Roaming About

A Life Less Ordinary

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

The third weekend was the charm. On the first one, we arrived at our current house sit in Colorado and spent time with the owners and their dog. On the second one, it was raining and cold. And, the fourth one is when we are leaving again. So, it was all or nothing on that third weekend. The weather predictions for the Estes Park region were alright, we packed Zesty the camper, loaded up Oscar the dog, and headed north on Saturday morning. From the moment we left the house, the scenery opened up and entertained.

As in many national parks, dogs are not allowed on any of the trails in Rocky Mountain NP, so it was eminent that we gave Oscar – who is used to a lot of exercise – a decent walk, before hitting the scenic road. In the town of Estes Park, we planned to walk him around the lake on leash. Before we arrived at the water’s edge, we stumbled upon a dog park. Even better! He ran around, chased a couple of dogs and, once he found a ball, happily played fetch for a while. By the time we had walked back to the van, he was panting hard.

We chose the northern approach to Trail Ridge Road, the scenic drive across the Rockies. By doing so, we hoped to avoid the crowds, find an unoccupied picnic table at Endovalley for lunch, and give Oscar a bit more exercise. The other scenic road, a one-way dirt track and the original park road called Old Fall River Road, had just been closed for the season. Hikers, bikers and dogs were still welcome, so it was the perfect place for a walk in the mountains without having to worry about cars. An hour later, we were all out of breath and ready for lunch. In Oscar’s case, a comfortable nap on his bed in the camper was all he desired when we continued our drive.

Once we reached Trail Ridge Road, we joined the ranks of car traffic. Nobody was in a hurry, which was fine by us. Despite the crowds on this – probably – last fall weekend the road remained open, we managed to find a parking spot wherever we stopped to take in the views or go for a short walk.

Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous paved road in the United States, reaching an elevation of 12,183 feet. It travels through three ecosystems: montane (below 9000ft), subalpine (9000 – 11,400ft) and alpine (above 11,400ft). Why drive all the way to the arctic when the same scenery and climate can be found in Colorado? The drive and surroundings were unique and spectacular, from the comfort of our van. Once outside, it was freezing cold. We skidded over snowy paths and battled against the strong winds.

I had looked forward to walk the 1-mile tundra trail, on the top of the world, to see if it reminded me of Northern Alaska. Part of it did, but most of the moss and minuscule plants were covered with snow. We carefully made our way over the white mass. I had to take it easy, because of the slippery trail, the freezing cold, and the high altitude. Two hats, a winter coat, two pairs of socks and hiking shoes did not prepare us for the icy wind slashing our face and bodies. The wind chill must have been well below zero. Breathing when walking uphill was treacherous. The scenery was awe-inspiring, but the temperature had us turn around halfway and slide back to the camper as quickly as we dared.

On the other, western, side of the park, we made a few more stops. We glanced at the lava rocks, took Oscar for a short walk at the Alpine Visitor Center (he loves snow!), observed the Continental Divide at Milner Pass, and contemplated investigating Holswarth Historic Site.

It would have been interesting to see how the first settlers lived in this area, but we decided to press on, since it was getting late. We kept our eyes peeled for elk and other wildlife in the meadows, but luck was not on our side.  We had heard a lot of hype about the bugling of the elk, this time of the year, but somehow, it all passed us by. Dusk and dawn are probably better times to witness this event.

By 5pm, we parked at an easy-to-find free campsite near Stillwater Pass in Arapaho National Forest. Right in time for a drink. Once the gun-toting individuals went home in their big trucks, peace returned to the forest and we had an enjoyable night. Partly thanks to our heater, which now works at high elevations, after we installed a high-altitude pump during a freak snowstorm on Friday afternoon.

On Sunday, Mark and I went for a short walk to Adam’s Falls, back in the national park. Oscar waited for our return in the camper and happily joined us afterwards to check out Grand Lake.

