Rocky Mountain and Mesa Verde National Parks

In mid-August we’re taking the kids (ages 6 and 8) camping and hiking in the Mesa Verde and Rocky Mountain National Parks. Does anyone have campground recommendations in either park? Or recommendations for easy to moderate trails, roughly 3 miles round-trip? Really, anything anyone can recommend for kids in either park would be great.

They’ve gone camping and hiking before. We’ve taken them to Yosemite and the Adirondacks, so they can handle that.

Oh, and while I’m thinking about it–what about altitude? Our younger son had some problems with altitude at Yosemite although we were there when he was only 4. We’re driving from NJ and we figured there’d be adjusting along the way, but is there anything else we can do to prepare for the altitude adjustment?


'fraid I can’t make any trail recommendations, but I do recommend that you try to plan your trip so that you spend a night in Denver before coming up to altitude. Denver is at 5280, and that will help you adjust.

I agree with enipla about the night (or two) in Denver to acclimate. I haven’t been to Mesa Verde in a long time, but I love Rocky Mountain. When you get to the entrance to the park, the rangers will give you a map that has some trails listed.

Here’s the official website, with hikes listed. I like Cub Lake and Cascade Falls, but there are so many to choose from. Please be sure to pay attention to the issues listed on the website regarding weather and other safety issues.

My wife and I went to Rocky Mountain after 1 night in Denver and had no problems with the altitude. We hiked some days up to 10,000 feet. I would tell you the trails we hiked but their official website is down now, I will try later. The link in the last post is an unofficial website.

Thanks for the Denver suggestion. I remember when I was a teenager we went to Colorado and zoomed up Pike’s Peak first thing. I was horribly sick. We’ll plan a day or two in Denver first.

It’s been a while but I seem to remember we did the Emerald Lake and Dream Lake trails at RMNP. Very pretty. You can probably get a better recommendation from the park ranger or whoever is working the visitors’ center.

Don’t especially remember hiking at Mesa Verde, but the campground was fairly exposed-feeling. Not much shade.

I was very surprised at the dryness in the rockies as opposed to the mountains on the east coast. If you have any trouble with dry air, saline nasal spray and eyedrops and chapstick might be nice to have.

There is a state park with campground right in (or near) Denver, called Cherry Creek. Nice place to get used to the altitude.

On the way to RMNP from Denver you will go throuh Estes Park, which is a pretty crazy tourist town if you’re into that sort of thing. I seem to remember there is nowhere to stop and eat for a very long time until you get there.

Unfortunately there really isn’t much increase along the way. Into the middle of Nebraska it’s still only 2500 feet or so. Then the way up to 5,6,7 thousand feet are a few hours driving at most. You definitely want to take it easy for a day or two to get acclimatized before going on anything high exertion.
As for particular areas, let me look and see if I can remember some of the cool ones.

Normally people only have altitude problems above 10,000 feet but it can hit before then in some people. I think we also did Emerald Lake and Dream Lake trails, they are good and not too long.

My family did pretty much that trip (driving from NJ out to the southwest) when I was about 9. I don’t recall any particular trails, but I do recall that some of the tours of the cliff dwellings involve a fair amount of climbing ladders and making your way through awkward spaces - I imagine it could be a bit much for a 6-year-old.

Altitude: The only way to get acclimated to high altitude is to spend time there. Even if you feel fine when you get there, even if you’ve spent a night in Denver, keep in mind that you will get out of breath and dehydrated much faster than you do at home, and it’ll take you longer to catch your breath. Carry lots of water with you when you hike, and drink it. Adjust your time estimates for hiking as well - what would be a 2-hour hike in New York will probably take you longer in the Rockies. If you are hiking up a climb and you start feeling dizzy/nauseous/generally unwell, take a break, sit down, and drink some water. There’s a very good chance that you’re just dehydrated. If you don’t feel better with some hydration, the best thing to do is cut the hike short and leisurely make your way back to camp, and drink some more water (notice a theme?). Seriously, I currently live at 7,000 feet and see it every summer: people who don’t listen to their bodies end up pretty miserable, while people who do listen and are willing to take it easy if needed have a great time.

Something that’s often forgotten about high altitudes is that while the days may be quite warm, the nights aren’t. Dry, thin air doesn’t hold heat like the humid, thicker air at sea level. It may be 90 degrees mid-afternoon, but overnight it’ll probably drop down to somewhere in the 50’s. Dress in layers. Also be aware that the weather can change pretty quickly for better or for worse, so keep an eye on the sky.

Some of the guided tours at Mesa Verde include (IIRC) quite a bit of climbing up ladders, so keep that in mind with your young kids.

Talk to the park rangers! They’ll be able to answer your questions, recommend trails, and warn you about anything you should know.

heh. Yep. It’s snowing in Frisco right now. 9600 feet. But tomorow we might need sunscreen. Don’t forget the sunscreen.

