The planning phase of any trip for me always involves map study. I like to see what’s on the way, what’s nearby my destination that might be of historical significance or if there might be a National Park in the vicinity. I knew that the Antelope hunt was the primary focus of our trip so we were going to stay in Wyoming until our tags were filled. If our hunt went really well, my secondary agenda was to drive the 3 hours south on I-25 down to Estes Park. I can’t be this close to one of my favorite parks and not visit. Besides, I knew my Dad and Brother hadn’t been to Estes Park in 25 years. We had to make the long drive home somehow, why not take RT. 70 home out of Denver. My brother was flying out of Denver, so my plan couldn’t have worked out better.
A weather front had come through late Monday night and continued into Tuesday morning. The 80 degree temperatures we had enjoyed in Wyoming the previous 3 days were now long gone. Hello 40 degrees and high winds. On the way down I-25, we saw numerous tractor trailers flipped on their side. Even my mini van felt like I was driving a billboard.
We arrived in Estes Park without incident at about 10am. My first stop was Kirk’s Fly Shop right on the main drag in town so I could by a Colorado fishing license. This is where Jackson and I had rented our bear canister and Jet Boil Stove in 2015. It was surreal being back in these familiar surroundings again so soon. I just love this shop and the vibe it has. I would love to quit my Information Technology job and move here to work at Kirk’s. My excitement must have been obvious, my brother made the comment; “I can tell you are off the charts right now.” I sheepishly admitted it. I am most in my element when I’m with people I love, doing things I love all while being in full tour guide mode.
We loaded up in the van and made the drive west on RT. 36 into the park. I pointed out the Beaver Meadow visitor Center, the back country office and the campground where Jackson and I had rented a teepee last summer. As luck would have it, they were dismantling the exact teepee we stayed in as we passed by. Of course we had to stop for the RegularGuy sign picture.
During the month leading up to our trip, I had once again been referring back to Steve Sweitzer’s book on Fly Fishing RMNP. I wanted to hike up to a lake the contained Greenback Cutthroats yet was short enough to accomplish as a day hike. My Dad had both of his hips replaced last November so my other requirement had to be a hike that wasn’t too strenuous. My hike of choice was to The Loch leaving out of the Glacier Gorge trailhead. As we drove up Bear Lake road, we pulled into the GG parking lot to find it was already full. The parking lot only has room for maybe 20 cars but we were there on a Tuesday and it was still full. A moment of panic set it as my mind raced for an alternate plan. We pulled into the Bear Lake parking lot while I pulled out my park map and formulate a new plan. The rangers informed us that we could do a short .5 mile hike back down to the hill to the Glacier Gorge trailhead. We were back on track.
Did I mention that it was snowing. Yes, up at Bear Lake we were greeting by blowing snow flurries. Luckily we had bought appropriate layers of hats and gloves with us for just such a situation. We all took off down the trail giddy as group of school boys. I already knew the beauty of this park but it was great hearing all the adjectives coming from my Dad and Brother….Amazing! Incredible! Beautiful..
The hike up to the Loch was about 3 miles one way. I was well aware of how long it takes to hike uphill at altitude, with stops for rest and pictures. My Dad kept saying, “We gotta be to this lake by now.” Until we saw the sign that said .7 to The Loch. When we finally arrived at the lake, we weather was so brutal, we could stay for only 5 minutes. Ice was forming on everything including my fly rod. The eyelets of my rod were filling with ice prohibiting me from stripping my line. The wind was howling making for a short visit at the lake. Hopefully the pictures below give you an idea of the conditions.
All was not lost from a fishing perspective. Glacier Creek outlets from The Loch and Mills Lake and tumbles down the mountain coming along side our hiking trail at multiple points. My new plan was so hike back down to lower altitude and fish some of the drop pools that are shielded from the wind. Once again, this plan worked well. I found some hidden Brook Trout in a few of the pools. They flipped off my hook and I wasn’t able to land them but being back in this park fishing again was once again heaven on Earth for me.
Back down in Estes, I took everyone to Baba’s Burgers. This is another stop I recommend to people when they are visiting. Their menu contains Elk and Buffalo burgers along with fresh-cut fries. After hiking 6 miles, we were all ready for food.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon lingering among the many shops that line the street. My Dad hit souvenir gold and was able to load up on hooded sweatshirts for all 5 of his grandkids. He could have stayed here 2 more days just looking around in the shops and galleries. It’s been quite sometime since I have seen him enjoy himself this much.
Later that evening, we said goodbye to Estes Park and drove back down to Denver for the night. We stayed in a very comfortable Best Western. We all slept like babies that night.
My brother flew out of Denver the next morning and we spent the next 24 hours driving back to Ohio and the responsibility of everyday life. I’m thankful my plan worked out flawlessly. My son went back to school on Friday that week. His social studies teacher asked him to put all his pictures into a Powerpoint Presentation and show the class one day the following week. (Proud Father moment) Jackson eagerly put all his pictures into a presentation and was excited to show his classmates. I think he’s beginning to realize that not everyone travels and has the same opportunity for adventures that he does. Some kids have never been out of Ohio. I am thankful for the ability to create so many memories for my wife and kids….