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I have wanted to go to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve for a few years. It was more fun than I would have thought thanks to my daughter-in-law who recommended we rent sleds for the dunes. Who knew you could rent sleds and “sand” boards and go sledding on the sand?
This is a relatively new national park (2004) and is only a few hours drive from Colorado Springs. For me the drive down was well worth it. We rented our sleds at the Oasis store just outside of the park entrance.
The dunes look big close up. As you are driving to them, they look small in comparison to the mountains. Even the mountains look small from a distance. Once you are on the dunes and realize just how big the dunes are it is startling. This is the biggest dune field in North America.
It took a while to hike out to a good spot for our sledding adventure.
We had good instructions; more wax makes the board go fast. Going downhill was fun. The hard part of the day was walking back up hill after the downhill run. Too bad there was no ski lift for us.
A side benefit was that it was not too hot. The sand, according to the NPS, is much hotter than the air. Since it was cooler outside the sand was not too hot to touch. We know as we all fell off of our sleds.
The entrance to the dunes is over Medano Creek that apparently runs right across the only way to the dunes. We did not have to cross the creek; it was dried up in August. It would have been a nice relief to our feet to wade through the creek on the way back.
Traveling during COVID
It has been a while since I was on an airplane, okay, early in March. I remember that after September 11, 2001, I took a business flight right after the skies re-opened. I was flying to Denver from Boston and saw a lot of changes mainly with security. The military was out in force at Logan and hardly anyone was flying. At the gate there was a large collection of pocket knives and nail clippers that travelers were still used to carrying on board. The airport in Denver after 9-11 was almost deserted. More people were waiting to get us through security on the return trip than we saw going through security.
In the same way, we experienced several changes on our flight in August to Denver. Everyone was wearing a mask and the Public Address system talked about cleaning. Markers were on the floor to give us a distance marking. Everyone appeared to do their best, although at times (think trains in the Denver airport) circumstances do not allow for the distances being asked for. We were happy not all seats in our row on the airplane were filled. It was a good experience and I again felt safe flying.
I did fly direct to Denver and then drive to Colorado Springs to avoid more time in airports. I will look to fly again directly as much as possible. We were handed sanitizer for the seat and given a beverage and a snack in a plastic bag along with more sanitizer. I appreciate the front line workers at the airline and the airport. You are all coming into contact with a lot of us each day. Some can work from home but the hospitality business must show up. Thank you for showing up for us.
Bike Riding in Garden of the Gods
We have visited Garden of the Gods more than once. I think our kids all love the location as do I. Prior to this trip I had not ridden a bike in the park. That all changed thanks to Pikes Peak Mountain Bike Tours. We had a beautiful clear morning riding in the park with our guide. We have been on bike tours before. This is our first tour with just a guide and me and my wife. It was enjoyable riding as we went at our pace and saw the sights we wanted to see. We rode over 20 miles in about 3 hours.
Our guide, Nate, was very knowledgeable and friendly. The highlight for me was taking the mountain bike trail in the park (Ute trail) that I had used for an indoor biking class. We had hiked this trail before. This was a better experience than I had described to my class. We managed to go on the trail a few times.
After our ride we went to the gift shop to have an ice cream. What a nice location and the ice cream was good as well.
I had never been to Paint Mines in Colorado before. This is a local (El Paso County) park. We were amazed at the rock formations and the colors. The picture I took does not do it justice. Once you have biked in Garden of the Gods Park, also in El Paso County Colorado, taking a hike in the Paint Mines is the next best adventure to tackle.
We enjoyed our hike among the painted rocks. The rock colors were hard to believe. It was an easy hike and a well-marked path.
This was funny to us, as we have never experienced a hail storm like they do in Colorado Springs. We were out for a walk around the block and it was cloudy. I guess you can buy anything. I had never seen a hail protector before.
It was nice to see our son dressed up for the day—someone has to work.
Going out to breakfast in downtown Colorado Springs during the week was a treat. We were safe while enjoying a good breakfast.
The city has closed several streets to allow people to get around downtown. Much different from our last visit to downtown Colorado Springs.
We enjoyed walking along in the Fountain Creek Regional Park. This has several miles of walking, horse, and mountain or gravel bike trails. This was an enjoyable park for all sorts of athletic activities.
We had a couple of hikes in the nearby Cheyenne Mountain State Park. Each hike was enjoyable and moderate. It was good to get out and hike. We found this park the best marked park we have hiked in yet. Every time we came to an intersection, we found a marker.
Our travel to Colorado was very relaxing. We did manage to play bridge, laugh and enjoy spending time with family.