Thanks for the Cherry Creek recommendation, awldune. I’ll look into it. Maybe we’ll also do the tourist thing in Denver. We were prepared for the change in weather, having been through that before, but I’ll remember the water, water, water. Ninja Chick has me re-thinking Mesa Verde, so I’ll have to explore the official park website to see if we might be getting in over our heads. But I’m guessing even without Mesa Verde, there’s 2 weeks of stuff to explore in RMNP.

These are all great recommendations. Thanks!

Mesa Verde (“Mesa Verd” to the locals), isn’t especially high. Assuming you will be coming through the mountains to get there, you’ll be pretty much used to the altitude by the time you get to the area.

Fewer campgrounds - just listen to the ranger for trails and such. But the heat is markedly worse. It is sort of high desert, so be prepared for that.

Oh, I forgot that! Sunscreen. Lots and lots of sunscreen. If you don’t normally burn at home - you probably will a mile above sea level. If you do normally burn at home, it’ll happen in a quarter of the time. Seriously - I burn easily, which here translates to 20 minutes in the sun and I’m turning pink.

(And we’ve got a balmy 60 degrees today in Santa Fe. Offset somewhat by the 30mph wind with gusts up to 50 miles an hour.)

We apply sunscreen like mad when we hike (the littlest is blond and we take no chances with anyone). I’m getting more and more excited about this trip. 4 1/2 months away. Bah.

If you have time, The Black Canyon of the Gunnison makes a really nice third location in that tour: it’s very different from them both, usually not at all crowded, and you can, as I remember, basically take “the long way” from Estes Park to Mesa Verde or vice-versa. This will take you across the Great Divide, and the drive in general is just spectacular.

Seconded - “spectacular” is actually something of an understatement here. I-70 through Glenwood Canyon has to be seen to be believed. You could then take routes 82, 133 and 92 south to Rte 50, which puts you within striking distance of the Black Canyon (not to be missed). You then continue south toward Mesa Verde past Ouray, Silverton and Durango. Simply a stunning route.

The Silverton Train is pretty cool too, If your kids are at all interested in trains. Takes about 4 hours. It is ugly expensive now though, depending on your budget.

Yep, we’ve done the Emerald Lake trail a couple times. It’s a nice hike. If you don’t want to hike that far, Bear Lake is just a short hike from the parking lot and you can take the trail around the lake.

Also, on the road to Bear Lake there is delightful little picnic area that has a mountain stream running right past it. We always make a point of stopping there for a picnic lunch.

Dear Jersey:

I can give you the scrap on the campgrounds, but it is just my OPINION, based on facts and actual events.

You are going to be shocked when you get there, especially if you have never been to RMNP before 2005.
The whole place is grey/brown. See, the bugs came and killed just about everything, all the way up thru Montana, likely farther. You will see 100% kill for MILES. Grey and Brown, like a depressing cloudy day. I shit you not.
Campgrounds? When I pulled into Timber Creek Campground, RMNP, it made Darfur look like a better idea. The bugs killed the trees, the Service CUT DOWN THE TREES in the campground(because they might blow over on a camper), not one, not two, not six or sixty, ALL of 'em. Think “camping in a Wall Mart parking lot”. No trees=I can see the neighbors, and their’s, and so on and so on, and the main road, and the drunk guys way, way down there, and EVERONE ELSE.
What did they do with the cut-down trees? Shredded them. What did they do with the shreddings? Piled them up in super-huge piles in the areas of the campground where stands of majestic lodgepole once stood. So picture campers, blue tarps, dogs, kids, vomit, and pissy Rangers.
I saw the neighbors get drunk, party, get drunker, vomit, and crawl into their tent and then they HAD SEX WITHOUT BRUSHING THEIR TEETH. And made noise! GROSS!!! This is no shit, this is straight from the Kapowz’z adventure. Less than a year ago.

I say skip it and head south outta Denver, and find areas of green, living, Rocky Mountain spruce. Get a Colorado Gazetteer and find National forest Campgrounds. The views you seek will better in other parts of the state. Stay mobile.

Because of the dead trees, the place has become a tinder-box on a powder keg, on a short-fuse, on a powder keg, on a stack of claymores and lady fingers and Black Cats and bottlerockets, waiting to explode. If he Rockies don’t burn down this summer, I’d be suprized. It is a disaster waiting to happen.

But, I am planning my own trip there too. So best of luck to us both!

Oh, if you’re going to be in the area, Great Sand Dunes Nat’l Park is well worth a visit, IMO. I find it’s one of those natural features that’s hard to do justice with a description - it’s a great big pile of sand in the same way that the Grand Canyon is a great big hole in the ground. True on a simplistic level, but the place itself is beautiful and eerie and just kind of fascinating to look at. Hiking up the dunes was tremendous fun for me when I was nine - seriously challenging, but fun nonetheless.