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Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park

Program Number: 4819RJ
Start and End Dates:
7/20/2014 - 7/25/2014; 7/10/2016 - 7/15/2016; 8/28/2016 - 9/2/2016;
Duration: 5 nights
Location: Estes Park, Colorado
Price starting at: $1,098.00 - Price may vary based on date, departure city
Program Type: Walking/Hiking; National Parks; Natural History Activity Level: t (see description)
Meals: 13; 5 Breakfasts, 4 Lunches, 4 Dinners    
Meal Options: Gluten Free    

Experience a hiking adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park, home to emerald-tinted lakes and thick forests of the Continental Divide. Led by naturalist guides, hike the area's unique ecosystems and the heart of the National Park as you observe wildlife and majestic scenery. Travel past glistening streams and waterfalls and above the forests to a landscape opening to the barren moonscape of Mills Lake and the fragile treeless tundra of the Longs Peak massif. A special treat is a drive over Trail Ridge Road, America's highest continuous road at 12,100 feet, where herds of elk graze along the roadside.


• Discover Rocky Mountain National Park’s pristine and less-traveled southern portion known as Wild Basin.
• Hike the headwaters of the Big Thompson River to Cub Lake and the amazing alpine glacial valleys Glacier Gorge and Loch Val.
• Explore areas where elk, coyotes, deer, snowshoe hares and many other mammals inhabit year round.

Activity Particulars

Hiking 8-12 miles a day. Elevations of 8,000-11,000 feet.

Coordinated by Mountains and Plains Institute.

Estes Park

In a high mountain valley 7,522 feet above sea level is Estes Park, a village once home to members of the Clovis culture that first crossed the Bering Strait land bridge into North America. Named for adventurer Joel Estes, the town is a gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, a spectacular wilderness protected for millions to enjoy every year.

Comfortable motel close to National Park; restaurant meals.

Road Scholar Instructors
These instructors are participating on at least one date of this program. Please note that changes may occur.
Peter McCarville

Peter McCarville is a consulting geologist, geological instructor and educator who has lived in Colorado on the western slope since 1995. He also works as an instructor and program designer for Mountains and Plains Institute (MPILLS), leading hiking and skiing excursions, while making cameo appearances as a geology expert on other programs. He has a wonderful ability to convey complex natural history in layman's terms.
Len Ewy

Len Ewy retired recently after 31 years as a captain in the Fort Collins Fire Department. He served in many roles including training officer and public outreach. For the last three years, Len has served as a seasonal interpretive guide for the city of Fort Collins natural areas, interpreting geology, ecology, and cultural history for many visitors. He has written articles published in regional and national publications with an emphasis on combining science with personal observations to create stories that can be of interest and appreciated by the general public. Len has further volunteered in Rocky Mountain National Park and has extensively hiked and backpacked in the Park and the Rockies.
Meals and Lodgings
   Alpine Trail Ridge Inn
  Estes Park, CO 5 nights
 Alpine Trail Ridge Inn
Type: Motel
  Description: All 48 rooms are non-smoking, and no pets. They are always exceptionally clean, comfortable, and a great value. We are an older property, recently remodeled and well-maintained. We have a nice heated outdoor pool.
  Contact info: 927 Moraine Avenue, US Hwy 36W
Estes Park, CO 80517 USA
phone: 970-586-4585
  Room amenities: Wireless internet connection, balconies on rooms
  Smoking allowed: Yes
  Additional nights prior: Call for information Call for availibility and prices
  Check in time: 3:00 PM
  Additional nights after: Call for information Call for availibility and prices
  Check out time: 10:00 AM

