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

Family Hike to Bierstadt Lake Plus An Unexpected Moose Sighting

Bierstadt Lake hike in rocky mountain national park. hike under 3 miles. features mountain views, wildlife spot in rocky mountain national park, moose

The hike to Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park is one of our family’s favorite hikes. On our most recent trip, we parked at the Bierstadt Lake trailhead at 8,850 ft. in elevation.

Bierstadt Lake hike in rocky mountain national park. hike under 3 miles. features mountain views, wildlife spot in rocky mountain national park, moose

The trail to Bierstadt Lake is 1.4 miles each way. You can add on extra mileage by walking around the lake, which we recommend to get the best views of Flattop Mountain and Hallett Peak.

Bierstadt Lake hike in rocky mountain national park. hike under 3 miles. features mountain views, wildlife spot in rocky mountain national park, moose, wildflowers

One of the benefits of walking at a toddler’s pace is the chance to notice extra details I might miss when walking on my own – like these berries and pretty wildflowers.

Bierstadt Lake hike in rocky mountain national park. hike under 3 miles. features mountain views, wildlife spot in rocky mountain national park, moose, aspen

You could see the first signs of autumn. These aspens will turn golden yellow in just a few weeks.

Bierstadt Lake hike in rocky mountain national park. hike under 3 miles. features mountain views, wildlife spot in rocky mountain national park, moose, elevation gain

The trail up to the lake gains 566 ft. of elevation along several switchbacks.

Bierstadt Lake hike in rocky mountain national park. hike under 3 miles. features mountain views, wildlife spot in rocky mountain national park, moose

Wide open views of the surrounding mountains make the climb worth the effort.

Bierstadt Lake hike in rocky mountain national park. hike under 3 miles. features mountain views, wildlife spot in rocky mountain national park, moose

We could also see Sprague Lake in the distance. It appeared to be glowing in the morning sunlight.

Bierstadt Lake hike in rocky mountain national park. hike under 3 miles. features mountain views, wildlife spot in rocky mountain national park, moose

At just over a mile, the trail levels out and heads back into the forest.

Bierstadt Lake hike in rocky mountain national park. hike under 3 miles. features mountain views, wildlife spot in rocky mountain national park, moose

Trail signage points out that there are several paths to get to Bierstadt Lake. Alternative routes include the Park & Ride (1.9 miles/way) and Bear Lake (1.9 miles/way). If you decide to walk around the lake, make note of the direction you came from. With so many trails, it can get confusing.

Bierstadt Lake hike in rocky mountain national park. hike under 3 miles. features mountain views, wildlife spot in rocky mountain national park, moose

Bierstadt Lake is beautiful and peaceful. It’s an ideal spot to take a moment to enjoy the mountain views.

Bierstadt Lake hike in rocky mountain national park. hike under 3 miles. features mountain views, wildlife spot in rocky mountain national park, moose

In a former post I ‘complained’ about the ducks, but they weren’t as pesky this time.

Bierstadt Lake hike in rocky mountain national park. hike under 3 miles. features mountain views, wildlife spot in rocky mountain national park, moose

After we enjoyed a snack at the lake, we headed back down the mountain the way we came. I was very proud of both girls for walking a majority of the trail on their own. I was also proud of myself and my husband for having patience when they wanted to stop and draw pictures in the dirt.

Bierstadt Lake hike in rocky mountain national park. hike under 3 miles. features mountain views, wildlife spot in rocky mountain national park, moose, family friendly hike in rocky mountain national park, kid friendly hike in rocky mountain national park, easy hike in rocky mountain national park

At the very end of the hike, we saw an enormous moose walking through the forest. We were surprised, excited, and a little nervous. We picked up the girls and backed away so the moose didn’t feel threated by our presence. He eventually crossed the parking lot and street. I guessed he might be headed towards Sprague Lake, which is a spot we’ve spotted moose on a prior trip.

more articles about Bierstadt lake

Our Rocky Mountain Tot goes to Bierstadt Lake

Don’t Feed the Ducks!

