For anyone who decides to visit the U.S., it’s a matter of checking out its national parks. From the Grand Canyon to Yosemite, the country boasts plenty of sweeping landscapes filled with awe-inspiring cliffs, lush redwood forests, and wildlife all-around. I think as an American, we’re proud of our national parks, as they not only bring in plenty of tourists, but also symbolizes our natural, rugged “American Dream” past.
That said, Rocky Mountain National Park is no exception. Located in northwest Colorado, this national park is the third most-visited in the U.S., and it’s no wonder why. With its massive *literally* rocky mountains, captivating cascades, and miles of trails for multi-day hikes, it’s a gem to the state of Colorado, along with that of western U.S.
*side note* the Rocky Mountain National Park shouldn’t be confused with the Rocky Mountains, which actually constitutes a long range of mountains that stretch along the U.S. mountain states (e.g. Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana) into Canada (particularly British Columbia). In fact, Canada has its own Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, including Banff, which has seen an explosion in tourists in recent years, aka “ridiculously Instagrammable.” While it would’ve been great to visit, it would be way too far of a drive from Colorado, let alone cross the U.S.-Canada border, to check it out. So Colorado, it was!
It’d been years since I last visited a U.S. national park (last time was back in 2007, I believe, in the Grand Canyon), so it was somewhat intriguing to return to it. My friend with whom I’d been staying for a week in Boulder had a day off to take us to RMNP for a day trip– being that Boulder is located only an hour from the national park, it made for a convenient trip there and back in one day.
After hastily-planning what to see in RMNP the night before, my friend and I headed out the following morning to Estes Park, a small city that serves as the gateway to the Rocky Mountains. On our ride over, we caught a glimpse of the Stanley Hotel, a 20th-century, colonial-style hotel that’d inspired Stephen King’s The Shining. A bit creepy, to say the least, but a historic landmark nevertheless.
We reached the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, one of the more-popular visitor centers in the park (there are at least three of them– it’s that massive!). Besides getting out of the car to stretch out legs after a morning’s drive, we also got information about visiting some of the popular spots (e.g. Bear Lake) and other natural sites. Considering that we’d arrived in the late morning, it would be ridiculously-crowded at Bear Lake to find parking– we were advised to visit the other parts of RMNP, where there would be less people, before trying Bear Lake out later in the day.
Once we got our information, my friend and I decided to head south of RMNP to other sites we’d wanted to check out. It was a 30-minute drive to the Wild Basin entrance of the park, which had less people compared with Beaver Meadows’. After purchasing a one-day pass ($20), parking the car, we set out on-foot for a three to four-hour hike in the area. We would be hitting three waterfalls, all the while discovering the nature of this national park.
Reaching the hiking entrance, we came across a sign that marked the miles to each natural landmark. Considering that we only had an afternoon in RMNP, my friend and I decided to go no further than Ouzel Falls before turning back, as a nearly six-mile hike (10 kilometers) would be enough for our bodies– after all, we aren’t experienced hikers!
We started on the rubble-dirt path to Copeland Falls, which didn’t take so long to reach (perhaps about 20 minutes). Checking out both the Upper and Lower Falls, we took several photos of the small, but elegant waterfalls that tumbled smoothly down boulders to the source. Copeland Falls was a pleasant introduction to what RMNP had to offer, as well as being the shortest point in distance of our hike.
Continuing for the next 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) on the increasingly-uneven path, we eventually reached Calypso Cascades about 45 minutes to an hour later. The cascades were much larger in size, and interestingly blocked by plenty of fallen trees– regardless, they still retained their elegant beauty with its silky-white drop onto ebony boulders.
By the time we reached Calypso Cascades, my friend and I debated whether or not to continue to Ouzel Falls, since we were admittedly getting a bit exhausted on the hike. However, we decided to power through it and we reached the falls an hour or so later. Ouzel Falls resembled closely with Calypso Cascades, although they offered more of a two-tiered structure which made the drops larger and more dramatic.
After taking some time to take photos and rest, my friend and I headed all the way back to the hiking entrance, which took another 90 minutes to complete (granted, that we didn’t stop along the way). By the time we made it to the car, it was already mid-afternoon, and so we decided that it would be fine to head to Beaver Meadows once more to visit the other side of RMNP.
We admittedly got a bit lost driving back, but we eventually returned to Beaver Meadows where there were definitely less people (after all, it was towards 17:00 by then), which made for visiting Sprague Lake and Bear Lake much less stressful and more peaceful. We did a half-loop around each of them, all the while admiring their deep-blue waters (which seemed to reflect the equally-blue sky) and green pine everywhere.
Since we’d arrived in the late afternoon, the golden hour (i.e. sunset) was just starting, and it made for a magical moment– it’s hard to describe in words just how watching the sunlight peer between tree trunks made me feel some sort of attachment to this natural world. Especially as a city girl, the experience of going outside of the familiar into the vast unknown is different, but all the same welcomed. Seeing such a phenomenon, even if it’s merely a sunset, is a lovely finish to the day, my visit in RMNP, and my time in Colorado in general.
It was half-past 18:00 when we ended our visit in RMNP, and we made the hour journey back to Boulder. It’d been an utterly-exhausting day driving and hiking– it’d been the most I’d hiked in a long while, and it was certain that we slept really well that night! Alas, it was also my last full day in town, as I would be catching my flight back to Los Angeles the following day, thus saying goodbye to my friend and to Colorado.
I didn’t expect much before I visited Colorado this summer– however, I can say that my week there exceeded my expectations. The U.S. never ceases to amaze me, which is saying a lot as someone who was born and grew up in the country. I felt the most-relaxed in a long time: I took my time every day, whether it was from hiking to eating to talking with my friend. I enjoyed my time in town as much as having long conversations with my friend on our past with school, friendships, and adult life. In some ways, the trip also helped me come to terms with my own future after France, and I suppose that, no matter what happens, living in the present and enjoying what you’ve already got are necessary to feeling at peace and, more importantly, happy.
That concludes my recap of my time in Colorado this summer. Although it has ended, I can promise more travel stories and reflections to come soon. Thanks for reading!