Lily Lake and Lily Ridge Trail – Roosevelt National Forest, CO

Our visit to Lily Lake happened completely by accident. On our second day of hiking, I originally planned for us to visit Alberta Falls and Mill Lake. But since we had squeezed Alberta Falls in the day before, we decided to look for somewhere new. Ouzel Falls had been recommended to me and I couldn’t remember why I hadn’t included it on the original itinerary.

The next morning, I remembered why. We left the cabin at dawn and drove to Wild Basin Trailhead only to discover that Highway 115 was closed to the trailhead and we would have to park in the winter lot. That would add another 6 miles to the hike roundtrip. We discussed it. Neither of us really liked the idea of 3 miles of walking on a dirt road before we even got to the trail. It also wasn’t the safest thing to do. There was no ranger on site, no other hikers around, and this wasn’t on our itinerary so no one knew where we were. And the bear warning signs also made the decision a little easier. Time to turn around.

 I’ll admit it. I was mad. I was mad at myself for not checking whether the trailhead was open. And I was really mad that I was spending another hour driving instead of hiking. I had been intensely looking forward to the opportunity to hike in the Rocky Mountains and every moment spent away from the trail felt like a moment wasted.

 As we drove back north, we passed Lily Lake and decided to stop for a short, spontaneous walk. Mostly I just needed to hike it out. There are two trails - the Lily Lake Trail and the Lily Ridge Trail. There is a Lily Mountain Trail, but it is completely different so be careful about getting these confused.

 Lily Ridge Trail was exactly what I needed. The path around Lily Lake is like Bear Lake – a flat and easily accessible path around a still lake that allows walkers to see the surrounding mountains reflected in still waters from changing angles as they meander. But what is different from Bear Lake is the Lily Ridge Trail. A portion of the hike is around the lake, but then it diverges into a hike along the rocky ridge.

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 The total Lily Ridge Trial loop is 1.1 miles and less than 200 feet of elevation change. Though steep, it is short and not strenuous at all. We were able to quickly hike up the incline to an incredible view where we could see Lily Lake’s beautiful waters below us. In the distance, we had an excellent view of Long’s Peak. We paused briefly for a couple pictures and to catch our breath then headed back down the ridge.

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 The ridge trail reconnects with the Lily Lake trail for the second half of the loop. As soon as my feet hit that groomed path, I doubled my speed. On the ridge trail, I had distracted myself from what I felt was lost time caused by our failed trip to the Wild Basin Trailhead. Now on an easy walking path, I was again filled with a sense that I was missing out on time that could be spent on other trails. I walked quickly, pausing only briefly to snap some photos.  

 At the end of the trail, a couple asked us if we’d seen the moose. Had we seen it? We’d been hiking really quickly so they weren’t sure.

 No, we hadn’t seen it. I’d missed the moose because they were right. I’d been hiking too quickly. I was so focused on completing the hike and hadn’t taken the time to appreciate my experience, like Mona always cautions me about.

 Lily Lake was both exactly what I needed and a missed opportunity. I needed to get out of the car and into the outdoors. It was the only thing that could refresh me and break me out of a really negative headspace. But it was still a missed opportunity. I was so focused on my internal pressures – that constant fear of missing out – that I literally missed out on really experiencing my surroundings and the wildlife.

 If we get back to Rocky Mountain National Park and Roosevelt National Forest (which I hope we do because it is an awesome place and there is so much more to do), then I really want to go to Lily Lake and hike Lily Ridge Trail again. But really hike it. Not just because I’m annoyed and need to let off some steam. But to be there and be present in the moment and the place so I can fully appreciate everything that is amazing about that place. 

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Historic Park Theater – Estes Park, CO

Before this trip, I had never been to Estes Park, Colorado. My mother has been several times so I asked her what my absolute must-do activities should be. One of the first she mentioned was the Historic Park Theater. She told me it was a great experience to see a modern movie in a historical theater and something uniquely Estes Park that I couldn’t experience anywhere else.

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 We visited the Park Theater after our first day in Rocky Mountain National Park. We spent the day hiking Bear Lake, Emerald Lake, and Alberta Falls and left the park thoroughly happy though a bit hungry and tired. For a late lunch, we went to Grubsteak, a historical building and restaurant in Estes Park. When it was first built in 1908, the building was a bowling alley before becoming a hospital in 1929. It went through a series of identities as beauty parlors, souvenir shops, and restaurants until it become Grubsteak in 1990. Though new owners took over in 2015, it continues to be an eatery that embraces its history and serves delicious food.

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 There is nothing we enjoy more after hiking than a good burger. At Grubsteak, they had a variety of meat patties including beef, bison, elk, and yak. I opted for yak just because I’d never had it before and as a general rule I always order something on the menu if I’ve never had it. It was delicious with the Swiss cheese, mushrooms, and carmalized onions, but to be honest I was missing some gamier meat to compliment the sweetness of the mushrooms and onions. Lesson learned; I’m not a big yak fan. Mona had a special – the Duck, Duck Juice burger. It was a duck patty with carmelized onions and homemade ponzu sauce. She told me it was juicy and delicious – perfect for her love of duck.

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 After enjoying our burgers, we decided that seeing a movie sounded perfect. We were full and a bit tired so nothing could be better than visiting a historic theater and taking in a new release.

 Park Theater is the oldest movie theater operating in the United States and has been in business since 1913. The building has survived a series of owners, renovations, and natural disasters. Most significantly was the Lawn Lake Flood of 1982. Before the film, Park Theater shows an informational short about the theater and historic disaster.

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 In July 1982, the Lawn Lake Dam failed a torrent of water crashed into Estes Park. There was severe damage to 177 businesses – more than 75 percent of the commercial properties in downtown Estes Park. Water filled the Park Theater, but stopped just at the stage and the screen itself was spared. According to the short film, if the screen had been damaged they might never been able to reopen. Over 30 years later, Park Theater has overcome the flood damage and continues to show films daily.

 We got there early to buy tickets. Too early. I was incredibly excited and wanted to make sure they wouldn’t sell out but was very kindly informed that wasn’t going to happen in the off season and I could come back at 30 minutes before the film to buy my tickets at the regular time. I was probably a little frightening in my enthusiasm, but historical theaters make me extremely happy. And when I love things, sometimes I get a bit over enthusiastic.

 After arriving at a more appropriate time, we bought our tickets and our treats then settled in to watch the movie. The theater has certainly been renovated since 1913, but has maintained its historical charm. The advancements are those that are necessary to make it a modern movie theater – screen, lights, and equipment. But the décor and ambiance continue to be classic. 

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 The first thing my mother asked when I told her we had gone to Park Theater was, “Did he offer you a seat cushion?” Yes, he did. The seats in Park Theater are traditional seats instead of the overstuffed multiplex chairs most people are used to. But Park Theater combats the potential discomfort with a very lovely gentleman who offers you a personal seat cushion for additional padding. I loved it. I loved the charming gentleman who offered me the seat, I loved the additional comfort, I loved seeing the stacks of extra cushions at the ready by the door, and I just loved everything about it.

 As a one-screen auditorium, Park Theater shows one film at a time. When we were visiting, Bad Times at the El Royale was showing. There were three showings a day and, as I said, the box office opens 30 minutes before the film starts so no need to show up too early.  And in true local pride, Denver football is also regularly shown on the big screen.

 The Park Theater was a wonderful way to relax after a day on the trails and if you’re visiting Estes Park, it is absolutely an essential place to visit.