I ran for the cover under the tall lodgepole pine trees. Rain was falling in large, fat droplets at Rocky Mountain National Park’s Dream Lake and I wanted nothing to do with it; I wasn’t prepared with a jacket or even a cap. But I knew, as someone who was taking cover with me joked, that the weather in the park would change in fifteen minutes if I didn’t like it. And I hoped it changed soon, since I was nearing the end of my hike with a friend and ravenously hungry.
I started the morning slipping into my hiking shoes at the Bear Lake trailhead. I hadn’t been on a trail in over a month – the last time being my attempt at climbing a 14er – so I was eager to head out. We started with good energy and kept it all the way to Albert Falls, approximately a mile from the trailhead.
The falls are no stranger to me. I have visited them many times; they are easily one of my favorite places in the national park, but sadly also one of the most crowded due to their convenience. We stopped for a quick photo and continued on to our goal: Mills Lake. I had snowshoed there a couple of years ago and was excited at the opportunity of seeing the beautiful winterscape I witnessed in the warmer summer months.
The hike to the lake was nearly all up hill. We had plenty of energy, though, so it was a welcome challenge with a fantastic reward. I believe my friend agreed, as I heard him let out a little “oh” at the first glimpse of the beautiful blue waters surrounded by a ring of mountain peaks. Silently I agreed with him; a new favorite Rocky Mountain National Park location had just been declared.
We lounged on the rocks surrounding the lake, basking in the warm morning sun. It was not yet noon and we had reached our destination. Briefly we discussed our return plan and decided it would be more interesting to continue in a giant loop, seeing more of the lakes in the area, instead of returning the way we had come; quickly that idea seemed to be a poor one, since the way to the next lake was entirely up hill.
Our legs began to ache, our breaths became shorter, and we were starting to get tired and hungry. Instead of remaining chatty and happy, we grew bitter and grumpy over our challenge. We cursed it and the idea of continuing on, but slogged on nonetheless. And anyone who told us we were so close, “only another 15 minutes up a steep trail,” we threatened under our breath.
Despite all of our belly aching, though, we were happy to be presented with the challenge. It was undoubtedly difficult, but also good for both of us. And in the end, we found another stunning destination in the park: Lake Haiyaha.
We scrambled over and snuck around a few large rocks, boulders even, and came upon the gorgeous lake named for the rocks surrounding it; Haiyaha is an Indian word meaning “rock.” A cool breeze fell off the mountains. The sun peaked through a canopy of puffy, white-cotton clouds. And the summer day could not have been more perfect now that we were at the top of our climb – just over 10,000 feet above sea level.
The rest of the way was a gentle downhill meander along the side of the mountains. Occasionally vast, open views were afforded the lucky hiker who took the time to climb back to the lakes. It was breathtaking, stunning, and so many other synonymous adjectives that the list could go on indefinitely; such a view overlooking several other lakes in the area was nothing short of impressive.
Little was left of our approximately seven-mile-roundtrip hike, yet three lakes awaited our arrival: Dream Lake, Nymph Lake, and Bear Lake. And that is when the rain began to fall. It quickly soaked into my clothing, making me run for cover after snapping a quick photo of the first of the three lakes.
We chatted briefly with other hikers, joking about the weather. Mentally I also cursed my arrogance in leaving a coat and hat behind. I knew there was a chance for rain that day, but scoffed at the idea of it raining on my hike. Had I not been lazy and brought the appropriate clothing, we would have been able to continue on with our hike. Instead, we had to wait it out in the hopes that Mother Nature would eventually become bored with her showers.
Crowds emerged simultaneously from the trees, everyone intent on moving on while it appeared the rain was beginning to receed. We dodged around a few groups, skipping down the trail at a good clip, and finally came out ahead of most of the other hikers. From here it was a clear shot of approximately a mile to the trailhead with nothing between us but the lilypad-covered Nymph Lake.
Some of the slower groups of people were picking up their pace and hunger was gnawing at our insides, so we stopped only momentarily for a couple of photographs. Had we planned ahead and packed a lunch, this would have likely been the perfect spot to stop and enjoy it; a lone chipmunk scavenged for food on a bench – something I considered an option due to my hunger – but the rest of his friends appeared to be more interested in frequenting the other lakes.
We quickly reached our return-destination of Bear Lake. Our timing could not have been better, since it was beginning to rain again. Briskly walking through the trees on the trail, we were able to snap a couple of quick pictures before returning to the car. The cover was welcome, but it was also disappointing; we had a great hike and I was sad to see it end.
Sure, I know there will be return trips to the park. With so much more to explore, especially all of the lakes I now see marked on my park brochure – dozens by a rough estimate – I know I’ll be back for more. But, I’m not sure it can ever truly be enough when it comes to such a precious destination in Rocky Mountain National Park.