Aspen Trees at Rocky Mountain National Park

Fall Foliage Adventure in Colorado

Colorado lies in the south western United States encompassing most of the Southern Rocky Mountains. Colorado is notable for its diverse geography - ranging from its alpine mountains, arid plains and deserts with huge sand dunes, deep canyons, sandstone and granite rock formations, rivers, lakes, and lush forests. During late September, temperatures begin to drop here and as a result the aspen trees start to change colors. The leaves of aspen trees will turn from a lush green to vibrant reds, oranges and golds. Peak viewing time for these colors are typically the third or fourth week of September through the middle of October. I never had an opportunity to experience the fall colors in its full glory. Since the beginning of 2016 I have been very eager to and been planning a trip to view fall colors. Colorado is a very popular destination among the fall foliage enthusiasts and hence I chose this place along with two of my friends.

My friends and I stay at Columbus, Indiana. Denver is about 1000 miles to the west. We had decided to visit Colorado during the last weekend of September . The only way to make this trip possible during the weekend would be to take a flight from Indianapolis to Denver. Frontier Airlines is based out of Denver and usually tickets to Denver come cheap. We paid $156/ head for round trip.

We left Indianapolis on 30th September 2016 (7:50PM EST) and returned back on 3rd October 2016 (4:00AM EST) from Denver.

Day 1: Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) spans 265,769 acres of pristine wilderness, making it one of the largest national parks in the United States. The drive from Denver to Estes Park where the RMNP is situated took us about 90 minutes to cover 70 miles.

On reaching the park entrance we were told that the parking at Bear Lake trail wherein our hike starts was full. Hence we were guided to park our rental car at Park n Ride where there was ample parking space. A park bus service is scheduled at intervals of 15 minutes to pick people up and drop them off at respective trailhead.

At the Estes Park entrance

We had decided to hike the Glacier Gorge trail to the Sky Pond which is a classic Rocky Mountain hike. The hike begins from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, which is located on Bear Lake Road. It is considered as a moderate hike which includes an elevation gain of about 1500 feet. The hike starts off and ends at elevations 9240 feet and 10,630 feet respectively.

We started our hike at 10:45 AM. The Loch Vale trail rises steadily through young aspen and mixed pine to Alberta Falls. The Alberta Falls is a good sized waterfalls and is very beautiful. It is situated about 0.9 mile from the trailhead. There were a lot of people around the falls trying their best to capture the right picture of the falls. But I felt any picture of the falls looked great.

Alberta Falls

After soaking in sites of Alberta Falls for about 15 minutes, we trekked up the trail, through various switchbacks, creeks and along a rocky ridge side trail. The weather was perfect for this kind of a hike.

Beautiful views of the Rocky Mountains en-route to The Loch

The more we hiked into the trail the views around us kept getting better. This anxiousness is what kept driving us further. Finally after 1.5 hours we reached the Loch. This is the midpoint between the Glacier Gorge trailhead and the Sky Pond. The Loch sits about 3 miles into the hike at 10,192 feet. This alpine lake is a lovely little spot nestled below RMNP’s Taylor Peak. This was a perfect spot for us to cool down before making the ascend to the Sky Pond. We sat beside the Loch and captured some nice photos.

The Loch

After enjoying a break at the Loch, we continued to follow the trail around the right-side of the shoreline for the final half of the hike to Sky Pond. The beginning portion of the hike doesn’t get much sunlight, so it was very pleasant. However the final climb to the Sky Pond is very tricky. One needs to climb some rocks which are wet and are very cold due to the low temperatures. After carefully navigating the rocks we had our first sight of the Sky Pond. This small lake is formed by melting glaciers. We reached the Sky Pond at 1:30 PM.

It was very windy and cold at the top. We sat behind a huge rock so that we were not exposed to direct winds. We had a light lunch here and relaxed ourselves. Though there were no colored trees at the top, we were able to see a lot of colored aspen trees down at lower elevations.