You already know that I am not a runner. Happy Thanksgiving and let’s run a 5K race in Colorado Springs almost a mile higher in elevation than where I live. I can see why the Olympic athletes train here, once they are acclimated.
This was not our first family visit to Colorado Springs, just the first time visiting when it snowed in the city. We were fortunate to have a day without snow and had a nice time in Acacia Park and walking downtown Colorado Springs.
Here are a few before and after views from our condo (Airbnb) before and after the snow:
I have stayed at my home for many years now, avoiding traveling at Thanksgiving. When my kids were younger, I sometimes took the family to the in-laws or my parents. They have also come to join the six of us at our home. More often, we stayed at home for Thanksgiving. We have several years of Thanksgiving memories where we hosted local “orphans” or were hosted by other “orphans” who did not have other family in the area.
This year we traveled to Colorado Springs to visit and celebrate Thanksgiving. As I am older, so are the kids. They are now in the position that I was when I stayed at home. Thanksgiving happens over a few short days. My excuse for not traveling at Thanksgiving the limited time and because of the limited time frame many travel during the few days of this holiday. We stepped up as mature adults and enjoyed the travels to the kids, including bringing one with us.
The retirement benefit is leaving the weekend prior and leaving after the holiday rush. Even on Sunday traveling by airplane was already busy. We were prepared for the lines and the hassle of Thanksgiving holiday fun. It was an easy experience traveling and the airlines and airports were well staffed and handled the crowds with ease. We also made it into Colorado before a big snowstorm and left after the next high wind and snow could hit. We had an enjoyable week of travel to and from Colorado.
We were happy that our kids invited one of their friends to join our holiday meal. It is good to welcome the “orphans” to the Thanksgiving dinner and keep the tradition and we hope someone did the same for our one kid who couldn’t make it to Colorado.
We had the pleasure of taking one of our kids who flew in for Thanksgiving to the Garden of the Gods. It was beautiful all covered in snow.
If you have not been to the Garden of the Gods, you are really missing out.
This was my first time seeing it in the snow; I appreciated the snow and the red rock combination.
One of my kids suggested, in August, that we all sign up for a family 5k run. I believe her words were “No one listens to me, so why now?” So, we all signed up as (much to their dismay) a team for the Colorado Springs 5k Turkey Trot.
We received a message the night prior to the run advising us that the road conditions were less than ideal and we should be prepared for cold weather and ice on the road.
We did have cold weather (about 21 degrees Fahrenheit when we began) and ice, slush and snow was on the ground. It was also a little foggy when we began.
The crowd was just about half of the runners who signed up for the event, or about 2400. I am happy to say that I did finish and stayed upright on the ice and snow the whole time.
My time to finish was less than 36 minutes, about 10 minutes slower than the two oldest kids who ran.
Altitude is real and takes your breath away when you are participating in the family 5k. Okay, I only managed to “run” a quarter mile before walking, much sooner than my normal 1 mile before I have to walk. I did manage to finish 1077 of 2409. The training I did was okay, but I was unable to train for altitude. The reward is the same; I was not going to win, even my own age group, so finishing the event was the key. No matter what place, I completed the race.
Traveling is good to do when you visit with family. We did sit and enjoy the company of our kids. Spending the holiday with family was all it was supposed to be, including snowball fights on a walk around the neighborhood and a wishbone pull after Thanksgiving dinner. I am so happy to have spent the time with the kids.
Our day trip to Denver was cancelled when they received over a foot of snow. We had planned a fun adventure but were able to spend the day preparing for Thanksgiving and playing games. I learned how to play Catan. We also managed to get in a Euchre tournament and play some bridge.
Bring Kentucky holiday cheer; it is great for an unexpected snow day.
Looking at the Garden on the Gods through the eyes of a first time visitor enhanced the hike in the snow. A first time visitor brings wonder and a lot of appreciation when this magnificent garden is first viewed.
Everyone thinks of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. We enjoyed a tour of Ft. Carson Army Base. We were surprised how large the base actually is. It does make sense for tank training. We heard the bugle call reveille each morning from the fort at 6:30 AM from our place; it was a good reminder of some other things that are going on in the world.
No bike riding; too much snow, and we did not have easy access to bikes.
Before leaving for our Thanksgiving feast, we walked a few miles in our local Arboretum. The trees even after the leaves have fallen present themselves with a beauty and wonder. We liked the Larch and did not recall seeing the yellow needles on our prior visit.
Now that the long bike rides and triathlon are over, relaxing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park sounded like a good time.
