ColoRADo 2015: Rocky Mountain National Park

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When we sat down to plan our trip to Colorado, we didn’t have many “musts” on the agenda.  Mostly, we just wanted to spend time with Dan and Danielle and have them show us what they wanted us to see in their area.  But there was one thing I did request – a day at Rocky Mountain National Park.  I love our national park system – visiting Acadia with my grandparents and Yosemite with my parents are some of my fondest memories from childhood.  Taking my kids to national parks has always been high on my list of family to-dos, and Steve had actually never been to one of the big parks before.  (He’s been to Great Falls a million times, of course, and to various smaller DC sites run by the NPS, but not a big park – nope, not even Shenandoah.)  So we told Dan that we really wanted to visit RMNP, and he was on board.  Dan and Danielle live near the park and love to visit.

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You’ve already seen some of our pictures, because we did our November hike around Bear Lake, deep in RMNP.  But I hope you’ll indulge me and look at a few of them again, and a few more pictures of the park besides.  It was just so breathtakingly beautiful.

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Shortly after we arrived in the park, we saw this massive herd of elk.  Apparently they’re very common – to the point that they will meander down to Estes Park and disrupt traffic.  But we still thought they were amazing and majestic!

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We pulled over on the side of the road for a few photo sessions every time there was a herd within eyesight.  Danielle is truly gifted at spotting animals – and maybe more.  Dan has told us that whenever Danielle expresses a desire to see an animal, as if by magic, they see the animal that same day.  Even shy bighorn sheep are no match for her wildlife summoning powers.  I told Dan he’d better pray she never takes it into her head that she wants to see a yeti.

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We drove through the park and stopped now and then to marvel at the scenery.  It was a good way to see the sights – with the kids still bundled cozily in their car seats.

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As we got deeper into the park and continued to gain in elevation, the turns got sharper and the roads more harrowing – but the scenery was that much more spectacular.  My knuckles were white, though, as we inched around some of those switchbacks.

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As you know, though, the payoff was so worth it.  Bear Lake was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

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Heart-stoppingly beautiful.

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After our hike around Bear Lake, we were all starting to get a bit peckish, so we drove down into Estes Park for dinner.  Estes Park was an adorable and historic town with cute shops and restaurants and an adorable playground that, had it not been dark and cold out when we were walking around, I know Peanut would have loved.

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We started out by strolling down a walk that ran the length of a sweet little stream and took us right into the center of town.

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The restaurants were warmly lit and all looked so cozy and welcoming.  We set course for a pub that Dan and Danielle recommended.

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(Detour to check out the playground.)  I really wish we’d been able to see more of Estes Park in the light!  Like with Nederland, I was sure we were missing out on a lot of charm, by not seeing these places until after dark.  Oh, well – I’m sure there will be other visits, so we’ll get a chance to play in all the best Rocky Mountain spots.

We warmed up from our chilly hike and walk with a delicious pub dinner.  Steve got an elk burger, and I was more than mildly horrified that, after we saw herds of beautiful elk roaming free and wild in RMNP all day, an elk burger was what sounded particularly good to him – ha!  I stuck with a turkey burger (I don’t eat four-legged friends) and a glass cowboy boot full of stout.  Because when you’re in the Rocky Mountains, you drink glass cowboy boots full of stout.  Hey, I don’t make the rules.

What a fun day!  RMNP was incredible in its winter finery.  Now I can’t wait to visit the park – and Estes – in the other three seasons!  Next week, our final recap – I’ll share photos of a spectacular hiking spot not ten minutes from my brother’s house.  Check back!

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