Author: Michael Hodges

A Day Along the Continental Divide

It was a chilly morning when I got out of my car at Bear Lake. I managed to bypass the timed entry system by simply getting up at 3:45 and heading directly into the park before the 5am timed entry requirement and, other than the early alarm, it was pretty easy. The parking lot was virtually empty as I headed counter clockwise around Bear Lake and hit the Flattop Mountain Trail.

Todays agenda was a classic one. Hallett Peak would be the first stop, then I’d head over to Otis Peak, descend via Andrews Glacier. On the way back I wanted to stop by Lake Haiyaha to check out the stunning blue in the water caused by the rock flour released from the sizable rock slide high in Chaos Canyon above earlier in the summer.

I took it easy and just let the headlamp lead the way until sunrise right at the Emerald Lake overlook. I spent some time enjoying the alpenglow on the high peaks and the soft clouds above before making my way higher above tree line. Some pikas greeted me and made for some fun viewing and a good excuse to stop hiking for a few minutes to catch my breath. I took a few pictures and some video, then began making my way up the trail when a fox exploded in a run right at my feet! It had been sleeping right on the trail and I stepped about two feet from it, giving both of us a good scare!

I hung out with this beautiful female fox for about 20 minutes watching it meticulously hunt pikas in the rocks on the tundra. It didn’t really care that I was there and was a true joy to get to spend some time with this gorgeous animal. After a bit I figured I had better continue on and let the vixen continue her hunt without me. I’m sure she fared better when I moved along.

Without incident I was soon topping out on the summit of Hallett Peak (12,713 feet). This is one of the best summits in the entire national park for a few reasons. One, it’s one of those aesthetic summits that feels like you’re standing on top of a real mountain! The summit cone gets you up above all of the surrounding terrain and the views are stunning in every direction. Two, it’s relatively easy to get to. A well established trail takes you up to the “summit” of Flattop Mountain, and an easy to follow social trail takes you from there right to Hallett’s summit, about .6 mile away. Finally, it’s just cool to stand up on the summit that dominates the views in the Bear Lake corridor and Tyndall Gorge.

I spent a few minutes soaking in the views before heading south along the continental divide toward Otis Peak. This is a beautiful stretch along steep tundra slopes that drops you toward the head of Chaos Canyon, the pass between Hallett and Otis Peaks. I peeked down into Chaos Canyon, looking at the rock slide area, then started my way up the several hundred feet to the summit of Otis (12,486 feet).

I spent a few minutes on Otis taking note of the many surrounding summits, looking west to Grand Lake, and day dreaming about future adventures, then started my way down the long tundra slopes to Andrew’s Glacier.

Stopping just above the glacier, I donned my micro spikes before stepping out onto the ice and snow. Luckily the sun had warmed it enough to make it so it wasn’t solid ice but was soft enough for the spikes to have something to bite into. I made my way down stopping by the crevasses to take a gander. I’ve passed these many times before but never tool the time to check them out. And wow. They were much deeper than I thought. I could comfortable say they were 40+ feet deep, and probably more as I could see down quite a bit before it was pitch black. Being that close made me a little nervous to I snapped a couple of pics and moved on to safer terrain.

Andrews Glacier from Otis Peak.

I slid and skated down to Andrew’s Tarn, took off the spikes and worked myself down the steep trail toward the trail leading back to The Loch and the trail head. At this point I started running into the masses of people. Prior to getting back on the main trail I had just seen four people since I started. It was slower going weaving through the traffic on the trail, but before long I was below The Loch and heading over toward Haiyaha on the unimproved trail.

I was really looking forward to this as I really wanted to see the color of the water in and coming out of Haiyaha. I previously mentioned the rock slide in upper Chaos Canyon that happened earlier this year. Basically, a big chunk of Hallett Peak slid off into the gorge below. When this happened it released a lot of rock flour. This is silt resulting from the grinding of rock by the glaciers above. It can turn water a beautiful blue color. Being that it’s pretty fresh, the waters around Haiyaha are a milky blue and it’s stunning. I spent a few minutes admiring the water then made my way to the outlet stream below the lake. The stream had the same color, though a bit more translucent. Very cool to see and seemed like something you’d see in Lord of the Rings famed Middle Earth. If you’re able to make it up, you should absolutely go check this out!

At this point I was a bit short on time, so made quick work of the hike out to the Bear Lake parking lot and called it a day. The weather was perfect. Like absolutely perfect. The scenery was even better, and I was enjoying that wonderful kind of fatigue that only a day in the high mountains can afford. The total mileage was only a kiss over 12 with about 4,200 feet of elevation gain, and took me a little over 5 hours. I stopped at the Country Market here in Estes Park on my way home and got one of their truly incredible deli sandwiches to refuel before heading home.

Another great day in the hills!