When we booked our cabin and planned the trip we were unaware that October is one of the busiest times for the park. We also did not know that this was the busiest National Park. One of the benefits of retirement travel is going during the week. We were surprised at all of the people gathered in the park and Gatlinburg. I guess Columbus Day is a popular time for schools to take a break; we visiting the week prior to the break. We thought traffic and the number of tourist picked up as we got closer to the holiday weekend.
One of the downsides was that parking to hike was at a premium. However, like a good restaurant that is always full, we found that the experience and scenery were worth the hassle. Traffic in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge was also heavy as we went through town. We have been to the park before. This time we were happy not to see any bears as we were hiking
We had a cabin away from town and up a hill so we could enjoy breakfast and linger a little out the front porch. The cabin had large windows and offered a great view of the mountains. We did see the “smoke” in the mountains in the morning that looked inviting.
Our afternoon hikes were good. We had spent most of our previous time in the southern part of the park (Cades Cove), so we hiked in the middle of the park this time.
We noticed that the signage on the hiking trails in the park was lacking or had been removed though too much use, but it was easy to find our way as several other hikers were on the trails with us.
We enjoyed the hikes and the views. It was great to have some hand holds as we went up and down near the edge on the hikes.
The National Park Service has done a good job keeping the trails in good condition given all of the traffic on them we encountered except for the signs while on the trail.
There are plenty of hikes we have not yet taken in the park. We will have to come back and enjoy some of them on our next visit. Now we know to schedule the visit outside of October.
The colors had not yet come out to the park. We did see some of the trees turning early here and there. The week after our visit was probably a peak time for fall colors. We enjoyed the lush green views and left the pretty colors for the visitors for the following week.
We purposely went back home on the back roads from the Smoky Mountains National Park (which is in parts of Tennessee and North Carolina) so we could stop at the three state Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.
The weather on the Saturday when we arrived in Kentucky was cooler than it was in Tennessee as we were leaving. Our first stop in Cumberland Gap was at the only visitor center. This is a large park and it was important to know that there is only one visitor center.
We were happy talk with a couple making apple butter over an open fire and dressed in period costumes. It looked like hard work. They assured us that the taste was worth the work on the open fire. We liked the warmth of the open fire.
We were immediately stuck by how few visitors were at this park, just a few miles (85 or so) up the road from the Smoky Mountains. The ranger we spoke to at Cumberland Gap indicated that over 11 million visitors go to the Smoky Mountains and about 1 million visit Cumberland Gap. We really enjoyed hiking in Cumberland Gap with well-marked trails and easy parking.
We took the tri-state trail and hiked up and stood in the three separate states at the same time (Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia). It was interesting to see the contour of the land and to know that many western settlers had journeyed across the mountains where we were hiking.
When looking at the road into the gap we wondered how much harder the mountain pass must be, as this was not an easy climb. We do not have wagons with all of our possessions and have no real idea of the hardship.
The Civil War had a lot going on in Cumberland; we enjoyed the side spots where we could see evidence of the forts and the places where some of the troops moved through. It did make sense that the troops came by and through the gap in the struggle to move across the country.
I recommend driving up the road to the pinnacle overlook, although it twists a whole lot. At one point you can see the road next to you as the road almost doubles back on itself.
The paved paths along the viewing area made the walk out to the view easily assessable. Unfortunately, the view was one where we could see the clouds as the weather was not in our favor. We caught glimpses of the surrounding area and will look forward to coming back for a better view in the future.
We can get to the Smoky Mountain National park in about 5 hours. We should plan to go before or after the peak times for the park, staying away from October (Columbus Day for example) and school vacation week in the spring.
Both Cumberland Gap and Smoky Mountain National Parks do not require admission fees.
Cumberland Gap has hundreds of miles of hikes available. We are thinking about spending more time visiting this park in the future.
We enjoyed two dinner shows and would have liked to have gone for another. We were amazed at the horse handling skills demonstrated during the show at the Dolly Parton’s stampede and the Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Feud. The dinners out were fun and since it gets dark in October so early we had to leave the trails earlier than we would have during the summer.
Our preference was the Dinner Feud. It was a little smaller theater and we had a lively and interactive server. We found that we liked the food better at the Hatfield’s than the Stampede. The musicians for the Stampede put on a great show prior to the dinner and gave an amazing performance. Of course, the horse-riding feats were exciting to watch and they were well executed. We appreciated the good clean family entertainment at both shows.
We did not come for the town, so Gatlinburg was lost on us. A sea of people walking up and down the main street near the Park was interesting to see. I believe we would have enjoyed the walking in town had we been staying in Gatlinburg.
