Due to the tight travel schedule we had for our Colorado/Wyoming/Nebraska trip, I knew 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 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 realized we’d only be able to see a small portion of RMNP. Solution: take a Rocky Mountain National Park tour.
Selecting a tour
My friend Wayne and his family visited RMNP a few months earlier and he recommended that we check out Green Jeep Tours.
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 an hour and a half to kill before the tour, and we enjoyed a stop at Lake Estes and lunch at Estes Park Brewery before meeting our tour guide. I was surprised by how busy Estes Park was 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.
Inside the park
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 allowed Brandon to experience a destination without focusing on driving (which happens often). In contrast, an example of a negative travel expense was paying $45/plate for Easter Sunday brunch in Charleston, SC. 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 visit in the future.
On a return trip to RMNP I’d like to explore the west side of the park, hike the Bear Lake trail loop, and take a guided horseback ride. I wouldn’t hesitate to book another Green Jeep Tour… maybe the 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.”