New Year, New Outdoor Adventures

more articles about moose in rocky mountain national park

Moose Spotting Makes for a Memerable Morning Hike Around Sprague Lake

Peaceful Hike to East Meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park

Cub Lake Trail – a Wildlife Hotspot in Rocky Mountain National Park

Photos from Lily Lake That I’ll Cherish Forever

Lily Lake is one of our favorite places in Rocky Mountain National Park. I think it’s one of the best places in the park to get great pictures of the beautiful surroundings. On our most recent trip, I was excited to take pictures of the wildflowers, but even more excited to capture a few moments of our girls genuinely happy and having fun together.

I loved how the pictures turned out, so I enlarged my favorite and had it professionally framed for our living room back home. It makes my heart happy every time I walk in the room.

Framebridge photo of sisters holding hands
wildflowers in Rocky Mountain National Park
Lily Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
Longs Peak in the distance from Lily Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
Lily Lake lookout over valley
bridge over Lily Lake

A Trail Less Traveled: Hollowell Park to Mill Creek Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park

It’s official – we have been away from Rocky Mountain National Park for far too long! But the count-down is on because we reserved our cabin for a trip at the end of May. In anticipation, I’ve been taking a look back through our family’s hiking journal and came across a hike that I haven’t shared before.

Hollowell Park

Back in May of 2016, we ventured to Hollowell Park because it was an area in RMNP that we had never explored. We hoped it would be a good place to hike with our toddler during the spring season when some higher altitude hikes are still covered in ice and snow. The Hollowell Park turnoff is approximately 8,300 ft in elevation according to the park’s website. In comparison, Bear Lake is 9,475 ft.

I took a picture of the sign at Hollowell Park to give myself a visual of all the destinations you can hike to including Cub Lake, Bierstadt Lake, and Bear Lake. Hiking from Hollowell Park is not the most direct route to these popular attractions, but it could be a good alternate route to avoid some of the crowds during peak visitor season.

Hikes from Hallowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park

Mill Creek Basin

We decided to hike to Mill Creek Basin, which is a less popular destination in the park. Our hike was 1.9 miles each way which began in an open grassy area and climbed an additional 600 feet of elevation through towering pines.

The trail followed a mountain stream called Mill Creek. Several snowy patches remained on the trail along with muddy portions caused by recent snow melt. We crossed over a small wooden bridge to get to the Mill Creek Basin, a meadow with aspens which I imagine are even more beautiful in autumn.

Hallowell Park in RMNP Rocky Mountain National Park
Hollowell Park – Open meadow with views of Rocky Mountains
Deer in Rocky Mountain National Park's Hallowell Park
Deer on the hillside
Mill Creek flows in Rocky Mountain National park
Mill Creek
Hallowell Park trails to Mill Creek Basin, Bierstadt Lake, Bear Lake and Cub Lake.
Trail signage points to Mill Creek Basin, Bierstadt Lake, Bear Lake and Cub Lake
Wooded trail leading to Mill Creek Basin
Towering Pines
Small wooden bridge crossing Mill Creek
Small wood bridge crosses Mill Creek
Mill Creek Basin
Mill Creek Basin
Mill Creek melted snow
Snow in May

Avoid Crowds in Rocky Mountain National Park

If you are interested in additional trails that we think are good for avoiding crowds in Rocky Mountain National Park, I wrote a post about the Glacier Creek trail here.

Spring Hiking in RMNP

Spring can be a tricky season to visit Rocky Mountain National Park because the weather varies day-to-day. Here are some additional lower elevation hikes you might consider:

Best Hikes Under 5 Miles

The hike to Mill Creek Basin was just under 4 miles round trip. When we plan hikes for our young family, we typically aim for hikes that are similar in length. We broke down some of our favorite family-friendly ‘short hikes’ with details to help plan your adventure in the pages linked below: