Whenever I am going on a hike during the summer in Colorado, I have two rules –
Rule #1) Always go during the week, never on the weekend – As a teacher, I have the luxury of avoiding the weekend rush of people in the mountains by only hiking during the week.
But more importantly —
Rule #2) Always leave the Denver area by 6 AM at the very latest – My friends who hike with me may hate this rule, but I would rather sacrifice a few hours of sleep than hit the road any later. Below is my top 5 list of reasons why I love to get up early on a hiking day, along with the rationales behind each reason.
Top 5 Reasons to Hike Early
1) People/Tourists – Running into hordes of people on hikes is down right annoying. People often have dogs that aren’t on leashes, talk loudly, do not understand trail etiquette and can really just ruin some of the most beautiful, serene places nature has to offer. On the last two hikes I went on, I woke up at 5:00 AM and was on the trail by 7:45. On both of those hikes, I made it up to beautiful, isolated mountain lakes without another soul within miles. There is something to be said for the stunning beauty and tranquility that such an experience of being alone at a mountain lake can offer.
2) Storms – One of the other biggest reasons I elect to leave on hikes early is the weather pattern of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Almost every single afternoon around 1:00, clouds being to appear. By 3:00, the clouds are darker and by 4:00, there is usually a storm. It absolutely baffles me as I am coming down a trail that just took four hours and I run into people at the trail head who are just starting. I like adventure, but being struck by lightning does not seem like too much fun to me!
3) The Heat – Summer in Colorado can be downright blazing, even with the low humidity. Last week, I was hiking to Isabelle Lake and by 9:00 AM it was over 90 degrees, even in the higher elevation. Couple that heat with little protection from the sun, and it can be a lousy experience. Of course, as I was coming down at 11:30, I passed group after group of people who were just starting. I went through all three liters of my water supply on that hike, so I can only imagine how dehydrated and hot the later arrivals were.
4) Limited Parking – Some of the best hikes in Colorado start at trail heads with very limited parking. On the hikes I did to Isabelle Lake and the Crater Lakes, the parking lots held 30 cars or less. When I got to the trail head, there were fewer than 3 cars at each – however, when I arrived back to my car around noon the lots were full. In the case of Isabelle Lake, there was literally a line of 10 cars waiting in the parking lot for people to leave…good luck with that!
5) Animals – I generally only see cool animals early in the morning. Like me, animals like to avoid the heat and the crowds of people so by mid-morning they have found sanctuary deep within the forest.
Bonus Reason: 6) Did I Mention Tourists? – When there is no one else at a mountain lake, I like to lay down on a rock, close my eyes, and listen to the sounds of water outlets rushing down the mountain. I have never experienced anything in which I have felt so at peace.
I have probably been on more than 50 hikes since I moved to Colorado three years ago – I am well versed but by no means an expert. In my opinion, however, it is either hike early or not at all.
For more hiking pictures and stories, check out other posts on The Carry-on.
Hike is Life.