No bike riding in the mountains where the roads are narrow and winding. From the Cades Cove camp grounds areas you can go biking a few times per week. As we have seen bears in this area, we did not think we should tempt fate by riding bikes near the bears. It might be fun…with a group.
I was able to convince a few friends into visiting the well preserved Civil War battlefield in Perryville, Kentucky. This is a Kentucky state historical site. The battle was a dramatic and short (less than 6 hours) fight for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. As a border state between the North and South, Kentucky declared neutrality. So of course both the North and South invaded with the desire to use Kentucky as a base to defeat the other side.
The North and South forces met in Perryville with the resulting battle costly for both sides. The information provided by the state park was that more soldiers died in the short hours of this battle than at Gettysburg. They are speaking of the death rate per hour of battle and not of the overall number who died in the battle.
The Perryville site does a good job of presenting how the Confederate Army pushed the Union Army and, if they had stayed, would have been able to claim a victory. At the end of the day, the Confederates left the field and moved out of the state to Tennessee. So, this was a technical Union victory. When you are on site and see the movement of troops, you can better understand the results.
Before we made it to Perryville, the group of guys I was traveling with decided we could go to Buffalo Trace Distillery. This is a 200 year old continually operating distillery; of course continually operating for 200 years takes some talent as most distilleries were shut down for prohibition. Buffalo Trace was open as it was able to supply medicinal bourbon during prohibition. This is a stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and on the way to the battlefield (kind of).
We arrived early in the morning and were able to take one of the free tours. You need to plan a few months in advance for the scheduled longer tours and, being guys, we planned a few days in advance to go and did not have the longer tour. The free tour was a very good tour. The tour had us walking the beautiful grounds. We were able to see a short film, ask questions and go into a rick house complete with a secret entrance. We were able to see the bottle filling and labeling as well. At the end of the free tour, we were able to taste test the product. As a result, or it could have been planned, our group purchased a few bottles of Buffalo Trace products at the gift shop.State Capital. This is a wonderful building with interesting statues in the rotunda of both Abraham Lincoln (dominating the center) and Jefferson Davis (much smaller and off to one side). Both were born in Kentucky, about 100 miles away from each other. If you know history, we were heading to a Civil War battlefield, and these two were in charge during the battle.
Everything is better with bourbon here in Kentucky. We visited the Kentucky Knows Coffee Shop in Frankfort. We had a good time talking with Tony, the owner of the store. And yes, we also purchased coffee beans.
You can read about history and then walk the fields to see the hills and sweeping fields of fire. Even reading the markers and then walking the grounds sharpened how we took in the scope of that effort by both sides. I am a proponent of being on site. Thank you for the preservation of this historical battlefield.
Travel with friends and explore what they want to explore. One in our group had heard of the bourbon coffee shop. It was a fun place to explore.
Support the local businesses, helping them and yourself. I am so happy we made a stop at the distillery and visited the capital building. We are not alone and need to continue to explore.
No biking was done on this trip.
Early in July we took a trip to Natural Bridge state park. We went with two other couples and had a good time hiking the park and dancing on Hoedown Island. The summer weather was hot, so we sweated as we enjoyed the hiking trails.
One of the benefits of coming over the July 4th week was that we got to see and participate in two nights of dancing. The first night we experienced Kentucky Clog dancing; the next night was the regular Hoedown Island dancing. Clogging is the official state dance of Kentucky. We were fascinated watching the many people clogging. We did manage to learn a few steps, even though we did not have the fancy shoes.
The second night of dancing was more line dancing and some clogging. We were happy to dance until after nightfall. A long day of hiking and dancing led us to appreciate having a room at the lodge just up some steps rather than having to drive home after such an enjoyable day.
One of the reasons to come to Natural Bridge is to hike up to the Natural Bridge. Being adventuresome, we took the long way around, just to have fun. We went out toward the Rock Garden (trail 4) and around the back side of the bridge. We also hiked on top of the bridge and relished the skinny passageways up to the top of the natural bridge. It is big and wide.
We went on several other trails during our stay at the lodge. We liked the view from Lookout point and had a fun time walking down the steep Needle’s Eye and Devil’s Gulch on our way back to the lodge.
Travel with friends
We have been to Natural Bridge in the past and appreciated sharing the park with our friends who had not been to the park. The hiking is a better experience when you have others with you on the hike. You get to know some about them as well as getting another point of view on the trail.
