Every season in Rocky Mountain National Park is unique and beautiful, but early October is my new favorite time to visit. What makes it the best?
We easily found a parking spot at the typically popular Bear Lake lot when we hiked to scenic Mills Lake
The temperature was crisp, but once we started moving it was very comfortable (mid 50s)
3. golden aspens
The colorful aspen autumn leaves are stunning!
4. elk rut
Elk bugling season – this is a great time of year for spotting wildlife and watching the unique rituals of men elk trying to impress the most lady elk with high-pitched bugling noises, picking fights with other males and showing off their impressive antlers. The city of Estes Park hosts Elk Fest to celebrate the season. More info…
A couple of days into our early October trip to Estes Park, I woke up ready for a little challenge. After reviewing some of my go-to Rocky Mountain National Park guidebooks, I convinced my husband that Estes Cone’s short distance at 3.3 miles each way would be doable with our little one. I underestimated this hike a bit…
There are a few ways you can get to Estes Cone and we chose the shortest distance by starting out at Longs Peak trailhead. This lot can fill up before dawn, but we arrived late into Longs Peak’s climbing season and easily found a parking spot.
We followed the Longs Peak trail for about .5 miles before the trail split off towards Estes Cone. From the turn, we hiked .8 miles to get to Eugenia Mine ruins which are marked by a sign that reads, “Eugenia Mine, at the turn of the century produced more dreams than gold”.
Keeping slightly right, we hiked beyond the ‘mine’ and soon found ourselves in a grassy clearing where we could spot our destination.
We followed the trail left back into the woods. This is when the trail starts to get noticeably steeper! The views of Longs Peak were really amazing though.
2.5 miles into the hike the trail meets Storm Pass junction where you have the option to go on to Lily Lake or Bear Lake Road. We were huffing and puffing up the last .7 miles and began to worry that the trail was getting too steep to carry 10 month old Cecy safely up. My husband was nice enough to stay back with her so I could finish the last .3 miles of the climb solo.
The views from Estes Cone made the steep hike worth it!
We celebrated hiking Estes Cone by going to downtown Estes Park for a waffle cone at our favorite ice cream shop, Hayley’s.
In his guide, ‘Best Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park’, Kent Dannen says, ‘my favorite trail is the one I hiked most recently.’ So true! My heart skips a beat every time I think of our hike to Gem Lake. The autumn aspens, the crisp air, the breathtaking views, 11 month old Cecy content the whole hike…now that’s what my dream hikes are made of!
We started out at Lumpy Ridge trailhead and hiked through boulders and unique rock formations with frequent stops to catch our breath and take in the panoramic views of Estes Park and the Rocky Mountain range behind us. This was a moderately strenuous hike because of the steep steps that lead up to the lake, but the short distance at 1.8 miles each way made it pretty attainable.
If you work up a thirst, you can try out one of the new breweries in town called Lumpy Ridge Brewing Company. Located in an old gas station, the brewery has a small, eclectic tasting room plus a couple of outdoor picnic tables where you can enjoy the beer and Lumpy Ridge views.
On a busy summer weekend at Rocky Mountain National Park we were disappointed when we had to park in the park & ride and cram on a shuttle to get to our hiking destination. The ride turned out to be great because our knowledgeable shuttle driver pointed out areas of interest as we passed by. One of his highlighted destinations was Bierstadt Lake. Our driver explained the lake was named after renowned 19th century landscape artist, Albert Bierstadt. Here is a link to Bierstadt’s work.
At the end of July we hiked to Bierstadt Lake with my daughter Cecy in her Ergobaby. There are several ways to get to the lake. We decided to start at Bear Lake trailhead which is two miles each way. The first .6 miles starts out along the Flattop Mountain route before splitting off.
From the junction we followed the trail through forest away from the mountains. Once we arrived at the lake we took a nice rest to let Cecy have some time out of her carrier (it was a pretty warm day), eat a snack and take in the views. I think the best view is when you walk half way around the lake and turn back to see Flattop Mountain in the distance.We hiked back to our starting point at Bear Lake – a mostly uphill return journey. As an alternative, you could continue for 1.3 miles to end up at Bierstadt Trailhead and take the shuttle back to Bear Lake parking lot. I would think this route would be easier, but I’ll have to try it out to confirm.
I hope to take advantage of the free shuttle system on future hikes to avoid backtracking. Here is a link for more shuttle information and routes.