Castle’s Spiced Cider

Castle’s Spiced Cider

The holidays mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. To us here at CastleMountain Lodge it means welcoming members of our lodge family back to our wonderful property. It means working hard to get Christmas lights up all over the property. It means quiet snowfalls, a crackling fire, and the magic that only this season can bring. It means our Old Fashioned Christmas Package and it means we get our spiced cider in the crock-pot for our guests to enjoy.

It’s a guest favorite and we go through gallons of cider throughout the season. We get out lights up by Thanksgiving and leave them up until just after Valentines Day and our cider follows the same schedule. It always feels good to gather the ingredients, get it cooking in the lobby and enjoy the smell it brings and the conversations it promotes as guests spend time in the lobby by a crackling fire enjoying our famous concoction.

Guests often ask how it’s made and we give them the quick run down, it’s actually very easy. But we figured it would be nice to show you exactly how it’s done!


1 orange
3 cinnamon sticks
1 bottle of the apple juice of your choice
1 bottle of the cranberry juice cocktail of your choice.


Fill a crock pot two thirds to three quarters full of apple juice. Fill remainder one third or one quarter with cranberry juice. Using more apple juice will make it sweeter, using more cranberry will make it more tart.

Cut the orange into three circular slices and stick one cinnamon stick through the middle of each orange slice. Place orange/cinnamon into the juice. Turn heat up to high with the lid on until it’s close to boiling, then reduce heat to the ‘warm’ setting. You can let it ‘cook’ for two to three days or until the oranges and cinnamon begin to disintegrate. If you need to top it off, due to evaporation, add more apple juice.

Fill your mug, think about your lodge family here in Estes Park, and enjoy!


The Best Snowshoe Trail in Estes Park

Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park

The Best Snowshoe Trail in Estes Park.

With hundreds of miles of hiking/snowshoeing trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, many of which are only minutes from your cabin door at Castle Mountain Lodge, we get asked a lot about what are the best trails for snowshoeing. We have to gauge this question based on who is asking but, regardless, there is one trail that is always a guest favorite no matter their experience, fitness, or desired destination. There may be a dozen snowshoeing trails that could arguably be deemed the best trail in the entirety of Rocky Mountain National Park, but the Emerald Lake Trail is a highlight for the novice, first time snowshoer, or a seasoned snowshoe veteran.

Most folks who are asking this question are new to either one of two things. Either they are completely new to snowshoeing, or they have never snowshoed in Rocky Mountain National Park. So this article is geared more toward those who check wither one of those boxes. If you’re a snowshoeing pro and have visited the area before, then chances are you have travelled along this trail at least once, if not many times.

snowshoeingThe first highlight of this snowy trek is the journey to the trailhead. One must travel down Bear Lake Road as it winds higher and higher into the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park. As it climbs, it will become more evident that you are entering a wilderness gem as the snow gets deeper, the temperature continues to drop, and the wind will most likely be picking up. This isn’t a groomed ski run or an amusement park attraction. Rocky Mountain National Park is known for providing access to the wilds which is why it draws millions of visitors every year, all hoping to tap into that call for wild places that resides deep in us all.

Once the trailhead is reached, it’s time to strap on the snowshoes, get your poles ready, if you’re using them, make some final gear adjustments, zip up your layers, throw your pack on, and hit the trail.

One of the reasons we recommend this trail over many others is simply due to the ease of access into classic Rocky Mountain National Park scenery. Differential Glaciation caused the wild and dramatic scenery you’ll see from the first step. Sheer cliffs rising a thousand feet above you, sweeping ridgelines between lofty summits, and mountain lakes carved into the valley floors by ancient glaciers that once filled Tyndall Gorge, into which this trek leads, make this a true Rocky Mountain experience while not having to snowshoe miles and miles to reach such a magnificent place.

Follow the signs to Nymph Lake, the first noteworthy stop about a half mile up the trail. This gentle trail winds around a small rise below Nymph providing a gentle introduction to this high country terrain. Before no time you’ll be at a quaint lake, more like a large pond, with a stunning backdrop. Head to the northeast side of the lake for the best views.

Emerald Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

After a quick photo break, continue up the trail for .6 miles toward Dream Lake. This trail is mostly gentle with a few short but steeper sections. And get ready. You’re in for one heck of a scene. If you did any digging on RMNP before your trip, you’ll be treated to a scene you undoubtedly saw in your research. Dream Lake is the poster child of the National Park. A long and narrow lake pointing to the head of Tyndall Gorge with Hallett Peak and the Flattop Spires looming high above. Be sure to take the time to get all the pictures you can as you wont want to forget this spot! However, I would encourage you to take a few minutes, put the camera away, and just take in the sights and sounds of this truly magical place.

Continue on up the trail toward Emerald Lake. Another .7 miles along increasingly steepening terrain will get you there after a bit. Don’t give up, keep on putting one foot in front of the other and you’ll thank us for sending you to this stunning spot located in a huge natural amphitheater flank by giants. If the wind isn’t ripping and it’s not too cold, take a load off here, have a snack, drink a bit of water, and soak it all in. THIS is RMNP. THIS is Colorado. It doesn’t get much better.

