This post was written by Eric after a quick solo adventure on New Year’s Eve 2020.
Sometimes when I hike, it’s easy to get so focused on the planned destination that I just put my head down and grind through the miles on the approach, paying little attention to the beauty along the way. So on New Year’s Eve a few months back, I set out on a hike with the specific intention not to reach any particular landmark on the Long’s Peak trail. I knew that I didn’t have the experience or gear to attempt a winter summit of the trail’s namesake on my own, nor did I intend to try to cross the steep ridge over to Chasm Lake without much knowledge of the conditions. I just wanted to get some miles in on a snowy trail through the woods, and pop above the tree line for as long as the typically blustery winter conditions would allow.
Below are some pictures from an absolute treat of a hike—the weather was perfect. Though the temperature was in the single digits at the trailhead, there was almost *no* wind, which again, can be quite rare on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park during the winter months. The trail was generally well-packed, so snowshoes were not required (yak tracks were helpful). It was also wonderful to be nearly alone on one of the busiest 14er trails in all of Colorado; a stark contrast from the parade of headlamps that ascend through the early morning darkness during peak “summit season.” With no objective to achieve, I was able to just soak in the incredible surroundings and be more present for the entire adventure.
I hope to build on this memorable experience and take a “destinationless” approach to hiking more often throughout the year.
Standing under the evergreens on our snowy hike up to Nymph Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park filled my heart with gratitude and relief. Just a few months ago, we were anxiously watching the news and hoping that the wildfires would be contained. Although the damage was substantial, thanks to the incredible effort by firefighters (and perhaps some good luck and answered prayers), Rocky Mountain National Park is open and beautiful.
We bought our annual America the Beautiful Park Pass which covers entrance into national parks and federal recreation lands for the entire family. For us, this is a great deal because we go to the park frequently, plus we feel good about financially supporting the national parks. You can learn more about the pass here.
Details about day passes entrance fees for Rocky Mountain National Park as well as upcoming free days can be found on the nps website.
The hike to Nymph Lake begins at the Bear Lake trail head. The journey to Nymph Lake is only .5 miles. Our girls were eager to play in the snow and thrilled that the lake was frozen solid.
Cozy cabin in estes park
I spent a lot of time during our trip sitting next to the fire in our cabin, reading books, and drinking coffee. I read 37 books in 2020 which beat my previous year by 11 books. My 2020 favorites include Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson, The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. If you enjoy reading on vacation, check out my Book Lovers Guide to Estes Park, Colorado.
In 2020, COVID-19 made us weary of airport travel. We were also navigating the school calendar for the first time as our oldest started kindergarten. This meant fewer trips to the mountains last year. The positive side is that we were able to rent our cabin to many families who wanted a safe and relaxing vacation spot. We are reinvesting the rental income we earned into a couple of upgrades including new flooring throughout the first level. Learn more about renting our cabin here.
Hike around lily Lake
I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve written about Lily Lake on our site. Lily Lake is our favorite destination because it is easy, fun, and family friendly. A trip to Rocky Mountain National Park without a stroll around Lily Lake feels incomplete.
Sledding in rocky mountain national park
Hidden Valley is the only place where sledding is allowed in Rocky Mountain National Park. We have been taking our girls to this spot every year. It is a blast! You can rent sleds and other winter gear at Estes Park Mountain Shop.
Sprague Lake is a half mile loop. We enjoyed this hike on New Year’s Day. This felt like a good start to the year even though life remains a little uncertain. Typically, I’m very goal-oriented, but this year (for now at least) I’m not writing a list of goals. I love to hear what other people do to celebrate the beginning of a New Year, so please feel free to share your reflections in the comments below.
Our 5 Most Popular Colorado posts in 2020
I always think it’s fun to see what our readers are finding on our site.
The Estes Park Winter Bucket List was the fourth most popular post this year. Although it was written in 2019, the list remains a good one! On our New Year’s Eve trip we checked off several bucket list items including sledding, winter hikes, shopping for a Christmas ornament, sitting by the fireplace with a good book, and swimming at the Estes Valley Community Center.
The Homer Rouse Trail – a Dog Friendly Trail in Estes Park, Colorado and the updated version Homer Rouse Trail – Revisited (written in 2019) continue to be among the most popular posts on our site.
The second most popular post was A Trail Less Traveled: Hollowell Park to Mill Creek Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park which was written in 2019. We returned to Hollowell Park this summer and wrote about it here. The wildflowers were beautiful! If this is a hiking destination you want to try, make sure to check in with the national park service. According to their website, ‘Trails that remain closed in the Bear Lake area include the Fern Lake Trail, Cub Lake Trail, the Mill Creek Basin, and Hollowell Park.’ (as of 1/4/2021).
If you are on pinterest, I’d love for you to check out our profile. I typically add videos on pinterest that aren’t included in the blog posts.
I’m going to ask my husband Eric to post his favorite moments from our recent trip too. Some of his pictures are AMAZING. I can’t wait to share them here soon. I’m also excited to share about our latest Estes Park food adventure. A post about our Asian Takeout Extravaganza is coming soon.
Last week I was feeling sentimental and decided to print pictures from our summer adventures. I was surprised when a package of 143 prints came in the mail. I need to buy a new photo album to fit them all in! I think that is a good problem to have. The summer of 2020 has been challenging, so I am thankful we’ve been able to capture 143 fun moments.
This hike along the Ute Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park contains several of these exceptional summer memories.
Our family entered in Rocky Mountain National Park from the east side of the park near Estes Park during our reserved timed entry window. We drove up Old Fall River Road to the Alpine Visitor Center then parked and walked around to take in the landscape from the viewing deck.
