My wife and I decided this summer, we wanted to experience the outdoors in all its grandeur. What better way than by visiting one of our nations national parks? Which park though and what were we wanting to do? In the end, like most decisions in life, it came down to dollars, cents, and time. We choose to go backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park. An easy choice, as neither of us had ever hiked there and we wanted to go somewhere new where we could spend the most time vacationing and least time traveling to our destination.
In short order we realized that we had only scratched the surface of our decision making chores. What trail? Sounds simple? This is a question that is a gargantuan series of choices. What trails are open? Do we have all of the gear required (crampons, ice axe, rope, etc.) for our chosen trail. After hours debating and choosing, we finally came to the conclusion that we would ask the park rangers. Since every trail needs reservations and has a differing set of conditions, it was not going to matter so much what we wanted to do as what we were allowed to do. This turned out to be a great decision despite our nerves about waiting to plan.
Upon arriving, a very helpful park ranger spent a significant amount of time helping us plan the perfect journey. She took into account our experience, physical conditioning, gear, wants, and availability to plan what turned out to be a perfectly magnificent backpacking experience.
We ended up hiking the entire loop of the Continental Divide Scenic Trail on the west side of the park. This trail is much less traveled than those on the eastern side and provided a serenity and solitude that some others would not have afforded us. Although, treacherous in a few places due to the time of year and some snow, it was perfect otherwise. It afforded breath-taking views, astounding above tree line sections that were some of the most amazing sights I have ever beheld, plentiful wildlife, and great trail conditions!
The great thing about the back country and backpacking is that it takes you to places that very few other people see. You get to experience things in a raw unencumbered way that not many people get to. Yes, you may have to tote a heavy pack significant distances to have the experience but it adds an appreciation to the experience that only arduous uphill climbs, treacherous steep slopes, rain, snow, wind, lightening, and mother nature in general can provide. It is the journey leading up to the scenic views that makes them truly breath taking! In short, I highly recommend it.
Our full plan ended up changing a bit because of varying trail conditions. Once we arrived and started hiking, we ran into a number of hikers that informed us that a portion of the trail thought to be impassable was no problem. As a result we decided that our third was was going to switch directions and go above tree line to complete the full loop. This was 44+ miles of gorgeous country. I won't bore you with the play by play but if you have an opportunity to hike the Kawanechee Valley, DO IT! We saw about 20 moose and a wide variety of other animals over the five days (two VERY short days on each end) in addition to the gorgeous views and very few other hikers.
After completing the Continental Scenic Divide Trail, it was time for a night of relaxing and planning to figure out our next adventure. The next trail we choose was from Wild Basin trail head up to Mt. Alice and back down. This was an absolutely astounding hike! If you elect to ever take this on, be very careful on the final section up to Mt. Alice. This is NOT for the feint of heart or out of shape. It is worth every footfall and the 3am wake up (to avoid the lightening and afternoon storms that occur most of the summer). It is more of a scramble, up the last few sections, than a hike but more than amazing at the summit.