The rest of the morning was spent in the Grand Lake Recreation Area, where we roamed the woods with no leash law. We crisscrossed over different paths, progress made difficult by logging equipment and fallen trees. It was a fun adventure nevertheless. After eating our sandwiches for lunch, we were finally rewarded with a wildlife sighting. A gracious over-sized fox with fluffy tail, strolled by, following one of the trails. And, you could have guessed it. That was the one and only time I did not have my camera on me.

The drive home took a few hours, involved a lot of climbing and descending, and brought us through more beautiful landscapes, from lakes to mountain peaks, to green forests and snowy slopes. The whole weekend was a pleasure for the eyes!

Extra Info about Rocky Mountain National Park:

  • Entrance fee is $20 per vehicle. We didn’t pay anything, since we have an annual NP pass.
  • Dogs are only allowed in developed areas (parking lots, roads, campgrounds)
  • At this time of the year (October) many of the museums, buildings and roads had been closed for the winter already. They re-open late spring or summer.
  • Part of Trail Ridge Road (the middle and highest section) closes for the winter as well.
  • At high elevations (above 9000ft), it gets very windy and cold, so be prepared with warm clothing and snow-proof shoes.

Rocky Mountain National Park map

Have you ever been to Rocky Mountain National Park? To Alaska? Or other arctic areas?

55 Comments

  1. This looks gorgeous, if chilly!
    Oscar looks incredibly happy too.

    • The scenery is quite special and wonderful, but the temperature was way too cold for us. Being in the car when driving through suited us just fine. 🙂 Maybe summer is a better time to visit?

  2. I love this scenery Liesbet and what a treat to spend some time here. We are so used to wearing thermal layers in Winter that the cold would not put me off. Your photographs are beautiful and under the blue skies everything looks so clear. Oscar looks very happy and seems a very sweet boy ☺💖 xxx

    • We love blue skies, Xenia, so we were very happy to have some that particular weekend. The following Monday, 15cm of snow was covering the camper again, but these last few days have been nice as well. We are OK wearing layers for a little while, but we didn’t expect to do so the whole period we were here. 🙂

  3. I love these photos, Liesbet. The blue skies are absolutely stunning. Oscar is adorable and looks very happy. I envision pets of all kinds leaving your and Mark’s house/pet sitters profile page open for their humans to discover. Wise move on their part!

    • Oscar is a very happy pup, Donna and it is great to take him on adventures with us. A change of scenery to go walking and hiking pleases all of us. He loves the snow and the cold more than us, though. His favorite things, besides burying the ball in it and then digging it back up, is shovel the snow with his nose and then roll in it. 🙂

  4. During one of our visits we really lucked out and saw a ton of wildlife; from Pika on the tundra trail, to moose in Grand Lake, and elk and big horn sheep along the way. It was an amazing day. Love that scenery!

    • I do think you have to be lucky (and visit at the right time of the day) to see wildlife in most of these parks. Your encounters in RMNP sound amazing, Ingrid. Of all the spotting, I would have really enjoyed to see the bighorn sheep.

  5. Wow! That’s some amazing weekend you guys had . . . I can feel the cold all the way over here!

    • Haha. I hope it is warmer in the Pacific Northwest, Stephanie. This country has so much to offer when it comes to amazing scenery, doesn’t it? We are leaving on Saturday and hoping to leave the cold behind. 🙂

  6. The scenery is magnificent! Most of my trips to and through Colorado have been without snow but once we drive through during a late spring snow storm. Beautiful, but as someone who has very little experience with the white stuff, is was sort of scary.

    Oscar is gorgeous!

    Looking forward to your arrival in sunny San Diego!

    • Haha, Janis. That is funny that snow fall would be a scary experience. But, when you are used to a Southern Californian climate, I could see this being a bit “confrontational”. 🙂 We like to look at the white stuff. It is pretty, especially from the comfort of a heated car or van. Are we wimps or what? Oscar is a very sweet, fluffy and photogenic dog! See you in a little while…

  7. Certainly stunning scenery, Oscar is a handsome boy and looks very happy to be out exploring it. You were brave to venture out in the arctic conditions!

  8. Oh that scenery is stunning and we would love to do the walking tracks as well. One day we will get there, and Oscar looks like a lot of fun.

