Rocky Mountain National Park
This summer we traveled to Rocky Mountain National Park, located northwest of Denver, Colorado, along the front range of the Rocky Mountains. The Continental Divide runs through the middle of the park, it is situated between the towns of Estes Park to the east and Grand Lake to the west. Some of the park’s features are its mountains, lakes, tundra, wildlife, and Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved road in America, with an elevation over 12,000 feet that was completed in the 1930’s. How it was completed with more limited equipment than today is amazing. Remember this is high altitude and if you have breathing difficulties be prepared. The park has many accessible trails, visitor’s centers, and bathrooms, and an abundance of wildlife.
East Inlet Trail
We entered Rocky Mountain Park from the west side of the park at the Grand Lake entrance, after visiting Steam Boat Springs, a really nice small town worth visiting. Using our National Parks access pass we entered free of charge, and visited the Kawuneeche Visitors Center and picked up some maps and information about the park. We stopped at East Inlet Trail head, not a wheelchair accessible trail but Sherrie walked a short distance and came upon moose grazing in a swampy meadow. There are wheelchair accessible trails at Coyote Valley Trail, Lily Lake, Holzwarth Historic Site, Sprague Lake, and Bear Lake. At Bear Lake, however, portions of the trail are quite steep and help may be needed. It is a beautiful lake but very busy, get there early.
Coyote Valley Trail
It was a beautiful day at the end of July and we walked the Coyote Valley Trail, it is a flat trail and wanders through a meadow along the Colorado River. This trail is very close to the river’s source along the eastern slope of the Continental Divide. The Continental Divide is a line running north and south through our country and it dictates if rivers run either east or west. This is an easy flat trail for a wheelchair with accessible bathrooms at the parking lot and picnic tables and sitting areas along the trail. It is a 1.1 mile total out and back trail and we stopped a number of times to enjoy the quiet, the valley, and the river. From the trail you can view the Grande Ditch, which diverts water from the Never Summer Mountains in the west into the Long Draw Reservoir, it was started in 1890 and not completed until 1936. This area is often visited by Elk, unfortunately we did not see any on this day.
Holzwarth Historic Site
This is a one-half mile accessible trail across the Kawuneeche Valley to the Holzwarth Historic Site, a rustic guest ranch created in the 1920’s. This is a level trail across the valley and it crosses the Colorado River, it is wheelchair accessible and manageable until the last part below the historic cabins and the pathway becomes steeper, a little help may be needed to make the last of the grade. The park rangers are very hospitable and give great insight about the construction of the Holzwarth cabins. Look up Rocky Mountain and search for Holzwarth it will bring the history of John and Sophia Holzwarth and the homestead they created there. There are park workers that use a golf cart and will help give those with walking difficulties a ride across the valley.
Trail Ridge Road
The Alpine Visitors Center has a cafeteria, gift shop, accessible restrooms, and unbelievable views. When we drove it this past summer, we saw an abundance of Elk and Big Horn sheep along the road side. The views that we enjoyed are: Medicine Bow Curve, the Visitor Center, Lava Cliffs, Rock Cut, and Forest Canyon, these viewing points are above tree line and give outstanding views. Trail Ridge Road is only open during the summer months due to snow, remember the weather there changes very rapidly. The temperature in Estes Park just outside of the eastern entrance may be 20 to 30 degrees warmer than on Trail Ridge Road. Clouds roll in quickly, it may suddenly rain and then the clouds roll away again, it is on top of a mountain so dress accordingly with some layers and keep a jacket in your vehicle. I found Rocky Mountain Park to be on par or better than some parts of the Canadian Rockies or the mountains I have seen in Switzerland.
Medicine Bow Curve
This is a busy corner on Trail Ridge Road and it is where we saw good numbers of Elk at close range on both days we passed by. As with other lookouts the parking becomes limited later in the day but we did enjoy a 180 degree view from here. There wasn’t any specified wheelchair parking at this view spot but there was ample parking on the side of the road, and the view from the vehicle was brilliant. Close by Big Horn sheep were seen laying adjacent to the roadside close by the Alpine Visitor Center, amazing.
Lava Cliffs are at 12,000 feet on Trail Ridge Road. There is wheelchair parking at this view point and it brings you very close to the cliff face. The Lava Cliffs were created 26 million years ago from volcanoes that erupted and deposited ash that cooled to form rock that was later carved by glacial ice. Incredible up close view of the cliff face and the valley below
Rock Cut Overlook has incredible views of the nearby mountain ranges and alpine tundra above tree line. This spectacular overlook has parking on both sides of Trail Ridge Road. This section of Trail Ridge Road becomes quite busy during later in the day time.
Forest Canyon Overlook is a short wheel out to a wonderful view over Forest Canyon, it is similar to Rock Cut but from a different angle. When this short trail is less busy with people many small and sometimes larger animals may be seen.
The hike around Sprague Lake, at 8,600 feet, is wheelchair accessible on hard packed gravel and is relatively flat all the way round, with some minor rises on the trail. The sign said a half mile around the lake but it felt a little longer with no steep grades and was a manageable wheel around it. There are a number of spots located around the lake to rest and enjoy the lake and mountains. There are some incredible views from Sprague Lake for photo taking. Also there is an accessible camp site just off the main trail, if you are willing to adventure and enjoy a rustic camp site, there is a restroom at the site.
It is listed as an accessible trail, the first part that leaves from the information stand is a bit steep and takes some effort to get to the lake edge. When you get to the lake your can go either way around the lake but after two to three hundred yards the grades become steeper, 10 percent or greater. It seems that Bear Lake may be one of the busiest attractions in the park. It is also a drop off / pick up for the park shuttles with a number of park staff on duty at the information stand. They are very helpful. The parking lot has a large number of wheelchair spots and even though we were there both in the morning and the afternoon we were fortunate to find a spot. The staff are very helpful to visitors and recommended a number of wheelchair accessible trails and trails for others that were with us. This is a beautiful lake and it’s location has great views.