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Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park

Program No. 4819RJ
With over 355 miles of trails, Rocky Mountain National Park is known as a must-explore for hikers. So lace up your boots and get ready to learn a lot — this one is not to be missed!

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Plan ahead.
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At a Glance

Experience a hiking adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park, home to emerald-tinted lakes and thick forests of the Continental Divide. Led by naturalists, 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.
Small Group
Small Group
Love to learn and explore in a small-group setting? These adventures offer small, personal experiences with groups of 13 to 24 participants.

Best of all, you’ll…

  • 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 Vale.
  • Explore areas where elk, coyotes, deer, snowshoe hares and many other mammals inhabit year round.

General Notes

Due to the nature of this program, listening devices are not available.
Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
Rocky Mountain National Park: The Complete Hiking Guide
by Lisa Foster
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.
Recollections of a Rocky Mountain Ranger
by Jack Moomaw
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
by Lon Abbott and Terri Cook
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.
A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains
by Isabella Bird
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.
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6 days
5 nights
13 meals
5 B 4 L 4 D
Check-in, Registration, Orientation, Welcome Dinner
Estes Park, CO
Alpine Trail Ridge Inn

Activity note: Motel check-in available from 3:00 p.m.

Afternoon: Program Registration. 5:00 p.m., join us at the Road Scholar table in the Motel Meeting Room to register with the program staff and get your welcome packet containing the up-to-date schedule that reflects any changes, other important information, and to confirm the time and location of the Orientation session. If you arrive late, please ask for your packet when you check in. Orientation. The Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. We will review the up-to-date program schedule, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer questions. All of our hikes will be in Rocky Mountain National Park. Routes selected will depend upon group interest and fitness level, and will allow ample time for adjusting to altitude and difficulty as week progresses. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances/conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding.

Dinner: At a local restaurant, we’ll order plated meals from the menu with soft drinks, coffee, tea, water included; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: At leisure. Continue getting to know your fellow Road Scholars, settle in, and get a good night’s rest for the day ahead.

Hike to Bridal Veil Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park
Estes Park, CO
Alpine Trail Ridge Inn

Activity note: Getting on/off van; driving approximately 30 miles roundtrip; about 1/2 hour each way. Hiking approximately 6.2 miles roundtrip; about 5 hours hiking with lunch stop; maintained but rocky trail with moderately steep inclines and descents. Trailhead elevation is about 7,837 feet; elevation gain/loss of approximately 990 feet; maximum elevation of roughly 8,815 feet.

Breakfast: At a local restaurant, we’ll order plated meals from the menu, plus milk, juice, coffee, tea, water included.

Morning: Early Starts: We start every morning very early for safety and crowd avoidance. The weather in the Rockies is very unpredictable after noon. Lightening storms above treeline are very dangerous in the afternoon when the conditions for such storms build up. We get early starts each morning for your safety. Also the National Park is experiencing record breaking visitation, early starts help beat the crowds on the trail and to find parking. Thank you for your understanding, it is for your benefit. We depart early by van from the motel. The trail to Bridal Veil Falls begins at the McGraw Ranch Research Station. This will be a good first day warm-up hike in the more remote Northern part of the National Park. We will watch for wildlife, summer wildflowers or early fall colors. Hiking 3.1 miles from the trailhead, we will be rewarded to find the waterfall that drops 20 feet and is fed by seasonal snowmelt from further above.

Lunch: At a pleasant stopping point along the trail, we’ll have boxed lunches. Pre-selected sandwich, chips, fruit, and dessert.

Afternoon: We will continue our morning hike and return to the trailhead in the mid-afternoon. Time permitting a stop at Beaver Meadows National Park Visitor Center will be made to see the exhibits and a short interpretive nature trail. We return to the hotel before departing for dinner.

Dinner: At a local restaurant, we’ll order plated meals from the menu with soft drinks, coffee, tea, water; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: At leisure.

All-Day Hike to Loch Vale & Glacier Gorge
Estes Park, CO
Alpine Trail Ridge Inn

Activity note: Driving approximately 30 miles roundtrip; about 1/2 hour each way. Hiking between 5 and 10 miles roundtrip depending on group interest and ability; 5-6 hours; well maintained but rocky trail with steep inclines and descents. Bear Lake trailhead elevation is about 9,275 feet; elevation gain/loss of approximately 1,720 feet; maximum elevation of roughly 10,500 feet. Glacier Gorge to the Loch is about 3 miles one way with approximately 1,000-foot gain in elevation.

Breakfast: Restaurant plated meal.

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 and along the hike, we will first see Alberta Falls, the most photographed falls in the park. It was named after an Estes Park pioneer, Abner Sprague’s wife. Loch Vale is a crystal-clear alpine lake, which was named after a guest in Sprague’s lodge named Locke. It was changed to Loch, the Scottish name for lake. The broad cliff at the Loch is Cathedral Wall, a favorite for rock climbers.

