Family Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

With the pandemic taking its toll on everyone, it’s been a while since Carly and I have had much contact with anyone other than each other, so it was nice when my parents decided to come to Denver for a long 4th of July weekend. Planning a visit from my parents during this, though, proves difficult, because most of the things that we want to do involve going out on the town and being near crowds of people, which obviously isn’t a great idea right now. We’ve been spending a lot of time hiking around in the mountains, as it allows us to get out and about, but still be in the open air and able to space out from others. So we decided to take our parents up to Rocky Mountain National Park near Grand Lake, Colorado, but not the busy parts that you have to drive into.

We left the house around 8 in the morning and stopped once along the way to enjoy the views from the mountain pass and snap some pictures by the waterfall cascading down the mountain. It was also a pretty good halfway point to get out and stretch our legs.

Waterfall cascading down past rocks and pine trees
This waterfall is just at a stop off on the side of the road heading up Berthoud Pass
Husband and wife standing in front of waterfall taking picture
We don’t usually have someone to take a picture for us!

The parking lot of the East Inlet Trailhead is extremely large to accommodate the traffic that Adams Falls regularly sees, so it wasn’t too hard to find a parking spot, even when we arrived around 10:30 on 4th of July weekend. It was warmer than we expected, about 70, so we took a few minutes to properly equip ourselves for the journey ahead before starting on our way.

Family on a hiking trail surrounded by tree
Mom leading the charge up the mountain and setting the pace!
Husband and wife taking a selfie in front of the river
Wife sitting on tree log over the river looking away
Man sitting on log over river facing camera

The hike to the falls is fairly easy terrain and not too far from the parking lot, so we quickly made our way up, but went counter clockwise on the loop, avoiding a large group of people. This meant waiting until our way back down to go to the outlook for the falls, but avoiding large groups of people was more important at this point, and we knew we could still see it on the way back.

We made it to the meadow with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountainsides, and our journey slowed down for the many pictures that had to be taken. It really is hard to describe how incredible this spot along the creek is in real life, but it’s one of the most spectacular views that I’ve found in Colorado, rivaling some views from being on top of a mountain.

Calm water with a mountain backdrop behind
One of my favorite spots in the world
Mom and dad standing in front of mountain view behind them
Mountain view with lush green meadow in foreground

We were keeping our eyes peeled for any wildlife that we could find, especially being in the national park. While we didn’t spot any moose, elk, or deer that we hoped to find, we did run into a family of geese trolling around on a pond and a tiny chipmunk along the way.

Family looking out over the meadow searching for wildlife to see
“Is that a deer?! No maybe that’s just a person… I can’t tell…”
Geese floating on serene mountain pond with mountains in background
Family of geese floating peacefully on the pond. A little bit jealous of their home.
Striped chipmunk eating a piece of grass

We made it about a mile down the trail before deciding to turn around and head back towards the lake. It was my parents first day in town and taking them too far at elevation didn’t seem like a good idea, plus we were ready for our picnic and to take the kayak out on the lake.

Family hiking downhill into mountains on trail
Family hiking down Rocky Mountain trail

We took the other route on our way back to go past Adams Falls, which was much more of a waterfall than it had ever been when we have been here before. We’ve always hiked this trail in September when the snowmelt isn’t nearly as abundant, and it was amazing to see it much closer to full strength!

River flowing through a forest and in between rocks
River flowing through pine trees in Colorado
Waterfall with mountain background
A lot more water than we’re used to!
Open meadow with lake and mountains in background

We made it back down to the lake and had some snacks and drinks that Carly had prepared, relaxing after our journey. This particular picnic area is where we had our welcome picnic for our wedding, and it holds a special place in our hearts. The warm weather today is what we were hoping for 3 years ago, but it was nice to enjoy it on this afternoon.

Family sitting around picnic table with drinks and snacks, and lake in the background
We’re a lively bunch…. Either we’re exhausted or not sure if we knew there was a picture being taken!
Mom sitting in chair looking out over the lake
Dad relaxing in chair in the shade

The picnic area also happened to be the perfect place to drop the kayak into Grand Lake, something that we’ve never done before. Carly and I took the kayak around the bend first, quickly realizing how much we were having to fight the wind on the lake.

Blue lake with mountains in background
The open seas ahead of us…
Husband and wife holding inflatable kayak with lake next to them
Husband and wife in kayak on lake with mountains behind
I promise we went further than this! This was just us coming in for a landing on the beach

Next, it was my dad’s turn to take it out for a spin, but we let him go by himself to explore wherever he wanted to!

Father and son with kayak getting into the lake
Kayak on mountain lake
My dad with nothing but open waters and mountains around him!

After our hike and being out on the water, we were all pretty exhausted, and it was time to make our way back to Denver to let the dogs out. After our wedding, every time we come to Grand Lake it has a special meaning, but this will be a day that we will all remember for a long time to come!

Chicago Lakes Trail – Mt. Evans Wilderness

There are certain hikes that I’ve done over the past couple of years that I’ll remember for a lifetime, and this turned into one of them. It may be because of a particularly impressive view the inspires awe, or potentially an encounter with wildlife that makes me appreciate the beauty around me. This hike would end up having more than one element of a truly unforgettable experience.

