A Land of Extremes: Tundra Communities Trail in Rocky Mountain Natonal Park

‘You have entered a land of fierce extremes’ reads signage on the Tundra Communities Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. The signage is referring to the high altitude and intense weather conditions, but it feels like a good metaphor for life during a pandemic when everyone is trying to make good decisions and sometimes coming up with opposite answers.

Views from Tundra Communities Trail

To get to the Tundra Communities Trail, you drive up Trail Ridge Road which is inside Rocky Mountain National Park. It connects Estes Park on the east to Grand Lake on the west. A national park pass and timed entry permit are required. The road is a popular attraction in the park because it takes you above tree line and offers panoramic views of the mountain ranges. We often see herds of elk.

There are several turnoffs along Trail Ridge Road where you can take pictures or walk on park trails. The Tundra Communities Trail is located at the Rock Cut parking lot near the highest point of Trail Ridge Road. The path begins at 12,050 feet of elevation. The hike is a half mile each way with 260 feet of elevation gain. At this high elevation, be cautious of changing weather conditions, especially pop-up storms with lightening. The sun is strong, so make sure to put on sunscreen. You may be surprised how much the temperature drops as you gain elevation, so it is a good idea to bring warm layers even during summer months.

marmot with mountain views on tundra in rocky mountain national park

The fuzzy marmots that we spotted off the trail didn’t seem to mind the cool morning temperatures.

the tundra communities trail is a half mile paved trail

The trail is paved. It’s important to stay in the paved area to protect the delicate landscape.

rock formations with mountain views on the alpine tundra in rocky mountain national park, colorado

There are several unique rock formations off the main trail to explore including Mushroom Rocks.

toll memorial and mountain marker on tundra community trail

The Roger Toll Memorial can be found at the end of the trail. There is also a marker that shows which peaks you are looking at in the distance. After a fun scramble on these rocks, the views of the surrounding mountains are inspiring.

wildflowers in alpine tundra in rocky mountain national park, colorado

The wildflowers along the trail are a testament to beauty thriving in harsh realities. This is a short trail, but I encourage you to take your time to see how it speaks to you.

Today I’m praying for wisdom, compassion, and health for my family and yours. Thank you for following along with our adventures!

more HIKES ON THE TUNDRA

Alpine Ridge Trail

Kid-sized portion of the Ute Trail

Where Should I Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park?

Rocky mountain national park timed entry permit

Planning a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park this summer? You need to make a reservation. The reservation will give you a two hour window to enter the park. The new system is designed to cut down on traffic and allow guests to practice social distancing. You can make a reservation on recreation.gov. There is a $2 online reservation fee in addition to the cost of park pass.

Keep in mind that the lines at the park entrances may be long, so for example if your timed entry is between 8:00 am and 10:00 am, I would avoid arriving last minute at 9:45 am. Also remember to print your pass and have it with you.

hiking near estes park, colorado

Visitors to Estes Park who do not have a reservation to Rocky Mountain National Park have several great trail options outside the park boundaries. If you don’t mind paying a fee, we recently hiked Kruger Rock in Hermit Park. The views are amazing!

Free adventures near Estes Park include walking or biking around the Lake Estes loop, climbing Lily Mountain, or hiking the Homer Rouse trail.

hike in Hermit Park to Kruger Rock near Estes Park, Colorado

favorite hikes in Rocky mountain national park

Sometimes we spend hours debating which hike we should do during our limited time in Rocky Mountain National Park. The reality is, you can’t go wrong. To help make the decision a little easier, I put together a chart (see above) to narrow down the hikes that are best for you based on the number of miles you want to hike, the popularity of the trail, and type of destination such as lake, waterfall or summit.

Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

You will find details about these destinations (and more!) in the following pages:

Best Rocky Mountain Hikes Under 2 Miles

Favorite 2-4 Mile Hikes

Favorite Rocky Mountain Hikes for Families: Beyond 4 Miles

Sky Pond, Twin Sisters, and Flattop Mountain are some of my favorite hikes in the park, so I included them in my decision chart. I don’t classify these destinations as ‘family hikes’ because they are more strenuous. I recommend them to people looking for a fun challenge.

On the way to Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park

Articles we’ve written about these destinations:

Sky Pond

Twin Sisters

Flattop Mountain

My list is just the beginning. There are countless adventures in and around Rocky Mountain National Park. I relate to the following quote by Abner Sprague, owner of Sprague Lake Lodge from 1910-1940.

‘If he (the guest) fails to see every nook and corner of the place on one visit, he comes year after year…. Our guests never get tired, the same old urge to visit spots seen more than once brings them back on their next vacation. They go home rested.”

Abner Sprague
Moose at Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountains
Sprague Lake

A Winter Walk in Moraine Park That’s Worth Freezing For

Earlier this month we took a winter trip to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. Little did we know, a few weeks later the national parks would be affected by the current government shutdown. Unfortunately, that means visitors can’t drive into the park. Based on articles I’ve read, this hasn’t had a big impact on the local economy yet because winter is typically a slower season. With that said, I hope that the situation is resolved soon!

Moraine Park

During our December trip, we enjoyed a brief but beautiful hike in Moraine Park beginning at the Cub Lake trail head. We chose this area because at 8,080 ft of elevation there is substantially less snow compared to areas of the park with higher altitude.

Frozen river in Moraine Park

I was excited when this picture was featured on the instagram feed @visitestespark where over 930 people liked it.

The first stretch of the hike is in a valley where there is little protection from blasts of freezing wind, but the scenery is worth bundling up and getting out of your cozy cabin for. The Big Thompson River was mostly frozen and seem to glimmer against the blue sky and snow covered mountain backdrop.

rocky mountain national park

Luckily, you don’t have to walk far before tall trees and surrounding rock formations block the wind. Our four-year-old daughter veered off the path to scramble up boulders to join her sister and dad taking in the peaceful views.

view of moraine valley rocky mountain national park

Beautiful views are not the only reason to visit Moraine Park, it is also a great place to encounter wildlife. Last fall we wrote, Cub Lake Trail – a Wildlife Hotspot in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Toddler Friendly Hiking

toddler friendly hiking in rocky mountain national park

Our nearly two-year-old insisted on hiking in her pajamas, wearing socks as gloves, and borrowing my hat. She held on to my husband’s hand in icy patches, but wanted to show off her independence by walking at her own pace. This led to our decision to cut the hike short. The trail to Cub Lake is 2.5 miles each way. We wrote about this hike in more detail in a previous post, Rocky Mountain Tot Goes to Cub Lake.

log bridge in moraine valley near big thompson river

New Year Goals

As we look forward to a New Year and new outdoor adventures, our goal is to have the girls walking rather than riding in kid-carriers during many of our hikes. We are excited to discover new hikes in the Rocky Mountains and the Ozark Mountains which are located near our new home in Fayetteville, Arkansas. We will write about all of them in our family hiking journal and also look forward to sharing with y’all too!

Rocky Mountain Tot Goes to Gem Lake

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.

Aspens IN rocky mountain National Park
Aspens
Paul Bunyan's Boot in Rocky Mountain National Park
Paul Bunyan’s Boot
Rocky Mountain views
Rocky Mountain views
Stairs climbing up to Gem Lake
Up, up, up!
Gem Lake
Gem Lake
Ergo baby kid carrier
Cutest little hiker on the trail

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.