Grand Lake is exploding with moose these days. It’s a big change from when I would visit the cabin growing up.
Every night, my family would drive through Rocky Mountain National Park, hoping to see some wildlife. Sure enough, we’d see some elk. But after a few sightings, they had become commonplace and expected.
But Oh, to see a moose! That would be exciting! Yet the majestic creature always alluded us.
Twenty years later, I’m still spending weekends at the cabin. Except now I feel like I see moose every time I visit.
And not just one moose — many moose! This last trip up, over the course of two days, I ran into six in the park.
It’s become such a normal sighting that when I asked Mike if he wanted to take a quick drive through the park, he shruged, and responded, “I already saw a moose today.”
The 10-year-old me balks — how can you be BORED with moose?!
But he’s right. We’d already seen a moose that day and around 8pm, watching the the sun set behind the mountains, the cabin feels too cozy to leave.
Still, I feel spoiled.
I spent years dragging my parents all over the park hoping I could spot one in the distance. Now it’s just a casual, “oh hey look, a moose” as we keep driving along.
Then again, I can understand not wanting to fight the crowds to get a better look at a female moose hanging out by the side of the road. My parents, who spend more time at the cabin than I do, are starting to get jaded.
“We’ve seen tons of female moose,” my dad was saying after their last visit, “I want to see some bulls with antlers!”
He has a point. There is something magical about seeing the full rack of antler on top of a male moose or elk. You see the females all over the place, but the males are more elusive.
Just like with any animal sighting, it’s all about being in the right place at the right time.
And a few weekends ago, I was.
Green Mountain Trailhead, West Side, Rocky Mountain National Park
With Mike out on a long bike ride, my morning open for some solo hiking in the park.
The west side of Rocky Mountain is often less crowded than the east side. A big reason for that is because there aren’t very many ‘short hikes’ that you can knock out in an afternoon. This is more the serious hiking and backpacking side of the park. It’s also the side with all the wildlife. I can’t imagine why…
But if you ever are on the west side and need a moderate, beautiful (and fairly short) hike, your best bet is the Big Meadow Trail, which begins at the Green Mountain Trailhead.
At 8am, there were already a few cars in the parking lot. It’s about two miles to the meadow and the first mile is all uphill. It’s a good reminder that no matter how good of shape you’re in, altitude + hiking = heavy breathing.
As I’m hiking and contemplating how bad of shape I’m in, I hear a branch snap.
To the side of the trail, maybe 15 feet away, is a baby moose munching on the grass alongside his mother.
I’m pretty sure it’s the same pair of moose I’ve been seeing all over the park this summer.
I hold my breath. A mother and her baby are a particularly dangerous pair to catch off guard, especially when they’re only a few feet away. After a few minutes, I relaxed. They didn’t seem to care that I was there.
If you’ve ever wondered whether or not the animals use the hiking trails in the park, the answer is a definitive yes.
For a few minutes, I found myself trailing behind the tiny moose family, keeping my distance while they meandered up the trail.
The Big Meadow
One of the reasons the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park has so much wildlife is because the of how many wide open meadows are nestled throughout the trees. As you drive through, there is a giant valley that separates the mountains, where you’ll often see herds of elk.
But a couple miles up the Big Meadow Trail, you encounter another valley that, in my opinion, is one of the the most stunning areas of the park.
Hidden between the mountains and surrounded by grassy fields, the Big Meadow is a common place for hikers to relax, fly fish and dip their feet in the icey cold stream fed by mountain runoff.
On sunny days, the clouds look painted in the sky.
Hikers aren’t the only ones who appreciate the quiet beauty of the space. As I relaxed by the water, eyes closed, letting the warm sun lull me to a zen state, I heard rustling in the trees.
Not one, but TWO bull moose emerged from the treeline on the opposite side of the meadow.
Finally, the wildlife sighting everyone dreams of! Two majestic moose crowned with antlers standing less than 50 feet away from me.
Nothing could have pulled me away from this moment. I stayed and took pictures for over an hour.
During that time, a group of campers emerged from the campsite beyond the trees. One of the moose was between them and the trail back, leaving them stuck until the moose was a safe distance away.
I call it, “The Dilemma.”
People often forget how dangerous moose in the wild can be. They are fast, strong and don’t particularly like people getting close to them.
If a moose starts to charge, your only hope of survival is putting something large between you and the moose, and in a giant field, that’s harder to do. You’re completely exposed.
Despite the incredible encounter, I felt on edge the whole time.
Especially when more hikers showed up and began edging closer and closer to the moose in order to get that ‘perfect shot.’
At one point, the hikers were less than 10 feet away. One wrong move and things could have gone very wrong.
But these moose seemed calm and tolerant. I’d swear they were even posing for pictures.
When it was time to leave, I took one last look back at the moose who had shared such a quiet and pleasant morning with me. No matter how many moose I see in Rocky Mountain National Park, I don’t think I’ll ever stop being amazed.
There’s a reason I keep going back to the cabin. And there’s a reason I’ll always call the Rockies home.