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Rocky Mountain National Park

July 7, 2023   

Glasses lost in a beautiful lake, phone fallen from the Rocky Mountain high.

Yes, I lost my glasses and broke my phone in this one park. I kept telling people how happy I was after so many incidents, and I truly meant it. Unlike previous national park adventures, we had much more time to explore this particular park and simply hike within, feeling closer to nature.

Day 0: Arrival

Flight Delay

I planned this trip three months ago after returning from Utah National Parks and completely falling in love with national parks. We departed on the Friday night of the July 4th weekend and encountered our first incident when our flight was delayed due to weather. Additionally, my friend’s flight from Arizona was cancelled. Fortunately, we all safely arrived at the Denver airport, albeit three hours behind schedule.

The rainstorm was terrible and almost ruined our trip, but it also provided some great views of the sky after it stopped raining, especially during sunset. Looking out from my window, the entire sky turned pink and then transformed into a beautiful golden color when we landed.

Driving to the park

It seemed like all flights of the day were delayed until late night, so we had a couple of hours to wait to get our rental car. After that, we set off to the beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park around 11pm. The road was tricky with minimal visibility for a while. The fog was so strong that we could not see anything even 10 feet away.

Luckily, we arrived at our Airbnb near the park entrance in Grand Lake around 2 am. It was a small but cozy cabin with a fire pit, which we used every night after that.

Day 1: Driving through the whole park

Grand Lake

We set off on our journey after a night of inadequate sleep but excited minds. While stopping by the coffee shop on the way, we had a chance to check out the Grand Lake. It was my first time seeing clouds so close to the lake, and it was quite poetic with the clouds flowing, boats floating, and people talking.

Alpine Visitor Center & Alpine Ridge Trail

It is the highest visitor center in the US, with an elevation of 11,796 ft. We had a short hike up to an overlook with a panoramic view of the Rockies. Even though it was only a 20-minute hike, I haven’t experienced this kind of reaction to high altitude in a long time. The trail mostly consisted of going uphill, which was quite steep and had mostly stairs. I had to breathe heavily and take multiple breaks due to the high elevation. However, the view was always amazing and definitely worth it.

Trail Ridge Road

Corresponding to the highest visitor center, the road we were driving on in the park is the highest paved road in the US. We stopped at quite a few turnouts just to appreciate the beauty of the Rockies, the snow, the wildlife, and the sky.

Gem Lake Trail

This is the first actual hike we did in the park. It is located in Estes Park, which is a town near the east entrance of the park. The town is similar to any other popular tourist town near national parks, with many food options and clothing stores. Driving through the town, we arrived at the Gem Lake trailhead, which was already full for parking. We parked along the road and walked up to the trailhead, which only took a few minutes.

It was a decent hike with characteristics shared by all Rockies hikes: uphill sections followed by downhill sections on the return. I honestly prefer this kind of hike because we tackle the hardest part first, then get to see the rewarding views from the top, and finally return relatively easily.

When we arrived at the lake, I couldn’t help but take off my shoes and go into the water. It was not as clear as I had thought, but the view and reflection of the sky and clouds were amazing.


After the hike, we headed over to explore Estes Park a bit, eating ice creams and buying some souvenirs. We then headed to a lake near Estes Park for kayaking. It was quite funny because we had to wait for a while before getting on the boat due to a heavy thunderstorm. Once we got onboard the boat and started kayaking towards the further end, the weather drastically changed again. I heard the staff on board making those warning sounds and asking us to immediately turn back.

It was a bit disappointing not to have a chance to hit my friend’s boat, but it was nice to have a free 10-minute experience before the thunderstorm hit heavily.

Day 2: Truly amazing lake hikes

The weather was still amazing today. We passed through the Continental Divide, which I just learned about in my geology class but have already forgotten. Initially, we stopped by this place to use the restrooms, which are located on both sides of the Continental Divide. We joked that this time we pee in the Atlantic, and next time we pee in the Pacific (which we actually did the following day lol).

Bierstadt Lake Trail

This was definitely an underrated trail. As mentioned, the elevation gain was brutal when climbing uphill, followed by a flat period, and then we reached the amazing lake. I happened to find out about this lake on AllTrails only because it fit our schedule of around 2 hours. I never thought this randomly picked trail would be so astonishing. On the way up, there were countless overlooks offering unobstructed views of the snow peaks, which we also planned to hike later today.

When we arrived at the lake, it was peaceful, poetic, and simply amazing. There were very few people around, and we sat on a rock, appreciating the tranquility and beauty, despite the abundance of mosquitoes.

