Guide for Things to do in Estes Park, Colorado This Winter – 1 Day Itinerary

breakfast at a local coffee shop

The first thing on my mind when I wake up on a cold winter morning is drinking a warm cup of coffee. Our day started in downtown Estes Park at our favorite local coffee shop, Kind Coffee. I featured Kind Coffee when I wrote about the Best Places to Have a ‘Cup of Cheer’ in Estes Park. My girls were delighted to get hot chocolates. Along with our coffees, I ordered oatmeal and my husband enjoyed a breakfast burrito.

sledding in rocky mountain national park

The highlight of our day was going sledding as a family. After breakfast, we headed into Rocky Mountain National Park towards Hidden Valley. It is the only place within the park where you are allowed to go sledding. We were immediately hit with a strong blast of winter wind when we opened the doors to our SUV. We bundled up and started walking up hill to find the perfect sled run. Thankfully, the tall pines blocked the gusts. We flew down the hill on our little blue sled. We took turns – I was secretly competing with my husband to see how far I could make the sled go.

sledding at hidden valley in rocky mountain national park

Winter Hike at Lily Lake

After everyone had enough sledding, we decided to head over to Lily Lake for a short winter hike. The lake was mostly frozen over, but not solid. The wind made a marble pattern across the top. We enjoyed views of Longs Peak, the highest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Lily Lake frozen in ice. Views of Longs Peak, the highest mountain in rocky mountain national park

lunch

For lunch we went to my husband’s favorite sandwich shop. Scratch Deli makes fresh, delicious sandwiches. We took our meals back to our cabin and enjoyed lunch around our table. After lunch, we rested for awhile. We took showers and changed out of our snow gear. The girls happily played with each other, but refused to nap.

afternoon scenic drive around estes park

We decided to carry out our secret nap plan. An afternoon drive is a great way to explore the surrounding area. We saw a large herd of elk near our cabin. The girls drifted off to sleep as we cruised along the curvy mountain roads.

herd of elk in rocky mountain national park

shop estes park

In the late afternoon, we headed back to downtown Estes Park to go shopping. Cliffhanger Used Books is my favorite place to shop. I picked out three novels and several children’s books. Our total was under $20. Proceeds benefit the Estes Valley Library.

wine tasting in estes park

Happy with my deals, we walked further down the block to do a wine tasting at Snowy Peaks winery. The girls enjoyed their colorful play room and got to pick out a special rock from their treasure chest after they cleaned up the toys that entertained them while we sipped local wines.

family dinner in downtown estes park

For dinner we headed to a restaurant that has become a family-tradition, Mama Rose’s. The girls shared a milk flight and enjoyed spaghetti (our oldest) and meatballs (our youngest).

mountain retreat

After a full day, we headed back to our cabin. On a short trip, it’s hard to decide what to fit in. I hope our winter 1-day winter itinerary is helpful for anyone planning a trip to Estes Park this season. If you have any questions or suggestions, please comment below.

Winter Hike to Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

Flying out of Northwest Arkansas regional airport (xna) to Denver

Last week we took a spontaneous trip out to Rocky Mountain National Park to play in the snow. It was the first time that I flew out of the airport in Northwest Arkansas. I was impressed with the ease of the small airport. We were able to walk from our parking spot right into the airport. Parking was less than $10/day. We easily found our gate and there were several places to grab a meal or purchase a magazine.

Family amenities at XNA include a giant chess board
Family amenities at XNA include a giant chess board.

It was also the first time I attempted to fly with both girls without my husband. Since we were flying out of a small airport, the plane we traveled in had two seats on each side. The girls (ages 5 and 2) sat on one side of the aisle, and I sat on the other. Loaded with Kindles and Halloween leftovers, we happily made it through the two-hour flight to Denver.

Ready for take off from Northwest Arkansas Airport to Denver Colorado
Ready for take off!

The contrast between the airport in Northwest Arkansas and the busy Denver International Airport was huge. Luckily, I have some experience navigating the Denver airport. We were happy when we spotted my husband waiting for us at arrivals after getting off the train between concourses. With work visits scheduled along the way, he drove out to Colorado on his own, bringing our luggage and vehicle with him.