Lunch: At a pleasant stopping point along the trail, we’ll have boxed lunches. Pre-selected sandwich, chips, fruit, dessert.

Afternoon: After lunch at the lake, we’ll continue toward Andrews Glacier, with an elective opportunity to see it if the group is up for 1.3 miles more. We also have the opportunity for an elective extension to see Mills Lake on our return (additional 1/2 mile). Carrying on, we’ll return to the motel.

Dinner: This meal has been excluded from the program cost and is on your own to enjoy what you like in downtown Estes Park. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Evening: At leisure.

Over the Top: Trail Ridge Road, Ute Trail
Estes Park, CO
Alpine Trail Ridge Inn

Activity note: Driving approximately 90 miles roundtrip; about 1 hour in morning, 1.5 hours in afternoon. Hiking approximately 3 miles on Ute Trail; about 1.5 hours; well maintained but rocky trail, easy to moderate inclines. Trailhead elevation is about 11,350 feet; elevation gain of approximately 800 feet; maximum elevation of roughly 12,150 feet. Afternoon hiking of approximately 1 mile total over several short interpretive hikes to viewpoints along highway.

Breakfast: Restaurant plated meal.

Morning: Today we will travel on Trail Ridge Road – the highest continuous highway in the United States – starting in the Montane ecosystem below 9,000 feet, through the subalpine between 9,000 and 11,400 feet, and up to the alpine ecosystem above 11,400 ft. Upon arrival at the Ute Trail starting point, we’ll get out and hike this out-and-back route for several hours, during which we’ll experience the beauty of the alpine tundra and spectacular views. It is important to stay on the trail because plants are very fragile in this harsh environment. After completing our hike, we’ll get back in the van and drive to the Alpine Visitor Center where we’ll enjoy the views and eat lunch outside.

Lunch: At the Visitor Center, we’ll have our boxed lunches.

Afternoon: After lunch, we’ll drive to cross the Continental Divide into the Kawuneeche Valley where we’ll stop for a walk to hopefully see herds of elk along the road, and perhaps even moose. On our way back to Estes Park, we’ll stop to take a short hike at high altitude on the Tundra Communities Trail. We’ll then return to the motel.

Dinner: At a local restaurant, we’ll order plated meals from the menu with soft drinks, coffee, tea, water included; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: At leisure.

All-Day Hike in Wild Basin
Estes Park, CO
Alpine Trail Ridge Inn

Activity note: Driving approximately 40 miles total; about 1.5 hours roundtrip. Hiking between 5.5 and 10 miles roundtrip depending on group interest and ability; between 4 and 5 hours hike time. Trailhead elevation is about 8,006 feet; elevation gain/loss of approximately 1,500 feet; maximum elevation of roughly 10,000 feet.

Breakfast: Restaurant plated meal.

Morning: Our hike today will start in Wild Basin at a trailhead of 8,566 feet. A day to enjoy beautiful waterfalls, we will first come to Copeland Falls then climb to Calypso Cascades, which were named after the calypso orchid, also known as fairy slipper. As we walk along the trail, we will see remains of a 1978 forest fire, which opened up the area resulting in a great view of Mt. Meeker to the right and Long’s Peak on the left. Soon after comes Ouzel Falls at 9,516 feet. It is named after a little grey bird about the size of a robin that dips its head in the stream and dives for insects; it is also called a dipper. Those who wish to go on a longer hike can join a Group Leader for a continuation to Ouzel Lake about 5 miles from the trailhead with an elevation gain of roughly 1,510 feet.

Lunch: At a pleasant stopping point along the trail, we’ll have boxed lunches. Pre-selected sandwich, chips, fruit, dessert.

Afternoon: After completing our hike, we’ll return to motel for a late afternoon arrival.

Dinner: At a restaurant in Estes Park, we’ll enjoy a tasty plated farewell dinner plus soft drinks, coffee, tea, water; other beverages available for purchase. Share some of your favorite experiences from the program with new Road Scholar friends.

Evening: At leisure. Be sure to prepare for check-out and departures in the morning.

Program Concludes
Estes Park, CO

Activity note: Motel check-out by 10:00 a.m.

Breakfast: Restaurant plated meal. This concludes our program.

Morning: If you are returning home, safe travels. If you are staying on independently, have a wonderful time. If you are transferring to another Road Scholar program, detailed instructions are included in your Information Packet for that program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Don’t forget to join our Facebook page and follow us on Instagram. Best wishes for all your journeys!

Important registration tip:
If you want to attend the live lecture, please do not wait until the last minute to enroll.
If you enroll after a lecture is complete, we’ll send you a recording of the event.