Staying at Natural Bridge
The Hemlock Lodge was recently renovated. We like the balcony and the views from the porch. We have stayed at the lodge before and the room renovation was nice. The Hoedown Island fun ends around 10 PM and all was quiet in the lodge. One thing we like about the lodge is that it has several great places to just sit and watch nature, including the restaurant and a balcony overlooking the Middle Fork of the Red River, from the one side of the whole lodge. We took advantage of swimming in the pool, along with a lot of other guests. It was nice to have the pool available to cool off during the day after hiking.
Red River Gorge
The state park is near the Red River Gorge. It is part of the Daniel Boone National Forest. According to their web site: “The Red River Gorge is a uniquely scenic area in the Daniel Boone National Forest. The area is known for its abundant natural stone arches, unusual rock formations, and spectacular sandstone cliffs. The Red River Gorge is designated as a national geological area by the U.S. Forest Service.” The visitor center for the area is the Gladie visitor center. We have visited in the past so we skipped it this trip in favor of going directly on the hike.
We took an enjoyable hike to the double arch (trail #201) in the Red River Gorge. We had a sunny warm day for our hike up to the double arch. After exploring the double arch, climbing up on it and eating lunch, we continued on the trail and saw Courthouse Rock and Haystack Rock. The area is really beautiful and not well known. The hikes in Natural Bridge were full of people, but the Red River Gorge, even on a big holiday week, was far less crowded.
Some of my friends from the area will tell you that after a long day of hiking and before dancing you need to stop at the best pizza place in Kentucky. So, we stopped at Miguel’s Pizza about 3 minutes from the park. The pizza hit the spot and was very tasty. We also went to the Daniel Boone Coffee Shop nearby and enjoyed a great cup or two of coffee and breakfast the next morning after dancing.
A few lessons learned:
Take a chance and go dancing. We had not tried clog dancing before and found it enjoyable, although we could not say we actually were clogging.
Sit on a rock and enjoy the view. The hiking is fun; spending time with your wife and friends is priceless, especially with a great view of the countryside.
No bike riding this trip. Just hiking and dancing.
Summer does not officially start until about June 21. We tend to think that summer is from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The mountains do not agree; we hiked in May and June on trails with no snow and trails with feet of snow.
Rocky Mountain National Park has been a favorite of mine since I was a small child; we went to the park almost every other year. The park holds several happy memories for me: I proposed to my wife in the park and we honeymooned at the park as well. It is fitting for me that I spent part of May and June in the park for my 60th birthday.
I really enjoyed every hike. The biggest snow hike was our hike from Bear Lake to Lake Haiyaha through the snow.
We had a hard time following the path, as the trail was a few feet under the snow.
As we got closer to the lake, the snow was deeper and we found that boulders were warm and melted the snow. It was hard to avoid stepping through snow up to your hips. Fortunately, on the hike my daughter-in-law had a GPS trail guide that kept us on track when we could not find enough footsteps to go the correct way. Looking back on the hike we were often on the trail and off the trail.
The view from this lake is dominated by (looking at the lake) Otis Peak on the left and Hallett Peak towards the right.
We just called it the hike to lake “H” as we could not pronounce “Haiyaha” which is a Native American word that means “rock” or “lake of many rocks” or “big rocks” depending on the translation.
Not many hikers braved the snow to get to Lake Haiyaha. We did see some people bouldering near the lake. The lake was still mostly frozen and had a really blue hue. On the way up the mountain we were able to get some reception and speak with our son who is currently overseas. It was great to have him see us up on the mountain
We hiked two different ways to see Lake Bierstadt. We enjoyed them both. The hike up from the Bierstadt Lake Trailhead allowed us to enjoy the views of Sprague Lake and Longs Peak on the trail while we steadily climbed more than 600 feet along a series of switchbacks to reach the top of the Bierstadt Moraine. Once we got to the top and under the tree canopy, we saw snow on the path and had snow the rest of the way to the lake. We chose to go straight or around the western edge of the lake both times we hiked. We had to make a path to the lake as we could not see the path.
We had a picnic lunch, flour tortillas with cheese and ham, and more water as we enjoyed the lake sitting on some of the rocks. What a great day watching the beautiful view from the lake. We were able to view Longs Peak, Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain along with several others.
We also enjoyed hiking to Bierstadt from Bear Lake after taking the shuttle. We encountered a lot of snow at the beginning as we hiked up the Flattop Mountain Trail from Bear Lake. I walked onto Bear Lake, which was a mistake as the ice was not as thick as I thought based on the footprints. My hiking boot went in, but my new merino wool socks dried out fast and I did not get any blisters. It was great hiking with three girls: my wife, daughter and my daughter-in-law. I kept up pretty well! We had another beautiful, clear weather day at Bierstadt Lake. After lunching again and sitting on the rocks, we finished our hike by going back to the Bear Lake shuttle bus station where we were parked.
