I have always enjoyed hiking and exploring the great outdoors, but since moving to Colorado I can safely say my love for the natural world has morphed into an obsession. Every weekend I just about explode through my front door and drive straight to the mountains, my lungs desperately craving the fresh air. I can feel the stress melting away as I listen to the birds chirping and smell the fresh pine. My husband calls it an addiction. I prefer to call it “nature therapy”.
My favorite outdoor wonderland in the state is Rocky Mountain National Park. With its towering snow-capped mountains, rampant wildlife and postcard-worthy photo opportunities in every direction, stepping into its boundaries always makes me feel like I’m being wrapped in a warm hug from Mother Earth. It is only 2 hours from Denver and boasts 358 square miles of pristine wilderness where I can set my wild heart free (and run excitedly around the woods like a maniac). When my husband and I were deciding where to go for our first camping trip of the season, it was the obvious choice.
We arrived at the park on a Saturday around 11am via the entrance at Estes Park. RMNP is expected to see 5 million visitors this year, so if you prefer peace and quiet on the trails you’ll want to arrive much earlier. The goal was to hike Emerald Lake Trail, one of the most popular out and back trails. It is only 3.5 miles and passes three subalpine lakes. While I tend to pick longer and less-traveled trails to avoid the crowds, I bit the bullet this time and can subsequently say it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
In mid-June there was still quite a bit of snow and ice, which only made the scenery more striking. We passed Nymph Lake first, the smallest of the three, while catching views of Long’s Peak every so often between the treeline. Dream Lake was only a short climb away, and what a dream it was. When the water is calm the reflections of Hallett’s Peak and Flattop Mountain are to die for.
At the trail’s end we finally reached Emerald Lake. The lingering ice transformed the surface into a milky aquamarine that truly looked like something out of a storybook. We watched as other hikers stripped down and jumped into the freezing water while we sat content with our granola bars against a large tree, the mountains looming overhead.
After sliding our way back down the packed snow and to the car we headed to the nearby Olive Ridge Campground. Our campsite was situated smack in the middle of the forest, and the light from sunset spilled just perfectly onto ground through the trees. I’m not sure how long my husband endured my excited shouting about how awesome and perfect the world was, but I do know he was probably relieved when I ate myself into a s’mores coma and fell asleep.
The next morning I was hoping to nab some photos at sunrise so we packed up at 5am and headed to Bear Lake Loop. There were a few other photographers staking their claims around the lake, but otherwise it was silent and empty save for the sounds of the forest waking up around us. It was worth the early start for that alone. We watched as the sun slowly lit up Half Mountain against the deep blue water, which was so still it almost looked like glass. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect start to summer.