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Mill Creek Trail, RMNP, CO, October 18, 2008

November 16, 2008

Posted November 16, 2008

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This fall in northern Colorado has been “mild”. Just one long September (well, the leaves changed, but the weather stayed warmish). So, one Saturday I got up, took it easy, did a few chores, and decided it was just too nice to stay in town. Headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park looking for a good hike. Just in passing, there is a reason I go to RMNP at this time of year. Hunters. I have nothing against hunting at all, but the density of hunters in Colorado is pretty extreme at this time of the year. So, I leave them to the hunting and go enjoy the park.

Before I go any further in the trip’s description, here is my standard comment. Please check my photo galleries here for all the larger and higher quality photos for this trip. The photos in the gallery are a quantum leap in size and quality compared to the little teaser photos I put in this site’s trip narrative.
I have two other links that will help locate the area if you are interested in making the hike yourself. A Google Earth map can be found here. Use the scale bar on the left side of the Google map to help zoom in or out to help locate the area based on where you live. (This link
will direct you to a Google map that shows ALL my trips.)
In order to help you with the actual trail itself, you can use this link to view a topo map of the Mill Creek trail.
All links open a new browser window.

Here is a map of how to get to the Mill Creek trail head.  If you click on it, you should be taken to a live map that you can scroll around on and zoom in and out.  Pretty cool : )

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There was really no snow in the mountains yet, and it was very close to shorts and tshirt weather, so I headed up to Bear Lake to hike up Glacier Gorge (or, somewhere up in that vicinity). Unfortunately, about 10 million people had the same idea. I couldn’t even make it into the Bear Lake parking lot.

So, no problem. There is a neat thing about national parks. They can be really crowded at times, but normally only in the few well known places (Bear Lake definitely being one of those places). But, everywhere else in the park can be pretty uncrowded. So, I pulled into a place along the Bear Lake road I’d never stopped at before to take a look at the hiking possibilities.

Hmmmm. Yah. Looked nice to me : ) This is a pano of two photos. Looking up Mill Creek from the Hollowell Park trailhead.

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Now, I can’t say that I didn’t see any other people on the trail. I did. Like, maybe 12 people during the entire hike. But, compare that to the 10 million up at Bear Lake and, well, it’s like I was back in the wilderness. This turned out to be a GREAT hike. And would be an incredible place a little earlier in the fall when the fall colors were max’d out. But even today, there was enough “color” to make it quite pretty.

Here is a shot of the trailhead sign. Checking the map I could see that the area had the potential for some nice loops. I partook of a short loop today, but the other trails that offer a loop are 8 miles in length, so I’ll have to come back and do them some other time. I only went for around 4 miles today. This is also a great trail for kids. Lots of flat wide open places. And the trail spends a good portion of its time pretty close to a stream.

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Here is a shot of the parking lot (this was taken after the hike, but the number of cars stayed the same). Believe me, that’s pretty sparse compared to what I had just seen up at Bear Lake : )

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I did hit some limitations with my camera today. The photos above are later in the day (end of the hike) when the clouds had cleared off. But at the beginning, it was kinda lightly overcast. Which meant I could get good exposure of the ground or the sky, but not both at the same time. So, tough shooting with my current camera.

I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this mountain before.

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Zoom in a little. Some of the very high country still had a little snow remaining from earlier storms.

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Playing around with a dead tree and Longs.

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Decided to see what it would look like in black and white (since I was having trouble with my exposures). Not too bad.

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Still a few trees around with some colorful leaves. Actually caught a couple of those 12 people in this photo : )

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Zoom in on that.

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Saw this very strange spider(?) crossing the trail and had to take a close up photo (my camera made me : ). Really quite different from anything I’d ever seen before.

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Like I said, most of the leaves had fallen, but there still remained a lot of fall color to enjoy.

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The trail enters the trees at the head of the Hollowell Park and starts a gentle uphill climb. While you can’t always see the stream, you can hear it as you walk along.

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And here is a photo of the stream. As I said, great place for kids (or, wanna be kids like myself : )

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I like little water falls.

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This is really about as steep as the trail gets on this part of the “loop”. And it doesn’t stay this way for very long.

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A few leaves still remaining on these aspens.

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Further along, the trail enters an open area. Yes, I need to come back here next year in late September.