We stayed outside of the park in a wonderful cabin on the Big Thompson River. My plan was to eat breakfast outside every morning. The cabin was great with a table on the covered porch just a foot away from the river running swiftly by. I went outside each morning, but one morning it was 25 degrees; this was too cold for me to enjoy breakfast outside, even with the heater on.
The mornings are the best time to hike in the Rockies as the afternoons often bring weather changes and a quick storm. Staying at the cabin allowed us to use the annual park pass with no long lines and “key card” or annual pass card access at the Beaver Meadows entrance.
Part of my morning routine is to watch and be inspired by Darren Hardy. We were listening at the end of May to Darren and he challenged us to walk or run, we chose walk, one mile or more every day. We began that 90 day challenge while we were at the park beginning the first of June. With so many daily hikes to choose from, we had a great start to our challenge.
As our time in the Rockies lengthened, the weather did manage to warm up, even some mornings. Okay, for Colorado, it managed to warm up. Yes, it was cold up in the mountains, but fortunately we could dress for it. Our kids came with what looked like not enough clothing. We had on bulky jackets and sweat shirts, flannel shirts. Apparently science has advanced and our warm weather clothing is much bulkier than what they make today. We will have to look into getting something easier to pack that will keep us just as warm.
Our first experience at Bear Lake was that we could not go too far without our micro spikes. Fortunately we were able to get them a week later when a few kids joined us for my birthday.
We hiked through snow up over my waist in June. It was pretty interesting to see. The park was blanketed in spring snows and it was hanging around. We did not have snow in Estes Park and the area felt like typical springtime weather for the mountains.
A few lessons learned:
Explore more of the area than you have in the past. We went to the Lumpy Ridge and Wild Basin Trailheads this trip. I do not know if I went there as a kid. It is possible, although we camped in Moraine Park campground in the park every year we visited, close to the same camping spot. It was easy enough to get to Bear Lake and the hiking was accessible for a family from there. We really enjoyed how diverse these two areas were from our typical hiking from Bear Lake. We have hiked on the other side of Trail Ridge Road (when it was open in prior visits as an adult) and we did not enjoy those hikes as much as Lumpy Ridge and Wild Basin.
Re-visit your favorite spots. As a kid and an adult I have hiked from Bear Lake many times. It is just a beautiful area. We had a fun time with our birthday visitors hiking some of the trails together.
Try something new. We went on a bike ride from Trail Ridge Road. We started at the top from Rainbow Curve as Trail Ridge Road was still closed and we rode down. There was only one small hill, and my riding buddy Mike from Kentucky would have commented that we rode only downhill. It was a fun ride and a really nice way to slow down and take in the mountain grandeur as we peddled by.
We did meet hikers, besides our kids, with all the correct gear. Many believe a cell phone is all that is required, and I saw plenty of people with flip flops and a cell phone. Real hikers know that proper footwear (my boots may be old, but they work well!) make all the difference. A compass, map, water, snacks, sunscreen, a whistle and a camera, okay a phone, are basics. Remember when choosing a hike to look at the distance and the elevation. Even a short hike can be really tough in the mountains.
Take the stops and do not be in a hurry. I decided to allow cars coming behind me to pass as soon as possible. I was not in a hurry. I know, you are saying, ok you are that guy…I wanted to take it all in. Enjoy the day as well as the moment. On one of our car rides, we stopped at Sheep Lake allowing faster cars to pass while we checked out the ranger station near the lake. While there we saw 7 big horn sheep come over to the lake. We also saw elk here and there and, quite frankly, all over the park as well as in Estes Park.
Here is a sample of our hikes:
From Bear Lake:
- Bear Lake to Bierstadt Lake up Flat top Mountain Trail to the Bear Lake bus station where we were parked.
- Bear Lake to Lake Haiyaha by way of Nymph Lake and Dream Lake up the Glacier Gorge Trail. Nymph Lake is a small lake with big views including Long’s Peak. This area was covered with snow and was a place where many would-be day hikers turned around. Dream Lake was worth stopping at and we spent some time here. We did not see many tennis shoe hikers at this stop as the snow was 1-2 feet deep at this juncture. Moving up from Dream Lake is where we encountered the deepest snow and fewer hikers.
Lawn Lake Trailhead—this was one of our first hikes, so we could get acclimated. We did not make it to the lake as we did not have our micro spikes just yet and encountered a lot of snow as we got higher up into the mountains.
