Fall Splendor in the Colorado Rockies, Rocky Mountain National Park

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13254A, Lodge


  • Soak up the sights, smells, and sounds of early fall on uncrowded trails
  • Enjoy daily hikes amid blazing colors and cooler temperatures
  • Stay at comfortable lodging with a soft bed, hot showers and a fully equipped kitchen


  • Transportation to and from Denver
  • All meals (Sunday dinner through Saturday lunch) except one weeknight dinner
  • Six daily hikes chosen for topographic and scenic variety


DatesSep 22–28, 2013
StaffMarty Wynne

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Fall is a breathtaking time to enjoy the splendor of the Rocky Mountains. The crowds are gone, leaving the special crispness of the season -- deep blue skies, softer sunlight, and mountains awash in hues of yellow, gold and green. Wildlife scurries to prepare for a long winter and invigorating air rules the early hours, giving way mid-morning to the gentle warmth of the sun at high altitude.  Be mesmerized by the silence of the forest as you hike uncrowded trails to a pristine waterfall, to a hidden lake, or through dense forests that lead to the austere beauty of alpine tundra above treeline.

Each day brings a different adventure, with hikes chosen for variety and scenery. After breakfast, we’ll pack a sack lunch so we can enjoy lunch on the trail. Some hikes will follow a boisterous mountain stream to its gentler origins.  Other hikes will take us through mixed strands of pine and golden aspen to wind-sculpted trees of ancient spruce-fir forests, then culminate in views of snow-dusted peaks. As the day goes on, we will lighten the layers of our clothing, but still be prepared for unpredictable and sudden weather changes.

En route to the lodge, we might share ice cream or a cold one. Then we’ll have the chance to rest and ready ourselves for dinner where we can enjoy a tasty meal and share the highlights of the day.


Your leaders have chosen hikes that offer a variety of scenery, terrain, and challenge. Our hikes may need to be modified because of Forest Service requirements, weather conditions, or the general condition of our group. 

Day 1: For those arriving in Denver by train or plane before noon on day one, the leaders will provide transportation to our lodgings. The two-hour drive will pass quickly as the scenery changes from distant views of the mountains to two-lane winding roads amid the various ranges. We’ll check into our accommodations and have time time to relax before preparing our initial dinner together. We will then turn in and dream of our week of adventure.

Days 2-6: Each day we’ll enjoy a different hike together. We’ll hike through montane forests to tree line, then zig-zag through an alpine meadow to a ridge that opens onto views of Winter Park and Vasquez Mountain. We’ll pass waterfalls as we hike ancient trails used by the Ute and Arapaho tribes. Some hiking destinations will provide views of the Indian Peaks Range and the Front Range Mountains or lead to a picturesque lake in a dramatic cirque.  We may share some of our hikes with moose and other wildlife.

On one afternoon we will return early enough so you can enjoy some local attractions and dinner on your own. Grand Lake is a picturesque town with a beautiful lake offering watercraft rentals. Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre performs through September.

Day 7: We’ll say farewells over breakfast, then drive back to Denver, arriving midday.



Getting There

The official starting and ending point for this trip is Denver, Colorado, about 95 miles from our accommodations on the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park.  The cost of the van shuttle from Denver to our accommodations is included in the trip price and is available to those arriving in Denver by noon on day one. Van space is limited, so participants are asked to bring only one piece of luggage.

The leaders will furnish roster information so participants wanting/needing to travel by private vehicle may contact each other to arrange carpools. Emails with information about a packing list and directions to our lodging will also be distributed prior to our trip.  If you are not in Denver by noon on day one, it will be your responsibility to make your way to our lodging.

Accommodations and Food

Sheets, towels, pillows and bedding are provided.  Bathrooms are either private or across the hall; some bathrooms may be shared between two bedrooms.  Depending on the final composition of our group, the leaders may need to separate couples into all-male or all-female rooms. 

Fully equipped kitchens and nearby stores will allow us to prepare tasty meals with fresh ingredients. We can accommodate vegetarian diets, but any other dietary restrictions will need to be discussed with the trip leaders in advance.

Our first meal together will be dinner on Sunday night; our last meal will be breakfast on Saturday morning. There will be food available for those wishing to pack a sack lunch for their travel home.  A variety of hearty meals crafted from select cereals, pasta, fruits and meat, chicken, and fish will comprise the majority of our diet.  Hot coffee and tea will be plentiful, particularly in the chilly mornings, and we’ll keep everyone hydrated with tasty soups in the evening.  We may even reward our hiking efforts with dessert. In true Sierra Club style, all participants will take turns with kitchen chores as we master cooking at high altitude.

Trip Difficulty

This trip is rated 2 (Light/Moderate) as hiking in this altitude is always a strenuous activity. Individual hikes will vary from 4 to 10 miles in distance, with elevation changes on each hike not exceeding 2,000 feet. Some of our hikes will reach altitudes higher than 11,000 feet.  We will carry day packs that weigh 10+ pounds with our hydration, raingear, extra clothing, emergency supplies, and lunch. 

Hiking is a strenuous activity, and adequate conditioning well in advance will allow you to more fully enjoy the trip. You will need to maintain a regular aerobic training program for several months prior to our trip.

Equipment and Clothing

Mountain weather varies by elevation and season. We will need to be prepared for sudden changes in temperature, cool mornings and nights, and possible snow or sleet at higher elevations. 

Participants must have a comfortable day pack and layered clothing for fall in the mountains. This includes long underwear, a warm cap, glove liners, shorts, long pants (pants with zip-off legs provide maximum flexibility), a long-sleeved shirt, a T-shirt, a jacket, and a rain suit (to also function as a wind breaker).  All clothing should be synthetic, wool or silk. Sunscreen and lip balm with an SPF rating of 50 are essential in this high altitude.

Your leaders will carry a large first-aid kit for emergencies on hikes. Still, each participant should bring all first-aid materials you routinely need, including moleskin, bandages, pain relievers, and prescription medications.



Colorado’s lodgepole pines have been under attack by Mountain Pine Beetles for over a decade. These beetles have destroyed large numbers of trees in the area, so we will see firsthand the impact these naturally occurring insects have.  We will discuss the history and theory behind the environmental causes of this infestation and learn what the Forest Service is doing to manage it.

Portions of our trip will be in areas designated as wilderness and protected by the Wilderness Act.  We will discuss what wilderness protection means as well as the importance of citizen involvement in the protection of our wild lands. 


Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under permits from Rocky Mountain National Park and Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forests. 



A native Texan, Marty Wynne cherishes being outdoors, particularly hiking, camping, and gardening. A financial adviser to companies for over 20 years, Marty has hiked Zion, Bryce, and Big Bend national parks and backpacked New Mexico's Pecos Wilderness with Sierra Club groups. She has also hiked Rocky Mountain, Grand Canyon, and Pictured Rocks national parks and been on staff of Sierra Club Outings at Clair Tappaan Lodge, Colorado's San Juan Mountains, and California's Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Assistant Leader:

Paul Rynders is a life-long hiker, paddler of canoes and cross-country skier. Paul discovered the Rockies in the 90s and it has been a passionate relationship. He leads trips for the Sierra Club in Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming. In 2003 and 2004 Paul was an instructor for the Sierra National Outings Training Trip. He is certified as a Wilderness First Responder. Paul lives in Madison, Wisconsin and values diversity in humans and nature.

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