Travel Details
  Start of Program:
Arrival and motel check-in 3- 4:30 pm. Required orientation at 4:30 pm followed by dinner. You will be staying at Alpine Trail Ridge Inn that night.
  End of Program:
Program ends after breakfast. Room check-out is 10:00 am. You will be staying at Alpine Trail Ridge Inn the night before.
  Required documents:
The Participant Information Form is required. Acknowledgement of Risk-Liability Waiver Form to be mailed to Mountains and Plains Institute Office. Please bring National Parks Senior or Annual Pass
  Parking availability:
No charge
To Start of Program
  Location:  Estes Park, CO
  Nearest city or town:  Loveland
  Nearest highway: US 34/36
  Nearest airport:  Denver International Airport
  From End of Program
  Location: Estes Park, CO
    (Additional transportation information same as above)
Travel Details

Estes Park


From Airport




Commercial Van/Shuttle
See below
Advanced Reservations Required


Travel Time:






100 miles


Denver International Airport (DEN) is closest airport. Commercial shuttle is Estes Park Shuttle, reservations required, 970-586-5151

Driving Directions
  Estes Park from East or West From Colorado Interstate 25, exit #257B (US Highway 34) heading west towards Loveland. Follow US 34 through Loveland to Estes Park about 35 miles. There will be 5 stoplights to get to the motel. Go into the center of the downtown through the first, second and third lights without turning, and take a left at the fourth light onto Moraine Avenue that is also the US 36 junction. After making that turn, get in the right hand lane because the highway, US 36 will take a sharp right in about 3 blocks, and you need to be in that lane. Go about 1 1/2 miles from that fourth light and you'll come to a fifth light. Go through that light and the Alpine Trail Ridge Inn is about half a block on the right hand side. If you come to the National Park entrance you have gone too far. Coming from the West over Trail Ridge Road-US 34: As you're coming east over Trail Ridge Road on US 34, when you get to Deer Ridge Junction, keep going straight, which will be US 36. Follow it on out of the Park and about a mile past the Park Headquarters, watch for Alpine Trail Ridge Inn on the left hand side of the divided highway.
Elevation Note: Estes Park is at 7,522 ft, hikes will be 8,000-11,000 ft.

Equipment Requirements: Daypack, water bottles, good broken-in hiking boots, rain gear, layers for wind and cold, recommended list attached.
The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Daily Schedule

Day 1: Safety Orientation/Introductions
(Sunday, July 20)

Note: All of our hikes this week will be in Rocky Mountain National Park, routes selected will depend upon fitness of the group, and will allow for adjusting to altitude and difficulty as week progresses.

 Arrive To: Arrival and motel check-in 3- 4:30 pm. Required orientation at 4:30 pm followed by dinner.
 Dinner: Restaurant meal with several entree choices
 Evening: Introductions, planning for the week
Accommodations: Alpine Trail Ridge Inn
Meals Included: Dinner

Day 2: Morning hike to Cub Lake in Moraine Park, afternoon Hike in Bear Lake
(Monday, July 21)

Note: Trailhead elevation is 8,250 feet. Today's hike is 5 miles round trip with a maximum elevation gain/loss of 540 feet. Highest elevation gained is 8,800 feet.

 Breakfast: Restaurant meal with menu choices
 Morning: The trail to Cub Lake begins at the west end of Moraine Park, and has a reputation for being a good trail for viewing wildlife, including elk, ducks, and songbirds. Cub Lake is covered with pond lilies in the summer and affords a nice view to Stones Peak. This is a great first day-warm up hike in Rocky Mountain National Park!
 Lunch: Picnic box lunch on trail
 Afternoon: Continue short hikes in the Bear Lake area, stop at visitor's center
 Dinner: Tonight we dine at a restaurant in Estes Park
 Evening: Free for reflection, relaxation
Accommodations: Alpine Trail Ridge Inn
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 3: All day hike to Loch Vale and Glacier Gorge
(Tuesday, July 22)

Note: Trailhead elevation is 9,275 feet. Today's hike is 5 to 10 miles round trip depending upon options with a maximum elevation gain/loss of 1,720 feet. Highest elevation gained is 10,500 feet.