We enjoyed the views of the Roaring River From the trailhead. We hiked the Lawn Lake Trail and part of the Ypsilon Lake trail.
Old Fall River Road (closed for cars) from Endovalley picnic area–Old Fall River Road is a historic dirt road built between 1913 and 1920 and does not generally open to cars until July 4. We had a real treat as we got near the road, spotting three big horn sheep grazing near the start of the road. The hike to Chasm Falls took us up roughly 1.4 miles up the old dirt road. Once we found the sign to the falls, we walked the short distance down the paved footpath to the viewing area.
Having a lot of melting snow allowed for a spectacular view of the falls that drop somewhere between 25 and 30 feet. We were happy to have the falls to ourselves as most hikers stopped too soon to get to the falls.
Sprague Lake—we went to this lake after deciding that the trail at Bear Lake was too snowy (we tried and then called for the kids to bring the micro spikes with them for the weekend when they came up). We enjoyed our hike around the lake. It was interesting to see a group of guys standing in the lake fishing. So we guess the lake is not too deep! We hiked over to the Boulder Brook Trail and back to the parking area. As we hiked along the area we came to our first experience with fire rings. We asked some of the passing rangers about this and they shared that the chain saws and big fire rings are part of a prescribed burn program that the park is conducting.
Hike to Cub Lake, the Pool and Fern Lake—The hike to Cub Lake began from the Moraine Park area. We saw a lot of elk grazing near the edge of the meadows. Also, on the way in to park, we saw a moose! Wow.
We were staying on the Big Thompson River and have walked past this river in Estes Park. It was nice to follow the river on the way back from The Pool.
Moraine Park Campground –When my family came to the Rockies we camped here. This is also the place where I proposed to my wonderful wife! We took a hike through the entire area.
With the spring snows, Trail Ridge Road was snowed in. The road was open to (non-motorized) bikers and hikers prior to allowing cars to go up the road.
In the many times I have been to the park, this is the first time I have hiked on Old Fall River Road and Trail Ridge Road. We were impressed with the 30 foot high walls of snow that we passed at even the 2 mile mark up this road. We started our hike from the Rainbow Curve Overlook.
We hiked up until the Ute Trail. It was a brisk 43 degrees when we started and a steep climb up the hill. From the road we had great views and no traffic! We did see some of the snow plow equipment. The trees and animals have all adapted to the snow. We saw many young trees that bent but did not break under feet of snow, sticking out and getting sun. We also saw small wildlife here and birds doing well. The lesson I took from this is that if you want to survive, you can. You can see trees, birds, animals all surviving in extreme conditions, and they do survive, despite the odds.
We took some time to explore the town of Estes Park and we hiked around Lake Estes. It was a good walk and had one major uphill climb. On the hike we encountered a sign describing a potential hazard, an elk calving area, aggressive elk may be present. We did see that elk, no issues for us, thankfully. And, we saw a few other elk on and near the trail around the lake. The town is great fun to explore. We enjoyed eating out and finding a new spot for ice cream.
From the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead we hiked up to Gem Lake. This is such a different part of the park. The views may have Long’s Peak, but the red rock is more like the Garden of the Gods.
This was our first park hike without any snow on the path. I do not remember having been to the Lumpy Ridge Trail before and I highly recommend this trail. We did have nice views of the Estes Park valley and some of the surrounding mountain peaks.
Deer Mountain Trailhead starting from Deer Ridge Junction—The summit is 10,013 feet in elevation. Many have recommended this hike as a way to get acclimated to the higher elevations. I enjoyed being able to say we hiked to the summit of a mountain!
One of the guides on the bike ride said we “should summit” and the easiest one in the area was Deer Mountain. We are glad we took this hike up to the top of Deer Mountain. This was a multi-use trail and I am not always a fan of horses on the trail. We encountered a few, and that was okay; we were able to step aside and let them pass us. Outside of the obvious hazard, this trail has some big steps geared for mules or horses and not for humans.
Just like Lumpy Ridge, the Wild Basin, not a far (about 30 minute) drive from the park, is one I do not remember visiting in the past. We took one of our longer hikes here, over 7 ½ miles on the Wild Basin Trail and the North Saint Vrain Fire Trail. This hike featured the lower and upper Copeland Falls, the Calypso Cascades and Ouzel Falls. We found it tough viewing for the Ouzel falls, but worth it.
Once we were past the falls, it became snowy as we headed toward Thunder Lake (up the trail about ½ mile). We turned around—near the twin lakes (which we could not see through the forest) as the snow was too much for us. We went back down the less well-marked path (North Saint Vrain Fire Trail ) with the exciting sign that read “All stock except Llamas prohibited.” We are not sure why or what that would mean. We did not have a llama or any other stock so we took the path. The trail followed the creek or river the whole way back and was generally free from snow.
