Due to the tight travel schedule we had for our Colorado/Wyoming/Nebraska trip, I knew that we wouldn’t have a lot of time to spend in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). I would have preferred to explore the park’s 415 square miles over a period of 2-3 days, but we had less than half a day free before moving on to our stop at Terry Bison Ranch. As the trip grew closer and I started planning our detailed itinerary, I started to feel overwhelmed by the abundance of things to see and do in the park. I didn’t want to miss anything, but I quickly realized we’d only be able to see a small portion of RMNP. Solution: take a Rocky Mountain National Park tour.
My friend Wayne and his family visited RMNP a few months earlier and he recommended that we check out Green Jeep Tours. (For a fun narration and photos that are 100x better than mine, read his blog.)
Green Jeep Tours is located in Estes Park, Colorado, on the east side of RMNP. They offer a variety of tour packages, all in open-air modified Jeeps. We chose the Rocky Mountain Experience Tour. It lasts 3.5 hours and is moderately priced at $65 per person. It provides a good basic overview of the park and includes a drive along scenic Trail Ridge Road.
We had about an hour and a half to kill before the tour, so Brandon and I enjoyed a stop at Lake Estes and lunch at Estes Park Brewery before meeting our tour guide in town. I was surprised by how busy Estes Park seemed to be on a random weekday in September. Then again, RMNP is the fourth most-visited National Park.
It wasn’t a particularly warm day, but we coated ourselves in sunscreen to prepare for the 3+ hours of sunshine (spoiler alert: we still turned red). Our tour had eight people, including the guide, and I appreciated the small size. Our tour guide was a wealth of information and told wonderfully cheesy jokes.
Trail Ridge Road is 48 miles long and crosses the entire park. Snow at the high elevations keeps it closed for a good portion of the year. We drove a one-way dirt section of the road up to an elevation of 12,000 feet (!) before winding back down. Brandon was extra thankful for Green Jeep Tours after realizing how stressed he would have been driving our Infiniti QX60 rental along the road. We stopped for a quick and easy hike to a waterfall, for a few photo ops, and to catch a glimpse at some of the park’s wildlife. We ended the tour observing a group of elk.
It was a simple afternoon, and I was glad for the structure that helped us to make the most of our short time in the park. Booking a Rocky Mountain National Park tour is what I would consider a positive travel expense. It lessened a burden for me and it allowed Brandon to experience a destination without having to be primarily focused on driving (which happens often). In contrast, an example of a negative travel expense was the time we paid $45/plate for Easter Sunday brunch in Charleston, SC, when sausage and eggs taste the same at our favorite hole-in-the-wall at home.
Less negative travel expenses. More National Parks. While National Parks aren’t a formal goal of 50 in 5, I’m excited to see how many we’re able to visit as we continue our mission to visit all 50 states in 5 years.
On a return trip to RMNP I’d like to explore the west side of the park, hike the Bear Lake trail loop, take a guided horseback ride, and do Green Jeep Tours’ Photo Safari Tour. In Estes Park, I’d also like to spend a night at the Stanley Hotel—Stephen King’s inspiration for “The Shining.”