Episode 22: Rocky Mountain National Park by Motorcycle Part 2: When, Where and How to have an amazing trip

I would like to begin today's podcast with the dedication to a lady who I really don't know but I recently did a heroic thing in front of me and hundreds of others.  

 It was at an outdoor concert last weekend. As a band played, a mentally disabled man stood by the stage. I assume he was homeless. This was a big man. Maybe 300 lb. Very intimidating and very clearly mentally ill. He seemed dangerous.  But all of a sudden a lady walked up to him with a small container full of food. From a distance I saw her talk with him and hand him the food and then  this very large man gave this very small lady a hug. 

I watched her go back to her seat and sit with her husband nearby. I couldn't help myself but go over and tell her that I saw what she did and I wanted to thank her for that. She said that she was a school teacher and she didn't make very much money, but she couldn't stand the thought of someone like him out there and who was probably hungry. 

I gave her my Peace Love Moto business card and I told her that such random acts of kindness are exactly what my podcast is all about. It supports the idea of such random acts of kindness.  She noticed that there was a peace sign on my card. She then rolled up her sleeve to show me that she had the exact same size peace sign tattooed on her arm. With tears in her eyes, she gave me a hug. The same hug she gave the disabled man just minutes before.  She said “we are thinking alike. aren't we?” I said “Yes ma'am we are”. 

Anyway it's people like her that make the world a better place. I'm convinced of that.  So ma'am if you're listening, thanks again.

Here we are for Part 2 of Planning a ride to Estes Park, Colorado and the Rocky Mountain National Park region. In this episode, we will explore the more traffic-free backroads and I will share my favorite stops along the way. If you haven't already listened to Part 1 in Episode 21, I highly recommend listening to it first. There is some very important information there about timing your trip for the best experience. 

Here in Part 2, we’ll take a lesser known route from Loveland Colorado to Estes Park, up a the very twisty backroad that take us up sharp switchbacks, which open up to an amazing vista of Long's Peak, the Continental Divide, and the village of Estes Park.

In addition to the history, wildlife, and geology of the area we’ll talk about how to ascend Fall River road, then join the world famous Trail Ridge road onto the Continental Divide then down the other side to Grand Lake.  

As I have mentioned before, I’ve motorcycled in and around this area for 25 years.  I’m also a Tour Guide in the National Park.  It’s a fantastic place to see Mother Nature at her finest, especially from the seat of a motorcycle.  After these podcasts, you should be well equipped to have a fantastic trip.  Also, I’m planning to offer a free live Zoom meeting where you can ask your questions about traveling by motorcycle out here, and we can have a nice chat.  More news coming on that!

So, get out your Colorado map and let's begin our journey in the beautiful town of Loveland Colorado, my hometown. Loveland is a great place to stay outside of the tourist traffic if you choose not to stay in Estes Park. 

By the way I'm not sponsored by any business mentioned in this episode so all of these opinions regarding hotels, coffee shops and restaurants are just of my own.

Now you'll see many hotels and restaurants in the Eastern portion of Loveland near Highway 25, but I highly recommend escaping the traffic and making your way to the old original portion of Loveland.  We have a new hotel right in the heart of downtown called Townplace Suites by Marriott.  It’s within easy walking distance to historic 4th Street where you’ll find locally owned and operated restaurants, pubs and don’t miss Mary’s Mountain Cookies!

Another hotel option I recommend in Loveland is La Quinta Inn and Suites in West Loveland right on Highway 34.  This is a very quiet location and gives you a great jumping off point to head to Estes Park.  It’s also close to my favorite coffee shop in Loveland, Jamoka Joes owned and operated by my friend Christine.  This is a drive through so park your motorcycle in front and enjoy your coffee or espresso under her shade trees sitting in vintage 1970’s chairs.

OK, let’s ride to Estes Park from Loveland following the Big Thompson River.  Take Highway 34 west from Jamoka Joe’s.  We will stay on highway 34 for 12.7 miles so set your odometer.  

We immediately enter the foothills of Colorado and go through the amazing and deep portion of the road we call The Narrows as we follow the Big Thompson River going west. As soon as you exit the twisties of the Narrows to your left you'll see the Colorado Cherry Company. Stop in for a cherry pie pocket or juice while listening to Classic tunes and even polka music.  By the way, my beautiful wife Karen is the store manager!  

Continue on until you reach that 12.7 Point on your odometer and you will be at Drake where there is a small restaurant and Campground to your right. It's here where you want to turn right on County Road 43. Don't miss this turn!  Here will will continue toward Estes but following the must less traveled Little Thompson River.  We will continue on County Road 43 through the little village of Glen Haven Where we reach several Sharp twisties climbing steep. be careful here these are very tight corners and yes it is very steep. as you Crest the top of the hill in front of you will be a place where you are going to need to stop and take a picture. here you will see Longs Peak and the Continental Divide looking west. it is here where we will descend into Estes Park as road 43 is renamed to Devil's Gulch Road.  

Estes Park is a beautiful, cool little village and it’s very popular. As I strongly recommended in part one, It can get crowded with a lot of traffic during peak times.  it's best to visit Estes Park outside of holidays  and Monday through Thursday in order to avoid the crowds. From Devil's Gulch Road it will turn into McGregor Avenue. 

