Fantastic Family Hike to Fern Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

I can feel the frustration coming out in my writing when I look back at the last time we made it to Fern Falls with a Fussy Baby.

This time around, I hope I can express my delight with this waterfall hike. We ventured out on May 25th, the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. Although the Rocky Mountain National Park filled up with visitors over the holiday, we lucked out with great parking* close to the Fern Falls trailhead.

A highlight of this lower elevation* hike is the nearly constant view of the Big Thompson River. Most of the hike is very child friendly as long as you watch out for little ones wandering too close to the river, or getting too adventurous on the amazing rock formations.

Big Thompson River

Arch Rocks

We started the hike with the hopes of making it to Arch Rocks (1.2 miles) or The Pool (1.7 miles) if we were lucky, but the girls were doing so awesome we decided to hike to Fern Falls which is 2.6 miles each way. That’s a little far for our kids to hike on their own, so we carried them a lot of the way in a deuter kids carrier and an ergo baby carrier.

kids hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park

The distance from The Pool to Fern Falls is a little under a mile, but you gain 400 feet of elevation quickly. I was out of breath but had to remind myself that I was carrying a 16-month-old toddler.

The hike up was totally worth it. Everyone was in a great mood and the waterfall was impressive.

Fern Falls lives up to its name, the surrounding area is lush and damp. We didn’t stop long because mosquitoes were swarming the area.

Trip Tips:

*Fern Lake trailhead has a small non-paved parking area. The road leading to the trailhead becomes narrow for two-way vehicle traffic. There is shuttle service and some additional parking .8 miles away from the trailhead.

*Fern Falls trailhead begins at 8,150 ft of elevation so when I say ‘lower elevation’ I mean  low compared to many places in RMNP, but high for those of us from non-mountain regions. Remember to take it easy and drink lots of water!

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Rocky Mountain National Park Art

We’ve been admiring the work of Erik Stensland’s for years. He is a talented  photographer who captures the beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park. We’ve strolled through his galleries in Estes Park and Grand Lake countless times trying to decide on our favorite piece. We’ve endlessly flipped through his award-winning book, Wild Light which was given to us as a gift. And now we have finally decided on a print for our home!

With hundreds of breathtaking images to choose from it was hard to narrow down. We ultimately chose ‘The Oasis‘ and had it printed on the Plaque on Plaque format so it stands out on our wall. Taken in a peaceful setting in the backcountry of Rocky Mountain National Park, this picture inspires calm serenity. I can sit and look at it, imaging that I am sitting by the mountain lake in a moment of peaceful solitude.

You can see this image and hundreds of other amazing shots online at imagesorrmnp.com or at Stensland’s galleries when you are visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. They are located at: 203 Park Lane in Estes Park, CO and in Studio 8369 at 1117 Grand Avenue in Grand Lake, CO.

Pro Tip – If you are planning a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park this Spring and want to take your own great photographs, Erik gives great advice on his website. He suggests taking pictures 15 minutes before and after sunrise and sunset to get the best lighting. You can basically put your camera down for the rest of the day and just take in the beauty around you.

One of our favorite early season hikes is Deer Mountain which I wrote about here and you can’t go wrong with a short stroll around Lily Lake or Sprague Lake.

The Oasis, Backcountry in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photography by ImagesofRMNP

How to Reserve Camping Spots in Rocky Mountain National Park

I’m nervous and excited to go on our first camping trip in Rocky Mountain National Park this summer. I grew up camping with my family and have fond memories of setting up our tent, cooking meals over campfires, looking up at a big, black sky filled with more stars than I could imagine, and listening to frogs and insects chirping loudly while I tried to fall asleep.

I also remember lots of dirt, bug spray and the occasional upset stomach that would interrupt our fun. So, I think I’m heading into this adventure with a realistic approach to how camping with a 3-year-old and 1-year-old might go. Here’s my tentative game plan:

  1. Reserve our camping spot in Rocky Mountain National Park.
  2. Research by asking friends who have camped with little ones what to pack. I’m especially interested in what my 1-year-old should sleep in. And of course I made a ‘camping with toddlers’ pinterest board!
  3. Borrow and buy necessary camping gear.
  4. Plan trial runs by camping close to our home in Kansas City.
  5. Head out to Colorado! We will stay at a condo or cabin before and after our camping adventure to extend our trip. I’m only brave enough to camp one night this first time.

A couple of the Park’s camping sites are first-come first-serve, but most of the sites are by reservation. You can make reservations up to six months in advance and they fill up fast. I went to the National Park Service’s website to reserve the spot. You can also call (877) 444-6777.

We decided to reserve a spot in the Glacier Basin Campground because it is close to Sprague Lake, one of our favorite kid-friendly hiking spots. Our camping usage fee is $26.00/night. I chose a tent only, non-electric spot which is fairly close to a restroom with flush toilet. The cost does not include entrance fees to get into the park. You can learn more about RMNP entrance fees and annual passes here.

Stay in Touch with Standardized Vacations

Gretchen Rubin and Liz Craft spoke about the idea of the ‘standardized vacation’ on their most recent Happier podcast. If you aren’t familiar with Gretchen, she is a top-selling author of several books including The Happiness Project. Her co-host, Liz is an accomplished Hollywood writer and producer. They are sisters who are originally from my hometown of Kansas City, so obviously I’m a big fan.