Get ready for the return trip and take comfort in knowing it’s all downhill from here.

Emerald Lake Snowshoe Stats:

Round-trip: 3.5 Miles
Elevation Gain: 650 Feet
Starting Elevation: 9,450 Feet
Ending Elevation: 10,100 Feet
Scenery Grade: A+++
Heart: Full
Legs: Wonderfully Tired
Stomach: Time for some tacos at La Cocina de Mama.

Dream Lake RMNPAgain, there are definitely other trails that can compete for the best snowshoe trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, but the Emerald Lake trail is where we point all guests when they are looking to get the most bang for their buck or it they’re trying out snowshoeing for the first time. Once you’ve done this trek, you can graduate to some other stunning and worthwhile destinations like The Loch, Mills Lake, or even, Sky Pond, Black Lake, or Thunder Lake.

If you have any questions be sure to call or email us. We’d love to help and we are very passionate about moving through these mountains and it brings us great joy to help make your trip to this little corner of the Rockies as memorable as it can be.

We do have snowshoes for rent here in the lobby, and even have a snowshoeing package that gets you set up for the perfect weekend of exploring our snow laden trails. Come on up and we hope to see you soon!

Happy Trails!

Winter Trail Running

Winter Trail Running in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park

Trail Running is becoming increasingly popular all over the country, but even more so where the landscape offers miles of trails through stunning terrain. Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park absolutely fit that bill so, as one could expect, the trails are seeing an increasing number of runners around here.

Summer Trail Running is one thing, but how do you keep hitting the trail during the winter. With more gear options, winter trail running in Estes Park shouldn’t be intimidating. Obviously the weather and terrain pose more challenges and a bit more planning needs to go into it in order to keep logging those miles safely. Here, I’ll outline how we get it done all winter long, no matter the temps, no matter the weather, and no matter the trail… After all, there is no bad weather, just bad gear.


The first thing people usually ask is what we wear on our feet throughout the winter running season (which can be 8 months long up here in the high country). So, let’s break it down:

Socks: I prefer Smartwool, DryMax, or Darn Tough socks no matter the season. Even their thin, summer, socks keep my feet warm enough except on the coldest of days. But they all have a wide variety to suit your preference.

Shoes: This is always a tricky one. My only real advice is to use what you normally would use for trail running as everyone has his or her preferred shoe of choice. I prefer the Altra Lonepeak for winter running. Altra also makes a waterproof version of this shoe as well. Some other popular choices are Hoka, Topo, and Inov8, when hitting the winter trails. It may take some time and experimentation, but try a few different options and find what works best on your feet.

Traction: Even the most aggressive trail shoes won’t mean a thing on bulletproof ice. With some warm days thrown in the mix during our winters we can get a mean freeze/thaw cycle, especially at lower elevations in RMNP and around town. This can cause some super slick glare ice on trails like Gem Lake and Homer Rouse. You’ll definitely need something more substantial than big rubber lugs. I’ve tried them all and would strongly recommend Kahtoola Micro Spikes. These slip over any shoe, are easy to take on and off, last forever, and make it so you can run aggressively on any kind of ice. These changed my winter trail running life once I started using them, plain and simple.


What you put on your legs will depend on your location and the temps. If I’m running near town, with friends, or on one of my normal trails, and the temps are above 10-15 degrees, I’ll still wear shorts as long as it’s not crazy windy. If it’s the same type of location but near or below 0, I’ll wear tights or some running pants. Depending on the wind, I may throw thermals on underneath. And I will usually wear pants and thermals if I’m going deeper into the park like into Wild Basin or Glacier Gorge. Again, play with different variations on your legs erring on the side of being too warm until you get some experience with different conditions, distances, and destinations.


Layers, layers, layers. My preferred set up on my upper body is a long sleeve tech tee under a short sleeved tech tee. And, honestly, this is all I usually need. If the wind is really ripping, or it is pretty cold, I’ll throw a performance fleece and/or a wind layer on top as well. In the most extreme conditions I’ll even throw a down hooded coat over it all. On most runs, I’m too hot, so this system works pretty well as I can easily manage my body’s temps by adding or removing layers as needed. I will say to be careful about getting too hot during the winter as if you had to stop or slow down (due to injury or fatigue) clothes wet with sweat can cause you to get hypothermic very quickly. So do stop to shed layers if you’re starting to sweat too much. Overall, just keep it simple and dress in layers.


What you put on your head is pretty straightforward. A beanie if it’s cold, and a regular cap if it’s not too bad. A lot of folks will use a Buff (half buff) and use it like a headband to cover their ears. This works very well. If I am using a beanie and it gets too warm, I just flip the bottom up a bit until my ears are exposed and it cools me off pretty quick.


