On the first day of Rocky Mountain National Park’s (RMNP) new reservation system, I decided to leave work early and check it out for myself. Hundreds of tickets were still available so I had no trouble purchasing one. (Only $2 for me since I have an annual pass.) The National Park had opened a few days before after being closed for months due to the pandemic. The reservation system was implemented to limit the number of people in the park at one time to help with social distancing. (Of course everyone always ends up at the same trailheads anyways, but that’s another story.)
Since I was getting to the park after noon, I didn’t want to do a long hike. I brought my RMNP hiking guidebook with me and did as many short hikes as I could before it was time to go home.
Lake Irene | Rocky Mountain National Park
Estes Park, CO | 06/04/20 | 0.93 miles | 112′ gain
Trail Ridge Road was open, so my first stop was just across the Continental Divide at Lake Irene. There was still some snow to contend with on the trail but it was well-traveled to the lake.
It’s only about 1/4 mile to Lake Irene, a very easy walk. There were very few people out today, all of which had made Lake Irene their final destination. The trail continues around the lake and heads another 1/4 mile to an overlook. Based on the snow conditions, I was the first person to travel this far this year. Exciting!
I plunged through the wet snow, allowing my feet to get soaked, but it would all be worth it when I reached the overlook…I hoped. The overlook itself doesn’t have the best view, but it was what I saw in the meadow that made my wet feet worthwhile.
I couldn’t believe my timing. Mama & baby moose were perfectly framed in the meadow, just for me it seemed. Even though I was pretty far away, mama sensed my presence and they both moved out of view. I frantically snapped pictures, not realizing that none of them were focused until I got home (dang!). After the moose left, I followed my footsteps back to Lake Irene (literally, because I had post-holed through the snow).
The other hikers had left the lake and I was blessed with a few more moments to myself. Lake Irene isn’t as big or as scenic as many other lakes in RMNP, but it’s still a worthwhile destination! The trail is all uphill on the way out, though pretty gradual. I quickly made my way back to the car, ready to see what else I could discover.
Hidden Valley | Rocky Mountain National Park
Estes Park, CO | 06/04/20 | 0.57 miles | 79′ gain
I drove back over the Divide and next stopped at Hidden Valley. I have driven past this turn-off hundreds of times and never knew there was a trail here! The area is mainly used for picnicking in the summer, but is perhaps more popularly a sledding area in winter. A short, gravel trail parallels Hidden Valley Creek, crosses on a bridge, and then returns on the opposite side.
I was the only person walking along this trail, and it was quite peaceful along the creek. Numerous interpretive signs tell of Hidden Valley’s extensive human history. Most recently, the area was a ski resort. Eventually, the ski lodge was disassembled and the materials were reused in new buildings, including the bathroom/shelter at the Hidden Valley Trailhead.
Beaver Boardwalk | Rocky Mountain National Park
Estes Park, CO | 06/04/20 | 0.18 miles | 0′ gain
Next up was the Beaver Boardwalk. This ADA-accessible boardwalk leaves an unmarked pull out and travels a short distance into a wetland area, presumably created by beaver.
Alluvial Fan | Rocky Mountain National Park
Estes Park, CO | 06/04/20 | 0.41 miles | 64′ gain
My last stop was the Alluvial Fan Trail. This is a point-to-point trail that travels between east and west parking areas. It’s been under construction for a while and is still not totally open. I hiked as far as the closure (from the east trailhead).
In 1982, the Lawn Lake dam failed and released 29 million gallons of water. The torrent swept trees and boulders four miles down Roaring River. The water’s force weakened when it reached Horseshoe Park, spreading out in the meadows. The debris was dropped in an alluvial fan, which is the feature this trail traverses. The vast amount of boulders and sand still found in this area are evidence of this flood.
This trail was insanely busy so I didn’t stay long. The construction closure was near the waterfall, so I snapped a quick picture and hiked back to the car.
It’s always a great day in the mountains!