Rocky Mountains

Hiking in the Rocky Mountains


There are a number of beautiful, challenging hikes in the Rocky Mountains.  I’m not talking about needing an expertise with ropes and sophisticated climbing gear, but rather hikes that a well conditioned person can do in one sometimes strenuous day.  My favorite scenery and hikes  in the Rocky Mountains include:

Long’s Peak, Estes Park, Colorado

This is one, tough hike.  Starting from an elevation of 9,400 feet our group hit the trail at 2:00 am (21 hikers had already signed in before us) and hiked with flashlights the first four hours, to and through a boulder field at 13,300 feet, and on to a wonderful view of the mountains from the “Key Hole”.  The cold wind was blowing at about 40 miles per hour but the sun was just rising on the eastern horizon as we started on the difficult last 1.3 miles:  Along an uneven “trail” of boulders, up a long, vertical chute of scree, over a very narrow ledge and up a stone wall at about a 45 degree angle. One of our group was hyperventilating so this last 1.3 miles took us three hours to reach the 14,255 foot summit.  Because of snow and weather conditions, there is only about a six week window from late July to early September in which this hike can be reasonably attempted without ice axes and other climbing gear.  We saw a 77 year old geezer at the bottom of the hike who claimed to have made the summit 68 times; so anything is possible!

The Teton Mountains, Wyoming

Yellowstone gets all of the glory in the American National Park System, but the Teton Mountains, just 25 miles south of Yellowstone, are a real jewel of nature and, to me, a preferred place for hiking.  The Jackson Hole, Wyoming, airport is only minutes from the park and the towering Tetons, of Ansel Adams photographic fame (his shot of the Tetons with the Snake River in the foreground is a classic), provide the most prominent pointed peaks in all of the Rockies.  Jackson and Jenny Lakes are calm basins of tranquility and there are a number of beautiful hikes in the area.  My favorite hike proceeds from the String Lake parking area, north along Jenny Lake to Inspiration Point and 4.5 miles through Cascade Canyon before going up an additional 2.3 miles to Lake Solitude.  I’ve done this hike a number of times, but in most years because of year-round snow I was only once able to go onward from Lake Solitude over Paintbrush Divide, down to Holly Lake and back to the parking area – a total of about a 20 mile loop.  Even in years that you cannot get over the divide without ice axes, the trip to Lake Solitude is a beautiful and memorable hike.  From there up and over Paintbrush Divide is only for those in very good shape, but highly recommended if weather/snow conditions permit.  Also, since you will have earned the treat, don’t miss the gourmet dinner at Jenny Lake Lodge.

Glacier National Park, Montana

It is very difficult to pick a favorite hike in Glacier National Park because there are so many that are memorable. Staying at Lake McDonald Lodge (get cabin #9 if you have a group; it has six rooms and a “drinking porch” out front), it is a brief walk to the Brown Mountain trailhead and a short drive to Avalanche Canyon. Both will get your heart beating as well as provide substantial visual stimulation. The most well known hike in the park is the Highline Trail that begins at the Visitors Center on Going-to-the-Sun Road and meanders along the side of several mountains, returning to a parking area a dozen miles down the valley (you can get a park bus back to your car if you book it in advance). The last time I was in Glacier the Going-to-the-Sun Road had only opened on June 20, a month later than usual, because of late snow conditions.  At the northern edge of Glacier National Park you cross over into Canada and the park continues as Waterton Lakes – with the classic Prince of Whales Hotel as a monument to the old Canadian Pacific Railroad days alone on a plain overlooking the lakes.  The Glacier/Waterton International Peace Park exemplifies effective political cooperation to maintain our wilderness heritage.