Obviously, wear some gloves, or at least bring them along. Unless it’s close to 0, I can get away with a running glove mitt combo. The mitten tucks into the wrist band of the glove. I tuck it away when not needed and flip it over my hand if the wind picks up or if it’s super cold. If it does dip to near or below zero, I will use a small ski mitten. Even in the coldest conditions, I don’t need much on my hands once I get the blood pumping. With that said, if I’m running longer and carrying a pack, or going deeper into the mountain (with a pack) I always carry an extra pair of gloves. I’ve had sweaty gloves freeze almost solid during a winter run to Timberline Falls in -20 temps. I took them off for about 30 seconds to snap a picture and when I tried to get them back on they were ice cubes. A very uncomfortable and, frankly, a scary run back to my car. And I’ve also had a glove fall out of a pocket. So just throw an extra pair in to be safe. In addition, I have a pair of hand warmers in my pack during the winter. I’ve only had to use them once (when the glove fell out of my pocket), but it saved me.


Wear sunglasses! Running on snow is bright. Protect those eyes! Here are a few I would recommend: Goodr; Julbo; etc…


This is very similar to what you would do during the summer with a few things to note. As a rule, just use what you’re used to. Bars, gels, gummies, etc… Just know that bars and chews can get pretty hard and can be difficult to eat on the run. I tend to lean more toward gels. I’ve used VFuel in temps below -20 and it’s still liquid and easy to ingest, aside from the fact that it’s some of the best endurance fuel in existence. Depending on the length of your run, your exertion, etc, just adjust your caloric intake accordingly.

A warm late winter day in March on Lumpy Ridge.


This can be tricky depending on what you are used to using. I find handheld bottles work the best. Ultimate Direction sells wonderful products. I would avoid using a bladder in your pack as the water in the tube freezes very easily in cold conditions. With a bottle, it may freeze in the nipple, but a little chew or bite on it will free it up 99% of the time. If you usually filter your water during your runs (from a stream or lake), know that most water sources are frozen over so you may need to carry more than you would on a longer summer outing. Drink when you’re thirsty! Don’t over think it.


Last, but certainly not least, your pack plays an important role during the winter. You need more gear in the winter months and with our high country sun’s intensity, you can often find yourself needing to shed a layer or two even on chilly days. And nothing is worse than having to hold the extra gear or tie it to your person somehow.

Ultimate Direction makes my pack of choice. I have an older Bakwin Adventure Pack (Mens & Womens) in their signature series. These are truly amazing pieces of wearable gear. They are basically bomb proof, which is why I have an old one. It still works as well as it did when it was brand new, four years, and about 5,000 miles ago. And their newer ones are even better. I like their packs because there is plenty of storage space but it cinches down and doesn’t bounce around. And the water bottles are stored in the front for super easy access, as well as front and side pockets for storing things like fuel, filter, headlamps, cell phone, whatever.

Here is a list of the ‘extras’ I keep in my pack in the winter.

  • Extra Gloves
  • Baggie with a space blanket, starter sticks/matches
  • MicroSpikes
  • Toilet Paper/Trowel
  • Headlamp (always carry just in case)
  • Water Filter (SteriPen Adventure Opti)
  • Drywall Saw (can use for endless reasons during an emergency)
  • ER Shears (can also be used for a number of reasons)
  • Handwarmers
  • Ibuprofen


I always keep a headlamp in my pack, especially in the winter, for obvious reasons. I also make sure that the batteries are relatively fresh.

Another couple of items I keep in the pack year round are a drywall saw and ER Shears. If you needed to make a splint, or a stretcher, you can easily cut through descent-sized branches. You can also cut through hard packed snow or ice to get to water if needed. The ER shears make it easy to cut through fabric for splints or wraps, etc. This may seem like overkill. If it does seem that way to you, I would strongly recommend taking a Back Country First Responder Course and get certified. Here in Estes, you can take the course through the Estes Park Mountain Shop. It’s a wonderful course and really opens your eyes to how even being slightly prepared, like carrying these two items, which weigh nothing, can make a world of difference. While I have never had to use these in an emergency, if I trail run in the back country long enough, the day will come when these will come in handy.

While this all may seem like a ton of information, winter trail running is actually pretty straightforward. It just takes a little more planning and a little more gear. Be sure to know what the weather is doing and if you’re going into avalanche terrain, know the current conditions. Most places where trail running will take you will be pretty safe as far as avalanche danger is concerned, but it’s something to simply be aware of and take the necessary precautions. The bottom line is to simply lace up and have fun.

One final thing to note is to be aware of how you enjoy these wild places. Be extra mindful of the trash you may produce. With these winter winds it’s that much easier for a bar wrapper or a gel packet to whisk away. With gloves on, it’s harder to stow trash in your pockets or your pack. Be aware of what you’re packing in and be doubly sure not to leave anything behind. It’s always good to periodically review the Leave No Trace Principles and not only apply them, but be a good example for other users of our precious wilderness.

Happy Trails!