    • You will get there, Gavin! And, we hope to return one day as well, to do some hiking inside the park. There are many fantastic trails, stunning lakes and picturesque, yet quiet viewpoints to be discovered. Having a dog – temporarily or not – is always fun. 🙂

  9. Interesting – I remember a lot of that from our trip last year, though being August it was without the snow except for patches at the top of Trail Ridge Road. It looks very pretty the way you saw it, and probably much less crowded, but brrrrr!

    • Yep. Brrr… When we were driving through and braving the icy winds, I often wondered how this park is like during the summer. The brochures say that spring and fall are the most crowded times, but I tend to believe summer must be peak season, and the peaks are still beautiful. 🙂

  10. Oscar sure looks like he had a great time. You guys certainly make sure the dogs you take care of get plenty of exercise. Love the picture of him next to the bear statue.

    • It was so funny, Ellen. We asked Oscar to sit down and his paws basically took on the exact position of the bear’s! 🙂

      We try to take the dogs we sit with us everywhere we go, if they so desire (like Oscar – some other dogs prefer to be home). So far, we are successful in that they are never or rarely left alone at home. A dog is a (wo)man’s best friend, right, and who would not like to have a friend at his/her side all the time?

  11. OMG I want to live in this blog post. I traveled to that neck of the woods once along time ago (1993) but sadly was not carrying a camera at that time. Your pictures bring back such good memories…and really, even better than the memories I have because it was mostly overcast when we visited there. We did not get to relish the landscapes against the deep blue sky that you enjoyed. Life on the sea has made me miss the mountains big time and this post even more so. I have been enjoying a bit of mountain travel in Northern Vietnam, but although glorious and green making me say ‘wow’ at every turn, nothing beats the Rocky Mountains (although admittedly, I’ve never seen the Himalayas and I bet they do a pretty good job…on the list). Anyhow, I know you are cold, but I think that these are your most glorious pictures of your adventures on Roaming About. Big Hug from Hanoi.

    • Wow, Lisa. I didn’t realize you had visited RMNP way back when. You’d love a return visit, with your camera, of course. Funny thing is that I have been thinking about the ocean lately, and how it has been a while since we have seen it. I’m starting to miss the water, funny enough. We always seem to crave what we don’t have at the moment. Once in San Diego, we will get our fill of that, I assume.

      One thing the mountains offer that Hanoi certainly doesn’t is peace, quiet and solitude. 🙂 Enjoy the city, and the lake area, and the sights over there. I do hope you get to the Himalayas one day. If not on this trip, in the near future. Maybe after you have circumnavigated, you can fly to Nepal to celebrate. Will you return to the boat in two weeks, when Fabio is back, or travel a bit beyond that?

      • We indeed crave what we don’t have. I’m desperate for some snow ❄️. I am happy that you’ll have your fill of 🌊 in San Diego soon. Love that place.

        I am back on the boat on October 30. Making my way back toward Bangkok at the moment to meet up with my Mom and sis who will arrive there on 18 Oct.

        • Glad to read that your family is coming out and joining you for some of your overland adventures, Lisa. We are warming up a little bit here in Utah, where the days are pleasant and the nights around freezing. So happy with the heater in our camper. 🙂

  12. I have been to this park and remember snow on some of the high passes even earlier in the year. And I’ll never forget an October hike we did a few years ago when the snow was already up to our knees! What a great weekend trip even with the very cold temperatures. The camper looks very cozy (at least for dogs!), and I’m happy the Colorado skies gave you at least one weekend of their brilliant blueness. This is the first fall in a while that I haven’t made it to CO to visit our son, and your post is reminding me of what I am missing. 🙁

    • I had a feeling that the peaks always have some snow on it, but the paths of the tundra are probably snow-free in the summer and a joy to walk. In October it is probably always hit or miss with the weather at the altitude of RMNP. We lucked out being able to drive Trail Ridge Road before it closes for the winter. Knee-deep snow sounds like a challenge! We did (and do) enjoy those blue skies.