I decided on the Chicago Lakes Trail for Sunday’s hike, despite the fact that it was a heavily trafficked trail (something I tend to try to avoid), mostly because I really wanted to do a hike with a mountain lake payoff. Since I knew I needed to beat the crowds, I left the house around 5:30 and arrived at the trailhead at almost exactly 6:30, greeted by quite a few cars in the parking lot – certainly more than I expected arriving that early. There were a few people casting out their lures, but overall, Echo lake was serene and peaceful.

Looking over Echo Lake in the morning towards Mt Evans in Colorado

Still slightly groggy from the early morning and the drive up, I was confident in the trek ahead of me, and my adventure began. The trail was very nice and well defined, following the lake for the first stretch, with signs pointing me in the right direction. It was chilly – about 45 – and I was grateful for the trees surrounding me that offered a little bit of solace from the wind.

Sign marking the trail ahead
Beginning of the Chicago Lakes Trail, where it splits from the Echo Lake Trail
Sunrise over the Rocky Mountains from the trail

The beautiful mountain trail that I was so peacefully enjoying quickly turned into a terrifying ordeal for me, as someone who is absurdly scared of heights, when I was confronted with a narrow, rocky, uneven trail, with a steep drop off on one side.

Steep cliff at the beginning of the Chicago Lakes Trail

I had a lot of time on my hike to think about how to present this part of my hike. I thought about acting like I was perfectly confident and conquered my fears. I thought about acting like I was nervous, but continued to press forward despite my trepidation. The truth is, I turned around and headed back towards my car the first time I got to this part. I decided this wasn’t something I was prepared for, nor something I could do mentally.

As I headed back to the trailhead, I passed a few groups of people that looked like they should be more scared than they were, and it honestly gave me a little bit of confidence. I turned around to actually conquer my fears, only to reach the same exact point and decide a second time that this maybe wasn’t worth it.

It wasn’t until I was heading back a second time and passed a family with a small child that I decided maybe I was a little more scared than I should be. So I turned around once again and started out a third time. As they say, the third time was a charm. I think I was just a little bit more awake and my legs were just a little bit more warmed up, allowing me to navigate through. The sketchy terrain continued for maybe a mile, and there was nowhere to hide as the mountain forced you forward. I kept my head down, looking down at my feet and every step I took, and I eventually made it through. I decided to tell the full story to hopefully inspire someone else to push themselves past their boundaries and conquer their fears. It certainly was a good feeling getting through there though and descending further into the trees, where I felt much more comfortable. I had added probably a mile to my hike that I would come to regret fairly quickly, though.

Looking back at the tricky terrain just crossed, with mountains in the distance.

It’s not often that hikes start off going downhill, but it was nice coming down from the heights into a valley of sorts. There was a small stream to cross and the wind was almost nonexistent, allowing me to finally relax for the first time in a while.

Rocky terrain at the beginning of the Chicago Lakes Trail
Heavily wooded portion at the beginning of the trail

The hike went quickly going downhill and it was no time before I was turning the corner to start heading back up to the first lake. This part was a workout, with a seemingly never ending steady incline. The trail was wide and allowed faster people to pass easily, but this definitely got the heart pumping for me.

View of the steady incline going up to the first lake

In all honesty, reaching this lake was the goal for my hike when I left this house this morning, but there was at least a small part of me that thought maybe I could keep going. Upon reaching the lake, though, I have to say that I was at least a little bit underwhelmed. I think it was the fact that the lake was manmade via a dam, when I envisioned a natural mountain lake. It was still beautiful, don’t get me wrong, and I could see myself returning here for a picnic. You can walk all the way around the lake and find a place all to yourself to relax.

View over the first lake that you reach on the trail
Another view of the mountain lake and surrounding Cliffside's

This wasn’t what I was hoping for, though, and especially after pushing myself through the beginning, I wanted to make this hike count. I knew from my map that it was going to add a lot of mileage to my journey, and my stutter at the beginning had already added enough, but I decided to see what I could do.

Looking back over the first lake towards the dam

As you move past the first lake, you’re greeted with two cabins, and I honestly couldn’t be more jealous of the people that own them. Although a ton of foot traffic passes by their quiet cabins every day, they seemed friendly to the hikers and even had a labyrinth set up to break up the hike.

Labyrinth Instructions along the hike
Looking at the very unique labyrinth set up

I moved passed the two cabins and the incline started yet again. I wasn’t sure how long I could endure this, but as I’ve said before, sometimes I don’t know when to stop when I’m by myself – especially when I know there’s something more to see if I just keep going a little further.

Looking up the trail at the surrounding cliffs

The views were spectacular as I climbed higher and higher, alternating between wooded forest with stream crossings, and open meadows that offered wide panoramas of the surrounding mountains.