 Breakfast: Restaurant meal with menu choices
 Morning: Loch Vale-Glacier Basin is one of the most beautiful and most popular hikes in the park. We’ll start at the Bear Lake trailhead, unless we find a place to park at Glacier Gorge. Bear Lake is 9475 ft. elevation. We will first see Alberta falls; the most photographed falls in the park. It was named after Abner Sprague’s wife. Sprague was an Estes Park pioneer. Loch was named after a guest in Sprague’s lodge named Locke. It was changed to Loch, the Scottish name for lake. Loch Vale is a crystal clear alpine lake. The broad cliff at the Loch is Cathedral Wall, a favorite for rock climbers. We’ll eat lunch at the lake and continue toward Andrew’s glacier if the group is up to 1.3 miles more. We also have the option of seeing Mills Lake on our return (.6 miles) The trail is good, but we gain 990 ft from Glacier Gorge to the Loch. (3.1 miles one way to Loch Vale)
 Lunch: Picnic box lunch on trail
 Afternoon: Continue morning hike, stop at Beaver Meadow's Visitor's Center before returning to motel.
 Dinner: Dinner on own to allow participants to enjoy downtown Estes Park and local restaurants on own
 Evening: Free for reflection, relaxation
Accommodations: Alpine Trail Ridge Inn
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 4: Over the top-Trail Ridge Road
(Wednesday, July 23)

Note: Activity Notes We will travel by van over the highest Federal Highway in the U.S.: Trail Ridge Road. Morning hike, Ute Trail, 3 miles, elevation gain 800 feet, highest elevation, 12,150 feet. Afternoon several short interpretive hikes to viewpoints along highway.

 Breakfast: Restaurant meal with menu choices
 Morning: Today you will travel on Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous highway in the U.S. We will start in the Montane ecosystem, below 9,000 ft, travel to the Subalpine, 9,000-11,400 ft, and end up in the Alpine ecosystem above 11,400 ft. We’ll drive to the Ute Trail and hike for several hours. This is an out and back hike. You’ll experience the beauty of the alpine tundra and beautiful views. It’s important to stay on the trail because plants are very fragile in this harsh environment. We’ll get back in the van and drive to the Alpine Visitor center. It’s a great place to look at the views, shop in the gift shop and eat lunch outside.
 Lunch: Picnic box lunch on trail
 Afternoon: On our way back we’ll take a short hike at high altitude on the tundra trailhead. Hopefully, we’ll see herds of elk along the road. We will look for moose and more elk in the Kawuneeche Valley. If there is interest we’ll stop by the Alluvial Fan. In 1982 a dam broke and washed down rocky debris creating alluvial fan. Return to motel
 Dinner: Tonight we dine at a restaurant in Estes Park
 Evening: Free for reflection, relaxation
Accommodations: Alpine Trail Ridge Inn
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5: All day hike in Wild Basin
(Thursday, July 24)

Note: Trailhead elevation is 8,006 feet. Today's hike is from 5.4 miles to 9.8 miles with a maximum elevation gain/loss of 1,500 feet. Highest elevation gained is 10,000 feet.

 Breakfast: Restaurant meal with menu choices
 Morning: Our hike today will start in Wild Basin, a trailhead in the park that is close to Highlands. The elevation at the trailhead is 8,566 feet. This will be a day to enjoy beautiful waterfalls. We will first come to Copeland Falls (.3miles), then climb 1.8 miles to Calypso Cascades. Calypso Cascades was named after the calypso orchid, also known as fairy slipper. On the trail you will see remains of a 1978 forest fire. This opened up the area to get a great view of Mt Meeker (right) and Long’s Peak (left) At 2.7 miles Ouzel Falls is on the left. It is named after a little grey bird that is about the size of a robin that dips its head in the stream and dives for insects. It’s also called a dipper. The elevation of Ouzel Falls is 9,516. If the group is up to a longer hike, we will hike to Ouzel Lake (4.9 miles from the trailhead, elevation gain of 1,510 feet) .
 Lunch: Picnic box lunch on trail
 Afternoon: Continue morning hike, return to motel in late afternoon.
 Dinner: Closing dinner at a historic restaurant
 Evening: Free for farewells, packing, relaxation
Accommodations: Alpine Trail Ridge Inn
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 6: Departures after breakfast, motel check-out 10 am.
(Friday, July 25)
 Breakfast: Restaurant meal with menu choices
 Morning: Independent departures after breakfast, end of program. Room check-out is 10:00 am.
Meals Included: Breakfast
Important information about your itinerary: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information featured on this website. Itineraries are based on our best information at this time. Circumstances beyond our control may require us to adjust itineraries or other details. We regret any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your understanding. Information will be sent to you from your Program Provider approximately three weeks prior to the program start date. The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Suggested Reading List

