We were hopeful that making the drive on a Monday would have fewer crowds...but that was not to be. Mid summer, on a beautiful day, and the crowds later in the afternoon seemed as bad as any weekend. We got a fairly early start (8:15am) on the day, so the trail was not too busy when we arrived at about 9:30am.
We chose to hike the Ute Trail at Ute Crossing. The trail sits right about treeline, 11,400 ft, and stays around that elevation for about two miles, offering incredible views of the surrounding mountains, before dropping steeply down to Beaver Meadows on the Estes Park side of RMNP. We just hiked the upper level, enjoying this amazing, unique terrain and several animal sightings too.
First though, the day started off with another moose sighting in the RV park! We've noticed that they are more likely to enter the RV park on the quieter week days...
|It is so exciting to start the day off with a moose right outside your window!|
|View from the Alpine Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park.|
At a stop on the way to the trail head we saw our first group of bull elk:
|Take a look at the view these elk get to enjoy all day!|
|The views into the alpine basins were amazing.|
At the trail head we struck off across open tundra. The tundra here was different than tundra we have recently hiked near Ouray; it was drier and supported fewer and much smaller flowers. It reminded us of tundra we have hiked near Ustaoset, Norway: low, windswept mosses and grasses among small boulders...though this was much drier than Norway.
|One felt dwarfed by the immensity of the landscape all around.|
|Close up of the tundra...nature's ground cover.|
|Scattered haphazardly all over the mesa were these lovely rock ponds.|
|A sampling of tundra flowers.|
|Nearing the edge of the mesa before it drops down in the direction of Estes Park.|
The peak near the center is Longs Peak.
|View down into Estes Park and Beaver Meadows.|
|Heading back towards the truck we went off trail to climb some of the big boulder piles nearby|
and discovered a herd of female elk with their young just out of sight of the trail!
|Another pretty pond...any "trees" growing on the tundra are very|
close to the ground. Though small, they could be hundreds of years old.
|Another fabulous view not far from the trail head. You can see we are right|
above the tree line. Look closely at the rock in the center of the photo...
|A couple of marmots sun bathing!|
Following the necessary grocery stop, we took the one-way, dirt Old Fall River Road back to the West side of the park. This road comes out at the Alpine Visitor Center at the top of the park. It was shorter than driving back the way we had come, but was also rather frustrating. It's a good dirt road so many, many people take it, and some are driving 5 - 10 mph, with very few turnouts or places to park. If you drive this road make sure you are feeling patient!
|Very little snow remains near the Alpine Visitor Center.|
|Notice the number of people on this short, paved trail at the Alpine Visitor Center!|
We really enjoyed the hike on the tundra and seeing lots of elk during our drive and hike in RMNP. The summertime crowds in the park in the afternoon are extreme, and this was on a Monday. Get an early start to a day in the park and you won't be disappointed!