We then realized that the trails in this area are all interconnected, which means we can walk a few miles to our next lake destination instead of taking the shuttle bus we had originally planned. So, we switched our trail. Instead of retracing our steps, we decided to walk the lake loop trail and then hike another trail that would lead us directly to the Bear Lake area.

Bear Lake Trail

It was a pretty easy hike from Bierstadt Lake to Bear Lake, which is the most famous and accessible lake in the park in my knowledge. After seeing the amazing view of Bierstadt lake, the view of Bear lake is overshadowed. It is still an amazing lake view but just not as good as the previous one.

One surprising thing was that we see a deer from only 10 feet away eating in the woods. It was my first time to be this close to a deer and it is beautiful.

Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lake Trail

It was quite a strenuous hike because we had already hiked more than 7 miles today. As always, the trail to the lake was all uphill. The elevation of the lake was truly remarkable. The first lake was okay, but the second lake was breathtaking, with a closer view of the snow-covered mountains in the background. And then there was Emerald Lake, which was absolutely sensational. It was situated right next to the snow and beneath the peak, making it irresistible for me to jump in. However, I ended up losing my glasses in the process, and the water was so cold that I could hardly breathe. This reminded me of a previous experience swimming in the sliding rock in Asheville.

When people asked me how it was, I replied, “It wasn’t cold at all. But, unfortunately, I lost my glasses.” I vaguely remember people laughing at me, but I was too focused on the beauty of the lake and the water. I swam towards the center for a little while, but soon realized I wasn’t strong enough to swim across the entire lake. After about five minutes, I swam back, taking the opportunity to simply lie on the lake and appreciate the incredible natural wonders surrounding me. It was an amazing feeling that I will never forget, and it left me longing for more experiences like it in my life.

Emerald Lake is truly amazing, and it was my great pleasure to leave something here in this natural wonder at 14,000 ft.

Lake Haiyaha

I know I have said that multiple times but Lake Haiyaha is also my favouite lake with a unique turquoise color. And the hike was brutal as well. My firend was too tired to go so I decided to solo hike this 4.4 mile hike. This was my first solo hike and it turned out to be great choice or I would miss this once in a life time lake. Of course, with the helf of my firend’s glasses which restored half of my visibility.

I sat on a rock by the lake for a long time because it was simply breathtaking, and I didn’t want to leave early. Despite the mosquito bites, I watched as the sunshine played hide and seek behind the clouds, causing the lake to showcase a mesmerizing array of colors, ranging from vibrant turquoise blue to tranquil turquoise.

Nymph Lake on the way back

And as I made my way back to the parking lot, the sun began to descend and the wind gradually calmed, resulting in a serene stillness on the surface of the lake. By the time I arrived at the first Nymph Lake, which I had previously rated as just okay, it had transformed into something truly breathtaking. The lake now boasted a flawless reflection of the sky, mountains, and trees, creating a scene of utter magnificence.

Blind man ordering food

Day 3: A strenuous hike - Sky Pond

We only had one hike on today’s agenda, which has been proven correct because we were all exhausted after this more than 6-hour hike. That being said, the views were amazing not only at the top and the lake but also everywhere on our route, with so many waterfalls, creeks, and wildlife accompanying us.

Hiking to the pond

The first part, of course, consists of multiple sections of uphill climbs with a few easy flat trail sections until we reached the Loch, which is the first lake on our trail.

Ever since the first lake, the route has shown us other distinctive views, mostly covered in snow. Not long after, we found ourselves walking on snow and slipping countless times, indicating that we are now reaching a higher elevation, even though the temperature was not particularly cold.

The most challenging route begins at the waterfall that leads to the Lake of Glass. We were literally walking on snow-covered slopes, following a waterfall to climb. Yes, a waterfall to climb. I got myself wet and was barely able to look down because it was quite scary to realize I was climbing a waterfall, and it was all surrounded by snow.

The following photo shows the waterfall we were about to climb. And after that, everything becomes easier, “柳暗花明又一村” (a Chinese idiom meaning “after hardships, comes relief”). We arrived at the Lake of Glass, which is just as beautiful as our final destination, Sky Pond, located right behind this lake.

However, I was too excited to see the final lake and didn’t have the mindset to appreciate the current one. So, I decided to speed up even more and reach that dreamy Sky Pond. There were only two sections covered in snow left, and we reached the Sky Pond in no time.

Last view to reach to Sky Pond.