Hiking in the snow – alberta falls

Once in Colorado, we were ready to get out in the snow. We bundled up our family and headed into Rocky Mountain National Park. We decided to hike to Alberta Falls beginning at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead which sits at 9,180 ft. in elevation.

Glacier Gorge trailhead to Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

At this altitude, there was a lot of snow and ice on the trail, so my husband and I both wore Yaktrax on our shoes to help with traction.

Yaktraxs help with traction in the snow
Yaktraks on hiking boots help with traction in snow.

The hike gains 220 ft of elevation and is a little under 1 mile each way. Our oldest daughter was able to hike most of it on her own. She did some slipping and sliding, so we were careful to hold her hand in spots we thought might be precarious.

winter hiking in rocky mountain national park

The weather was cold, but since we bundled up and kept moving, we felt pretty comfortable with the trees protecting us from the wind and the sun shining above.

kid friendly hiking in rocky mountain national park

The trail to Alberta Falls is well maintained, even in the snow. This is a very popular trail during the peak summer months. Many times when the Glacier Gorge parking lot is full, we have started this hike from Bear Lake.

trail signage to alberta falls and bear lake in rocky mountain national park.

We think Alberta Falls is one of the Best Waterfall Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. This was my first time hiking to Alberta Falls during the late fall/winter season. The snow and ice looked like a layer of sparkling white icing on the cliffs and boulders.

ice and snow in rocky mountain national park.

Alberta Falls is a powerful waterfall, but on this visit there was little visual evidence. Buried under the snow and ice, we could still hear water rushing underneath.

alberta falls covered in snow

The trip back down to the trailhead was equally as beautiful as the journey up. I didn’t mind when my daughter frequently stopped to practice writing her name in the snow with a stick ‘wand’ she found, because I could look up and see snow dusted mountains towering in the distance.

snow covered mountains in rocky mountain national park

The highlight of the trail for the girls was when their Dad slid down the final steep hill with them.

sliding down snow covered hill in rocky mountain national park

I highly recommend hiking to Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park anytime of year. If you want a quiet hike and a front-row seat to see this landmark, winter is a great time to visit.

If you plan to hike during the winter, make sure to keep an eye on the weather and talk to the helpful park rangers about trail and road conditions. I got the trail stats for this post from one of our favorite guide books, Rocky Mountain National Park: The Complete Hiking Guide by Lisa Foster.

More snowy hikes in rocky mountain national park

A Winter Walk in Moraine Park That’s Worth Freezing For

Frozen river in Moraine Park
We chose Moraine Park because at 8,080 ft of elevation there is substantially less snow compared to areas of the park with higher altitude.

Lily Lake Loop on a Snowy Spring Morning

Winter hike around Lily Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
Snow covered hike around Lily Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Hike Envy: The Awesome Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park That I Did Not Go On, But You Should

Kids make trips to the mountains fun in so many ways. However, with two young girls, the number of long distance hikes my husband and I can go on are limited. One of the keys to our vacation happiness, is giving each other time to go on adventures while the other person stays back and plays with our kids. On a recent trip, I was excited that my husband could take my brother on one of our favorite hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

I was pretty jealous of their adventure, but not jealous about their alarm clock. They woke up before dawn and started the hike up to Hallett Peak in the dark with head lamps on. Since they arrived so early (5:25am), they were able to find a parking spot near Bear Lake which can be difficult to do on holiday weekends. (we went on Labor Day weekend)

Early start to hike up Hallett Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park
Early start to hike up Hallett Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park

Hallett reaches 12,713 ft in elevation. The hike is 10 miles round-trip and involves a bit of class 2 scramble to reach the final destination. From the Bear Lake trailhead, the route follows the easy to follow trail to the summit of Flattop mountain for the first 4.4 miles, passing scenic overlooks of Dream Lake and Emerald Lake (link) along the way.

