Before our trip, I planned out an itinerary of hikes. But because our first hike made us realize how different the trail rating system is (“easy” in Colorado would be “difficult” in Pennsylvania) and because my boots fell apart (and I didn’t want to rush in to buying new boots because I’d rather consider trail running shoes), we nixed the trail rated “difficult/strenuous” we had planned. Instead, we did another hike I’d planned for later that week, which my guidebook said was a must-do hike: the Mills Lake Trail.
|Mills Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park|
I’d said in my last post that the view of the Rocky Mountains from our rental house showed menacing storm clouds in the mountains. Sure enough, once we got into the park, it was very chilly and overcast. Later on it rained, but not for long.
The 5.6-mile trail is an out-and back up a mountain to Mills Lake and back. Some of the leaves in the forested lower section were starting to change color.
|View heading up the Mills Lake Trail|
One mile up was Alberta Falls.
Some chipmunks and very pretty Stellar Jays were hanging out by the falls.
The trail crossed several streams.
The higher we got, the more the landscape changed from forest to tundra, so there were stunted trees and lots of rocks.
The end of the trail led to Mills Lake. Because the day was overcast, these photos don’t do it justice, but it was very pretty. It was very windy and chilly at the lake! We stopped and had snacks at the lake before heading back.
|Approaching Mills Lake|
|Dave and me at Mills Lake|
To take a break from hiking, we decided to drive Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park. Trail Ridge Road is the highest paved road in the country, reaching an altitude of 12,183 above sea level. It was warm (about 70 degrees) and sunny in Estes Park, but we had read that it would be about 20-30 degrees cooler on the road.
I had read reviews that this road was scary to drive. Even though it’s wide and paved, it’s really high up and there are no barriers. Everyone warned to not attempt driving it in bad conditions. I made Dave drive. 🙂
The beginning of the drive was great, and we got a few good overview shots. Even though we weren’t super high up yet, my stomach started doing flip-flops when I looked down at the valleys below while driving. We were still pretty high!
|You can see Trail Ridge Road to the right.|
After this overlook, we saw that we were about to drive into a dense cloud. That’s when it went downhill. Very quickly, visibility dropped to the point that we couldn’t even see car’s headlights in front or behind us. Still we drove up and and up and stopped at a pull-out just to get out. When we did, it was winter! It was bitter cold and super windy. We walked just a bit out on a trail and immediately came back because it was so cold.
We got back in the car and continued up. At this point, it was raining, and the temps kept dropping. Soon we realized that the rain was turning to sleet, and ice was forming on the windows! The car thermometer was registering 33 degrees outside.
|At this point, visibility was better but still very foggy.|
Um….so what was that about not driving on this road in bad conditions? We were over 10,000 feet at this point, visibility wasn’t great, and it was starting to sleet. Not good! Still we continued going up. We made it to the highest point on the road and then the Alpine Visitors Center, the highest elevation visitor’s center in the country, and decided to turn back around and go down. Until we got down to a lower elevation, I was terrified and had to do deep breathing to get through it. And I wasn’t even driving!
But we got down safely, and I resumed regular breathing. Later that afternoon, we walked on the Lake Estes Trail, a 3.75-mile loop where I ran on Sunday.
|Along the Lake Estes Trail|
|The historic Stanley Hotel, the inspiration for The Shining|
|Dave and me on the Lake Estes trail|