Guys, I have a confession. I have not been in the right frame of mind to revisit Rocky Mountain National Park. Yes, it was the most beautiful place on this Earth I have seen until now. Yes, it was a magical day of adventure and vistas. The place is almost spiritual, with the vistas and the mounds of snow and the quiet. It was so quiet and serene. Like I mentioned last week, we came before winter had melted into spring, and we saw almost no wildlife. But it also is a very painful memory. Confusion and hurt swirl through my head when I try to put the pieces together. I tried to disassociate the memories from the place for WEEKS before I sat down to write, and it just didn’t happen. So, if you dare, venture down this aching road with me to the most beautiful place on Earth. Because I can’t not write about it.

We entered the park through the main entrance and stopped at Beaver Meadows Visitor Center on our way in for the usual—maps, fees, water. My biggest advice here is to come prepared! This is usually my strong suit, in that when I’m not at a park I’m researching them online or planning what food and gear I’m taking with me when I go. (I really love food, but nothing beats picnics. NOTHING.) I failed this time. We showed up without even two water bottles! I mean, let’s be real here. Hiking fail, big time. Please don’t be like us. Bring too much water; bring your first aids kits and your snacks and your waterproof socks.

We snapped a quick picture with the sign, a national park must in my opinion, and went on our way. Trail Ridge Road is your main drag through Rocky Mountain National Park, and reaches elevations that they do not plow until Memorial Day. Since we were there the first weekend of spring, the absolute farthest we could drive was to Many Parks Curve. We stopped for the view, but we stayed for the snowballs. I try really hard to pretend that being from Atlanta saves me from the typical southern girl stereotypes, but when faced with that amount of snow, my true Georgia peach-ness hit me in the face. I visit Chicago in the wintertime often, but that’s city snow. It has been plowed and shoveled and touched. This old, ready-to-melt mountain snow was new for me. So we parked the car and enjoyed the view, but then we ventured past the roadblock to the wilder side of Trail Ridge Road.

After a short canter down the road, we returned to the car and headed back down Trail Ridge Road to Bear Lake Road. Bear Lake Road has got a lot of stops and trailheads that stem from it, some of which were blocked due to the season. We stopped at Sprague Lake first. This trail is fantastic for families and people who may not be up for a more grueling hike, and does not lack for views. That may go without saying at Rocky Mountain though, because I never even put my camera away in the car. You can’t open your eyes without seeing something incredible in this place. The trail at Sprague Lake is a flat, leisurely 0.75 miles around, you guessed it, Sprague Lake itself. Since the trail is a loop around the lake, you don’t feel like you are really in the woods here, and you are never too far away from your car. The scenery is staggering, and I had a great time snapping photos as we strolled around. This was also the location for our one and only wildlife spotting! Geese!

At the end of Bear Lake Road, you will find not only Bear Lake, but also the trailhead toward Emerald Lake. This was where we really became one with the woods. The Emerald Lake trail takes you uphill and surrounds you with trees. My southern qualities came to light again on this trail, when we saw people hiking in snowshoes. I never even considered the thought that snowshoes were a thing south of Canada, but we sure could have used some ourselves that day. We reached the first lake, Nymph Lake, and I had to laugh because I was actually expecting to see a lake. What I saw instead was a vast snow bank, with some ice peeking through at the center. We hiked past Nymph Lake, but not for long before deciding to turn back prior to completing the trail.

Our lack of preparedness really started to catch up with us. The trail was icy and downhill on the return, and I was concerned about our ability to make the trek back in a timely manner. It was late afternoon and overcast (it had been flurrying on and off throughout the day), and I did not want to lose daylight while we were making the trek back down the trail—we were already going a slower pace than usual due to the elevation, and adding in the snowy conditions on top of that was a just cause for concern! Also, my hiking buddy had stopped speaking at this point, which was a major red flag that he was not feeling well. Besides shortness of breath, I was not seriously affected by the huge elevation change between the Rockies and Atlanta. He, on the other hand, had a case of elevation sickness, which I could do nothing about because we were low on water and I didn’t bring my daypack with first aid! He put on a good face and tried to act okay, but I could tell that he was really out of sorts, and it was actually kind of alarming. Elevation sickness is real, people, and if you’re from basically sea level like us, do your research and know the signs. We had some pretty deep conversations out in the woods that day, and I couldn’t tell you if he even remembers them because he was so indisposed. I will reiterate: come prepared!!