My cousin and his high school age sons came in from the west side of the park near Grand Lake. We were thrilled to meet them for a morning hike.
The trail begins right across from the visitor center (11,796 ft of elevation). Trail Ridge Road can get terribly busy, so we held our kids’ hands while crossing.
This section of the Ute Trail leads down to Poudre Lake and Milner Pass. The hike to Poudre Lake is four miles each way. If you have two cars, you can park one at the Alpine Visitor Center and the other by Poudre Lake to avoid the return trip back up.
Instead of juggling cars, we decided to cut the hike short. We followed the trail for approximately one and a half miles until we reached a couple of tarns off the path. We returned the way we came. The return trip was uphill, but it felt doable even with young kids.
I loved every second of this hike. It was fun catching up with my cousin and his kids, the views were unbelievable, the weather was perfect, the wildlife was exciting, and the flowers were beautiful. We even got a rare family photo of all four of us mostly looking at the camera.
A Trip Report from Eric’s hike on CCY Route in July 2020
Chapin, Chiquita and Ypsilon summits
Last month, I got to take an early morning hike on a route that I’d been looking forward to for a long time: the “CCY Route” in Rocky Mountain National Park. The “CCY” stands for Chapin, Chiquita and Ypsilon, three prominent summits in the Mummy range in the north-central section of the park. Easy access to this hike is only available for a few months out of the year due to the trailhead location, which is several miles up Old Fall River Road. Alltrails.com lists the route as 8.9 miles round-trip, with 3,244 feet of total elevation gain. However, it’s important to note that this hike is above the tree-line for the majority of the journey, and much of the terrain is considered to be Class II rock hopping.
CCY Trailhead and Where to Park for CCY Route
An early start here is important for two reasons. First, as always, any time spent above the tree line in the summer in RMNP is best done earlier in the day before afternoon thunderstorms pop up. But second, this trailhead has very limited parking available along the side of Fall River Road, only enough for maybe 12-15 vehicles. I arrived at 5:25am and was the third car there, so had plenty of space. But as I was making the switchbacks in the dark, I was thinking what my backup hike might be, and Mount Ida crossed my mind—this is another summit on my list that also requires a journey up either Fall River Road or Trail Ridge Road from Estes Park, and it does have substantially more parking at the Continental Divide/Poudre Lake trailhead. But anyway, on to the adventure…
I had a headlamp in my pack, but there was just enough light to proceed without it as I started my hike. Just a few minutes in, you reach a clearly marked junction that directs you to the right for the CCY summits, rather than continuing on the main trail to Chapin Pass.
From here the path becomes far steeper, ascending several rock “steps” to break through the trees to the edge of the tundra. At around the .6-mile mark, another trail split appears, and the sign guides to the right for “all summits.”
I’d read that actually either way would work here but decided to follow the sign and continue on the path to Mount Chapin. At this point, the sun was starting to rise, but was hidden from my view, being on the western slopes of these three mountains. Still though, the views looking back were beautiful!
The route to Mount Chapin is easy to follow from here, despite a few small “rock crossings” along the way.
Just past the 1.5 mile mark, a side trial heads straight up to the summit of Mount Chapin, gaining approximately 400 feet of elevation in less than half a mile. The trail is faint in places, so I found myself just trying to stay on the rocks (avoiding stepping on the wildflowers!) and just generally heading up. The views at the top were great!
I didn’t stay long on Chapin’s summit, because the wind was absolutely howling, and I knew that I had two more to go, with plenty of “up and down” along the way. After retracing my way back down to the main trail, I started up the slope of Mount Chiquita.
The combination of wind, terrain, and even the bright sun ahead (hard to look up and track the route) made this section of the hike somewhat of a grind, as the route gains over 1,000 feet of elevation over the course of a mile to reach the summit at 13,069 feet. There are a few wind shelters built of rocks around the summit, which can provide a needed reprieve. It was hard to capture great photos shooting right into the sun, but the views were again great, as you could also see several of the lower-elevation lakes below.
From the summit of Chiquita, the trail is faintly marked, so I just followed what I felt was the most efficient route down to the saddle between Chiquita an Ypsilon, losing around 300 feet of elevation. The third and final summit was a bit deceptive. The terrain isn’t too tricky, and you can try to follow the occasional cairns that are placed along the way, but the true summit is hidden from view for a good portion of the ascent, which gains 700+ feet along the way.
I don’t think I carved the best path up the mountain, but eventually made my way to the top at 13,514 feet, where I joined 3 other hikers that had been ahead of me all morning. We all had a nice visit, taking in the views, and enjoying miraculously still conditions given how windy it had been just an hour or so earlier. I took a quick video of the sights:
On the way back down, rather than re-summiting Chiquita, I followed a faint path around the edge of the mountain, heading directly towards the saddle between Chiquita and Chapin. The wildflowers were particularly spectacular on this portion of the hike.
When I made it back to the saddle, I decided to follow the “other” option back towards the trailhead, which dipped slightly lower along the mountain. It was nice to see this section of trail rather than re-tracing my steps, but I also got to see some elk grazing in the valley below.
I made it back to the trailhead with a total time of four hours and 36 minutes, according to my Garmin watch that tracked my adventure. Below is a map of my route, showing the two splits I described (“to all summits” early on, to the right, and then the “Chiquita cutoff” on the way back).
I was trying to make relatively good time, as Kelly had let me slip away for this one by myself, and was back at our cabin with the girls waiting on me to go grab lunch. It was a great adventure, and a nice challenge. The class two terrain made me wish I would have brought my trekking poles for the decent(s), but other than that, I finished in great spirits and was thrilled to have had the chance to pick up three more RMNP summits all in one day. I’d definitely like to revisit this one again in the future!