Steam crossing on the Chicago Lakes Trail
Sign depicting your entrance into the Mt. Evans wilderness area
Panoramic view of the trail and the surrounding mountains
View of the. meadow and surrounding mountains
Panoramic view of Mt. Evans and surrounding peaks

I couldn’t believe that I had pushed myself so far, but I finally reached the second lake after what seemed like an eternity of steady incline, and I was glad that I did. This was the payoff that I was looking for! There was the natural mountain lake that I set out to find, fed by the still melting snow, that gave way to the sheer cliffs of the peaks all around. I felt such a sense of awe at the scene around me that I found a large rock upon which I could sit to take it all in for a while. It was really cold at this point, probably in the low 40s with a strong wind and no protection around, but I sat on that rock for about 20 minutes taking in the scene. It was truly incredible.

View of the meadow in front of the second lake on the trail
Selfie in front of the lake and the mountains
Panoramic view of the second lake, Mt. Evans, and surrounding cliffs
Another shot of the taller mountains surrounding me

There was at least a little part of me again that wanted to keep going to the next lake, but my ankles and knees were hurting already and I hadn’t even started the trek back yet. I knew it was time to turn around and hope that I could actually make it. I hadn’t done a hike this long in a really long time and was again kicking myself for adding an extra mile.

I’m glad that I headed back when I did though, because I timed it perfectly for running into a couple of moose right off the trail! This is what I hope for every time I go out, and they were right there, so close to us. I felt so lucky to have this encounter.

Two moose grazing in a mountain meadow with cliffs behind
Lots of moose footage in the video below!!

It was hard to pull myself away, but after watching them for probably 10-15 minutes, they started to walk away and so did I, continuing on down the trail.

Giant boulder next to the hiking trail

It seemed so long ago already, but when I reached the part that was the descent at the beginning, suddenly I was faced with a steep final climb back to the trailhead. This time, though, there was a steady stream of traffic coming the other way, and the two way traffic on such a narrow trail made the steep cliffs even worse. My legs were wobbly now too, which also didn’t help.

Rocky incline back to the trailhead and parking lot

Somehow I eventually made it back to the trailhead, and honestly felt better than I would’ve expected after such a long hike. Maybe I should’ve kept going to the last lake! Next time..

This was another classic example of me thinking that the parking lot was full when I arrived, but was then greeted by more people than I could’ve ever imagined. Echo Lake is apparently pretty popular for picnics and fishing, and there were cars all up and down the road when I got back. I was thankful for being able to enjoy the calm of the lake when I was heading up, and was happy to get out of there quickly on my way out, to let someone else have my spot.

Shot of the parking completely full, including along the road

Anytime I see moose, the trail is going to rate at the top of my list, but I truly think this was one of the best trails I’ve been on in Colorado. I would highly recommend it, but just make sure you go to the second lake at least!

Trekking the Tanglewood Trail

This is another post that’s overdue, as this adventure was on September 14.

As can be said about so many other of my adventures, I had grand intentions when I set out this morning. This is especially true of my solo hikes, and this was one such hike. For some reason, going it alone gives me extra determination to really explore my boundaries and capabilities. I set out to climb the 13er, Rosalie Peak, which tops out at 13,575 feet, though my goal was more modest, as I just wanted to get above 13,000 feet at a minimum.

The trail I would take is the Tanglewood trail, with the trailhead sitting near the Mount Evans wilderness area, just northwest of Bailey. I arrived at 8:30am, which was plenty early with the generous parking available and very few visitors today. The road in was a little bumpy, which may explain the lack of people a bit, but this was still unusual for almost any trailhead this near to Denver. A review I read called this something like “one of the most secluded hikes I’ve ever been in on Colorado”. It already was shaping up that way.

The hike through the trees was a very steady incline, which was a fun challenge at first, but after a few miles of no flat spots to catch your breath, it becomes exhausting. I didn’t even notice how tired I was, though, because of the incredible beauty of the forest on this trail. There was everything you could ask for! Flowing creeks, beautiful wildflowers, towering pines, and even a woodpecker!

It was quite a journey before I finally emerged from the trees to a breathtaking view of the front range.

The journey to the top of Rosalie Peak was just beginning though, and I was starting to question if I was going to make it all the way. I was about 2 miles in, but had climbed over 1000 feet already. My legs were tired and I had another 3 miles and 2000 feet to go to meet my minimum. This was one of those times where I get crazy ideas by myself and just keep pushing. Onward it was.

Even though the trek was grueling at this point, the views kept getting better and better, and I just had to see what was at the top..

On my left as I came up the trail to the saddle was what I believe to be Rosalie Peak, but there were no trail markers or discernible trails going up. Maybe there was a trail and my mind just didn’t want me to see it so I would turn around. At this point I had hiked approximately 4 miles, gained 2,600 feet of elevation, though I was a few feet shy of only 12,000. I was well short of my goal of 13,000 feet, but I achieved the goal of finding my limit.

I placed a celebratory rock on the marker at the top of the saddle and turned to head back home, completely satisfied with my journey. Maybe next year I’ll find that trail up Rosalie Peak and keep pressing on to see what’s up there..

All in all, it was one of the best adventures I’ve had in Colorado, as well as being one of the more beautiful and challenging hikes. There was a hiccup on my alltrails track near the beginning of the recording, but you can see from my watch data that it was 9 miles and nearly 2,600 feet of elevation gain. Not bad!