Be sure to check out the links in the article above and feel free to call or email us with any other questions. If you want to know trail conditions, the best runs for any given ability or desired terrain/length, etc, or just for some more beta on winter running in general, please, please, please, let us know! Trail and ultra running are one of the owners, Michael’s, passions and he’d love to chat about any and all of it.

If you want to see his latest ultra race report, and learn about why he’s having to take a couple of months off his feet, check out the following link:



Hallett Peak #53

estes park lodging
Hallet Peak from Flattop
Hallett Peak and Longs Peak from Flattop Mountain

When you’re standing at Bear Lake looking west, Hallett Peak is the prominent Mountain on the south side (left) of Tyndall Gorge. It’s been the subject of millions of photos, and serves as an iconic backdrop to how many perceive and remember Rocky Mountain National Park. When I first moved here in 2001 it grabbed my attention immediately and I desperately wanted to stand on the summit. A couple of months of hiking later I decided to make the trek to its 12,713 foot summit. I remember that day vividly and it’s still one of my most memorable days in the hills.

Over the past 18 years, I’ve climbed Hallett in every season, and try to do it at least once a year. We used to have a rule that if you are on Flattop Mountain, for any reason, you have to pop over and up to Hallett (only a half mile and 400 vertical feet away). So I’ve climbed it when crossing to grand lake, crossing back, etc… I’ve climbed it twice in one day. I did it early in the morning and then when my good friend got back in to town and wanted to go for a hike, I was game. But didn’t know that he wanted to do Hallett, so up I went again that evening. I think I’ve been up there all hours of the day, night, morning, evening. I’ve run it from my house in Estes covering 35 miles round trip in about 7 hours. Needless to say, Hallett holds a special place in my heart and I’ll always be drawn to it’s summit, one of my favorite in RMNP.

Hallett Peak
Hallett from the Tyndall Glacier Overlook

So, two years ago I counted up all the times I could remember climbing Hallett and came up with 48 times that I could confirm, with probably 6ish more that were hazy on the details so didn’t officially count those. I’ve kept old climbing/hiking journals, Garmin Data from my old running watch and Strava Data for my newer runs. So 48. Which was really close to a significant milestone. 50! (which was also my number when I played football for the fighting Lake Travis Cavaliers back in the day) A few days later, I got 49 out of the way, then on July 4, 2017 I hammered out #50 from my house just south of Estes. It took 7 hours and 25 minutes and covered 36.26 miles. A worthy way to get my fiftieth under my belt.

I haven’t climbed it as often over the past two years since that day, but got a couple more in for good measure. The last time I was up there was June 5th of last year, a couple of weeks before I toed the line at the Bighorn 100 and used it as my last ‘bigger’ run before that race. Then, days after finishing bighorn we acquired Castle Mountain Lodge and, as you could imagine, time was no longer a luxury and I let my training and hiking/running fall on the back burner a bit.

Fast forward to now. 15 lbs heavier, just coming off a calf injury from early in the summer when I bumped my running miles up too fast, and in serious need of some high country outings. Calf is perfect, endurance not so much. But, as those of you who know me can attest to, I can be a bit determined and stubborn. A trait that many ultra runners share. I mean, when you’re hurting at mile 60 and you have another 40 to go, you have to be either stubborn or stupid. I don’t *think* I’m stupid, so it has to be stubbornness, right?

I’m slowly inching the miles up paying careful attention to how the left calf/achilles is feeling and felt that I was ready for a decent little push up Hallett. I would take it slow and just enjoy being out while hopefully being able to hobby jog back down from the summit.

Estes Park Cabins
A group of hikers taking a breather on Flattop Mountain.

Thursday was a quiet day at both properties so I took the opportunity to hit the trail. I dropped the girls off at school and crossed my fingers that I could find parking at Bear Lake. It wasn’t meant to be so I parked at the Bierstadt Lot and shuttled up to Bear Lake hitting the trail at exactly 9:11am. At first I felt great, settling into a nice hiking pace clipping the first mile along in a kiss over 16 minutes. Then the heart rate started to climb so I backed off a bit just enjoying an average hiking pace of around 3 miles an hour. While not my typical speed and stamina I was trying to be kind to myself and was reminded that I am just getting my mountain legs back under me.

These early miles ticked by uneventfully. Once one gets to tree line is always where this hike gets amazing. Every. Single. Time. Sure enough, as the trees thinned out a family of Ptarmigan greeted me and a few minutes later I stopped to watch a Pika (PIE – kuh) gather some summer grasses for its winter den. As you turn due west after crossing Flattop’s eastern flank a marmot scurried by. The tundra grasses are experiencing their autumn at the moment with reds, oranges, and yellows exploding everywhere beneath your feet. Truly an amazing place.