When they started talking about the concept of the standardized vacation I thought it sounded terribly boring. A standardized vacation could mean having a trip planned on the same dates each year, to the same place, with the same people, doing the same activities, and dishing out the same planning responsibilities. There is some flexibility allowed in these factors of course, but the goal would be to get the vacation set on the calendar and to reduce ‘decision fatigue’.

The more I thought of it, the more I fell in love with suggesting a standard-ish vacation to an amazing, adventure-loving friend of mine who is moving across the country this month. Knowing we will have something on our calendar each year would help us make sure years don’t slip by without seeing one another… and that actually does make me feel a little happier!

Do you use the concept of standardized vacations to make planning family vacations easier or to stay in contact with friends and relatives? Any tips? 

4 Great Reasons to Visit Grand Lake, Colorado with Kids

One of my friends recently asked if I would recommend bringing two young kids to Grand Lake, Colorado.

My answer is yes! Although I love the East side of Rocky Mountain National Park and go there more often, the West side of RMNP which is near the mountain town of Grand Lake has a ton to offer families who are seeking outdoor adventures.

  1. Highlights of our trips to the West side of the park include frequent wildlife spotting including elk and moose.
  2. Grand Lake is typically less busy than Estes Park. This means you will most likely benefit from shorter lines at the national park entrance and less trouble finding parking spots downtown. However, this also could mean there are fewer options for restaurants and entertainment.
  3. I enjoy Grand Lake’s laid back vibe. They have a playground that my littles love to play on before grabbing an ice cream cone and walking along the shore of Grand Lake, the largest natural lake in Colorado. I’m always impressed by the colorful displays of flowers around town. Local residents seem to take great pride in their beautiful home.
  4. Outdoor Adventures include water recreation such as boating, swimming and paddle boarding. You can also go hiking – some of our favorite spots include Coyote Valley (which I wrote about here), Lake Irene and Adams Falls. There are many short hikes, picnic spots and attractions we haven’t had a chance to explore yet including the Holzwarth Historic Site.

Did you know Rocky Mountain National Park has its own podcast? We listened to an episode titled, “Getting Wild on Rocky’s West Side” which was a great resource for learning more about Holzwarth. Additional resources when planning a trip to Grand Lake include grandlakechamber.com and visitgrandcounty.com.

Although there are adventures to be had year-round in Grand Lake some top attractions are only open seasonally including Trail Ridge Road. The scenic highway typically opens at the end of May depending on the weather. You can learn about road conditions on the National Park’s website.

Lake Irene in Rocky Mountain National Park
Lake Irene in Rocky Mountains
Grand Lake is great for families
Grand Lake – toddler fun
Grand Lake Colorado downtown with baby
Swinging in Grand Lake

Holding on to a Beautiful Dream

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It seems like a distant memory – my first trip to Rocky Mountain National Park with my husband. We were well rested, very in love newly weds and we had a fantastic weekend full of amazing hikes. The first hike he took me on was up Twin Sisters. We also went to Flattop and Timberline Falls.

When we had our first daughter we were determined to keep hiking. We purchased our condo and took the voyage across Kansas to Colorado as often as we could.

A year later I found out I was pregnant with our second baby on Memorial Day weekend in Estes Park. We had just hiked up to Gem Lake and I felt a little too tired 🙂 Even during early/mid pregnancy I continued to hike pretty good distances and loved every minute. Soon after Evy was born we headed out to Colorado – even though it was snowing!

Now, looking forward to the summer ahead I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’m not sure why traveling and hiking with a 3-year-old and 1-year-old seems so much more daunting? I keep asking myself, will our trips be worth the long drives and the changes in routine? Will we even be able to go on hikes over 1 mile this year?

After some serious soul-searching and discussions with my husband I think the answer is yes – it will be daunting. And, I don’t know how many hikes we will do over 1 mile. But, most importantly YES it will be worth it. 

So, I’m going to take the next month or so brainstorming all the amazing, realistic mountain activities we can enjoy at this specific time in our lives. The girls are so much fun and I know we are going to have a blast.

I believe as they hike further and further on their own two little feet, they will gain confidence that will boost their self-esteem throughout life. I believe being out in nature is good for our souls. I believe having screen free family time is valuable beyond measure. So bring on the tantrums, the challenges, the tests …. we got this! We are not giving up on our beautiful dreams.

Fat Tuesday Fun in Estes Park

The American Legion is hosting a Fat Tuesday party this Tuesday, February 13, 2018 from 6pm to 9pm in Estes Park, Colorado. Mountain Mardi Gras is open to the public and will feature a Gumbo contest, live music by the band Nexus,  costume contest and more! The American Legion is partnering with Lumpy Ridge Brewery, Elkins Distilling Co and Estes Arts District. The American Legion Hall is located at 850 N Saint Vrain Avenue. There is a $5 entrance fee. More information can be found online at estesartdistrict.org.

According to their website, the Estes Arts District is ‘an inclusive organization that embraces a broad definition of art including the visual, performance, and literary arts; craft manufacturing (for example: brewed, culinary, and handmade goods); and all other creative expressions of the human spirit.’ You can find future community art events on their online calendar.