Autumn in Rocky Mountain National Park

I have long hoped to string together a series of national parks to form a road trip. With the Covid pandemic still raging around the world, travel difficult and risky, and lots of time to daydream, I pieced together a three-week road trip that would take me to no less than nine national parks. My plan was amazing.

After going to great lengths to book it all, I got cold feet about the length of the trip. Missing my dog, having an unpredictable work schedule on the road, and the beginning of a major renovation on our house shortened it by a week, two states, and several national parks. I tempered my ambitions by focusing on Colorado and Utah, and just a handful of parks that made a nice loop.

After a brief stop-over in Stratton, Colorado to split the drive from Kansas City, I stayed in Blackhawk, Colorado in a gorgeous, modern cabin tucked away in the mountains on the outskirts of town. The couple downstairs had perfectly appointed this space with all the hygge mountain comforts I love. It had every convenience and comfort I needed, great design, and a killer loft bedroom that you climb up a ladder to get to.

The RMNP Timeline

Rocky Mountain National Park was to be the first national park on my roster. I got a very early start from Blackhawk. Up at 4:30 a.m., out the door by 5:00, cruising into Longs Peak entry by 6 a.m. like a champion.

Realized I was out of gas at 6:08 a.m. Made a mad dash for Highway 7 to get gas. Got all the way to Estes (with a near panic attack) before I found said gas at 7:20 a.m.

New plan – go in through Beaver Meadows entrance at 7:30 a.m. Panic when the ranger reminds me that my timed-entry ticket isn’t until that afternoon; shows mercy when she realizes I’ve driven halfway across the country and have only one day to visit RMNP.

Bless you, park ranger.

Autumn Aspens on Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

Hitting the Trail

With more than 415 square miles of land in Rocky Mountain National Park, I knew I’d see only the tiniest fraction of this massive space in one trip. The fall weather was flawless, and I couldn’t wait to get started.

Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

I wanted to get most of my trail miles in first thing, while the weather was coolest and I had fresh energy. I focused my early hikes on the Sprague, and Nymph Lake trails primarily. When in doubt, I always choose mountain lakes.

Nymph Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

With some periodic detours, I had about 9 miles on my

Mountain Landscape at Rocky Mountain National Park

I decided to spend the second half of my day driving the Trail Ridge Road and checking out all the overlooks, with periodic short wanders. I wanted to squeeze in as much of the rest of the park as I could.

Purple Mountains Majesty at RMNP in Colorado

Some of my favorite shots captured what seemed like every color in the rainbow, thanks to the purple mountains on the skyline backing the green trees, behind the golden grasses and cut with shimmery blue creeks.

Rainbow Landscape at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

The scenery was phenomenal at every turn, truly. But my favorite part is always the wildlife. Elk and mule deer made appearances, among others. This elk bull and his friends were relaxing in the shade off the side of one trail.

Male Elk Bull at Rocky Mountain National Park

I captured a great moment where a black-billed magpie perched pleasantly atop a tagged elk cow’s head while she noshed on some grass. Quite a pair they were.

Female Elk Cow at RMNP, Colorado

It wasn’t uncommon for a small group of deer to cause a few cars to pull over and gape on the side of Trail Ridge Road. Deer are a common sight in this part of the country, and within the park, but I still love pausing to watch them.

Mule Deer at RMNP in Colorado

After nearly 9 hours in the park and many short explorations, I was pretty beat. After much inner debate, I decided to call it a day. When you are in a place this inspiring and beautiful, it’s tough to say goodbye.

Fall Landscape at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

There is such a vast space in Rocky Mountain National Park and no shortage of trails and adventures to seek out. I remind myself that I will certainly be back, and with each visit get to see and experience new things I didn’t before.

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