Estes Park to Grand Lake

Today I’m sharing about a recent day trip from Estes Park, Colorado to Grand Lake, Colorado. We typically make this voyage several times each summer because we enjoy it so much.

We always rise early to start our mountain adventures, but this year we have an extra reason to get an early start. Rocky Mountain National Park’s new timed-entry permit system is designed to help regulate traffic. If you get into the park before 9:00 AM or after 3PM, you don’t need to worry about a permit to drive over to Grand Lake. However, you still need a park entry pass. There is more information on the national park’s website.

We traveled over Trail Ridge Road to the Alpine Visitor Center. When we went in early June, the seasonal highway had just opened so the snow was still piled high from a recent storm.

We didn’t realize that the Alpine Visitor Center has reduced hours in the late spring, so we waited around a little bit until they opened the doors at 10:30 AM. (Starting June 13, the doors open at 9:30 AM). At the visitor center we purchased a RMNP animals themed puzzle and some postcards to send to friends and family back home. We also enjoyed a cinnamon roll and hot chocolate in the cafe.

As we continued our drive down Trail Ridge Road towards Grand Lake, Colorado, it was shocking to see the wrath of the 2020 wildfires that burned 30,000 acres of the national park. Even though the fires are no longer roaring, some areas remain dangerous because of higher risks for falling trees, landslides, and flash flooding. Before planning a hike, it’s a good idea to check the National Park’s website for current closed areas (here) and to visit park visitors centers to get the latest trail information.

The fire not only impacted the forest, but also the people who live nearby. An art exhibit called Troublesome Stories: Tales from the wildfire opened in the town of Grand Lake. The gallery is free to the public. You can learn more here.

We were relieved to see that the hike into the East Meadow was open. The hike to East Meadow begins at the East Inlet trailhead at 8,390 ft in elevation. We followed the East Inlet trail for .3 miles to Adams Falls.

Adams Falls

This is one of our favorite hikes on the West side of Rocky Mountain National Park because it is beautiful and easy for our young kids to hike on their own. We wrote more about this destination in our post, Peaceful Hike to East Meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park.

On the way to East Meadow

Past the falls and into the meadow, we spotted a moose in the distance.

Moose in Rocky Mountain National Park
East Meadow

Grand lake colorado restaurants

We spent a little time in the meadow before turning around to head back to the trailhead. We worked up an appetite on our hike and decided to try a new Caribbean restaurant called One Love Rum Kitchen. We were able to get a picnic table outside where we enjoyed our meal. My husband and I enjoyed the flavorful blend of spices that they used to season the food. Our kids prefer basic flavors.

Next, we strolled down to Grand Lake where the girls (ages 4 and 6) enjoyed splashing in the water and playing in sand. This was the highlight of the day for them.

Our last stop was for a scoop of ice cream at Grand Lake Chocolates. Then we started our journey back over Trail Ridge Road to our cabin in Estes Park. The distance between Estes Park and Grand Lake is 46.5 miles and when I googled it this morning, it says it takes an hour and a half. I would plan for at least two hours each way because of traffic and sight-seeing.

Things to do in grand lake colorado

For us, this felt like a full day, but you could easily extend this day trip by adding more hikes. Some of our family’s favorite hikes in this area include the Ute Trailhead, Tundra Communities Trailhead, Alpine Ridge Trail, Lake Irene, and Coyote Valley.

Another way to add on to the day trip is renting a boat or kayak in Grand Lake. Last year we rented a kayak which we wrote about in a post called Kayaking Grand Lake, Colorado.

My final suggestion is to check out the locally owned shops and art galleries on the boardwalk in downtown Grand Lake.

Rocky Mountain National Park with Kids: Alluvial Fan and Sheep Lakes

It has been a few years since I wrote out a suggested itinerary for Rocky Mountain National Park, so today I’m excited to share a mini itenerary that I think is ideal for families with young children.

