Hike Across Rocky Mountain National Park
Low & Behold, finding the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) will be ingrained forever. Hiking completely across a well marked trail, in one day is possible. Hike RMNP, you need to take a few essentials for your safety.
Living here in Colorado since 1990, have always dreamed of hiking across RMNP, finally doing so, last year. Once moving here January 1st. 1990, both were so excited of our surroundings, our first hike in RMNP, but never thinking it was even possible hiking across RMNP.
First hike was in mid-January, driving through Estes Park, entering RMNP on a very cold morning, enjoying cool crisp mountain air. Most wildlife had hunkered down, knowing what to expect, during this time of year.
Like a couple of kids in an amusement park, viewing our topo map, we grabbed our full North Face® Renegade internal frame backpacks out, having full Winter protection, setting out on a snow covered trailhead. Keeping in mind this was before cell phones & Doppler weather forecasts. Otherwise we may have postponed it.
Setting out, this was our second overnight backpacking trip, other one in mid summer, which we were out well over one week in White River National Forest, near Vail, CO.
Going for out for one night, we hiked on a frigid trail reaching Cub Lake that evening, only finding it frozen solid later. By 5:30pm a Winter storm in full swing. Pitching our tent almost in total darkness. With high blizzard like, White-out wind conditions, could not get inside tent and sleeping bags any quicker. Realizing to our surprise, next morning we slept in the middle of frozen Cub Lake.
Frozen lakes makes an ideal place to pitch a tent, being so flat, covered in soft snow. Having -20 degree sleeping bags, neither one of us felt the cold inches away, inside these goose down bags. Drifting off to sleep, hoping it would not drop much lower, having no idea of weather. Praying we would not be found as a couple of ice-cubes days later.
This was our first experience hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, which was an extreme one, but not our last.
You're probably wondering how this ties in to a painting blog, as I rarely blog about anything other than our paint industry. Well, this story does have a direct correlation with painting & hiking across RMNP some 17+ years later, but you'll have to read entire article.
Hiking All The Way Across Rocky Mountain National Park
Our first experience at Cub Lake, RMNP I suppose it must've snowed 12" at least, as snow drifts next to our tent almost covered it, waking up next morning. Needless to say, snow totals that night was extreme. Thank goodness those subzero bags worked!
OK, we hiked out very next morning, after having some hot coco, and granola bars, trail mix, packing our bags & tent. Knee deep in snow, we were without snowshoes. Hiking only a few miles back to the truck, both of us almost in disbelief we slept on top of Cub Lake that night before.
Getting back to civilization, we both got to work at our respective jobs, making many trips across RMNP via Trail Ridge Road once it opened, always dreaming of hiking across RMNP, but ruling it out, thinking not having enough time.
So, instead, we put RMNP on the back burner so to speak, making many memorable hikes to several alpine lakes across Colorado the next 14-17 years. Hiking San Juan Mountain Range, Rio Grande NF, White River NF, and many at Gunnison NF. Including about seven 14ers, still wishing to be able to hike all the way across RMNP, always on our wish-list.
Elderly RMNP Park Ranger Inspired Us
On one early summer weekend day in 2018, traveled up to Estes Park from Denver, wanted to get some fresh mountain air, away from the city, we stopped at a local visitor's center near Moraine Park in RMNP.
Seeing many topo maps as I passed by, I just had to stop. As I was viewing them, a young attractive Park Official was behind the counter, asking if I needed any help. Starting a conversation with her, mentioning we have always dreamed of hiking across RMNP, recalling Cub Lake, and many other treks we've experienced over the years.
This official quickly said, "Well, you need to speak to this person". My wife just got back from the restroom, as this elderly lady joined in conversation, walking up same time.
Began speaking to us about hiking across RMNP. With excitement in her voice, inspiring us, mentioning she's hiked across the park about 50 or 60 times, hiking at least twice per year! Each time in one day!
Almost dumbfounded, knowing how enjoyable hiking in Colorado is, we both were all ears. This senior park ranger pulled out exact map we needed, showing us our starting point, where trail splits, and where our destination would be.
Giving us all this valuable information, knowing it could be done in one day, this was highest on our list to do, next time out.
Knew after leaving visitor's center, our trail would start at Bear Lake in Moraine Park, taking us over Flat Top Mountain, hiking down to Grand Lake. Making careful planning, taking two vehicles. Driving to Grand Lake, leaving my Silverado at trail head where we'd be coming out. Then driving over Trail Ridge Road in wife's Journey to Estes Park, getting accommodations for a short night.
Getting up about 3am, still almost asleep, driving to Bear Lake inside the park, hitting the trail about 4am.