Follow McGregor Avenue toward town and turn left on West Wonderview Avenue. Then be looking to your left and you'll see the famous Stanley Hotel. This beautiful white structure was founded by FO Stanley who was very instrumental in the creation of Rocky Mountain National Park. His hotel was also the inspiration for Stephen King's book The Shining. Portions of the movie Dumb and Dumber were also filmed here. 

I highly recommend going into the other sister store of the Colorado Cherry Company in the lower level of the Stanley Hotel. Get a snack and take that up to the hotel porch for wonderful views of the Continental divide. Maybe consider taking a history tour of the hotel.

Going into Estes, I also enjoy stopping by the store called Inkwell and Brew which is very close to the Historic MacDonald bookstore.  Another favorite coffee shop in Estes Park is Kind Coffee Company.  If you’re interested in a guided tour, I highly recommend Green Jeep Tours where I am a part-time tour guide.  We have lots of wonderful guides, but feel free if you’d like to ask for me, Ron Francis.

As for restaurants in Estes Park, if you like a really good hamburger for lunch, stop by Penelope's on Elkhorn Avenue.  If you're in town for dinner and you love Italian food like I do, don't miss the Dunraven Inn at the Estes Park Resort with awesome views of Lake Estes and the Continental Divide.

Now is the time to consider filling up with gas as we begin to enter Rocky Mountain National park. As mentioned in part one there are two main entrances into Rocky Mountain National Park from the East. That is the Beaver Meadows entrance and the Fall River entrance. I highly recommend taking the Fall River entrance as it is almost always less crowded. remember also that there is a timed entry program implemented by the National Park Service.   

Check the National Park Service website for current details but as of this recording a park entrance reservation time is required for the Fall River entrance after 9:00 a.m. and before 3:00 p.m. As I mentioned in part one I very much recommend avoiding holidays and getting it to the park early or arriving late evening to avoid the crowds and have the best opportunities for viewing animal activity.

In Estes Park as well as Rocky Mountain National Park, be on the lookout for Elk, Mull Dear, Big Horn Sheep and Moose, and in the highest elevations, watch for Marmots and their little friends, the Pika.  Also watch the skies for Eagles.

If you are riding into town from early July to October, take the old Fall River Road west for the 9 mile journey Up this narrow and winding dirt road to reach the snow-capped mountains ahead. Fall River Road was originally and Arapahoe Indian Trail that the Arapahoe called “the Dog Trail”. 

There are three stops along Fall River Road that you need to stop and see. The first one is about a mile and a half up the dirt road. On your left you'll see a small sign that says Chasm Falls. Park your bike here and walk down the short path to a wonderful little waterfall. a great picture opportunity there. on up the road about another 5 MI you'll reach an unmarked spot but a wide spot in the road before it cuts back to the right. park your bike here and walk back into the meadow and you'll see an old historic cabin that was built during the 1920s in the days that this road was being carved out. on up the road about another 3 MI you'll be above tree line with beautiful views and all directions. He'll be right there with the snow. another great opportunity for pictures. 

Up the road another Mile and you will reach what's called the Alpine Visitors Center. Just as the name implies there is a restaurant and gift shop up here that's open seasonally along with a national park ranger station and restrooms.

 it's at this point where the road is paved and we will join Trail Ridge Road which is the two-way pave Road across the national park. this is the highest continuous paved Road in the United States reaching over 12,000 ft in elevation. we will turn right on Trail Ridge Road and begin our decent but immediately to the right on our first curve stop there for pictures on clear days. if you look to the north you'll see snow-capped mountains way in the distance. those snow capped mountains are called Snowy Range and they are in the state of wyoming.   Snowy Range is about 70 miles away. it's amazing that you could see them in such a distance.

Here we will continue our descent and work our way down to  a lake where just beyond is a sign indicating the Continental divide. this area is called Milner pass. be sure and take a picture at the Continental Divide sign where one  Arrow points to the Atlantic and the other points to the Pacific.  

From here will continue West on Trail Ridge Road which begins a steep descent into What's called the Kawanishi Valley. From here we have reached the Western entrance into Rocky Mountain National Park. As we exit the park we enter the small Resort town of Grand Lake.  

Depending on your timing, Grand Lake may be a great place to spend the night. Originally settled in 1879 it has a population of only about 400 people. It's home to the deepest lake in Colorado.  I recommend renting a motorized pontoon boat and get out on the lake.   Two favorite places to eat in Grand Lake are the Sagebrush Barbecue and Grill and a place called The Waterfront which has a wonderful View of Grand Lake.  A recommended place to stay in Grand Lake is the Gateway Inn.  My family has stayed there a number of times over the years and their restaurant is also excellent.  If you’re staying the evening in Grand Lake, be sure to catch a professionally casts musical at the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theater.  My wife and I have seen such shows as Hello Dolly here.  It’s fantastic.

Now this western side of the Continental Divide will have the largest population of Moose.  The western side of the Divide typically receives more rain that the eastern side and Moose love the wet, marshy areas.  

This is where we will pause this week, but tune in again next week when we will continue west from Grand Lake and explore two very exciting journeys to return us to Loveland.  One by way of the Winter Park Ski resort and one by way of the very remote little town of Walden.  

I hope that you've enjoyed our journey thus far and I look forward to being with you again next week. Meanwhile, we will continue to appreciate the gift of riding motorcycles, seeing Mother Nature from the seat of a motorcycle, meeting strangers and doing random acts of kindness whenever we can. Until we meet again, I wish you peace. I wish you love.