You can find the Travel Vlog of my Trip on YouTube!
September 4, 2019
Rocky Mountain National Park: Glacier Gorge Trailhead, Colorado
To hear about a day consisting of: my usual hiking buddy (aka one of my best friends, Lauren), our special guest - her dad a.k.a. Mr. Dooley!, waterfalls, lakes, mountain views, elk sightings, and hiking close to 10,000 ft. above sea level - keep on reading!
I received an incredible opportunity to job shadow Lauren’s dad during one of his business trips to Denver, Colorado in early September. The experience was such a meaningful trip for me and quite the learning experience. I’m at a season of life where I want to expose myself to different work environments and opportunities, so I couldn’t be more appreciative that Mr. Dooley allowed me to tag along with him and Lauren.
While in Denver for business, we were also able to balance work with play. We spent two days visiting work sites, and one day was spent hiking at the Rocky Mountain National Park! This was all of our first times exploring this popular park and we were lucky that the weather stayed clear while we trekked on the trail!
Lauren did some research prior to the trip and found that the hike to Jewel Lake (from the Glacier Gorge trailhead) included various scenic spots along the way. Since we only had time for one hike, we decided to do one that wasn’t too long but had a ton jam-packed into it. The hike we selected definitely delivered!
We drove about 2 hours to the Rocky Mountain National Park from Denver, CO on Wednesday morning. Deciding to hit the road early ended up being a good call considering the Denver traffic held us up for about 20 minutes. Traffic didn’t deter us and we kept driving forward until we reached the park in full sunshine glory!
The smaller parking lot at the Glacier Gorge trailhead ended up being full (even on a Wednesday morning around 8:30am!), so we parked at the lower lot and took the free shuttle to the trailhead. We appreciated the easy access to plenty of restroom options!
It was fun to comprehend that we were already above 9,000 ft. in elevation just at the trailhead starting point. We noticed the change in the air once we got out of the car, but after a few minutes didn’t feel much of a difference. We made sure to come prepared for the altitude difference and packed plenty of water and snacks.
We started on the trail with the intention to hike to Jewel Lake which was almost 6 miles roundtrip and rated moderate with a 872 ft. elevation gain. We weren’t sure how the elevation change was going to affect us so we decided to hike to Alberta Falls and then to Mills Lake, and from Mills Lake decide if we wanted to trek forward or turn back before the thunderstorms rolled in.
The first part of the hike went by quickly and although moderately crowded, there were plenty of moments where we found ourselves the only ones on the trail. We arrived at the first scenic spot, Alberta Falls, in no time!
After taking a quick water break and taking our obligatory photos of the falls, we trekked on. I loved that the hike allowed for many changes of scenery. There were points where the trees would clear and you could see far out into the mountains, and there were also areas where birch trees would immediately surround you along with giant boulders. Many chipmunks seemed to frequent the trail as well so we were entertained by a few of them that would follow us as we hiked along. It was about 2.8 miles later when we arrived to the majestic Mills Lake and the photos online could not do it justice!
I’m struggling with finding the words to describe how peaceful and quiet Mills Lake was. Although we passed many hikers along the trail, once we arrived to Mills Lake, I felt like everyone was mesmerized by the tranquility the lake provided. There was a slight breeze blowing the surface of the water, but other than that all you could hear were the sounds of very distant birds. We decided to take a moment to soak it all in and have a snack break while doing so.
After about 20 minutes of rest, we decided that the hike wasn’t as difficult as we were anticipating and that we all felt up for trekking further to Jewel Lake. It was only about 0.4 miles to Jewel Lake from Mills Lake. There was a section of the trail where it was like a rocky staircase (and it was a bit more strenuous compared to the rest of the trail), but we found that it was easier than it was explained online.
Jewel Lake was much smaller than Mills Lake, but there was something about how the wind wasn’t blowing as hard at Jewel Lake (and the sun came out more as well!) that made the experience especially peaceful. I’ll admit that it was one of my goals to encounter a wild moose (obviously difficult considering how big the park was and how shy moose can be with humans lol), so we kept our eyes peeled at the meadows surrounding the lake for grazing moose or elk. Sadly, no luck :(
We discovered that we hiked the 0.4 miles quicker than we planned, so Mr. Dooley was curious to continue on the trail further. We ended up finding some newly built bridges to allow easier access through the once-muddy trail below. We hiked about a mile from Jewel Lake to find a small waterfall then decided to turn back before the stormy clouds reached us.
On the way back we encountered our friendly chipmunks and even a rabbit! As excited as we were about the rabbit and unbothered chipmunks, our excitement exceeded once we shuttled back to the car. On our way out of the park, cars started slowing down in front of us and we were able to spot a huge male elk! He was crossing the street and we were able to get pretty close to it. We were able to see a herd of elk earlier in the day on the way to the park but from a distance, so it was really exciting that we were able to spot one closer!
As we made our way to the Visitor Center, the weather predictions were true in that it started pouring down rain! There were moments that we had to slow down to an extremely slow crawl because the raindrops were hitting the windshield so hard that we couldn’t see! (And we’re from Washington!!) Lauren and I ran into the visitor center as it was really coming down to snag our souvenirs per usual, but once we made our way back to the car the rain had lightened.
Luckily it lightened enough for us to enjoy a small walk around Estes Park, CO. We found a taffy shop, some ice cream, and a light lunch to replenish our energy after the 8 miles that we hiked that day.
I would recommend this hike for those wanting to experience multiple viewpoints of the beautiful Rockies in one day: water falls, rivers, lakes, rock landscapes, and mountain views in the distance. We all agreed that it was the perfect first impression to what the Rocky Mountains has to offer, but definitely left us wanting to explore some more. Maybe one day we’ll be able to adventure further!
I would advise to be prepared when you hike in the Rocky Mountains, especially due to the elevation change. Altitude sickness is a real thing that may happen, so always hike with caution and know your limits before deciding to hike at such a high elevation!
Annnd that's a wrap!
To explain how meaningful this trip was to me would take way too long to explain. Not only was the hike in the Rocky Mountains absolutely breathtaking, but the learning opportunities I was able to experience from a career stand-point was priceless! This opportunity was exactly what I needed in this season of my life, and I left the trip feeling refreshed, motivated, and inspired!
Cheers to a refreshing day spent outdoors!