The trail steepens right through there as you near the switchback below the hitch rack. This is where I could tell my absence from the high country was catching up to me. I started noticing the breeze. The sweat dripping into my eyes was making me grumpy. And my pace slowed to a crawl. I gave myself about a minute to have a little pity party then reminded myself how lucky I was to have two legs that work, the opportunity to take a day off at the drop of a hat and climb one of my favorite mountains on earth. Shut up Michael… quit whining.

I picked up the pace even through my heavy legs protests, and kept chugging on up hill. Before too long I was cresting the summit of Flattop Mountain in about 1:25. Not too bad, considering. I hopped across the tundra en route to the final summit push for Hallett and grunted up over the steep boulder strewn slope. I forget how daunting it looks as you start up, but soon remembered that it goes very quickly if you just keep moving along. I think it took about 10 minutes to scale the summit cone in a total time of 1:43. Far from my fastest but felt pretty good about the effort.

estes park lodging
Looking down Hallett’s East Ridge from the summit

And just like that I stood on top of Hallett for the 53rd time (at least). I sat behind a wind break and soaked in the views for a minute and then criss crossed the summit to my favorite little spots. I spent about 10 minutes up there before picking my way back down the summit cone. I crossed behind Tyndall Glacier and was soon back on the main Flattop Trail. I didn’t plan to run hard down the trail, and really didn’t. With the heavy legs I thought I was running sub 7 pace a couple of times only to look at my watch and see I was doing mid 9’s. But I still managed to get back down the 5 miles of trail from Hallett’s summit in about 55 minutes for a roundtrip time of 3:02. I felt good about that and feel like I was able to move pretty well for being out of practice. It was actually my 2nd fastest time on the descent!

But dang, I am not used to that kind of effort at the moment and I was wiped out! Legs were jelly, throat hurt from breathing so hard, and my heart rate was through the roof. Not that that was blazing fast or anything. I’ve done it faster taking it way easier when I was in better shape, but it did feel ‘good’ to push a bit, relatively. As I sit here the next day writing this, my hips are sore, my throat is sore, my eyes hurt, and I’m kind of a wreck! I bailed out on my normal Friday morning run with the Estes Valley Trail Runners and will take today off and hopefully get a little jog in tomorrow. I may go up Mt. Chapin as I’ll drop of one of my good friends, Taylor Bodin, at the Chapin Pass Trail Head in the wee hours tomorrow as he goes for the FKT (Fastest Known Time) on the Mummy Kill route (Chapin, Chiquita, Ypsilon, Fairchild, Hagues, and Mummy Mountains).

Another perfect day up on Hallett Peak. If you haven’t done this hike, I suggest you put it high on your list. And if you’re thinking of doing Flattop, please just hop over to Hallett. It’s more than worth the little bit of extra effort to get there.

Happy Trails!

Hike Stats

Length: 10 Miles Roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 3,200 feet
Trailhead Elevation: 9,515 Feet
Summit Elevation: 12,713 Feet

Spring on Twin Sisters Mountain

Longs Peak from the summit of Twin Sisters
Longs Peak from the summit of Twin Sisters
Longs Peak from the summit! What a view!

As the days get longer and the sun warms up our mountain landscape we all eagerly await the snow to disappear and the hiking trails to open up without the need for traction or floatation. One of the first high places to melt out is always the Twin Sisters trail that leads to the summit of Twin Sisters Mountain which stands at a respectable 11,427 feet, so this mountain always seems to get a lot of early season traffic.

The trail is easy to follow and very well maintained. Though the round trip is now only 6.6 miles, more on that later, it’s relatively steep with the total elevation gain hitting 2,363 feet.

Views from the trail
Views from the trail.

When I got up on the morning of June 10th, the thermometer ready a chilly 29 degrees F. I was a bit surprised, but the sun was out so I figured it would warm up quickly. I threw an extra layer on and drove up to the trail head and quickly hit the trail. At five to seven there were just three other cars at the trail head. This trail doesn’t ease you into anything and starts off at a pretty steep grade right away. For the most part, the trail is pretty uneventful, rising up through dense forest with the exception of a spot or two with some views over the Tahosa Valley below. At about one and a quarter mile up you reach the site of the huge landslide that happened during the flood event of September, 2013. It’s a pretty impressive sight and it wiped our quite a bit of the trail. Hikers made social trail of sorts in the following year and, only in the past year, the park service reestablished a trail through the area. It’s much shorter and much steeper than the old trail, hence the ‘now only 6.6 miles’ comment above. I think it shaved off a quarter of a mile, or a bit more, on the one-way distance.

Twin Sisters land slide
The 2013 landslide

Before too long you near tree line and wind through some stunning outcroppings with magnificent views to the north overlooking Estes Park and some of the northern mountains in the National Park (Mummy Range). Tree line ends abruptly and the views of the forthcoming summit push are always reason to stop and snap a quick photo.

This stretch always goes by quick, but seems to take longer than you’d expect when you first set eyes on it. But soon you’ll pop out on the little summit plateau with two main ‘summits’ before you. Most people head up the slightly closer, and lower, summit on your right while the true summit is the big block on your left. Pick your way across tundra (look for a variety of tundra flowers on this stretch) and a short, steep boulder field which will pop you out right on the summit. Turn to your right (west) and try not to let your jaw hit the rocky summit as the views are absurd!

