One of the highlights of visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in summertime is embarking on a day hike and exploring its incomparable beauty. It’s one of the most popular activities for Castle Mountain Lodge guests and Estes Park visitors.
With more than 50 trails within its boundaries, visitors can find trails that more than meet scenic viewing expectations and fitness levels. The difficulty levels range from an easy and nearly flat stroll around Bear Lake to the 14,000+ ft. challenge up Longs Peak.
Yet, nothing can take away that enjoyment faster than failing to be prepared for a hiking excursion. Here are six strategies to ensure outdoor safety and fun in the park.
1. Bring plenty of water or hydration drink
The best way to combat thirst is staying hydrated. Carrying along at least 32 oz. of water will help ensure this. Including a sports drink can also help to retain blood sugar levels.
Water from streams and lakes may be tempting for refills, but avoid this if possible. Even if the water looks pristine, hikers can contract giardia, a severe gastrointestinal disorder that’s certain to ruin anyone’s holiday.
2. Stay well-protected from the sun and storms
Hikers often dress light with shorts and a t-shirt. It’s wise to bring other layers of clothing for the rapidly changing weather conditions common in the Rockies.
Hats and sunglasses provide protection from the intense mountain sunshine. Sturdy hiking footwear stabilizes on uneven terrain. Light rain jackets or ponchos, waterproof pants and a long-sleeve tech shirt should be taken in a light backpack for inclement weather. Applying a higher-SPF sunscreen is probably the most important factor to prevent sunburn. If possible, pack a small first aid kit, or at least bandages and antiseptic.
In case of a thunderstorm, the safest thing to do is find the nearest sheltered area, away from open spaces.
3. Take along snacks
Filling up on a hearty breakfast will fuel any hiking adventure, and it’s a great excuse to indulge in another pancake or strip of bacon. At some point, most hikers will experience hunger pangs on the trail.
Stocking up on high-quality nutritious snacks such as trail mix, energy bars, pretzels, fresh or dried fruits or multigrain crackers will sustain energy better than most junk food. It’s perfectly fine to throw in a few cookies or chips to celebrate getting to turnaround or midway point on the hike.
4. Avoid feeding animals
Hikers should resist sharing their food with the park’s natives. Squirrels, birds, chipmunks, deer, elk and other animals only need what they feed on. Ingesting human foods can create health and digestive problems for them.
Leaving behind garbage such as containers or wrappers can present hazards for the wildlife, so it’s good practice to carry any trash out in a backpack and dispose it later.
5. Stick to the trails as much as possible
Different spurs, or short trails, often shoot off from the main path. Sometimes these lead to a cliff with an amazing view or the shore of a crystal-blue lake.
Perhaps the best rule here is venture off no more than 50 to 100 yards off the main trail. A smart rule to keep in mind is stay on the marked designated areas, which will reward hikers anyway with plenty of breathtaking scenery.
6. Have fun!
Above anything, enjoy yourself as you marvel at the wonder of the majestic Rockies…up close on the trails!
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