Since the summer season is in full swing in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, we have been trying other options for hiking to avoid some of the crowds. We have had several recommendations for Kruger Rock, another nearby mountain summit with spectacular views, so last Tuesday, we headed east on US 36 to the Hermit Park Open Space, home of Kruger Rock.
As a side note, the Open Space concept can be found all over Colorado, with parks managed by various government entities; in the case of Hermit Park, Larimer County; but also by towns and cities. It is wonderful to see so much green space and so many Coloradans (and visitors) taking advantage of the access to nature!
Hermit Park is about 4 miles southeast of Estes Park and offers RV, tent, and equestrian camping, a beautiful picnic pavilion, and multiple trails for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. We headed straight for the Kruger Rock Trailhead and crossed a lovely meadow from the general parking area to reach it. Larimer County continues to improve Hermit Park, and a parking area adjacent to the trailhead is under construction as I type this post.
The Kruger Rock Trail starts at approximately 8,440 ft and winds along its two-mile course to the 9,355-foot summit. The trail is relatively new, having been laid out and built in 2008. Following the scenic rather than a more direct route to the summit, this well-planned trail offers spectacular panoramas of Mount Meeker, Longs Peak, the Continental Divide and the Mummy Range.
The trail begins by climbing gradually up an open hillside in a northerly direction through scattered wildflowers, evergreens, and aspens. You can see the summit of Kruger Rock if you zoom in on the photo below, to the taller peak to Jerry’s right.
Although the focus at this point is onward and upward, I recommend a moment to turn back and catch a view of the meadows below the trail.
We soon cross the Limber Pine Trail, and the steel trail marker struck me as unique and special. We have seen these types of markers before, but damned if we can remember where! 😉
As you climb, the trail gets a little steeper and rockier, and then you reach an outcropping where the Estes Valley is laid out below you, with the Mummy Range in the distance. Wow!
A short descent follows the ridge to the southwest, with the Mummy Range still in view. However, the view is getting darker…hmmm. The second photo, above, is a view of the Mary’s Lake valley. Dark clouds gathering. But we’re so close!
A southerly course around the 8,800 ft knob recrosses the ridge and leads to another short descent before turning west and climbing more steeply to 9,000 ft. Here the trail flattens somewhat, heading along the mountainside.
Turning south and then east, switchbacks climb the last 120 ft to the base of the rock at 9,300. At the base, we meet a family group that has been lingering just below the summit, but they are watching the skies, and they head back down the trail. We know we should too, but we just got here! We have to reach the summit!
From the base of the rock, we scramble up the notch that splits the rock to the mostly flat summit. I wish I had taken a picture of the notch we climbed through…but remember, it was getting ready to storm.
Once at the summit, you are totally exposed to the elements, but the view makes it all worth the effort.
The first video is looking from the west to the north, then east. Pardon my breathlessness, it was more from fear than effort. :-O
The second video is looking east and south, to almost clear skies!
After taking pics and video, we got sufficiently alarmed about the impending storm that we headed back down the trail. At a trot…so that we were not the tallest thing for lightning to hit! It started to rain, then the thunder and lightning got so loud and so close that I hit the deck a couple of times and screamed like a little girl. I’m not proud, but I was scared out of my wits. Jerry and I hunkered down on the ground together, and it began to rain, then rain harder, then hail. I kid you not. It was smaller than pea-sized, but it was hail. No, I didn’t get any pics.
an hour ten minutes, the hail stopped, and then the rain lessened as well. There was some warm light coming from the sky. I couldn’t help myself; this image just grabbed me after our rain-soaked huddle.
We could no longer hear thunder and lightning THIS close, so we started back down the trail. The sun came out, and we started to see views again. We stopped at an outcropping of rock with an incredible view of the Estes Valley and had the picnic lunch we had planned to have at the summit.
Back on the trail, the rain had brought out these teensy, fragile beauties. ❤
We drove around Hermit Park a bit before leaving. The sun was out in full glory now.
So, except for the fear of death, it was a great hike! But now we have to go back on a sunny, clear, day.
We ended our adventure with a stop at our favorite Estes Park brewery, Lumpy Ridge Brewing Company, with our favorite craft beer. And this view…we earned it!
If you’d like to read the next installment of our adventures Around Estes, click here!