Take your time up there, weather permitting, and make you way back down the way you came.

Hike Info:
Distance: 6.6 Miles
Elevation Gain: 2,363 Feet
Summit Elevation: 11,427 Feet
Trail Head Elevation: 9,206 Feet

Twin Sisters Elevation Profile
Twin Sisters Elevation Profile

For more info, be sure to check out Erik Stensland’s hiking guide: Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park. The Essential Guide. (Purchase on Amazon)

Rocky Mountain National Park Restores Access

RMNP Re-Opens
RMNP Re-Opens
Fall River Entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park 1/15/19

Since December 22 Rocky Mountain National Park has greatly limited access due to the government shutdown and inclement weather. Technically, RMNP has remained fully open with limited service and maintenance. What has this meant? Well, to the local and tourist alike, it means that roads were barricaded due to not being plowed. This was for the safety of visitors, which is understandable. While the roads were ‘closed’ they were still open to foot and bike traffic, and all trails remained officially open if you could get to them. It also meant that visitor centers were closed, entrance stations were unmanned, and bathroom and trash services were non-operational.

A big step has now been taken in light of the current shutdown and Rocky Mountain National Park has restored access and resumed basic visitor services. With vague government verbiage, we were a bit unclear as to what this meant until Kyle Patterson, Management Specialist and Public Affairs Officer for RMNP, sent out the following email:

“Rocky Mountain National Park Restores Accessibility And Resumes Basic Visitor Services

Park restores access to recently closed areas after  cleanup/maintenance operations

Rocky Mountain National Park announced today that areas that have been closed due to the inability to plow and maintain roads, will once again be accessible to visitors.  On Saturday, January 12, a limited number of park staff began snowplowing US 36 past the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center and US 34 past the Fall River Entrance.  This morning, US Highways 36 and 34 were reopened to Deer Ridge Junction.  Trail Ridge Road beyond Deer Ridge Junction to Many Parks Curve has also reopened.  US Highway 34 on the west side is now open to the Colorado River Trailhead.  Snowplows are working today on Bear Lake Road and it is anticipated that it will reopen sometime tomorrow.   

RMNP Re-opens
Roads are in great shape! 1/15/19

Also this past Saturday, a limited number of custodians began cleaning toilet facilities and trash receptacles.  Some basic visitor services, including entrance stations and two out of five loops at the Moraine Park Campground, will also reopen later this week.  Entrance stations will be open to provide safety and basic information to visitors, but entrance fees will not be collected.

These basic services are being funded with revenue generated by recreation fees. National Park Service officials have determined that by using Federal Land and Recreation Enhancement funds to bring back limited park maintenance staff to plow roads, clean restrooms, and remove trash, the park can restore accessibility to the park for visitors.

Outdoor areas of the park remain accessible.  Most facilities, including Beaver Meadows Visitor Center on the east side and Kawuneeche Visitor Center on the west side will remain closed.  “We greatly appreciate Rocky Mountain Conservancy’s efforts to staff the Fall River Visitor Center during the lapse in appropriations,” said park superintendent Darla Sidles.  Fall River Visitor Center is located outside of the park near the Fall River Entrance. 

While basic visitor services have been restored, other services will be limited or unavailable during the lapse in appropriations, including visitor centers, ranger talks and programs.  Visitors are reminded that all rules and regulations apply.  Visitors should visit the park website at while planning their visit to get the latest information on accessibility and available services.”

Deer Mountain Trail Head Re Opened
Deer Mountain Trail Head. 1/15/19

What wonderful news for all of us who hold RMNP so near and dear to our hearts! This morning, I got up and took a drive through the Fall River Entrance, just minutes from Castle Mountain Lodge and McGregor Mountain Lodge, and experienced a beautifully peaceful morning in one of my favorite places on earth! It was so good to see visitors enjoying the wildlife, the grand vistas, and to see cars parked at the trail heads.

Now that the park is easily accessible once again, but given that services will be limited and what services are available will be spread thin, we need to be more mindful of how we behave and treat this special corner of the Rockies. For the most part, visitors treated RMNP very well over the past three weeks. Clean up efforts over the weekend found the park to be spotless and pristine, which made us all breathe a sigh of relief. Now that more folks can get into the deeper nooks and crannies with relative ease, we need to step it up once again.

A couple of park rules to be especially mindful of:
1. Do not approach wildlife. Take your pics from a distance and give the wild creatures plenty of space.
2. Dogs/Pets are only allowed on roads and in parking areas. Never on any trails for any reason.

And to cover most every other potential issue or problem, freshen up on the Leave No Trace principles. To read more about putting these very important principles into actions, visit their website at

It’s time to hit the trails and get back to exploring this wild and untamed landscape we hold so dear.