Rocky Mountain National Park: The Complete Hiking Guide

Author: Lisa Foster

Description: The complete experience of hiking Rocky Mountain National Park has finally been captured in one comprehensive volume. All 400 named features in the Park are explored and two-thirds of this book covers off-trail hikes not commonly found in guidebooks. Extensively field-checked and accompanied by striking photography and USGS maps, this amazing collection draws upon Foster's over 7,000 hours of backcountry expertise. From casual strolls to class 4 climbing, no other book has tackled the entire park in such an in-depth and exciting way.

A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains

Author: Isabella Bird

Description: In 1872, Isabella Bird, daughter of a clergyman, set off alone to the Antipodes 'in search of health' and found she had embarked on a life of adventurous travel. In 1873, wearing Hawaiian riding dress, she rode her horse through the American Wild West, a terrain only newly opened to pioneer settlement. The letters that make up this volume were first published in 1879. They tell of magnificent, unspoiled landscapes and abundant wildlife, of encounters with rattlesnakes, wolves, pumas and grizzly bears, and her reactions to the volatile passions of the miners and pioneer settlers. A classic account of a truly astounding journey.

Recollections of a Rocky Mountain Ranger

Author: Jack Moomaw

Description: From about 1920 to 1945 Jack Moomaw rangered at Rocky Mountain National Park. This is a collection of short stories of the unusual or outstanding events that occurred during his tenure as a ranger. There are quaint stories of colorful people he met or knew, and stories of rescues and tragedies. Jack was an extremely hardy soul; he loved winter patrols and survived in cold weather that sent others to the hospital. He dabbled in archaeology and was a huge chauvinist. Stories are short (just a few pages) and interesting. This is a fun read.

Geology Underfoot along Colorado's Front Range

Author: Lon Abbott and Terri Cook

Description: The transition from the relatively flat Great Plains to the craggy peaks of Colorado s Front Range is one of North America s most abrupt topographical contrasts. The epic, 1,800-million-year geologic story behind this amazing landscape is even more awe inspiring. In Geology Underfoot along Colorado s Front Range, the most recent addition to the Geology Underfoot series, authors (and geoscientists) Lon Abbott and Terri Cook narrate the Front Range s tale, from its humble beginnings as a flat, nondescript seafloor through several ghostly incarnations as a towering mountain range. The book s 21 chapters, or vignettes, lead you to easily accessible stops along the Front Range s highways and byways, where you ll meet the apatosaur and other dinosaurs who roamed the floodplains and beaches that once covered the Front Range; look for diamonds in rare, out-of-the-way volcanic pipes; learn how America s mountain, Pikes Peak, developed from molten magma miles below the surface only to become an important visual landmark for early Great Plains travelers; and walk the Gangplank, a singularly important plateau for both nineteenth-century westward expansion and our understanding of the Front Range s most recent exhumation. A healthy dose of full-color illustrations and photos demystify the concepts put forth in the authors elegant, insightful prose. With Geology Underfoot along Colorado s Front Range in hand, you ll feel like you re traveling through time as you explore the Front Range s hidden geologic treasures.

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