      I’m sorry you couldn’t join your son here this fall, Lexie. We might have been able to meet up after all… One day! Did you skip the CO visit because of your trip to Europe, or the possibility to visit Lisa in SE Asia?

      • Mostly because of our trip and some people visiting here. Heard from Lisa yesterday that our meet-up won’t work because her family is arriving – bummer!

        • Bummer indeed that you won’t get to travel with her. But, I guess it is good that her sister finally made up her mind. I”m sure you’ll catch up with her somewhere else one day. Maybe you can go for a visit on Amandla, or help crew when they cross the Indian Ocean. That is, if you want some REAL excitement. 🙂

  13. Oscar likes to pose for pictures it seems. Adorable.

    living in/near the mountains almost all my life, it still surprises me how fast winter descends. I’ve spent a few winter camps in the high Uinta mountains and wished I had been smarter. Once you get cold, it is nearly impossible to not be.

    This trip looks amazing though. I’m glad you got to get out and about.

    • Living in the mountains has its charms and beautiful views. Lazy, “flatlander” me is even getting used to climbing on every walk. But, the summer season is just not long enough to even think about ever settling in an area like this. It would have to be the mountains in the tropics, and then, I have some sea views as well. 🙂

  14. Oh my gosh, your photos are breathtaking, and I can’t believe all that snow fell! Oscar is a cutie pie! The closest I have been to the Rocky Mountains was to fly over them on my way to Baltimore a few years ago. It is a vast mountain range and area. Hans and I hope to visit someday!

    • Flying over the Rockies must be much warmer than exploring them in fall. 🙂 And, if the skies are clear, the views are spectacular as well. I hope you both get to visit this area. This part of Colorado is beautiful. Mark still thinks nothing has beaten Yosemite, though. Maybe when we visit some national parks in Utah, he will change his mind…

  15. I’ve been to Banff, but in August. I had no idea Colorado had a road that went that high. Thank you for sharing all those beautiful pictures! And who needs to see the fox when we can look at adorable Oscar–what a sweetie.

    • We had no idea about Rocky Mountains NP, or the high road, before we were house sitting here. I”m glad we made it up there. It might be comparable to and as beautiful as Banff in Canada. That one is high on our list as well. 🙂 Oscar is giving you a wag in return for that nice compliment, Tamara!

  16. What an adventure for all of you including Zesty! Look at all that snow. At that kind of elevation no wonder the windchill felt below zero. Such beautiful scenery and it reminds me so much of the Canadian Rockies. Isn’t that the way that when something like a fox is in front of you one’s camera has decided to have a wee break. Ah well at least you have the wonderful memory. Oscar looks like the sweetest pup who enjoyed his adventure immensely.

    • I think this park is pretty similar to the Canadian Rockies, Sue, which I hope to visit extensively one of these years. The fox sighting does provide a wonderful memory and so does pet sitting Oscar. We are back on the road now, without any dogs, and doing an amazing National Park tour in Utah! 🙂

  17. What a wonderful place, Liesbet. If I was told that I had to move to the U.S.A and was able to choose where to live, Colorado is the place I’d choose. All that clean fresh air and mountains and fur trees and hot chocolate. I hope there’s hot chocolate. You’re photography is amazing, and I’m so glad Oscar found a dog park and had a good time as well.

    • Thanks, Hugh! Based on what I know about you (from reading your blog – post and comments – and the comments here, I think you are right about Colorado being the state for you! The scenery is spectacular on top of everything you mention. And, your pups would love the walks here as well. 🙂 Not sure about hot chocolate… We have been making tea three times a day. But, if I had some pure Belgian chocolate, I would have loved to make some hot chocolate with it!