Happy Trails!

Michael and the Castle and McGregor Crew.

Dog Friendly Hikes in Estes Park

Most of our guests come visit Castle Mountain Lodge to get out and explore Rocky Mountain National Park. And for good reason. The natural beauty is breathtaking and “The Park” offers hiking options that are second to none. But there are no dogs allowed! So how can you get out with your four legged friend and where can you go to enjoy this magnificent corner of the Rockies?!

Well, we have some perfect options for you!

Greater Estes Park


Homer Rouse Trail

On the south side of Estes Park there is a local’s secret that, for some reason, hasn’t made it onto the typical tourists radar. Maybe it’s because it’s hard to find any good info on except by word of mouth. We’re here to help! The trail doesn’t offer spectacular vistas, or lead you to any top secret destinations. It’s a simple trail. One that invites you into a nice walk. Or begs you to appreciate the smaller things such as the infant waters of upper fish creek. Or a song bird encouraging more steps along the trail. It’s a mix of dirt road and single track trail. You’ll meet locals and their dogs and enjoy views of Twin Sisters Mountain. The end of the trail spits you out at the Baldpate Inn and Lily Lake. A delightful trail that you’ll make a staple for you and your pup when you visit.

Distance (RT): 3 miles
Elevation Gain: 350 feet 
Difficulty: Easy/Beginner

Red Tape: None. Just know that when you reach Lily Lake you are now on National Park Property and dogs are not allowed on trails.

Lily Mountain

This easy to moderate trail is located just south of Estes Park on HWY 7. It’s a short but somewhat steep trail that offers wonderful views and is a fantastic option with your pooch. This is a must-hike every year for many who bring their four legged friends to Estes. The trail can fool you though as it starts off uphill, then it descends a bit before turning uphill steeply and winding through the forest to the summit. The summit block is quite slabby and blocky, so it may pose issues for smaller dogs.

Distance (RT): 3.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 1466 feet 
Difficulty: Easy/Moderate

Red Tape: None.

Lake Estes

Lake Estes has a great paved trail all the way around it! If you do the full loop it’s 3.75 miles. There are several parking options on any and every side of the lake but we find it better to park at the dog park so you have a couple of options for your pooch. You can head into the dog park and let your dog run and swim free, or you can keep the leash on and hike or jog your way around the lake. It’s a win win! This one’s pretty self explanatory and is a go to option when all else fails. Beautiful scenery, easy trail, super close, etc…

Distance (RT): 3.75 miles
Elevation Gain: 100ish feet 
Difficulty: Easy/Beginner
Red Tape: None.

Pole Hill Road

Pole Hill Road is a 4×4 road that can get you all the way to Loveland. It’s rugged and a favorite spot for some serious off road enthusiasts. But it’s also a perfect spot for a hike or run with your dog! There are many options on this road with several roads intertwining and intersecting up there. Bring a map and pay attention. It’s not that you could really get lost, but, if you’re not too familiar with the area, you could get turned around a bit. Don’t let that scare you off though! It’s beautiful up there! The views are great and in the autumn there are some perfect aspen groves! If you can find your way, go check out the fire tower on the summit of Panorama Peak!

Distance (RT): 1 mile to 7+ miles
Elevation Gain: 250 feet to 1,500+ feet 
Difficulty: Easy/Beginner to Moderate
Red Tape: None. The trail is always open to hikers even if it is “closed.” It is usually designated as closed from Dec. 1st until the snow melts. Be aware of adjacent private land.


Indian Peaks Wilderness

Pawnee Peak

In the heart of the Indian Peaks Wilderness lies Pawnee Peak just above and to the north of Pawnee Pass. This is a spectacular summit in an equally spectacular setting. The summit is reached via a 4.55 mile (9.1 mile, roundtrip) trail that gains roughly 2,500 feet, topping out at 12,943 feet. But if you don’t want to make the trek all the way to the summit, you can turn back at many of the worthy destinations along the way, such as Long Lake, Lake Isabell, and Pawnee Pass. This trail begins at the Brainard Lake Recreation Area.

Distance (RT): 9.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,400+ feet
Difficulty: Strenuous

Red Tape: $10.00 per vehicle entrance fee per day. You simply pay at the entrance. Easy and obvious.

Mt. Audubon

Another wonderful summit, and probably one of the most popular in Indian Peaks Wilderness, is Mt. Audubon. While the trail is shorter, only 7.9 miles round trip, it is certainly steeper. It gains 2,800 feet in that shorter distance. So get your uphill legs ready! The views are spectacular and well worth the effort, so don’t let the fact that it’s a tougher trail scare you off. The summit reaches 13,233 feet and also begins at the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, but at the Mt. Audubon Trailhead.

Distance (RT): 7.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,800+ feet
Difficulty: Strenuous

Red Tape: $10.00 per vehicle entrance fee per day. You simply pay at the entrance. Easy and obvious.