||Location: Rocky Mountain
National Park, Colorado
Access: From the Beaver Meadows Entrance, drive west on Trail Ridge Rd for ~1 mile to a 180-degree bend in the road. Park in the pullout and start walking, or hang a left on the Beaver Meadow gravel access road and follow it 1.5 miles to the Upper Beaver Meadows trailhead. Large herds of elk congregate in Beaver Meadows in September-October.
Lower Pullout: NAD 83 zone 13 449772e 4468971n 8301'
Upper Trailhead: NAD 83 zone 13 447888e 4469333n 8439'
Trails: The Ute trail begins at the upper TH and heads 4 miles up Trail Ridge to Hwy 36.
Maps: Trails Illustrated 1:59,000 Rocky Mt National Park (#200)
USGS 1:24,000 McHenry Peak; Longs Peak
Fees: $20 week pass, or $35 annual pass per vehicle
Dogs: Not allowed on trails, kept on leash everywhere else
Webcam: Estes Park, 3 miles to the east
Weather: Current and recent conditions
Because Iíve had a dog longer than a car, and because national parks have very strict rules about dogs in parks, Iíve only been hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park twice, despite living only an hour away for the past 8 years. The only other time I entered the park was at night, in the fall, to listen to elk bugling. We did not hike that particular evening. I know that someday Iíll be living far away and regret not spending more time in one of the most beautiful national parks in the world. Andra and I decided to leave Frank at home for once and spend a day at the park, though we knew we would be stymied from exploring the park's higher elevations because of the snow. The particular day we chose was cold and clear: very pretty to look at, but not a great time to be out hiking. The wind was brisk. On the other hand, these factors virtually guaranteed that we'd have the area to ourselves.
We entered via Beaver Meadows, and once inside the park, we stopped almost immediately along Hwy 36 to get out and bushwhack across a few hills and walk along ridges and deep snow, avoiding the heavy timber on the north faces of the hills where the really deep snow was. 2002 was a particularly dry year for Colorado, and you can see from the photographs that the snow in January really wasn't that deep, and practically non-existent on south-facing slopes. We didnít take any particular trail, but instead just wandered around, probably in violation of Park policy. We came upon a thin creek that was frozen solid. The ice had cracked into blocks here and there, and was pretty deep, seeming to go down a few feet, but still allowing perfect clarity to the creekbed in spots. It looked like a giant seam of glass, as if glass were a mineral occasionally deposited in the earth.
After strolling around Beaver Meadows for awhile, we drove up Trail Ridge Rd, which I have heard is the highest paved road in America, to a locked gate. We parked the car and walked through the unplowed snow on the road beyond the locked gate for about 1.5 miles. To the right of the road was a low rock wall with a steep drop-off beyond. Standing on this low wall was a great way to soak in the beauty of the snow-capped peaks visible to the north and west. We turned around when the wind surpassed ridiculous, and crept into what I would label insane. By that point we were both bundled up completely, leaning into the wind and not talking at all. On the way back we passed two people snowshoeing, and as we arrived back at the car, we encountered quite a few people milling about. The mountain to the southwest blocked most of the wind at that point, so we took the time to walk along a trail that paralleled the road and had little information kiosks that identified the peaks in view, wildlife, vegetation, etc. In the calm air and the mid-day sun, it almost felt warm. By mid afternoon we had been thoroughly replenished with the cleansing quality of the forest, and decided to return home to hassle the poor dog we left behind.