The third day of our Colorado trip was the day Noah had been waiting for: Rocky Mountain National Park.
The kid is in the middle of a serious love affair with National Parks, so it didn’t matter how cool horseback riding was (or whether he’d admit it or not) – what he wanted was national parks and national parks only.
We started our day before the sun came up with Chick-Fil-a for breakfast – always good to have a familiar comfort food before driving potentially hazardous mountain roads for which a southerner has no training.
The worker said “Oh, you must be on your way to school!”
We looked at each other and nodded.
If only all of our school days looked like this.
Although it was still mild and definitely autumn in the plains of our home base Loveland, we’d be traveling 5,000 feet in elevation along winding roads straight into an early winter – it would be snowing in the park.
I wasn’t sure how I would do with the elevation change – my dysautonomia didn’t really prefer the heights of Montana, and this would be higher. When we rolled into Estes Park, the tiny town right outside the national park (Elevation 7,522′), it hit me hard. I thought I was going to have to pull over and pass out or throw up or both, and after the previous trip to the ER, Ali was on edge in general about my health. The feeling passed, but I went ahead and warned the kids for good measure: “If I get sick, it’s the elevation, not an allergic reaction. Please do not freak out.”
We continued to the park entrance, where the snow overtook us almost immediately. We kept climbing upward on several miles of curvy park roads, passed a massive herd of elk, not soon after which I was forced to carefully try out my uneducated Alabama snow-driving skills.
This was not a good sign.
Thankfully, it was just the first shock and the windy parking lot.
As soon as we got on the gloriously magical first trail around Bear Lake, we were all in awe.
After slowly circling the lake with awe and glee (and me slipping and falling on my butt for the first time), we continued onto our next trail to Nymph Lake. It was more of an uphill hike, and by now the trails were quite slippery and it became difficult to stay upright. There were a few falls, a good number of slips, and a deep knowledge that we would be sore in new places the next day.
But it was totally worth it. And the views on the way there were incredible – ready for their epic journey movie debut.
Nymph Lake was completely covered in snow, implying that it had some level of frozenness to it.
Being that it was still early October, though, one would assume there wasn’t much of an ice layer. Noah, however, was convinced that he needed to see if it would hold him. Clearly his National Park Mania was in full effect, because it took me way too long to convince my normally rule-following overly-cautious kid that NO HE COULD NOT TEST THE ICE OF NYMPH LAKE WITH HIS BODY.
Poor Mistreated Kid.
We continued upward, heading for the next lake, but the trail continued increasing its incline and slipperiness, so we found a trail pull-out with a lovely view and had a bit of a snowball fight and snow angel making and general playing in the snow instead.
We hiked back down, or rather slip-slid back down to the parking lot, and drove carefully to our next trailhead. Thankfully, other parts of the country are delightfully prepared for such weather anomalies as snow, and the snow-ploughs had made the roads completely drivable, despite the ever-increasing snowfall. By now, Alabama would be completely shut down for a week.
Our next stop was the Alberta Falls trail.
The snow was deeper, and coming down harder, and my poor deprived Alabama children really just wanted to have a snow day, so we’d hike about 100 feet, then stop and build snowmen, or have snowball fights, or build igloos made of snowballs, or whatever their bursting hearts desired.
We’d hiked around 5 miles in the snow at that point, which takes a lot longer than a dry hike, so we began our descent out of the park. The snow made the drive just incredible.
Back down in Estes Park, you’d have never known it had snowed on us the entire time we were in the park. It was gorgeous and sunny, and the Aspen trees were glowing in the light.
As we drove back down the mountain and into Loveland, we were greeted by something that belonged on our side of the country – Blue Angels flying directly over our heads.
After a bit of googling, we realized that they had flown in from Pensacola for an airshow in two days, but that they were practicing their maneuvers that day.
We found a place to pull off and watch a bit, and realized that it’s way more fun to watch practice than to wait around at an airfield all day to see these guys. It was a perfect surprise ending to our adventurous day.
Our fourth and final day in Colorado was to be a moving road trip: a stop in Boulder for souvenirs, then on to Golden Gate State Park for a hike, then our final stop, the Georgetown Loop Railroad – something I was personally really looking forward to.
Our hike at the State Park started at an incredible overlook – one that we spent half a second looking at because the wind was SO COLD WE COULD NOT HANDLE IT.
Despite our multiple layers and hats and gloves and the fact that we’d snow hiked in the National Park the day before without issues, my fingers were so numb when we started hiking that they ached an unending ache. Could I get frostbite in Colorado in October? I was finding out.
The hike was downhill into a ravine, where I found one of the only stands of aspen trees that had not shed quite all of their leaves, trees that lovingly provided a skirt of fallen multicolored leaves for me to collect, hike back up the hill holding onto, put into my travel leaf press, and turn into art later.
We went from achingly cold to sweating and stripping layers way too quickly.
We made it back up the hill, and the breeze had miraculously disappeared. NOW we could appreciate the view.
Our next stop: The Georgetown Loop Railroad. By far the most “tourist” thing we did all week, but an antique narrow gauge train! Through mountain passes! Who could resist??
Not me, that’s who. Even when we almost boarded, heard a loud clank and the engineer yell “Oh NO that’s not GOOD at ALL!!”, then they asked us to wait around for 30 minutes because our engine was broken and they’d have to bring over the spare from the other station, and we might as well go shopping, but we chose not to, which was a good idea since the other train arrived in 7 minutes and they had us board again. Not sure what happened to all those shoppers, but we had a nice roomy train car for ourselves. And we definitely weren’t smug about our decision.
The train was a magical and unique experience.
I mean, it had its loud moments – especially on the way back when the engine was pulling us, and we went from being at the back of the train to the front of the train with the whistle facing us. But worth it? Absolutely.
- Always carry an epi-pen, even if no one has known active allergies.
- If your kids are in double digits, it’s totally doable – even if they change your gate 30 minutes before boarding your return flight and you have to hike/run over a mile in the country’s biggest airport with overstuffed carry-ons to make your flight. We hiked right past screaming toddlers being slowly dragged down long corridors and I thanked the Lord above for older children.
- Let the kids research and plan at least some of the trip. It’s an awesome time saver and good Google training.
- It’s a totally achievable and worthwhile adventure.