And here we are at Sky Pond! You may say it looks exactly like those previous lakes, and I wouldn’t say I disagree with that. But I also believe that every lake offers distinctive views when I am physically standing there. The altitude, the water, the peak, the route, and the emotions are all different. These things combined make each of my hikes unique and unforgettable. Apart from that, these lakes are just so gorgeous, and I would love to have multiple chances to appreciate their beauty even they may share similar traits.

Swimming in the pond

I was excited as hell. However, I also just realized that I hadn’t eaten anything all day except for 5 mandarins. Nevertheless, I was determined to swim in the lake. Then it dawned on me that I had forgotten to bring any backup shirts and I didn’t have any shorts either. So, I decided to take off my long pants and walked into the freezing water wearing only my underwear. I moved slowly, trying to find my footing on the slippery rocks beneath the water. It was quite challenging as the water was constantly moving. I ended up falling off a few times, resulting in my entire top getting wet. But eventually, I managed to climb onto the rock I had initially set my sights on.

Then I took off my shirt and had my friend throw me my coat to keep warm. I lay down on the rock, quietly appreciating the astonishing view in front of me. Meanwhile, I placed my wet shirt on the rock, hoping it would dry a bit.

After that, I saw people from a distance starting to dive into the lake, and everyone, including me, was cheering for them. I knew it was my time to try now. I was kind of afraid because I could see the rock clearly under the water, which meant it wasn’t deep enough to dive into. So, I slowly got back into the water to test it out myself and found an area with a reasonable depth.

Of course, I was super cold the whole time and could barely breathe. After getting on the rock again, I stayed until my body regained warmth and then took off my clothes to dive in this time. I was super, super, super excited. It was such a pleasure to jump into this forbidden land.

Hiking back

The way back was even more brutal, although it was mostly downhill. We had to climb down waterfalls and deal with slippery snow. It was just as dangerous as Angels Landing in Zion National Park. This time, not only did I get wet, but my pants got muddy too. Additionally, I felt extremely tired, even though I didn’t walk as much as I did yesterday when I achieved my personal record of 30k steps and 160 floors elevation gain. It might be because I didn’t eat anything today and swam three times separately, which requires a lot of calories to regain body heat. In a nutshell, the way back was much longer subjectively to me and much more tiring. The moment we arrived at the final destination trailhead at Glacier Gorge, I was so relieved and so happy for what I have achieved today.

Day 4: Relax and departure

Today was a relaxed day. We set off pretty late and drove through the Trail Ridge Road again to stop at Alpine Center to get some final souvenirs and then drive across the park.

Toll Memorial Trail

We did one short 30-minute trail called Toll Memorial Trail right on the Trail Ridge Road. It offered a panoramic view of the Rockies, and the view was simply amazing.

And then, I found myself perched upon a rock near a petite cliff. I remained there for a while, simply basking in the breathtaking vistas that surrounded me. The clouds swiftly traversed the sky, allowing beams of sunlight to filter through their ethereal forms. I could distinctly observe patches of the earth illuminated by this celestial radiance, while others lay cloaked in shadow. The interplay of light and darkness danced harmoniously, a mesmerizing spectacle orchestrated by the sun and the clouds. It was a sight of sheer beauty. Moreover, being situated at an altitude exceeding 15,000 feet, the wind roared with such intensity that it drowned out all other sounds. Nature seemed to be whispering to me, as if attempting to convey a profound message.

By the time I got up, my phone slipped out of my pocket which I heard a sound that made me certain that my phone is broken. I was quite happy for no reason since I have a readlly old phone either way and Rockies was not a bad place to lose something. Then I walked down the rock and got my broke phone with a smashed screen. It was still working perfectly to my surprise.

I then decided to pick up a new phone on the way back to Denver which was very convenient. Finally, I have a decent phone to take pictures and don’t need to ask people to take photos for me anymore. (Thanks to everyone who took countless photos of me)

Departure from DEN airport

We encountered a rainstorm again at the airport, and our flight got delayed. This was also the first time I saw a rainstorm and lightning while I was on the plane at the taxiway. Luckily, we took off after a while of waiting on the taxiway and arrived back in “shitty” Durham around 2 am.

Overall, it was an amazing trip with so many unexpected surprises: flight delays, losing my glasses, breaking my phone, hiking too much, and not eating enough. But everything was so worth it. The weather at the park was perfect, and I believe it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I would definitely come again to explore more of the park, as well as visit the favorite state of my favorite singer, John Denver, with his song “Rocky Mountain High.”