Sunrise view of Longs Peak from Flattop Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park
Sunrise view of Longs Peak from Flattop Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park
Sunrise view of Bierstadt Lake and Sprague Lake in the distance from Flattop trail
Sunrise view of Bierstadt Lake and Sprague Lake in the distance from Flattop trail
Emerald Lake Overlook

To reach Hallet from the aptly named summit of Flattop, hikers must do a bit of route finding, following cairns off-trail (trying to stay on hard surfaces to avoid damaging the fragile tundra flowers and plants). The route is relatively flat as it skirts around Tyndall Glacier on the left, but then gains nearly 400 feet of elevation in the last quarter-mile scramble to the summit. Its a fun challenge, with minimal exposure to steep drop-offs, though a turned ankle this far away from the car would still be miserable.

My brother hiking to Hallett Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park
My brother hiking to Hallett Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park
Approaching summit of Hallett Peak
Approaching summit of Hallett Peak

The views from the top are amazing in all directions, from the Estes Valley, to Longs Peak, and even over to Grand Lake and the Never Summer Mountains to the west.

Eric on the summit of Hallett Peak
My husband on the summit of Hallett Peak

After snapping a few photos and taking a brief rest, they headed back down the mountain to Bear Lake with a round-trip time of just under 5 hours. I was very impressed that they were back in time for us all to go out to lunch together!

Arkansas Hike: Triple Falls (Twin Falls) near Buffalo National River

The leaves are beginning to change and the morning air is crisp and cool. We set out last weekend to drive through the scenic towns of Ponca and Jasper which sit along the Buffalo National River in Arkansas. This drive features towering bluffs, river views, fall foliage, and even a chance to spot elk which live in the Boxley Valley near Ponca.

triple Falls (twin falls)

The highlight of our day trip was a hike to Twin Falls, also known as Triple Falls. To get there, take highway 74 and turn on to Camp Orr road by Kyle’s Landing. The gravel/dirt road is well maintained, but very steep. Don’t attempt to drive down this road without a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. We stopped several times to rest our brakes so they wouldn’t burn up.

how to get to twin falls near ponca and jasper, buffalo river area hike.
Steep gravel road leading to Triple Falls (Twin Falls) hike

There is a small parking lot and signage to point you in the direction of the falls. The hike is only .3 miles each way. I still can’t believe that we walked such a short distance to find such a gorgeous spot.

twin falls near ponca and jasper, buffalo river area hike. waterfall hike.
Twin Falls signage

Perhaps the most confusing part of this hike is that it’s referred to as Triple Falls Trail on hiking sites such as AllTrails, however the official name is Twin Falls.

twin falls near ponca and jasper, buffalo river area hike. waterfall hike.
The trail leads along a pretty creek. Our girls (ages 2 and 4) were able to walk on their own.
twin falls near ponca and jasper, buffalo river area hike. waterfall hike. short and family friendly hike in arkansas.
We held their hands to cross over slippery rocks near the falls. I’ve learned (the hard way) that I’d rather get our feet a little wet than falling on rocks.
twin falls near ponca and jasper, buffalo river area hike. waterfall hike. short and family friendly hike in arkansas.
Our girls loved playing in the flat area near the falls. They could spend hours throwing rocks into creek beds.
twin falls near ponca and jasper, buffalo river area hike. waterfall hike. short and family friendly hike in arkansas.
Taking in the beautiful falls
twin falls (also known as triple falls) near ponca and jasper, buffalo river area hike. waterfall hike. short and family friendly hike in arkansas.
Our daughter enjoys taking her own pictures on short hikes like this one
twin falls near ponca and jasper, buffalo river area hike. waterfall hike. short and family friendly hike in arkansas.
A kind fellow-hiker offered to take our family’s picture. She captured one of the rare occasions that we were all looking in the same general direction.
twin falls (also known as triple falls) near ponca and jasper, buffalo river area hike. waterfall hike. short and family friendly hike in arkansas.
When there is enough rain, you will see three waterfalls (rather than the two which the falls are named for).
twin falls (also known as triple falls) near ponca and jasper, buffalo river area hike. waterfall hike. short and family friendly hike in arkansas.

When we turned back towards our car to continue our drive, our girls asked if we could stay longer. That’s a big win! If you are looking for a fun family-friendly adventure near Ponca and Jasper, I highly recommend checking out Twin Falls.

For a slightly longer adventure, check out the Lost Valley hike which is located nearby.