Backpacking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park – Part 1

I can hardly contain my excitement as I write this post.   The time for my trip finally came and it couldn’t have gone any better.  The beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) was even more than I had imagined in my mind’s eye.   Since we essentially did 3 separate hikes, I thought I would break them down into separate posts.   This post I will focus on our arrival into Denver, gathering supplies in Estes Park and our first hike out of Wild Basin Trail Head up to North St. Vrain backcountry site.   The other two posts will be about our hike to Thunder Lake and Lawn Lake respectively.

We arrived in Denver on Saturday August 1st around 11:30am.   After picking up the rental car, we stopped and ate lunch in Longmont, CO.   There was a Wal-Mart there where we picked up some of our lunch items for the week like trail mix, beef jerky and protein bars.

From here, we traveled on into Estes Park.   Estes was super crowded on a Saturday afternoon which made finding a parking spot somewhat of a challenge.  Our first stop in Estes was Kirk’s Fly Shop.   Kirk’s is a really great place to stop and pick up any last minute fly fishing supplies you may have forgotten.   I used Kirk’s to rent our Jetboil Camp Stove ($6/day), rent our bear canister ($3/day) and buy a few more backpacking meals.

Next Stop, The RMNP Beaver Meadows Visitor Center located south-west of Estes Park.  20150801_171637This is where the Backcountry Office is located.  It’s important to note, the backcountry office is a separate cabin separated from the visitor center.   It’s a short walk down a trail (.2 mile maybe) to pick up your permit and all the paperwork.   I hope you made your reservation well in advance because the park was totally full when I picked up my permit.   The backcountry office is open 7am to 7pm and permits can be picked up 30 days in advance of your actual stay.

Our final stop for the day was at Elk Meadows Lodge & RV Resort.  We purposely stayed here for the night to help acclimate to the altitude before our hike.  Instead of pitching our tent for the night at one of the camp sites, we rented a teepee.  This was a unique experience for my son and I well worth the $62 per night.  20150805_070534The teepees are located in the campground along RT 36 going into the park.   I was surprised by the road noise that continued throughout most of the night.   The teepee sites are equipped with AC Power to charge your devices, potable water and a fire ring.

The next morning (August 2nd), we packed our gear, loaded the car and drove south on RT 7 down to the SE side of the park.   It was nearly a 30 minute drive to the Wild Basin trailhead from Estes Park.   You will need to stop and pay the $20 park entrance fee if you have not done so already.  The fee will give you access to the park for 7 days.  Parking at Wild Basin fills up quickly as this is a popular trail head.  We arrive by 7:30am and secured a spot easily but were warned that parking can be full by 8:30 or 9am.   There has been a lot of bear activity in this area so don’t store any food in your car while you are gone.   Store all food in one of the bear lockers in the parking lot.

The Wild Basin area was surprisingly busy.   It was bustling with cars, rangers and day hikers slathering on sun screen.  It’s about 3.5 miles up to the North St. Vrain backcountry camp site.  The trail was well marked and well defined.   As you climb and gain altitude, the crowds thin out pretty quickly.  The trail follows the North St. Vrain creek most of the way during this hike offering numerous stops along the way for pictures.

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SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWe finally reached out campsite after a fairly rocky hike.   This was a great first hike for us without too much altitude gain.  The featured image for this post shows our actual camp site.   The sites are well marked with red blazes leading to the site and then a steel arrowhead looking spike at the campsite.  There was plenty of room for our two tents, with rocks for sitting.   My best investment was perhaps the two REI lightweight camp seats you can see in front of my tent.   These seats were only $22 at REI and were great for resting or eating one of our backpacking meals.  I think they are advertised to weigh 1 pound 2 oz.

The backcountry rangers were all very adamant about being cautious with the bears.   Of course we had a bear canister to store our food in but they even suggested we collapse our tent down if we were gone for an extended period of time.  We didn’t do this but we were smart about eating our food 75 yards away from our camp.

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Lastly, let me talk about the fishing on North St. Vrain stream.  My biggest mistake was not bringing my dip net.   I had it with me on the trip but left it in the car in order to save weight in my pack.   This was not wise since I missed a few small Brook Trout due to lack of a net.  Not to mention the fact that it’s always good practice to handle trout as little as possible and return them to the water.

The fishing along the stream was quite difficult.   The pine forest is very dense with many fallen trees.   Just gaining access to the stream proved difficult.   My son and I were both snagged multiple times.   I did manage to find a few pools of water where I saw Brookies holding.    If I would have had more time, I think I could have hiked the stream and found trout father away from our camp.   Due to our schedule, I had to leave the next morning to make it on up to Thunder Lake.   Tune in to my next post where I talk about my time at Thunder Lake and my first encounter with the legendary Greenback Cutthroat Trout!

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