Rocky Mountain National Park and YMCA of the Rockies 2010 Vacation

Carol has heard friends talk about the YMCA camp near Estes Park, and always wanted to see why they enjoyed it so much. We had a few days off, and surprisingly, were able to get reservations at one of the lodes on short notice. I hardly ever turn down a trip to Colorado, so we decided to see what it was all about. Normally, the campground supports thousands of visitors any summer day, with combinations of small cabins, dorm-style bunk houses, and hotel-like lodges. We chose the comfortable lodge option. We arrived on a Thursday afternoon in mid-August, the weekend before most schools start up. It turns out that we were a week late for the big crowds. Our entire lodge building had only three cars parked in the lot! On the weekend, it wasn't any more crowded - maybe 5 cars. The tourist town of Estes Park was much more crowded, and the roads and trails at Rocky Mountain National Park were crowded, since this is prime hiking season (little chance of bad weather for Longs Peak, for example). I hiked, relaxed in the pool, and did some reading, while Carol did crafts and shopped a little. Her MCA-guided easy hike was canceled due to lack of participants, but we both played free miniature golf and Bingo!

The view from our balcony. On the left is the craft building, in the center is the swimming pool, and the game building is just to its right. At the very right side is the cafeteria and administration buildings, library, and chapel.

The Alpen Lodge rooms were large and comfortable. No air conditioning, but nice weather held for the few days we were there.

Across from the administration building is the "Y" "M" "C" "A" statues. The sports fields are all around, including basketball, soccer, etc. They were pretty empty, except for one team from Oklahoma Baptist University. There was also about 100 Buddhists using the facility. The miniature golf area is just outside the view on the right.

Carol used beads to make some necklaces and bracelets, and painted on silk. The craft building also offers pottery and basket work.

The first hike Don took was to the top of Estes Cone, starting from the Longs Peak trailhead. The trail gained about 2020' altitude (if you add the long down-hill section in the middle) and ended just over 11,000'. The round trip was about 7 miles (if you count the long trek down the road from the completely filled Longs Peak Trailhead parking lot!) and took about 5 hours.

Since the crowds were gone, the hike would have been canceled, except that one YMCA volunteer hikemaster decided to scout the hike (he would be leading it in a few weeks). That made the group of two YMCA hikemasters and me.

Near the top, at 11,000', the trail deteriorated into rock scrambling.

I was not very acclimated yet, and the hikemasters worried that I only had tennis shoes, but I convinced them I was an experienced hiker. At the summit of Estes Cone, a good view of Longs Peak (note the "Notch" and part of the "Diamond" face). I attempted Longs Peak when I was in grad school, but we started too late and had bad weather, so did not make it past the boulder field.

The next morning, another family from Boston signed up for the longer hike to Black Lake via Mills Lake. This had only one YMCA hikemaster. The total elevation gain was slightly less (about 1850'), but was slightly longer (10 miles), taking about 6 hours and reaching 10,630'.

Everyone was in pretty good shape, since the Boston people had been here for a week. The high school kids were pretty energetic!


The trail was fairly easy and well marked. Between Mills Lake and Black Lake, parts of the trail required walking sideways, up blocks, or across long planks. Since the trail was dry this late in the year, it made for a smooth hike.

A nice cascade just below Black Lake, about 10,630' elevation.

The view at Black Lake included some small waterfalls and some rugged cliffs. No 14ers are visible, but still pretty spectacular. Nice weather without a threat of storms.

Near Mills Lake, lots of other hikers were around, since that hike was much shorter. The formation near the center is called "The Keyboard of the Winds".

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