Uintah Basin Road Trip | Days 6 & 7 | Driving from Dinosaur National Monument to Omaha, NE | Hiking to Fish Creek Falls & Zimmerman Lake | Entering our Last Nebraska Counties | May 2022
After a very enjoyable few days spent in the Uintah Basin, it was time to make our way back East. We were excited to drive through the snowy Rockies, and were thankful to have a clear day to do so. We packed up our campsite one last time in Dinosaur National Monument and returned to US-40 to start our drive East.
Today’s plan was to drive through and enjoy our time in the Rockies, stay at a hotel in Fort Collins that evening, and then finish our drive home the following day. I made a short list of “easy” hikes we could do to break up the drive.
The first hike was to Fish Creek Falls in Steamboat Springs, CO. The number of signs directing us to the trailhead and the large parking lot indicated that this is potentially a popular hike in the tourist season, but luckily since we were in the shoulder season we were some of the only ones there — the theme of this vacation! The trail was mostly paved and clear of snow, so we hiked a loop first up to a higher viewpoint of the falls, then down besides the creek. The falls were very full from snow melt, and Curtis said this hike exceeded his expectations, especially considering how easy it is!
From here, it was time to cross over the Continental Divide at Rabbit Ears Pass, where we turned off of US-40 and began taking CO-14 East for a new highway and a new county. As we drove along the headwaters of the North Platte we admired the extensive snow capped peaks of the Medicine Bow Range to the East and Mount Zirkel and the Park Range to the West. The views of course were spectacular and we soaked it all in knowing we’d be heading back to the flat Midwest the next day.
Another hike that I had wanted to do was the trail to Lake Agnes within the State Forest. However, we found that because the roads to the trailhead were still snow-covered, we would have to park right off the highway and add 2 miles to our hike each way. We were disappointed because even from where we were, we could see the jagged peaks that stand behind the lake and knew the views up there would be even better.
Instead, we drove a little further East to the trailhead to Zimmerman Lake. This one was just over a mile to reach the lake, and we felt it would be better suited for us. As it turned out, even the elevation (almost 10,000 feet) combined with the snowshoes on this shorter hike was hard, so in hindsight, we’re glad we didn’t go for the longer hike. This was our first time hiking in the Rockies with this much snow, which while it was technically spring there was still a considerable amount — enough so that we could only see the very top of the sign at the trailhead! This was also the first and only time we were able to use our snowshoes this winter. They probably weren’t necessary, but I liked having a little extra traction when walking up the slanted trail. My heart was pounding as I slowly climbed up the switchbacks, and we even considered not finishing, but we pushed through and made it to the lake — which had a thick layer of snow covering it so you couldn’t even tell it was a lake. Oh well, we did it, and thankfully the walk back down was much easier!
We continued our drive on CO-14 through the scenic Cache la Poudre Canyon, through a recent burn area, out onto the plains, and finally into Fort Collins. We stayed in the La Quinta, which has become our favorite hotel chain because of being cost effective and not charging for pets, and this one might be the nicest one we’ve seen. The had a bar with a good happy hour special that we took advantage of, and we also got delicious burritos from Hacienda Real which was right across the street.
The next day was our final day of vacation, and even though all were doing was driving across Nebraska it would be an exciting day for us. We would be entering our final two counties in Nebraska, making it our eighth state completion! We drove CO-14 to US-6 retracing some of the route from our Panhandle trip last May, then Northeast on CO/NE-23 at Holyoke. The sky was overcast and we lost about a half hour due to a train in Ault, CO (and stubborn traffic in front of us that blocked us from turning to get around it). We entered into Perkins county and stopped to see the courthouse in Grant, then made our way to the Hayes County Courthouse in Hayes Center. There was no direct way to get the 3 courthouses we needed, so this drive was honestly painful, but we just knew that if we could push through and finish this then we wouldn’t have to go out of our way again.
Our final county for Nebraska was Frontier County, and the most direct way to get there from Hayes Center was to drive on several long dirt county roads. It really felt like we had found the most remote part of the state — but then again, we’ve driven many empty roads through the Sandhills and I think that every time. I know people say the “Loneliest Highway in the US” is in Nevada, but I’m convinced that giving a road that title will attract more people, so the actual loneliest highway is somewhere out here in the Midwest.
Anyway, I digress — unfortunately because we weren’t on a main highway, we didn’t get a sign marking our last county, but we had driven so long already that we really didn’t care. We saw the courthouse in Stockville, then finally met up with US-283 and took that up to I-80. We may not enjoy driving on interstates, but at this point it felt good to actually drive fast without stopping until we exited in Omaha.
And that wraps up our adventure — I don’t want to say it’s our favorite because we’ve taken so many good trips, but this one had so many highlights of places that are now our “favorite,” such as a new favorite National Monument, state park, place we’ve kayaked, arch, and more. And being able to travel during the shoulder season with less people and cooler weather made it even more enjoyable. Hopefully it won’t be another 6 years before we travel to Utah again!