Packing Light, Taking Essential Hiking Gear
- All weather light weight jackets
- Polar fleece, gloves, hats
- Hiking boots w/an extra pair of socks
- Sunscreen, lip balm
- Toiletries, knife, multi-purpose tool
- Water, and purifying tablets
- Snacks, nuts, granola bars, trail mix
- Lightweight clothing, hiking pants/shorts
- Flashlights, head-wear, matches, lighters
- RMNP trail map, iPhone for pics and compass
- Hiking poles, and mini-shelter tarp
One Day Hike Across RMNP
Exuberant knowing others, especially an elderly park official hikes across RMNP, we both excited as a coon dog on his first hunting trip. Setting out in total darkness, with our brand new double A batteries lighting up headlamps, we were off.
Only having day packs, this hike seemed easy as pie, hiking across RMNP in one day. 19 miles in one day, we both knew we had to hump it. Hitting trail at 4am, figured we would arrive at our destination by 6pm. Under shot our estimate about 3 1/2 hours, getting over to Grand Lake about 9:30pm. Still not too bad, hiking 19 miles in 17.5 hours.
First photo shot with sun early dawn, gaining elevation from Bear Lake trailhead. Never thinking this would be the very best hikes in RMNP.
Our day packs consisted of trial snacks, bottles of water, rain gear, light polar fleeces, water purifiers, extra socks, and bare essentials for a day's excursion. Don't believe we left anything out, making sure we had ID's, wallets, phones, and credit cards.
Letting others know our path we were going to take, when to expect us on the other side is always smart.
Photo Shot Before Reaching Summit of Flat Top Mountain
Getting close to summit of Flat Top Mountain, a resting spot off left of trail, having a picturesque backdrop viewing backside of Longs Peak.
For those unaware, Longs Peak is highest peak in the park, one of 53 fourteeners, fifteenth highest in Colorado 14,255', with several thousands hiking this per year.
Longs Peak is a very extreme 14er, and only experienced hikers should attempt this. Having attempted three different occasions after sleeping on top of Cub Lake. Two attempts not successful because of weather conditions, had to turn back one other time because a person in our party got altitude sickness.
Remembering all time spent across mountain range, viewing Longs Peak from a different view have never seen before. This was a special time, but knew we had many miles to go, so could not spend nearly as much time as I really wanted.
Hiker/Skier Passing Us By
Almost a mile from summit of Flat Top Mountain, huffing & puffing taking short stops hiking at least a 10% grade up, a hiker having a set of skis on his back. Being mid summer, skis looked a little out of place, but did not think too much about it, just trying to reach the top.
Being more concerned about taking deep breaths, than wondering where this person with a set of skis was going. Was not long before hiker/skier was out of sight, as we reached a wooden horse corral spot, where pack horses can be tied, taking a break, where we welcomed resting spot too.
Upon taking this break, finding a rock to go behind reliving ourselves, saw that hiker skiing down glacier across the valley. Looking like a speck in real life, very hard to spot, we knew which way he was going back, not to Grand Lake.
Summit of Flat Top Mountain
Reaching summit of Flat Top Mountain, it was a clear, beautiful day. Even though clear & beautiful does not mean calm. Sustained winds in excess of 50 mph we endured all the way across Flat Top Mountain.
Even though high winds walking several miles, it was hard thinking this was the best hiking trail in RMNP. But reaching the end, relaxing over beer and pizza gave us time to ponder, reliving what we had just experienced. At this point on trail, we were less than halfway across.
At trail fork, we had to make a decision, either turning around, going back to Bear Lake, trying this again, or forge ahead to Grand Lake. Giving careful consideration, knowing how much preparations we had made taking two cars, knowing how valuable our time is, we both chose to keep going.
Strong Winds Likely
Taking us about 3 hours crossing Flat Top Mountain in strong winds was our main obstacle. Not real fun when you're in it for long periods. Funny how pictures do not show excessive winds, just scenic beauty.
Well Marked Trail
Putting on SPF 50, hoping to help with intense sun rays + any wind burns. Seeing where our trails would take us, many large rock cairns built. Could easily tell many hours have been spent up here making them. Also knew trail can be spotted during blizzards like we experienced years before at Cub Lake, much lower.
Not An Everyday Hike
After making decision to keep going towards Grand Lake, crossing over entire National Park, knew it was a chance in a life-time. Taking advantage, grabbing it while we can. At this high elevation, not many days of clear, warmer weather. Even though extreme wind can literally beat you up.
Hiked across Flat Top Mountain as quickly as we could, in 50 mph winds. Wondering if we made right decision for next 3 miles. Only thing cooler would be having a kite to fly, maybe next time I'll bring one. No worries of trees or electrical lines.
