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Three Ways to Explore Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park can feel intimidating for folks wary of steep slopes, but this park has a special feature that invites all types to enjoy its wonders. After spending over ten days in the park, we enjoyed a range of strenuous activities to the more leisurely, all of which inspired the final outcome of our fifth official Centennial poster. It was a joy to absorb the serenity around us while illustrating the poster. That’s why we’re sharing this print with three best ways to see the park.

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Click to view the details of the poster, inspired by hiking to Dream Lake. ©Hike and Draw, 2016.

1. Trail Ridge Road – For All Ages and Physical Abilities

The highest continuous paved road in the United States spans the width of the park, giving everyone access to breathtaking scenery. You can feel like you’re at the top of the world from your car or get out to explore the alpine tundra. You’re over 12,000 feet at the highest point of the road, so the scenes will quite literally take your breath away!

We had the unique opportunity of arriving while part of Trail Ridge Road was still closed for the season, since it takes time to clear off the 19+ feet of snow that covers its highest stretches. Hikers and bikers are able to enjoy the chance to walk along sections already cleared but not open to cars. We arrived days before the grand opening, so we walked from Rainbow Curve to Sundance Mountain, then hiked to the top of the mountain. It was a special way to see mountain vistas from literally all sides despite the gusty winds and snow cloud we hiked through.

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Andres looking over the range from Sundance Mountain.
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Trail Ridge Road in the background from Sundance Mountain.
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White-tailed Ptarmigan near Sundance Mountain.
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Snow plowed from Trail Ridge Road near Rainbow Curve.
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Thanks to all the hard workers who plowed Trail Ridge Road!

2. Camping at Moraine Park Campground – For All Types, Especially Families

With over 200 sites, Moraine Park Campground has a little bit of something for everyone. You can choose from walk-in sites to sites near comfort stations equipped with flush toilets and sinks. There’s even a spot for your solar shower.

We stayed here for about a week and moved between three sites. The first half of our stay was still open to first come first served, but reservations began after May 26th so we had to move around. One of our sites included a bear locker just in case one of the park’s 24-or-so bears decided to meander through. This is where we set up our bigger tent with a vestibule, which is a great spot to dry-bathe in. Note, no showers here.

The best part about this campground is its easy access to great hiking trails and short driving distances to some awesome alpine lakes. One tip is to head up to Bear Lake around 6 AM so you can hike the trail to Emerald Lake before it becomes too crowded. Along the way you’ll pass our favorite spot: Dream Lake. It was truly a dream. Although much of the trail was still covered with snow, the air felt warm and we spent several hours taking in the fresh mountain air. The result is captured in our Rocky Mountain poster.

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Dream Lake, inspiration for our 5th Centennial Poster.
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Andres at Emerald Lake, frozen and covered with snow.
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Magnificent tree next to Emerald Lake.
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Back at camp, Moraine Park Campground.
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Cool evenings warmed by fire at Moraine Park Campground.
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The full moon over Rocky Mountain National Park.
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View from Moraine Park Campground.
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Cub Creek next to Moraine Park Campground.

3. Backpacking along Intricate Trails Systems – For Solitude Seekers

For those interested in a greater physical challenge, why not backpack up Lawn Lake Trail and take a morning bath in the Roaring River? That’s precisely what we did over Memorial Day Weekend to beat the crowds. While Trail Ridge Road can pick up a lot of traffic, Lawn Lake Trail had us passing an average of 8 hikers per day. Our secluded campsite at Cutbank was magically set in pines with the sounds of the river nearby. It’s a way to reflect in a park established through the efforts of many people, including naturalist Enos Mills. His words resonate:

The trail compels you to know yourself and to be yourself, and puts you in harmony with the universe. It makes you glad to be living. It gives health, hope, and courage, and it extends that touch of nature which tends to make you kind.

Hiking up to Ypsilon Lake Trail the next day introduced us to a moment we’d been hoping for: a chance to see bighorn sheep. Several were lounging along a steep hillside, staring up at us with bored expressions as we gazed from above. Andres spent quality time with his telephoto lens, and the result is displayed below. The memory inspired these sketches as well. Of course this guy had to be the star of the poster.

It was a great experience shared with my college friend Dina who drove out to meet us. Along the way she gave us some pretty awesome backpacking tips and we shared many laughs – thanks Dina!

Lawn Lake Trail felt like 1% of the entire park, which a map will quickly confirm. You could spend a lifetime getting to know the intricate peaks and valleys of the Rockies.

Remember it all with the Rocky Mountain National Park poster, featuring our original illustrations and hand crafted typography. We can’t decided what’s more grand – the striking pose of the sheep – or the view behind. Together they capture the essence of a park where snow lingers and big clouds make the mountains feel even more remarkable, if at all possible. Stop by our shop to learn the details and consider adding it to your collection of art.

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Click to view the details of the poster, available in four sizes. ©Hike and Draw, 2016.
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Bighorn sheep near Lawn Lake Trail.
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Crossing the Roaring River near Cutbank campsite with our friend Dina.
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View from the hike at Lawn Lake Trail.
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After a night of backpacking at Cutbank campsite, off Lawn Lake Trail.
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Backpacking dinner, vegetable lentil soup.
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Kinnikinnick along Lawn Lake Trail.

And don’t forget the pizza.

Whether you have a day or a month at Rocky Mountain National Park, one or all of these three experiences are absolute musts. Stop into any of the visitor centers to discover the history of this majestic park. And if you’re craving something savory, check out Antonio’s Pizza in nearby Estes Park. It is incredible!

2 comments

  1. So neat to see the park at a slightly different time of year than we went. Our favorite hike was the Nymph-Dream-Emerald Lake Trail. Emerald was NOT frozen when we went at the end of June, but much to the kids’ delight there was snow (and a friendly marmot). We didn’t drive Trail Ridge Rd, but now I wish we would have. Next time!

    1. Awesome! Oh isn’t that trail amazing? I would love to see Emerald lake without snow and ice, and we were lucky to arrive right as Trail Ridge Rd was opening. I can definitely imagine your kids’ excitement about the marmot, we’re sharing a couple of fun marmot photos from Glacier in our next post 😀

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