Adapted from A.A. Milne, “Now we are six” and updated by Retirement travel with Glen
When I was young,
I had just begun.
When I was twenty-five,
I was just married.
When I was thirty,
I was mostly a dad of an expanding family.
When I was forty,
I was not much more.
When I was fifty and still working,
I was just alive and the kids were leaving.
But now I am sixty and retired,
I’m and as clever as clever.
So I think I’ll be sixty now
for ever and ever.
Hiking statistics: 13 hikes and almost 60 miles of trails.
One bike ride—mostly downhill: 20 miles.
We spent our time after Christmas in Colorado. It was exciting for us to spend time with our kids in Colorado Springs.
We did get out for a few hikes and planned more, but the weather became too cold to hike for more than a few minutes in the mountains. The next time we visit in the winter, we will plan on snowshoeing or skiing or both.
One of the early lessons we learned was that an investment in micro spikes makes a big difference on icy trails. We did not have any on this hike, but the kids did. After hiking 2 ½ miles up over 700 feet in snowy 16-degree weather, we decided we should get some as well. We did enjoy our first hike in the mountains and the trail, although with ice patches, was manageable.
Our elevation started at 6500 feet above sea level, much higher than normal for us and went up from there to the top of Mt. Cutler (over 7,200feet). And yes, it was cold!
Our second hike was colder than the first from the start as we climbed up Raspberry Mountain.
We started the hike at 9,500 feet above sea level and went for over 5 miles reaching the peak at over 10,500 feet above sea level.
The hike started at 30 degrees and grew colder; the hike ended over three hours later at 9 degrees as the sun was setting.
I was happy to be the owner of new micro spikes, as my footing was secure on the assent and decent.
We chose to get this hike in early in the visit before the anticipated cold front came into the mountains; it worked. Although at times our warm clothes were sometimes too warm, we were better off with the many layers we had on the hike.
It was good that we went when we did, as we spend a few days indoors playing cards and enjoying our new years celebration.
Enjoy what nature has to offer—make snow angels
Trip by the numbers: We hiked over 8 miles and had an elevation gain of almost 2,000 feet. Not too bad for a couple who live at almost 900 feet above sea level visiting Colorado.
No bike rides in the cold and snow.
We went to Colorado Springs to visit with our kids who recently moved into the area. The views from their house are amazing. I can see why they enjoy living out in this area. We spent more time with the kids and some of the boxes than we did sightseeing.
One of our highlights was hiking at The Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado Springs. The free park is awe inspiring. I was in the park about 8 years ago and it is a must visit when you are in the area.
We enjoyed hiking along the Ute trail in the mountain biking area. The magnificent red rocks are jutting out of the ground are quite the contrast with the rest of the mountains in the area and the green vegetation along the trails.
The beauty in this area is so different than our home state. It was wonderful to see. After our hike on the Ute trail we hiked around the main area. We followed the good tenants for getting acclimated to altitude, not over doing it on the first day or two, limiting alcohol and drinking plenty of water.
Our other big hiking adventure was in North Cheyenne Cañon Park. If you go in the summer, it is probably best to avoid Saturday or Sunday visits as it was crowded when we went. We had to park away from the main parking area, which was fine for us as we enjoyed hiking up to catch the visitor’s center and the starting point for the trail up to Helen Hunt Falls.
The hike up was beautiful.
The visitor’s center was fun with a map where hikers noted where they were from.
This is another park owned by the city of Colorado Springs.
From Helen Hunt Falls we continued our day by hiking up the Seven Bridges Trail (although we only made it over 3 of the bridges). We found ourselves in the middle of an ultra-marathon (they were running 50 miles). Our kids had read a comment online about this trail that you should dance over each one of the bridges and do a different dance for each. That was fun and I am not posting the videos! We also managed some non-technical boulder climbing after bridge #3.
We went bouldering. The kids have been enjoying a local past time, climbing rocks. It is fun to do so indoors in a controlled environment and even outside. Our daughter and daughter-in law enjoyed the outdoor rock climbing as well.
We will be back before too long and have more to share. We did hike over 10 miles and I rode a bike one day 5 miles in the neighborhood. We also recycled boxes and helped out around the new place in Colorado.
I managed one bike ride in the neighborhood. I had not ridden in an area with wild cactus plants growing before this ride.
I only managed 5 miles, but it was a fun 5 miles after I put the bike together and got it in working order.
We will be back soon!