After a lot of discussion, planning, and careful thought, we decided to embark on our first trip since the start of Covid-19. Now that things have opened back up, everyone has their own opinion of what’s appropriate and what they are comfortable doing, which is totally fair… for us, we decided that for now we are comfortable with road trips and camping. Thankfully, there are a handful of national parks within reasonable driving distance that we haven’t visited yet.
Rocky Mountain National Park is technically the first national park I ever visited; however, that trip was over 20 years ago! Rocky Mountain spans the Continental Divide and is home to mountains, forests, and alpine tundra. There are beautiful aspen trees, mountain lakes, rivers, and abundant wildlife! Visit the Alpine Visitor’s Center along Trail Ridge Road, and you might just feel like you’re on top of the world. This visitors center is the highest visitors center in the National Park System, sitting at a mere 11,796 ft elevation!!
The first day of our trip was mainly planned for driving. We had a 7-hour drive from Salt Lake City to Green Ridge campground in Grand Lake, CO, which is where we were staying for the night. We arrived to our campsite around 3 pm, and after twiddling our thumbs for a few minutes, decided to go check out the Kawuneeche Visitor’s Center.
Due to Covid-19, many of the National Parks have enforced some new rules while visiting. For instance, Rocky Mountain National Park requires advanced reservation tickets to enter the park. Your entrance ticket allows you a 2-hour window to enter the park, but once you’re in, you have the freedom to come and go as you please. You may not enter the park prior to your window, unless you enter the park before 6 am, or after 5 pm. Our entrance time was at 8 am, both Friday and Saturday. However, we decided to enter the park that evening (Thursday) after 5 pm for a little drive. We drove the scenic Trail Ridge Road, and it was unbelievably stunning!! The park experiences daily afternoon thunderstorms, but the dark sky contrasting with the mountains was absolutely beautiful. We connected the Trail Ridge Road to Old Fall River Road, which is a one way, mostly unpaved road. By this point the rain had come, but it was still gorgeous. We saw so many animals- moose, elk, mountain goats, marmots, you name it. More animals than we have ever seen in any other park!! There was a very large herd of elk, probably like 75 of them, right by the visitor’s center on our way out of the park that evening- we couldn’t wait to go back the next morning!
I was excited to camp that evening because prior to this trip I had gotten a new rooftop tent installed on my car!! The best quarantine purchase I made, for sure 😉. Before going to sleep, we decided to change our plans for the morning. Instead of entering the park at our reserved time of 8 am, we decided to try to make it in before 6 am, in hopes of getting a parking spot at one of the trail-heads in the popular Bear Lake area. We were obviously taking all the precautions necessary during this trip and at the park- social distancing, masks, hand hygiene, etc., but decided that if we could also avoid taking shuttles as much as possible, that would be best.
We woke up to a brisk 30 something degrees, packed up the tent, and entered the park by 5:45 am. By luck, we snagged one of the last parking spots at the Glacier Gorge Junction trail head, which was very close to the hikes we wanted to do. That morning we hiked Nymph Lake -> Dream Lake -> Emerald Lake -> Alberta Falls. It was a beautiful morning- clear skies with mild temperatures, and we were so glad we made the decision to go in early. Even though Rocky Mountain has a reputation for being one of the most-visited parks, over the course of the whole weekend, it didn’t really feel that busy. In my opinion, Rocky Mountain has done a great job safely keeping the park open, amidst a pandemic.
On Saturday, we decided to skip getting up super early like the day before (we were wiped), and to just enter the park during our reservation time of 8:00 am. We had stayed the night a little further outside of the park, so instead of a 5-minute drive, we had about a 45-minute drive in. Our plan was to hike Copeland Falls to Calypso Cascades in the Wild Basin area, however the lack of parking and our “later” entry into the park, didn’t do us any favors. With many cars coming in behind us, and overflow parking already full, we improvised and came up with a new plan. We went for a stroll around Lily Lake, and decided to drive the Old Fall River Road again because it was soo pretty (heart eyes). Even though our originally planned hike would’ve been awesome, Lily Lake and a scenic drive were probably the smarter decisions, as my feet were suffering from some gnarly blisters from our hike the day before.
At the end of the day, we departed Rocky Mountain National Park and headed toward Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, which was where we would be camping for the night. This area was beautiful, but it was so. stinking. hot. Like SO HOT. Luckily, our drive home the next morning was only about 3.5 hours, so the lack of sleep wasn’t too detrimental.
Like I said earlier, this was our first trip since Covid-19 made its presence abundantly known. Overall, it was really nice to get away in a safe (to us) manner, and feel some sense of normalcy. Obviously, it was different, I mean I can’t really say that I’ve ever worn a mask at a national park before, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do. I’m hopeful we’ll be able to continue on with some more camping/road trips and keep exploring our national parks!!
Stay safe & healthy out there ❤