With a statewide ban on fireworks, and most municipalities choosing to cancel their own shows, my family found itself at the Beaver Meadows Visitors Center on the outskirts of Rocky Mountain National Park early in the evening on the 4th of July looking to make some non-traditional Independence Day memories. With about three hours of daylight left, an hours drive to get home, and a seven year old with day camp early in the morning, I consulted a ranger to help guide me toward the right trail that would fit our desire for scenery and our constraints on time.
In a rehearsed tone that made it clear we were not the first family to come in looking for a quick brush with nature, the ranger shot her finger toward the map laid flat under a pane of glass on the desk and said two words- "The Pool."
The Pool is basically a pocket of water just below the confluences of the Spruce and Fern Creeks with the Big Thompson River. I have been to RMNP on many occasions and had yet to hit this popular trail, but it sounded perfect as my wife and son enjoy hikes with water features, and I enjoy hiking when they are both happy.
Haze from some forest fires blowing down from Wyoming as well as the recent construction on the Bear Lake Road made the normally scenic drive into the park seem a bit muted and dull, which I had never experienced before in the park. Within 15 minutes we had arrived at the Fern Lake Trailhead, and nonetheless barely waited for our Jeep to stop moving before our feet were already pounding the gravel.
The trail to The Pool is an out-and-back that is 1.7 miles each way. It goes on to connect to a seemingly endless network of trails, including Cub Lake, Bear Lake, and all the way to Longs Peak, if one were ambitious enough to give it a try
The sounds of the Big Thompson River accompany you the entire length of the way to the pools, even when the river tries to hide itself behind a lining of mixed pine and aspen trees. Look closely, and you are likely to see the handiwork of a few beavers at work along its banks as well. We were fortunate enough to meet a pair of large dusky grouse along the way, foraging some small bushes.
Hiking to The Pool is almost rhythmic, as the trail peeks out of the shadows to an occasional setting of wildflowers and regional grasses, opening itself just long enough for a quick glimpse of the surrounding landscape. Another few steps, another view, and before you know it, you have hit an old timber bridge that crosses The Pool.
From the bridge we took a few moments to enjoy the sounds of the Big Thompson River, rejuvenated just upstream from the Spruce and Fern Creeks., and we took a few dim pictures, realizing that the impending dusk was telling us to start heading back.
At 8,280', The Pool is really an easy hike for the entire family, and would even be a good choice for most out-of-towners who might be a bit timid of our state's elevation. I have also come to find out it is one of the park's suggested four-season trails, which means I may be back again in the winter to experience it again, underneath a blanket of snow.