Animals in Rocky Mountain National Park

If I’m honest, the person who gets the most excited about spotting animals in Rocky Mountain National Park is me. But our kids enjoy spotting wildlife too, and one of the best places to see wildlife is at Sheep Lakes which is located near the Fall River Entrance Station on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park (by Estes Park, Colorado).

When we visited the park in early June, we spotted more bighorn sheep than we’ve ever seen! We also saw a bull moose, elk, and a coyote in the field. Sometimes traffic on the road has to stop so the animals can safely cross. There is a parking lot where you will see excited visitors practicing their wildlife photography with impressive zoom lenses. Or you can be like me and pull out your iPhone to take a quick photo. Either way, it’s a really cool experience and there are usually park rangers stationed at Sheep Lakes to answer questions and help protect visitors and animals by ensuring no one gets too close. Remember, animals need their space.

Bighorn sheep Rocky Mountain National Park
Bighorn sheep rocky mountain national park
Moose at Sheep Lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Best Hikes in Rocky mountain national park For Families

Right down the road from Sheep Lakes you will find the Alluvial Fan which has always been one of our favorite kid-friendly waterfall hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. Thanks to recent renovations, this destination has become even more accessible and beautiful. According to a recent story in the Denver Post, ‘The trail surface is made of FilterPave, which feels solid underfoot — sort of like a backyard patio floor — but is porous to allow for drainage.’

The National Park’s website describes the Alluvial Fan as ‘a beautiful cascade of water flowing down through a boulder field.’ The Alluvial Fan was created when a dam broke at Lawn Lake in 1892.

Alluvial Fan

3 great ways to add on to this adventure

Before arriving in the national park, consider stopping at the Fall River Visitor Center which is located right off Hwy 36. The visitor center has educational displays about the park and helpful staff to answer questions. The visitor center is attached to a huge gift shop and Trailhead Restaurant. This is a great spot to order breakfast and sit on the back deck that overlooks Deer Mountain. We also appreciate the fenced in playground next to the restaurant. At the Gateway, there is a stable where visitors can go on guided rides into Rocky Mountain National Park. I wrote about my horseback riding experience here.

family photo in estes park colorado

Another way to add on to an outing to the Alluvial Fan is to bring a picnic lunch to the nearby Endovalley Picnic Area. Picnic lunches are one of our favorite family-friendly activities in Rocky Mountain National Park. We wrote about five more of our favorite picnic spots here.

My last suggestion for an add-on adventure is to drive up Old Fall River Road to the Alpine Visitor Center. This is a narrow, one-way road that starts at the Endovalley Picnic Area and winds all the way up into the tundra at Fall River Pass. Make sure to stop at Chasm Falls on the way up. Since it is one-way, you take Trail Ridge Road back down towards Estes Park. There are many pull-outs to take pictures and trails to go on breathtaking hikes on the tundra. Old Fall River Road is seasonal. It typically is open to vehicles July 4 through September, however even in the summer, it’s always a good idea to check on road and weather conditions before taking this journey.

When the road is closed to vehicle traffic, visitors use the trail for walking, jogging, and biking. Dogs aren’t allowed on trails in RMNP, but since this is a road, it is one of the few places that dogs are welcome to go on a hike with you inside the national park. We wrote about our hike up Old Fall River Road here.

Chasm Falls off of Old Fall River Road

Weather in Rocky Mountain National Park

‘Unpredictable weather alternates between warm and cold, wet and dry.’ – National Park Service

The summer is flying by. I want to stop and remember the sweet moments, so today I’m going back to write about our first adventure of the summer. We are always excited to take our annual Memorial Day trip to Estes Park, Colorado, but this year felt extra special because we had the opportunity to share our favorite spots with some of our best friends.

This was our friends’ first visit to Colorado, so they were excited to explore. Unfortunately, for the first couple days of our trip, the weather was overcast, cold, and rainy. Despite the gloomy skies, I was impressed with everyone’s positive attitudes and willingness to get out and hike.

Packing for trip to Estes Park, Colorado
Welcome to Colorado!