Sky Pond in all its glory

We started our climb down the trail at 2:15 PM. The hike down was easy and relaxing, except that we needed to watch out for loose rocks. We hardly stopped for water as the weather was pleasant. There was a breeze of fresh air blowing by which helped our cause. We walked at a brisk pace and were able to complete the trail down in about 2 hours.

Colored aspen trees at RMNP

From the trailhead we boarded the park bus back to Park n Go. We took a quick break and started our drive to Minturn. Minturn is a small city in northern Colorado, about 100 miles to the west of RMNP. During the drive we had the pleasure of driving on the Trail Ridge Road. This road runs at an elevation of 12,000 feet at its highest point. The views of the mountains from this elevations was simply breathtaking. Words can’t describe the true beauty we were able to see from this road!

We reached Minturn at 9:30 PM and had our dinner immediately. After dinner we checked in to a local hostel. This was the very first time I had stayed in a hostel and the experience was excellent..

Day 2: Hanging Lake

After waking up early in the morning we headed out at a local coffee shop for some breakfast. Following our breakfast we took the I-70W towards Glenwood Canyon where the Hanging Lake is situated. We drove 40 miles to reach the Hanging Lake entrance. We had to wait for parking for about 15 minutes. But once we got a spot we parked the car and started our hike up the mountain.

The trail up to Hanging Lake

The trailhead begins along the Colorado River with a paved bike path surrounded by the banded rock walls of Glenwood Canyon. The morning air was cool. After about a quarter mile the Hanging Lake Trail starts onto the left. This is the beginning of Dead Horse Creek Canyon, the canyon that we had to follow to Hanging Lake. The hike up the Hanging Lake was pretty challenging. Though the trail length is only 3.2 miles round trip; the elevation gain takes a toll on the knees. There were a lot of people on the trail and we had to make frequent stops in between. It took us about 45 minutes to reach the top.

Hanging Lake

Hanging Lake is a masterpiece of the natural world. You could spend the entire morning staring into its waters and discovering new things. We spotted trout in its green and blue waters, and dippers, little birds that create nests right on the rocks along the water. There were a variety of moss, ferns, and wildflowers all along the lake.

After spending a peaceful 30 minutes at the lake we started our hike down the mountain. It took us about 20 minutes to get down to the parking and start driving to our next destination.

Day 2: Maroon Bells

After the Hanging Lake we took the CO-82 to Aspen. We wanted to make a quick visit to the Maroon Bells before we headed back to Denver. We had our flight back to Indianapolis at 11:50 PM and hence we could afford to make this possible.

The Maroon Bells peaks are touted as the most photographed place in Colorado. A reflective lake and two giant snow-striped mountaintops, named Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak, anchor a blissful panorama exemplified by a symphony of color that changes with the seasons. Because the natural landmark is so popular, there is restricted access to the area during the summer and fall. Fall is an especially dreamy time to visit, when the Maroon Bells are cradled by cloud-speckled blue skies and golden-hued aspen groves.

Maroon Bells Peaks

We enjoyed the beautiful views Maroon Bells had to offer and started our drive back to Denver. The drive back to Denver was 4 hours long. During the drive we were further brought face to face with some stunning views of canyons, valleys and rivers. The drive by the Independence Pass was other worldly. It is a high mountain pass in the Rocky Mountains of central Colorado. It is at an elevation of 12,095 ft on the Continental Divide in the Sawatch Range. It was very cold out there at the top. We got some quick photos and ran back into the car. We then drove continuously for about 3 hours until we reached Denver at 9:30 PM.

View of the Rocky Mountains from Independence Pass

This has been one very well planned and executed excursions of mine. From the high mountains of the Rocky’s to the pristine lakes of Glenwood Canyon and lastly the Maroon Peaks. I enjoyed each and every place fully. I also came across many other places on the way that could be further explored. I am pretty sure that I will make another visit to Colorado soon.