      • We’re lucky enough to be so close to Belgium that we always see Belgium chocolate in the shops. Liesbet. Especially so near Christmas time. 🎄

        • Enjoy! I only go back to Belgium once a year at the most and bring back a bunch to the US, especially the extra dark chocolate chips to make cookies with, but we have been out for a while. 🙁

  18. What a beautiful trip! Hubs and I want to do a very similar trip. May need to wait until next year with a little less snow. May I ask the make/model of your travel van? Hubs and I are investigating them and trying to decide if that’s the next purchase for the voyage. We, too, want to be able to take our fur baby, Roxy, hop in an easy to maneuver rig, and hit the road. I don’t need a lot of space, just a place to chill the wine, keep the salami refrigerated, and pop some popcorn! Are you loving yours? Thanks for a beautiful and motivational post! ~ Lynn

    • Thanks for visiting and commenting, Lynn! For us, summer would be the perfect time to visit Colorado and its mountains. But, we heard that fall is usually very pleasant as well. Just not this year. 🙂

      We are loving our camper van. It is a 2004 Sprinter Westfalia (Westy in short) that is very compact, but has everything one needs, including a fridge, generator, AC and microwave. 🙂 It will be tough to find another one like ours, since only 250 were imported from Germany in 2005. But, if you keep an eye on them, they do come up for sale.

      We don’t have our own dogs yet (used to have two fantastic Australian Shepherd mixes, who sadly passed away years ago), but enjoy taking the dogs we pet sit on adventures. If they (and their owners) are up for it…

  19. Hi Liesbet! BRRRRRRR….your photos are fabulous and it looks like you had fun but I could never handle that cold again if I can help it. Thom and I lived in Colorado for about 6 years shortly after we were married…but we were both from Southern California and every single winter it seemed to get colder and colder. We both decided after that time that we HAD to live in a place that is warm and have never regretted it a bit. You’ll probably find the weather a tad warm when you get to California but IMHO it is perfect right now. Looking forward to seeing you soon! ~Kathy

    • I totally understand what you are saying, Kathy! We were “promised” a pleasant fall in Colorado and did not expect freezing temperatures and snow! Mark and I lived in the tropics for a decade and our bodies can’t stand the cold. We spent one winter in New England when we first sold our sailboat (in Tahiti) and drove across the country to Northern California for the second winter. And, even that was too cold, so we are really looking forward to our third winter in the US being in San Diego. I don’t think we will find the weather there too warm. At all! 🙂 Yes, looking forward to meeting you and Thom soon as well!

  20. Another spectacular adventure Liesbet. The scenery is gorgeous, and hard to imagine how cold it is there already. Maybe it had you longing back for New Mexico? 🙂 x

  21. Lots of great photos and info, Liesbet. I’ve been to a few Arctic-like sites, but never to Alaska. My destinations were Yellowknife, Innuvik, and Whitehorse. Of the three, Whitehorse was my favourite – stunningly gorgeous. Yellowknife was fun – I went dog-sledding. And Innuvik was incredibly remote and therefore interesting.

    • I have been to Whitehorse as well (on the way to Alaska). Innuvik sounds intriguing. I assume it is Inuit country, just like Nunavut. I’d love to visit those areas one of these years, but not even sure whether you can drive there… Dog-sledding sounds pretty cool as well, Karen!

  22. It’s funny — having spent most of my life in mountainous, snowy parts of northern British Columbia in Canada, I much prefer the cold to the heat. To me, snow is wonderful, both because of its beauty and also because I love skiing.

    I have travelled through the American Rocky Mountains in Colorado and Montana (although not to the park you were in), and throughout the Canadian Rockies many times. I’ve also been to Alaska, the Yukon Territories, and a small section of the Northwest Territories.

    When you come to Canada, you will have to visit Banff and Lake Louise, then travel the Icefields Parkway to Jasper. The scenery is fantastic. Do it in the summertime to avoid snow 😉

    Jude

    • Wow, Jude, you have been all over in the “arctic” and cold regions. I agree it is very beautiful there and another benefit is that the crowds are less in winter time. We have heard a lot of amazing things about Banff and its surroundings and will have to make our way up there one of these summers. The business of the high season might scare us off, though. You have to love the cold and the skiing, if you enjoy visiting or living in these areas, I’m sure. Just not us. 🙂

  23. I grew up in the far north, only 300 miles from Alaska, so the cold isn’t my favourite thing. It looks absolutely beautiful there, though.

    And what a gorgeous dog! Hopefully his temperament matched his looks.

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