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Now, I did mention about some long loops that can be found for extended hiking in the area, but you can do a “short” loop without much difficulty. And I recommend that you do that, as you will encounter different, but equally nice, scenery either way. Here is where you can create a short “loop”. I decided to go left at this sign (and then ended up coming back down to this point through the aspens in the background).

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And this is what it looks like to go “left”. You get to cross the creek and continue up the valley to “Mill Creek Basin”. As you can see from the sign, there are quite a few other destinations.

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Once you cross the creek, the trail meanders up the valley at a very gentle slope.

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The trail stays just inside the edge of the forest, but you can catch glimpses of the meadows along the creek. I tried walking up the creek through the meadows, but ended up running into a lot of very wet areas, so went back to the trail and continued up. And, yes, those are some very small patches of snow on the ground (it was T-shirt weather during the hike).

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I eventually got to another trail juncture. The way I had just come was 1.7 miles from Hollowell Park. If I kept on going up the trail, I could get to Bierstadt Lake and/or Bear Lake (during the summer there are free shuttle buses running that could drop you back a Hollowell Park). However, I decided to hook right and head toward Cub Lake which would allow me to pass through the Mill Creek Basin meadow and then connect to the “loop” trail that heads back to Hollowell Park.

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Here is a photo of Mill Creek Basin’s meadow. The trail crosses the bottom of the meadow. PERFECT place for a break/lunch stop.

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I liked the look of the Mill Creek basin meadow, so I took a little hike around it and found a rather lovely little spot for a “snack” break. Even a few downed trees to sit on.

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The apple hit the spot : )

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As I left Mill Creek basin, the sun came out (mostly) so I could grab a photo showing some final fall color in the meadow.

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Zoom.

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The trail goes on past the meadow and hits the junction with the small loop trail that I wanted to take back down the valley. You can just see the sign (waaaaay up the trail) for the junction in the photo below. Turn right to head back to Hollowell Park or keep going straight to head to Cub Lake and other points.

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This is looking back down into Mill Creek basin after I’d headed back towards Hollowell Park and gained some altitude. Tough shot looking back into the sun, but pretty much shows the majority of the meadow area. Sweet spot.

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The trail goes up to the top of a ridge and then drops (fairly quickly) through a small valley of a good sized grove of tall aspen.

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Another view of the trail. Yes, pretty pleasant hiking.

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You can get some views to the east (?) while coming down the trail.

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Made it back to the junction with the original trail (remember that?) and this is looking back at the area of aspens that I’d just hiked through.

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Zoom in a little. Another area that would (like the Mill Creek basin meadow) be a great place to be in during the height of the fall colors.

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Back along the creek I stopped to get some pictures of a set of small waterfalls.

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Zoom in of part of that area.

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Got back to Hollowell Park meadow and the sun came out for some nice “before sunset” photos of the strange mountain that seems to end up in a lot of my photos.

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Zoom.

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Also went back to my “dead tree” buddy for some framed shots.

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Then I meandered down to the stream to see if I could get any photos of a beaver pond (or, something). With the time remaining (the sun was quickly heading downward), I found a nice reflection in a small beaver pond.

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Two “sun dogs” made their appearance. Pretty tricky shooting for my camera, but not too bad. I had to run to find a tree to try and block the sun since my camera lens is prone to flare. Sun dog to the left……………

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And sun dog to the right…………………

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And then I combined them to get a pano………

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Fun stuff : )

Anyway, headed back out of RMNP which took me past Moraine Park. At which point I saw just about one of the best/neatest views in a long time. Sun was setting, mood and color was great, and you could see hundreds of elk (that’s what all those little dots are in the photo). So, did my best with what I had. None of my photos really captured the moment, but it was still awesome to be there.
I put one “version” of the scene at the beginning of this series, but here is another version. In reality, it would have been a combination of both (but, my camera was just not up to it).

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And then, to top it off, I hit the not uncommon “Estes Park traffic jam” : ) Had a couple of hundred elk crossing Hwy 34 on the edge of town. This is pretty much after most of them had crossed (yeah, I’m a little slow sometimes : ) Hard to tell (but this is max zoom) so the line of stuck traffic I was part of is quite long. We sat there for 5-10 minutes (and it had already been there for that long before I arrived).

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Really great hike/day even if I did get off to a late start (part of the reason it was so nice : ). I’ll be heading back to Mill Creek area for more hikes (maybe next fall). But, I did head to Moraine Park the following weekend (but, that’s another story : )

– Geoff Weatherford

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