Every adventure does not always lead you to the top of a mountain. Sometimes, it instead leads you to the base of one so that you can feel small. We did just that this weekend, and in doing so Ryan and I found our new favorite hike in Rocky Mountain National Park.
With the arrival of snow on our last trip out to the mountains, we decided that it was time to retire from camping for the year. This means that before the real snow begins to fall and begins ski season, we will spend most of our weekends out hiking! We chose to spend this Saturday completing a longer hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. At 9 miles round trip with only 1,900ft elevation gain, Odessa Lake was our destination.
We arrived to the Bear Lake Trailhead around 9:30-10am, and were happy to see that there were still a few parking spots left (tourist season is finally coming to a close, yay!). There was not a cloud in the sky and even though the temperature was around 50 degrees, we trusted the “altitude heat” enough to leave our thick jackets behind in the car. Dressed in just pants and t-shirts, we strapped on our packs and headed out!
The trail had a gradual incline as it weaved in and out of the (now naked) aspen forest, and soon turned into a denser forest of pines as we gained in elevation. We were occasionally gifted with a breathaking view of Estes Park and the surrounding forest to the Northeast. It was a beautiful day, we had yet to see any other hikers, and the trail was not strenuous; all of which led Ryan and I to be in spectacular moods which resulted in an energetic, speedy pace as we made our way to the lake.
Soon we reached the top of our ascent and found ourselves dwarfed by the surrounding mountains (12,129ft Notchtop Mountain, 12,331 Knobtop Mountain, 12, 324 Flattop Mountain, and 12, 363 Ptarmigan Point). We took in the views, noticed Odessa Lake nestled among the trees in the distance, and then began our steep descent into Odessa Gorge. While I am sure that many people turn back here to avoid any other elevation gain or loss, I would highly recommend that you continue on. The trail, while steep, is breathtaking and easy enough to follow at a quick pace.
It did not take us long to descend the final 1 mile or so down to the lake, and we were pleased to see that the shore resembled that of a beach! We took our packs off, sat in the sand, and still to this moment, I cannot imagine any other place that I would rather have my lunch break that sitting at the shoreline of a clear alpine lake surrounded by massive peaks (including my favorite of the day, the 11, 9398ft Tabletop Mountain).
Once we finished eating and catching some rays (my shoulders were already tarting to look a bit colored), Ryan assembled his fly rod and set off on a mission to catch some of Rocky Mountain’s native fish, the Greenback Cutthroat Trout. In the crystal clear water is was easy enough to spot the fish, although they were teases and would often chase the Nymph that Ryan was offering them only to dart away at the last moment. Luckily, as we were getting ready to head back, he caught one! It was the biggest trout that I have witnessed Ryan catch, so that was very exciting!
With some threatening clouds moving in overhead, we made our way back up out of the Gorge which turned out to be much easier than we had expected. At the top we ran into a friendly group of older hikers from Denver and Breckenridge and after having a short conversation about this and that (mostly fishing, hiking, and general stoke on having this beautiful park in our backyard), Ryan and I continued on towards the trailhead.
The hike down was fast and easy, we did not have to take any breaks other than to let the occasional late-starter hiker pass us on their way up. It was an overall quiet day; few people on the trail, beautiful fall weather, and relatively no physical exertion. Our feet felt good, our spirits were high, and we were back to the car in just 5 hours (which is not bad, considering we hung out at the lake for over an hour!).
It was a refreshing day for us, and just what we needed. We drove home for our well-deserved nap.
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn”