As someone who is passionate about travel, it is hard to come up with a best travel day…ever–but it is certainly lots of fun to think about! Instead, I will present a great travel day (more like 24 hours), and I will challenge the reader to match it. Since travel is a personal endeavor, not a competition, per se, we can all share in one another’s travel glory.
In July, 2013, I had a most excellent “Day” in Rocky Mountain National Park. It did not look promising the night before, however, after watching a July 4 fireworks display in Estes Park, CO, and waiting an interminable amount of time for overcrowded shuttle buses to deposit my son, Jack, and I back to our cabin, let’s say that it would not be hard to wake up on the wrong side of the bed the next morning…
A busy day was planned for July 5, including a hike, a guided tour of the park, and dinner at the Stanley Hotel. It started rather inauspiciously when Jack informed me on a preliminary waterfall loop (The Alluvian Fan) that instead of his hiking shoes, which he inadvertently left in the lodge, her was wearing his old, beat up tennis shoes (ugh!). Despite this, he was quite a trooper for the 9 mile, 2180 foot elevation gain Ypsilon Lake hike. The hike was very interesting for multiple reasons, not the least of which was that there were three lakes at the top of the hike, and it was easy to assume that you arrived at the destination lake before you actually had done so. This was not a heavily traveled trek, even at high season; we saw maybe a dozen people on the trail all day, and I was especially envious of a runner who ascended to the alpine lake with little apparent effort. On the way back down, we were surrounded by thunderstorms, but none ever landed on our descent path. A nine mile hike would be a full day for many travelers…but we were just beginning.
We came back to our cabin in time for a quick change and to be picked up by Jared (Yellow Wood Guiding) who took us on a four hour afternoon tour of the majestic park. We saw animals (snowshoe rabbits, elk, bighorn sheep, and beavers) and fabulous vistas, received expert photography advice, and were inundated with interesting geological, historical, cultural, and biological information about RMNP. Jared was an outstanding guide, and I would give his service my strongest recommendation to anyone visiting the area. If I ever go back, I would absolutely hire him as a guide again. A nine mile hike, a four hour driving and photography tour, and most guys would be done for the day–but not us!
A 9:30 PM dinner reservation at the Stanley Hotel awaited us! I had last visited The Stanley was with my wife in 1994, and this iconic resort, best known to have inspired the evil hotel of Stephen King’s The Shining. After some scary photos, we dined in a loud and crowded restaurant, but the food was much better than I expected. This is probably something to check off the list, and I am not sure that I would do it again. Well, we got back to the room around midnight, and we were exhausted. My teenage son could have slept for a week.
At around 5 AM I awoke and remembered Jared telling m that it was a shame that we did not include the Bear Lake area on our itinerary. I did hike around Bear Lake with my (future) wife in 1994, but Jared mentioned how wonderful it was, especially in the morning, before the crowds arrived. I stirred in bed for a few minutes until it became clear that I was headed to Bear Lake. No use, waking up the dead-tired and soundly sleeping teen, I left Jack a note–“Went out for coffee, will be back soon.’ — and slipped out of the cabin, making it to the trail head at Bear Lake in about 30 minutes (“Good morning!” to the wild turkey along the way). When I arrived at the large parking lot, there were a handful of cars and maybe a dozen people milling about, but I immediately set out on the Nymph-Dream-Emerald Lake trail, 3.5 miles of lakes and small falls. I virtually had the entire area, one of the most popular areas in the Park, to myself. It was glorious! I walked, hiked, skipped, and ran through the area, a 3.5 mile RT jaunt, seeing people only on my return trip. A quick buzz around Bear Lake proper, and then to the parking lot where now cars and tour buses and throngs of people were streaming in. I made it in and out just in time, having the highlight of the vast park to myself in the best part of the day.
On the way back to the cabin, I happened upon a legendary donut shop, The Donut Haus, and remembered my good friend, Claudia Simons, recommending it, knowing well that donuts are not on my diet. I saw the small shop with the large line, a parking space appeared before me, and 20 minutes later I was texting Jack to put down the waffle, I got breakfast covered. I never, and I mean NEVER, eat donuts, and these were indeed outstanding and worth breaking the rules. We checked out and spent the late morning hiking around Lily Lake (0.8 miles, flat and scenic), and that is how my best vacation day (more like 28 hours) ended.
A few lessons from this experience:
1. When traveling, getting out early and beating the crowds to the popular sites is something that has served me well everywhere I have ever visited.
2. A good plan leads to a great day, but save some time for serendipity.
3. An excellent guide is worth his or her weight in gold.
4. Let sleeping teens lie.
Photo, by Jared
The spooky Stanley Hotel
The venerable Donut Haus