Rocky Mountain National Park is 1 of the National Parks that is requiring the advance purchase of tickets for timed entry during the peak hours of the day. Luckily, we had been following these developments, so we hopped online as soon as we were eligible to get our ticket for our visit. Unfortunately, there were LOTS of folks who did not know about this, so they bogged down the line only to be turned away at the gate after waiting in line for close to 30 minutes.
As expected, based on the number of people we have seen literally everywhere this summer, the news, and the crowds we saw in Estes Park and the Visitor’s Center on the way to the gate, the park was so busy.
We tried to stop at several pull-offs and picnic areas shortly after entering the park, only to find them overcrowded with no parking. Since we really wanted to experience something in the park (and did not want to follow our urge to leave, run, get away as fast as possible) and because we had Daisy and were unable to go on any hikes, I scoured the map for something off the beaten path. When I spied a one-way dirt road that is not recommended for the faint of heart, I knew I found our adventure.
Old Fall River Road was the first auto route in the park to offer access to the high country. It is touted on the NPS website as being a “motor nature trail” with steep grades (reaching 16%), tight turns, narrow roads, and large gains in elevation. It was 11 miles where we had a brief reprieve from the crowds, though not always from the tourists who were not prepared for a rugged adventure.
The road winds its way up through several distinct ecosystems until it reaches the tundra and an elevation of nearly 12,000 feet above sea level. Our ears were popping, the sights were incredible, and the air was thin.
We truly savored every mile of the gravel road, especially because Bird napped through most of it, and were met abruptly with the hustle and bustle of the Fall River Visitor’s Center at the end. Needless to say, we did not stop (actually could not have stopped given there were no available spaces) and made our way back to more populated parts of the park. We saw the only elk of the day just a mile or so from the parking lot. As they sat on the hill overlooking everything, I am certain they were wondering what on Earth was going on below (same, Elk, same).
We circled back toward the gate we entered, as we had quite a drive to get back home, and were simply happy with having an enjoyable time for part of our visit to the park. However, as we meandered our way through the mountains, the views continued to impress. It is no wonder why this was made a National Park.
It is no joke that things are busy this summer, and it is truly important to do research before heading out. Knowing if tickets are required or if certain areas are closed due to current or recent fires can make or break an outing. Trust me, you want to the be the person who pulls up to the entrance gate, gets your ticket scanned, waves your America the Beautiful pass (which pays for itself if you visit at least a couple parks or NPS properties in a year), and moves right on through. You do not want to wait only to be forced to turn around and abandon your so-called plans.