Weather in rocky mountain national park

Preparing for the trip, my friend asked me what to pack. It’s a tougher question than you might think because the weather in Rocky Mountain National Park seems to always be changing. I suggested packing warm coats in case it snows, water-proof items in case it rains, and shorts for when it is sunny. Good thing they have a minivan to fit it all in, right? We typically wear comfortable layers because we’ve experienced all of these weather conditions in one day – especially when we drive up the mountain to higher elevation.

The perfect evidence of this can be seen live on Rocky Mountain National Park’s webcams. As I write, the mid-day temperature listed on the Continental Divide webcam says 71.6 F while the Alpine Visitor Center webcam reads 48.2 F.

The National Park has resources on their website that give up-to-date information for weather in Rocky Mountain National Park. This includes current road conditions , current trail conditions, and Rocky Mountain National Park weather trends by season.

Best Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park: Early Season Hikes

We consider early season hikes ones that are lower in elevation because snow is common on trails in late spring and early summer in popular destinations like Bear Lake. Check out our post about Lower Elevation Hikes for ideas.

On this trip, we chose Lily Lake/ Lily Ridge for its views of Longs Peak and Twin Sisters Peaks and accessible path that’s easy for kids. The hike around Lily Lake remains one of our favorite short hikes in the park. Adding on Lily Ridge makes the hike a little more challenging, but I think the views are worth it.

Lily Ridge in Rocky Mountain National Park
Hike up Lily Ridge

Next, we hiked in the Wild Basin up to Calypso Cascades. With so much rain and snow melt, we had to be careful in the Wild Basin as we hiked near waterfalls and rushing streams. The kids all did a great job staying on the path. Near Calypso Cascades, there were even a few spots of snow on the trail. The kids thought it was the coolest part.

This hike was a little more challenging for our crew. It is 1.8 miles each way and gains 780 feet of elevation. We didn’t hear any grumbles though, perhaps the key to complain-free hiking is inviting a best buddy along.

Weather in Rocky Mountain National park
rain, rain, go away!
Weather in Rocky Mountain National park
Copeland Falls in Wild Basin
Wild Basin trail
Calypso Cascades RMNP

Beyond hiking, we enjoyed staying dry inside by visiting some of our favorite Estes Park restaurants including Latitude 105.

Estes Park restaurants
sharing a lemonade at Latitude 101

I was thankful the dads offered to hang out with the kids for a few hours so my friend and I could get some much-needed girl-chat at Snowy Peaks Winery.

Estes Park winery

Overall, I hope that our friends had a good first trip to Colorado (despite the colder weather). We loved sharing Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park with them!

Missouri Lavender Farm

I just got back from a relaxing weekend in Columbia, Missouri. One of the highlights of the trip was visiting the Battlefield Lavender Farm in Centralia, Missouri, which is about 25 minutes from Columbia.

My sister pre-purchased our reservations online. The tickets were $6.00 each. You can order tickets here.

We decided to clip a mixed bundle of lavender from the wide variety growing on the farm and were provided with an adorable wooden crate, measuring guide, and clippers. Several of the lavender varieties are edible and could be used for cooking.

Once our lavender was picked, we headed into their barn to pay for the bundle ($15) and view the lavender merchandise. I bought a lovely lavender hand lotion, and my sister purchased a linen spray and lavender soap. I regret not buying more because I think the items would make such unique and thoughtful gifts. On the bright side, I have a good excuse to go back!

After picking lavender in the heat of the summer, we treated ourselves to a refreshing scoop of ice cream at Sparky’s in downtown Columbia. Inspired by our excursion, I ordered the honey lavender flavor.

My sister and I split our bundle of lavender. I brought my half back home and will have it hanging up for the next few weeks to dry.

Overall, I would recommend a visit to Battlefield Lavender Farm, especially for a ladies outing or a romantic date. I don’t know if my little ones (ages 4 and 6) would have been able to trim the lavender safely – for them or the plant. There was also a lot of bees, which is awesome for pollination, but something to keep in mind for those with allergies. Picking season is short, so check out their website or follow the farm on social media @battlefieldlavender for all the details!