Our first glimpse coming off of Flat Top Mountain. Being so high, knew trail would be very steep on our decent. Wondering for a minute if this was going to be technical, but soon put that thought to rest, seeing multiple switchbacks.
Steep Switchbacks Hiking Near Wildlife
First Sign Of Wildlife
Coming off of Flat Top Mountain, our first greeter welcoming us to other side of Flat Top Mountain. A Marmot sunning itself, making itself known by common Marmot language.
A very remote spot in RMNP, being smack dab in the middle of it. Halfway across park's interior, saw only one hiker coming up this way, then seeing a team of pack horses with riders also coming up near here. Other than that, we were just among nature at it's finest.
Coming down off of Flat Top Mountain, good thing going this way, as trail very steep, with multiple switchbacks. A large bull Elk grazing a distance down from us, almost behind a small tree, not knowing how close trail would take us to him.
Switchbacks continued trail down very quickly, we both walked within 25 yards from him. Hiking very quietly, he knew we were there, but living in a National Park, seeing many hikers, knew he felt no danger.
Making our way down past him, looking forward seeing next animal in this wilderness, calling RMNP home. Coming almost out of steep switchbacks, seeing another bull Elk even closer! Trail took us within feet of second bull Elk.
We were probably as intimidated to him, as he was to us, making sure we did not startle him. Hiked close together, trying to appear larger to him, we past his path w/o any altercation. Just glad it was an Elk, not a Grizzly bear.
Trail coming down major corridors between two mountain ranges, following mountain stream, crossing it many times. Lot's of trail preparations, making many log bridges. This route was indeed best, going from Estes Park & Moraine to Grand Lake.
Near End Of Trail
Still hiking, taking trail down to more level terrain, passing a private cabin, trail became a wider as to a four wheel drive road. Passing cabin, only had about one more mile to trail end, in full darkness, about 9:30pm.
With only a few hundred yards to go, a full grown Moose standing in the middle of trail, making us stop. Having our headlamps back on, Moose did not seem interested in us, nor knew he was blocking our path.
Being very tired, feet and legs ached, not wanting to go another mile. Still not thinking what we had just endured, seen, or experienced. Only time allowed us to look back, knowing how lucky we were seeing one of the most beautiful hikes in RMNP.
Checking in at Shadowcliff Mountain Lodge
Having to wait nearly 30 minutes until he decided to move off of trail, we continued to our vehicle, looking forward to our room reserved at Shadowcliff Hostile.
Checking in almost 10pm. at Shadowcliff, we both were plum wore out, staff showed us previously our room, so we both went straight to our room. Enjoying next day, recuperating from strenuous hike day before, enjoying shops and restaurants in Grand Lake.
Shadowcliff Mountain Lodge made our hike across RMNP all possible, and that much more worthwhile!
How Wall Finish & Painting Ties Into Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park
Upon our visit at Shadowcliff, learning it's a non-profit organization, prices for rooms very reasonably priced. In prime tourist season, normally opens late March each year.
Spending one night there, coming down stairs, as our room on second floor, seeing drywall installed but not finished. Thinking we can take care of this! As just coming back would be a welcomed get-away. So, taking care of this next year, in March 2019, weeks before opening summer season. Sending a couple of our Denver painters who took care of wall finishes near stairs, about two and a half days.
Using all purpose drywall mud, this took several hours to dry, between coats, and before painting.
We were just as glad doing this, as they were very appreciative receiving our wall finishing, also painting. Installing drywall corners, floating them out, skim coating, sanding, repeating until smooth.
Our team of painters finished drywall, skim coating drywall, sanding, & smoothing. Once that those repetitive processes had dried, used best interior paint on walls up stairway, as this area is high traffic, making easier to clean.
Shadowcliff is ideal for any of those wishing to hike across Rocky Mountain National Park. Rustic mountain cabins, very reasonably priced, a welcomed place when hiking across National Park, or just going to Grand Lake for a relaxing, vacation get-a-away.
Open fire-pit, full kitchen to prepare your meals, our painters were treated like Kings, thanks to Emily & staff. A true Colorado mountain lodge experience, you too would enjoy!
Painting in Colorado has many attributes, could never think of painting anywhere else, as The Rocky Mountains holds everything in place.
Shadowcliff is within yards to National Park & trailhead. Like to hike across RMNP? Top it off ending, or starting your mountain day trek at Shadowcliff! Making a perfect destination.
If you're in the Colorado area, look no further than Eco Paint, Inc. & team of Denver painters handling your next house painting needs. Painting colorful Colorado.
Hope you enjoyed our experience of trail across Rocky Mountain National Park! Realizing you too can hike RMNP in one day, having one of the best hikes RMNP has to offer.
If so, please like, share, ping, and/or comment below.