The west side of Rocky Mountain National Park is the wetter side. The Grand Lake side is also the less traveled side. Your odds of seeing a moose are much higher on the west side.
I was spending one night at Grand Lake Lodge because I was doing some live and taped television segments from there the next morning. I left Denver about 4:30 p.m. and headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park so I could drive Trail Ridge Road from east to west. Trail Ridge Road is 48 miles long and connects Estes Park and Grand Lake. With 11 miles above tree line and a high point of 12,183 feet hight, it is the highest continuous paved road in the United States. For most of the drive, I just enjoyed the view from the driver’s seat as I’ve been on Trail Ridge many times. But, when I saw a mom and baby moose on the side of the road on the west side and then two herds of elk I stopped three times in the last few miles of the drive.
While staying at Grand Lake Lodge, I got up early and drove into the park at 5:45 a.m. This summer, because of COVID-19, you have to have a permit to enter the park 6 a.m.-5 p.m. Get a permit well in advance, or a limited number of permits are released 2 days in advance at 8 a.m. I’ve learned from experience of booking twice to already have an account and be logged in. Both times I tried to get a permit and by 8:01 a.m. the only time slot left was 3-5 p.m. You have to have a permit even if you have an annual pass like I do. Same goes for Senior, Military or any other pass.
It didn’t take long before I saw a moose by a stream out in a meadow near the Coyote Valley Trailhead. By the time I turned around to take a picture, the moose had gone into some trees. The scenery was beautiful with the steam coming off the water. It was chilly with temperatures in the low 40s.
As I got to the Farview Curve, the light on the Never Summer Mountains was beautiful. I pulled over to enjoy it for a few minutes.
I continued up Trail Ridge Road to Milner Pass Trailhead and Poudre Lake. I had decided that would be my turn around spot. The trailhead parking lot was already full and this was about 6:15 a.m. I saw two cars in a pull-out by the lake and quickly saw why. There were two juvenile moose munching away along the water’s edge. I was able to park in the pull-out and take pictures and video from my car. Moose are not normally aggressive, but if spooked or if they feel threatened they can be. According to historical records dating back to the 1850s, moose wandered into northern Colorado from Wyoming but never established a stable breeding population. In 1978, state wildlife officials transplanted some moose from Wyoming and Utah in hopes of establishing a population in Colorado. It worked and today there are an estimated 2,500 moose in the state. At the lake the temperate was 39°.
Before heading back to Grand Lake, I turned off to look at Lake Irene. I was the only one there as I did the short walk to the lake. The reflection of the clouds on the calm water is picturesque early morning. I walked all the way around the lake. When I was at the back of the lake, a group of moms and kids arrive to explore the lake. As I completed the loop I took one last look at Lake Irene then hustled back to my car to warm up.
As I drove west, I kept an eye out for more wildlife. Dawn and dusk are the best times to see animals. Right before I turned on to Trail Ridge Road from Lake Irene lot, I spotted a deer. As I got close to the west side ranger station, the herd of elk I had seen the evening before was out having a roadside breakfast. Again, I stayed in my car to take pictures and videos from across the road. Elk are often seen throughout Rocky Mountain National Park. Seeing this herd was a perfect ending to my wild early morning adventure as I headed out of the park shortly after 7 a.m.