May 18, 2019, my brother, his friend, and I embarked on a wonderful journery up the vast majority of the Rocky Mountain range. From its beginnings in New Mexico, to the beautiful Canadian Rockies, we spent fifteen days traveling, camping, and exploring across the mountains. I will cover all of the days spent, the locations we stopped at, the trails we trekked, and the other details of this great trip. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip, and I’m sure you would too.
Day 1 – Colorado
Starting the long road from Arlington, Texas, we left around 3:30 AM to make it up to the Pike and San Isabel National Forest in Colorado in one day. The first six hours through the flat and boring Texas landscape are difficult, but slowly the Rocky mountain flavor arrives as you venture into New Mexico. We pitched up our tent and camped the night at Hayden Creek Campground. We started our acclimatization by going for a quick three-mile hike through the nearby woods. After eating some chicken cooked over the fire and some baked beans, we crept into our sleeping bags and slept our first night in the wilderness. The first night always feels the coldest as your body starts to get used to the cold weather. We got an early start the next morning at around 5 AM, packed the tent in the dark, and hit the road to our next destination.
Days 2 & 3 – Grand Teton National Park
After a hefty drive, we made it to Grand Teton National Park. We pitched our tent at the Jenny Lake campground, a very nice spot that is tent-only which adds a feeling of wildness to the experience. There was a constant drizzle throughout the evening and the Grand Teton mountains were covered in thick fog and clouds. That night we woke several times in the freezing environment to the sound of snow collecting on the tent. Luckily our four-season tent came through and we stayed dry through the night. As we slowly emerged from our tent, we entered a winter wonderland of snow-covered evergreens. We pulled out our trusty propane stuff and boiled some water for coffee and oatmeal. Moving slower than I prefer, we eventually got all of our gear setup for a long hike around Jenny Lake.
Our planned hike was to start at Jenny Lake Campground, hike around Jenny Lake to Inspiration point, test our snow gear in some snowy areas, then finish our circumnavigation of Jenny Lake back to the campground. Along the trail to Inspiration Point, we saw a large number of moose, including some young calves with their mother. Upon reaching inspiration point, we found a nice hill covered in deep snow that we tested our snow equipment in for future hikes. After finishing the hike, we cooked up some quick food and ginger-lemon tea and prepped for our departure the next day. After a refreshingly cold night of sleep, we packed up the tent early in the morning and hit the road once again.
Days 4 & 5 – Glacier National Park
I’ll preface this section by saying that Glacier National Park was one of my favorite destinations of the entire trip. Coming in May, which is very early in the season, the park was nearly empty and we could explore it unencumbered by the masses of visitors later in the Summer.
We arrived at the park and drove into the North section of the park to camp at Bowman Lake campground. The views of the lake are absolutely tremendous, and we were one of the two campers in the entire campground. It is likely to fill up later in the season, but at this point, the park was nearly empty. We went for a short hike in one of the trails at the back of the campground, cooked up some food and tea, and settled down for the night.
The next morning, we got up to visit the visitor center in the main part of the park to choose a hike. They recommended a strenuous hike with great views called the Mt. Brown Lookout Trail. This hike is 10.1 mile round trip haul with over 4250 ft of elevation gain on the way up. This trail was quite tough with a constant steep grade for miles on end. When the trees started to thin out, the snow became thicker, but it was packed down enough by previous hikers to alleviate the need for spikes. The views from this trail are beautiful as you overlook Lake McDonald and the nearby mountains. If you are in good shape, this is a great hike to take.
After the hike, we showered up at a nearby private campground (didn’t realize it was private until we drove out, oops). We then refueled at a local restaurant, relaxed with our evening tea, and hit the sacks to rest up for the early start the next morning.
Days 6 & 7 – Banff National Park
After a couple hours of driving, we crossed over the border into Canada (good thing we didn’t forget our passports). After a few more hours of driving we entered Banff National Park and navigated over to Two Jack Lake Campground where we had our reservations. This was by far the most busy park we had been to, even in the middle of May before the busy season. I can’t even imagine the crowds during June, July, and August. The views on Two Jack Lake were beautiful.
Due to the snowy conditions and avalanche risk, most of the challenging alpine hikes were closed or not recommended. So we drove over to Lake Louise and hiked up to Lake Agnes to enjoy the views of the frozen lakes. The lakes were just beginning to thaw and show their brilliant turquoise colors. With very little left to do in the park, we headed up to Jasper National Park where we were able to do some more demanding hikes.
Days 8 & 9 – Jasper National Park
We nearly drove through the entire park as we made our way up to the Pocahontas campground in the North-Eastern area of the park. We didn’t have much time left in the day so we setup camp, cooked some blueberry pancakes, and made a plan of the hikes we planned on doing during our stay.
We awoke on Day 8 with the plan to hike the Sulphur Skyline Trail, one of the highest-rated trails in the park. We downed some left-over blueberry pancakes in the crisp early morning then drove to the trailhead of the Sulphur Skyline near the Miette Hot Springs. The trail itself was quite nice and only moderately difficult. Anybody in decent shape can make it up without too much difficulty. The views at the top of the trail are stunning and certainly worth the hard work ascending. In late May, the upper portions of the hike were still quite snowy but manageable even without spikes.
