On Saturday we left our lakeside site at Stillwater Campground and headed east towards our final destination in Colorado. With our house in tow we drove from west to east through the Rocky Mountain National Park on the famous Trail Ridge Road. The highest point on the road tops out at an elevation of 12,183 feet, making this the highest continuous paved road in North America. It was an easy climb with a fairly gradual elevation gain that we had no problem scaling. The beginning of the road contained a series of sharp switchbacks that might be difficult for really long vehicles, but since we’re more of a medium size, and there were hardly any cars coming the other way, we didn’t have any issues.
We stopped at the Alpine Visitor Center only two miles from the top of the road. At an elevation of 11,796 feet, this building is the highest visitor center in all the national parks. Due to its location perched high on the alpine tundra where the snow comes early and stays late, it’s only open roughly four to five months of the year. It may look warm and summery right now, but the amount of snow up in here in the winter is crazy! Most years the snow comes up to the roof and nearly covers the entire building.
All that’s left now are just a few patches of snow visible from the back deck.
From the visitor center, we continued on to the highest point and then began the long descent.
On the way down we caught a glimpse of some elk chilling in the meadow. It’s hard to make quick stops on the side of the road with the Airstream in tow, so even though I longed to stop for a closer look, I had to be satisfied with a drive-by viewing. Ever since we arrived in Colorado we have been on the lookout for Elk. These are the first ones we’ve seen.
Eventually, we reached the Moraine Park Valley which is the site of several trailheads, a campground, and the Big Thompson River.
We drove a few miles farther and turned into the Park & Ride across from the Glacier Bay campground. From here a steady stream of shuttle buses ferried passengers to and from the trailheads at Glacial Gorge and Bear Lake. I wish I had taken a picture of how busy the parking lot was. Lucky for us the ten or so extra-long RV and bus parking spaces were blocked off with cones so cars couldn’t steal them. You would be surprised how many times we’ve seen normal sized cars parked in RV-specific spots at national parks. It’s pretty annoying when there are only a handful of spots where your method of transportation (or in our case, our house) fits, and all these tiny cars decide to rudely park in those spots. We are very grateful to the RMNP for thinking of us and keeping the cars out. After parking, we had a little lunch and settled Phineas in the Airstream with the fans on high for his maximum comfort before jumping on the shuttle.
We got off at the Glacial Gorge trailhead and began the 9.6 -mile round trip journey to Sky Pond and back. It was a long hike for us, especially considering that we started at an elevation of 9,240 feet and ended at nearly 11,000 feet. I admit that was nervous at the start because I have been struggling with the elevation on some our Colorado hikes. It turned out to be a great hike with a gradual incline that was never left me gasping for air (except for the steep section near the end). Along the way, we passed a few waterfalls, but the crowds of people were so thick we didn’t even try to squeeze in for a photo. Instead, we continued upward not stopping until we reached a lake called The Loch. It was a gorgeous, clear glacial fed lake filled with visible fish and surrounded by rocky peaks. The large patch of white at the back of the photo is Andrews Glacier.
After admiring the lake and resting for a bit we set out to tackle the last 2 miles of the hike. The trail followed the edge of the lake and then the river before climbing a long steep set of expertly crafted stone stairs to the waterfall. It was on this stretch of the trail near the lake where we spotted four different young moose! No mamas this time, so maybe these guys were older than the one we saw the other day, although they appear to be the same size.
When we reached Timberline Falls it was pretty spectacular and well worth the hike.
But wait…there’s more! We still hadn’t reached the Sky Pond. It turns out the only way to get to the pond was by following the “trail” up the wet area on the side of the waterfall. The photo below doesn’t do justice to just how steep and sketchy this climb was. So sketchy in fact, that after making it partway I decided this was not a trail for me. I seem to have become much more cautious the older I get, and while I know I could have scrambled up the wet, slippery rocks, the thought of sliding back down them freaked me out enough that I decided staying below was the best course of action. So while I hung out at the waterfall, Tim continued up the last final bit of trail.
There was actually two lakes above the falls. The first was called Lake of Glass.
From there a short hike up some nicely placed stones brought him to the next lake.
This is the Sky Pond. Residing at an elevation of nearly 11,000 feet the name is quite fitting
There were a few wildlife spottings near the lake, including some large fish (they’re considered wildlife, right?) and a very, very cute Marmot who appears to be posing for the camera.
This is the view from the Sky Pond. I think it’s my favorite photo from the entire day. The body of water below is the Lake of Glass.
Here’s the view from the top of Timberline Falls looking down on The Loch.
And looking down the falls.
And there you have it. One day full of stunning vistas, blue lakes, tumbling waterfalls and wildlife sightings in the Rocky Mountain National Park.