88 Hours to Yellowstone (via Rocky Mountain National Park)

88 Hours to Yellowstone (via Rocky Mountain National Park)
Chasm Lake Pano.jpeg
Snow Crossing.jpeg

After leaving Great Sand Dunes National Park, we took the scenic route toward Denver. This primarily involved a drive through Leadville and a stop in Idaho Springs for Beaux Jo’s pizza. We spent the night in Denver with Michelle’s brother and sister-in-law (+ nieces) scheming about a hike in Rocky Mountain for the next day. They’ve been working on hiking to 100 Colorado lakes from a hiking book and for several years, we’ve joined them on a hike or two. That book offered two choices, both around 8 miles. We chose Chasm Lake despite the more challenging elevation profile for the chance to see and hike below Long’s Peak.

Shell Falls.jpeg
Mountain Top Working.jpeg

We dropped the girls off at school at the ripe hour of 6:30 am, and then headed for the park. The parking area at Long’s Peak is notorious for filling by 3 am so we were pleasantly surprised that this Monday after a holiday weekend left it with plenty of open space. The steep climb up made us thankful for the elevation training we’d been doing in the Smokies. Despite the altitude, the hike was manageable. After crossing tree line, we had open views of Long’s Peak and surrounding mountains the rest of the way. Two big challenges awaited us toward the end: some narrow snow crossings and a steep unmarked rocky scramble. Ice spikes got us through the first and sheer stubbornness through the second. We topped out at ~11,800 feet. Chasm Lake had a slushy cover but was still lovely below the iconic Long’s diamond. After a short lunch break, we turned around to beat the incoming thunderstorms. 

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The next day we lingered, enjoying breakfast with the girls, a walk around the park near Jim & Jess’s house, and impressive hopscotch routes. Seven hours and hundreds of miles later we found ourselves searching for an open spot to sleep in Bighorn National Forest. This night was our first try at dispersion camping. After a few failed attempts down forest roads and our first moose of the trip, we found a mostly flat area alongside an old cattle corral. Not ideal but it worked.  Four male elk grazed nearby just before sunset and we learned how even a slight angle in the parking area can make sleeping uncomfortable. 

We woke early to check out Shell Creek Falls on our way toward Cody. We took a similar route last year from Cody to Yellowstone and the entire thing was fogged in with 39 degree weather. This year, we were pleased to be in shorts and t-shirts with clear blue skies. We lunched on sandwiches in the Beartooth wilderness while we shot a time lapse and then explored some backroads in Shoshone National Forest. After entering Yellowstone, we spotted our first mountain goats of the trip (thank you, binoculars) and then hiked Trout Lake twice. Once because we meant to and the second time with better camera gear to capture the trout spawning upstream from the lake. We were officially in Yellowstone.

Beartooth Pano.jpeg