We stopped shortly at Bear Lake before we made our way back to the car and decided it was time to go. I was really worried for his wellbeing, so we made a hasty getaway from a beautiful place and what began as a magical day. I blame myself for my lack of forethought; our day in the park, a wonderful day almost to the end, could have been more wonderful start to finish if I had thought to bring snacks, water, and simple first aid. I will learn from my mistakes and do better at my next park visit, Mount Rainier National Park!

I will hopefully return to Rocky Mountain National Park during the summertime at some point, so that I can visit the trails that were closed for winter, and drive all the way up Trail Ridge Road. I’m sure the park is beautiful over the summer too, but something about the quiet, snow-covered mountains was truly magnificent. March was a perfect time of year to see the trails covered in snow without the weather being too severe.

I wonder, though, if I will be able to return to the park without letting the past cloud my view of this stunning place. Unfortunately, I (and I’m sure many others) have the tendency to tie people and places together in a web of memories, and it might be a while before I find the strength to face those memories again. Memories that should have been as beautiful as the place they resemble, but are now shadowed by the deep hole inside me that gets deeper every time I think about it. Rocky Mountain National Park for me is a strikingly conflicting place of beauty and pain, but holds potential. Maybe one day I will return to face myself, conquer the fear and pain, and find that piece that might begin to patch up the hole inside me.

23 thoughts on “Among the Misty Mountains at Rocky Mountain National Park

    1. Thank you! A good friend suggested that we return and make new memories for ourselves–something that I fully intend to do in the future!

  1. Wow what a great post and honest! I must say, visiting places in winter does have magic but summer it is green and amazing! You should go back and then choose!

    1. Yes! I’m hoping to get back to Colorado during a summer season to see everything come alive! Thank you for reading!

  2. Honestly, you did so well to keep going! I’d probably have freaked if I had a companion with altitude sickness. It does look stunning though, so I hope you find the strengh to go back!

    1. It was pretty mild, and we got out of the mountains quick enough that it didn’t turn into anything serious! Thanks for reading!

  3. Your post is so relatable.There are places that hold beautiful yet painful memories some laced with regret and what ifs. But as time passes, we learn to embrace these and accept what happened as a testimony to the learnings we have collected!
    The pictures are simply stellar and I can imagine how scary it would be To deal with elevation sickness. Yes, it is real and it is extremely scary.

  4. I think everyone has a way to tieing their first experience to a place, for instance the first time I was in Paris I got really sick, so I have this idea that I hate Paris. When really it was the experience at the time. So I hope you do have the chance to head back and hopefully it will be a better experience for you, where you can learn from the last trips mistakes and travel prepared. The views and scenery do look stunning – elevation sickness is a bitch of a thing, especially when it takes away from the stunning surrounds. I’m glad you got out of the mountains in time before it turned into anything serious 🙂

    1. Thank you for reading, and you are totally right! I hope you make it back to Paris in good health, because that city is seriously amazing!!

  5. Hiking in winter is tricky. You really need to go prepared – bring more than enough water you need, dress warmly and bring snacks/chocolate/energy bars. Glad you still got to enjoy a little bit of the scenery before your buddy got too ill.

  6. Thanks for sharing your experience, although it was painful. We have similarly entered situations while traveling where we were underprepared, and it certainly colored our view of the place in a negative light. In fact, we did this just a couple of days ago when we went on a sunset hike that ended up being far more difficult and muddy than we expected. We didn’t bring headlamps or proper shoes, and ended up stopping half way through, slipping and falling on the way down. Not fun! Hope you can return one day to make new memories!

    1. That’s exactly how we felt! I think next time I visit, I’ll be MUCH more prepared and spend more time at the park, so that if one day is subpar, we will have plenty more time to make up for it! Thank you for reading!

  7. It’s definitely always best to over prepare for things, we’ve also found this out quite a few times in the past and it can get quite scary! I hope you do go back more prepared and have a much better experience for it! Your pictures are beautiful though and really makes me want to visit!

  8. Nice article. It looks as if the free show that nature intended for us to see will change its scenes season to season. I am adding this to my list of things to do i the US 🙂

  9. You were brave to go in winter conditions — I think I would have waited for summer, myself. I have also learned by difficult outcomes to be better prepared. I can tell you to NEVER try to hike Angel’s Landing in Zion’s National Park without LOTS of water!

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