to a deep red. Everything was different than the West Maroon trail we had been on earlier. We could see miles ahead to where we needed to go, but it was gradual, so it wasn’t too daunting.
Frigid Air Pass:
Frigid Air Pass wasn’t the most difficult, but none of the four passes would be easy. I didn’t know this yet. At this point, my friends had gotten quite a far distance ahead of me. I could still see them, but they were pretty much at the top of the pass while I was taking a break and just about ready to start from the bottom.
We had plenty of time before the sun went down to cook dinner, set up our tents, and sit around the campfire for a little while!
Day Two: Trailrider Pass to Snowmass Lake
(Miles 7.5 -15)
We got a bit of a later start than anticipated, and were ready to go at 9 a.m. Our second day on the trail would be all-around wonderful. The trail was fairly gradual at the start, and we had plenty of time to prepare ourselves for the steepness of the second pass.
Just like the day before, my friends got way ahead of me hiking up the trail. They, again, were waiting for me at the top of the pass. This time, we could see down onto Snowmass Lake when we hiked over the pass, and it was remarkable.
I couldn’t believe how different the view was from this pass compared to the last. As beautiful as the view was, I didn’t sit there to enjoy it long. I knew we would continue to have the view for the entire hike down the mountain’s face, so we quickly started hiking again.
Where the trip took a turn...
I walked down to Snowmass Lake right as the sun was starting to set. I probably had about 20 or 30 minutes before the sun went behind the mountains. It gave me enough time to cook dinner, filter water, and find a campsite.
Snowmass Lake requires camping in designated areas which made finding a place to camp a bit difficult. Luckily, a nice group made room for me and my friend who had not yet arrived.
Day Three: Buckskin Pass to Crater Lake
(Miles 15 - 24)
Our alarms went off at 5:00 a.m. sharp, and we were instantly up and moving. We wanted to meet up with the couple camping one and a half miles down the trail before they took off, so we were hiking by 6:30.
We hit the trail without any breakfast to rush to our friends, and this lead to a not-so-great morning.
The first portion of our day was a climb over Buckskin Pass. This was another 2,000 foot climb in less than two miles. It was incredibly difficult. This part of the trail was the most difficult for me. I struggled very much. I cannot deny that I wanted to quit.
I lost my mental stronghold...
I made it over the pass and felt great by the time I reached the top. It felt like I could keep hiking the rest of the day, so I did not give up. I did not quit, and I kept pushing to Crater Lake after a nice, long stop.
My one girlfriend, who I had met at Snowmass Lake the night before, hiked out and took the shuttle. That was always her plan. She only joined for the one night, because she lives in the area and can do the rest of the trail any other time.
We said goodbye, and the couple and I kept going around the lake. Although I was feeling great, this turned out to be another rough portion of our trip.
We took a wrong turn...
When we made it back down, we regrouped and established a goal that we would try to reach to make camp. My friends went on ahead at their much faster pace, and I planned to meet them there.
When I got to the point on the map where I was supposed to meet my friends, nearly an hour after I had last seen them, I started calling out their names, and they came running. They had just found camp and were coming down the trail to help me. We embraced and quickly unloaded my gear at camp. We ate, hung our bear bags, and went to bed before 8:00 p.m.
Day Four: West Maroon Pass to Crested Butte
This last morning, we woke up with a completely different attitude than we’d had on any other day, because we only had a few miles to go. Plus, we knew what the second half of the trail held in store for us. We packed up, quickly made it up the valley in which we were camping, and approached West Maroon Pass.
It was an emotional journey. The last few miles back to my car felt like a blur. I couldn’t stop thinking about how humbled I felt to be trekking by myself and rounding out the last few miles of a 30 mile hike.
When I arrived back at the trailhead, I cried some more.
Most were tears of happiness and disbelief, but I was also sad, because my friends had driven into town.
See more from my other backpacking trips:
Camping inside The Great Sand Dunes National Park
My First Solo Backpacking Trip in Medicine Bow, Wyoming
John and I have had the incredible pleasure of traveling to Ireland twice now. The first time we came to Ireland, we celebrated New Year’s Eve 2017. Our second time, we visited in July of 2021 for a wedding.
Neither trips were centered around exploring Dublin, but we made the most of our short time in the beautiful capital city on both trips.
Here are some places we recommend:
To get an even older look into Irish culture, you can see one of the country’s most prized possessions. The Book of Kells was written circa 800 AD and is now held inside Trinity College in Dublin. The Book of Kells is an elaborate transcript of the first four gospels of the New Testament of The Bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This book dates back to 800 AD. It is intricately crafted and beautiful to see. It really gives a good look into the importance of the Catholic Church in Ireland.
This church was built in 1095, and because of its natural construction, has managed to preserve the dead bodies stored inside. The mummies date back over 800 years. We tried to visit on our last trip, but the church closes for lunch from 12-2 in the summer, so we missed them!
Another thing we missed was The National Leprechaun Museum, because they are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. This museum was highly recommended by a local who said, “the museum makes you feel like you yourself are a leprechaun, and that everything around you is gigantic!”
Read about the other places we recommend visiting in Ireland:
Things to do in County Kerry
Killarney National Park
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.