The next day we took on the Bald Hills Loop near Maligne Lake. At this time of the year, the trail was still very deeply covered in snow and not recommended to travel by the park rangers. In some areas we sank to our hips (and we are all well over 6 ft tall so that’s no shallow snow). We forgot our snowshoes so we relied on spikes to prevent slipping. However, these offered no protection against the post-holing that was painstakingly required to traverse the deep, snowy sections. However, the hard work we put in was rewarded with stunning views of the snowy Canadian Rockies looming over frozen lakes below. This is a truly beautiful hike, and if you enjoy stomping around in the snow, a May Bald Hills hike is a joy!
After grabbing some grub in the city and pouring some evening tea, we did some research on the best trout fisheries in the nearby states. We set aside about three days to travel to a river and fish it before we headed back to Colorado to climb Mt. Elbert. We scoured various reports and decided to test our luck on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River. Located in the hidden gem of Eastern Idaho, we had quite the haul ahead of us to make it to the river.
Days 10, 11, & 12 – Fishing on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River
After a day and a half of driving and a quick overnight at a National Forest on the way, we reached our campground within the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. The Box Canyon Campground was well-maintained and within a short walk of the river. We got our fishing licenses and flies at a nearby fly shop and hit the river as the evening approached. That night we caught some small brown trout but nothing sizable to eat. We quickly fell asleep exhausted after the hours of fighting the fast current in our waders.
The next day we had a lot more success on the water. The rainbow trout were in session and we caught tons of fish ranging from bait-size to a couple pounds. The fly of choice was a stonefly with a trailing nymph or other small sinking fly with bright coloration. Most of the fish hit the stonefly, but a couple hit the trailer. We took home three fish to eat for dinner with some rice and beans. We relaxed and ate the whole fish from the pan, leaving only the skeleton left. We wanted to fish more and truly search for some bigger fish, but the mountains of Colorado were calling, and we followed that call early the following morning.
Days 13 & 14 – Mt. Elbert Hike
Our final trek of the trip was an ascent of the tallest mountain in the Rocky Mountain Range and the second tallest mountain in the contiguous United States – Mt. Elbert. Over 14,400 ft above sea level, Mt. Elbert soars above the rest of Colorado below it. Although the hike isn’t terribly difficult and certainly not the toughest 14er to climb, it is still a strenuous hike having to climb 5000 vertical feet. For our ascent on May 31st, there was still snow covering almost every portion of the hike. Therefore, most of the way is improvised snow travel because there is very little indication where the trail is actually located.
We started the ascent from an elevation of around 9,500 ft. At around 13,000 ft, my two buddies found that their 2 liter Cambelbaks were completely empty and they wouldn’t be able to push on. Luckily I packed an additional large powerade so I could attempt a quick push to the summit. Overestimating my ability at altitude, I gave myself 1 hour before I would have to head back down. I told my buds to seek help if I didn’t make it down with 1.5 hours (because I was climbing alone and not extremely experienced). My time ran out a bit higher than 14,200 ft and fully within sight of the summit. However, turn-around-time is sacred, and I headed back down the mountain, glissading (a controlled snow slide) most of the way down. I met back up with my brother and his friend, and we descended back down the mountain in the deep snow.
Although we didn’t quite make it to the top, we know to pack more liquids and start earlier in the day on our next attempt. The views from 14,200 ft were still magnificent and one of the highlights of the trip. That night we cooked ourselves some large sirloin steaks on the cast iron pan and enjoyed a healthy serving of milk to feed our exhausted bodies. We went to sleep early to be ready for the early start home the next morning.
Day 15 – Drive Home
Our fifteenth day of the trip was spent driving home to North Texas and contemplating the action-packed adventure of the previous two weeks. The Rocky Mountains will forever inspire a sense of awe and insignificance in me that continuously draws me back for more.
Outline of Rocky Mountain Range Trip
This travel outline describes the stops and activities we did as we traveled from North Texas to Jasper, Canada along the Rocky Mountains.
Day 1. Drive from North Texas to Colorado and camp at Hayden Creek Campground in the Pike and San Isabel National Forest.
Day 2. Drive to Grand Teton National Park and camp at Jenny Lake Campground.
Day 3. Spend day hiking around Jenny Lake and up to Inspiration Pt.
Day 4. Drive to Glacier National Park and camp at Bowman Lake Campground.
Day 5. Spend day hiking the Mt. Brown Lookout Trail.
Day 6. Drive to Banff National Park and camp at Two Jack Lake campground.
Day 7. Visit Lake Louise and hike to Lake Agnes. Drive to Jasper National Park and camp at Pocahontas Campground.
Day 8. Spend day hiking the Sulphur Skyline Trail.
Day 9. Spend day hiking the Bald Hills Loop Trail.
Day 10. Drive to Henry’s Fork in Idaho. Overnight along the way at random campsite on the side of the road.
Day 11. Camp at Box Canyon Campground and fly fish the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River.
Day 12. Fly fish all day and cook the hard-earned rainbow trout for dinner.
Day 13. Drive to Colorado and camp at Lakeview campground near the South Mt. Elbert Trailhead.
Day 14. Ascend Mt. Elbert.
Day 15. Drive back to North Texas.