Emerald Lake is one of the most iconic destinations in Rocky Mountain National Park. If you haven’t taken the trip past Nymph Lake and Dream Lake to visit this inspiring spot, I highly recommend it. It’s one of our favorite 2-4 mile hikes in the park.
However, if you are looking for a greater challenge, you can see Emerald Lake from a whole new perspective by hiking from Bear Lake up to the Emerald Lake Lookout via the Flattop Mountain trail. The starting elevation at Bear Lake is 9,475 ft. and the trail continues to gain elevation from this point.
We took this trip back in July of 2015 with our friends who wanted to hike up to the summit of Flattop Mountain. We had our daughter with us who was about 8-months-old at the time, so we agreed to hike with them up to the lookout and then hike back down and take a nice stroll around Bear Lake.
The trail leading to Flattop Mountain has spectacular views. From this vantage point, you can also look down at Bierstadt Lake, which is another one of our favorite hiking destinations.
You will pass the Dream Lake overlook at 1.7 miles into the hike. Keep going until you spot the dark green lake and see signage for the Emerald Lake viewpoint.
Our total mileage was about 6.8 miles. (approximately 3 miles up to lookout + 3 miles down to Bear Lake + walk around Bear Lake)
I can’t believe our little baby is 4.5 this summer! I’m really glad that we keep our family’s hiking journal, so I can look back at hikes we’ve taken in the past with fond memories. I wrote more about our hiking journal here.
Last weekend we drove to Lost Valley in Buffalo National River which is located a couple miles from Ponca, Arkansas. We selected this hike for our family because it is relatively short in length at 2.4 miles, and features several caves and waterfalls.
Our 4-year-old walked most of the trail with a lot of hand holding from my husband while I carried my 2-year-old in an Ergo baby on my back. In the summer heat, this was a great workout!
The thing that scares me most about hiking in Missouri and Arkansas is the possibility of running into a snake. We barely got out of our car and I spotted a copperhead taking its time to cross the trail. Copperheads are venomous snakes, so we patiently gave the snake plenty of room until he crossed.
It doesn’t seem likely, but if you happen to get bitten by a snake, I think the closest hospital would be North Arkansas Regional Medical Center in Harrison, Arkansas which is 30-40 minutes away.
But don’t worry… the hike gets better!
We crossed a little creek bed which led to a wide and well-maintained trail, with occasional benches available for a quick rest.
The trail becomes more narrow and steep as you head towards Natural Bridge and Eden Falls.
We passed through a little water to get to Natural Bridge. A fellow hiker warned us that the rocks were slippery.
There was a waterfall running through the rocks. Several older kids climbed through the falls, but we decided to avoid slipping and walked back around to the trail.
The trail featured several other unique rock formations, towering bluffs, and caves.
We continued on towards Eden Falls. The gorgeous 50+ foot waterfall was the highlight of the hike.
Eden Falls cave
We debated whether or not we should continue the hike up to see Eden Falls Cave. Our 4-year-old listened well, held on to her Dad’s hand, and thought it was a fun adventure climbing up the steep and narrow pathway to the top. While we were glad to see the last cave, I wouldn’t take our girls on this section again until they are older. It was a bit too precarious for my comfort.
However, if you don’t have young ones with you, and don’t mind tight spaces, there is another waterfall inside the cave that we hear is worth checking out!
This hike was beautiful and felt like an adventure. We are looking forward to returning to the Buffalo National River to explore more of the outdoor activities this area has to offer.
Good to Know Before you go:
No dogs/pets allowed on the trail
No bikes on trail
We had poor cell phone service in this area, but trail was well marked and easy to find
There is a restroom facility and small picnic pavilion near trail head
This was a popular trail, but there was plenty of parking available on our visit
This summer I’ve rekindled a long lost love. Before marriage, home ownership, and kids, Eric and I spent many weekends racking up miles on the trails near our apartments. Our goal was to ride a two-day 150 mile bike ride. ( MS-150) It felt great when we accomplished our goal, but soon life got busy and our bikes started collecting dust.
Thanks to great babysitter(s), this summer we decided to tune up our bikes and hit the trails in our new home town of Fayetteville, Arkansas. Fayetteville has an amazing trail system including a portion of the Northwest Arkansas Razorback Regional Greenway. If we wanted to, we could ride 36 paved miles (mostly without crossing a road) all the way to Lake Bella Vista, Arkansas. For now, we’ve been sticking closer to home. Here are 5 trails we’ve enjoyed so far this summer:
*We tracked mileage using my husband’s gps watch, so distances given are estimates.
Kessler Mountain to Columbus house
We started at Kessler Mountain parking lot (near the playground) and jumped on the Cato Springs trail which connects Kessler Mountain to the Razorback Greenway system. The first few miles are peaceful and fast moving. Soon we crossed through Walker Park and headed into the lively downtown Fayetteville area. We continued past downtown to North Street where we took a right (East) to get to Columbus House Brewery. We sat outside and enjoyed the local beer before heading back towards Kessler Mountain.
Distance: 11.69 miles*
Kessler Mountain to Fossil cove
We enjoyed Kessler Mountain area so much that we returned for another bike ride. We challenged ourselves to ride a little further on to Poplar Street where we took a right (East) and went toFossil Cove Brewery. We sat outside and ordered pizza from adjacent Wicked Wood Fire Pizza.
Distance: Estimate 13.5 miles, we accidently missed our turn and ended up riding a total of 14.88 miles*
veterans memorial park – lake fayetteville loop
For a shorter ride, we took a quick evening loop around Lake Fayetteville starting at Veterans Memorial Park. Lake Fayetteville can sometimes be a pretty crowded area, but even if you have to slow down to accommodate fellow walkers and bikers, it’s worth it. I enjoy the views of waterfalls, bridges, wildflowers, wildlife, and of course the lake.
Distance: 5.27 miles*
Gordon long park – lake fayetteville
We started at Gordon Long Park and rode towards Lake Fayetteville. Gordon Long trailhead has a playground, several parking spaces and a restroom facility.
My favorite part of this ride was cruising beside several creeks including Scull Creek, Mud Creek, and Clear Creek. My least favorite part was traveling through the long tunnel under Fulbright Expressway which felt a little eerie. We jumped off the trail on Lake Fayetteville Road to grab a bite to eat at the food trucks. I ate street tacos which were tasty and Eric ordered Thai food. Refueled, we finished our loop around Lake Fayetteville and headed back towards Gordon Long. This was a really fun date! To celebrate, we treated ourselves by driving across town to Crisis Brewing Company.
Distance: 12.94 miles*
Veterans memorial park – Luther george park in springdale, arkansas
We started at Veterans Memorial Park and headed towards Lake Fayetteville. We split off the loop to continue on the Razorback Greenway trail north towards Springdale. I was excited to learn about a new section, but this was my least favorite because their was less nature and more road traffic once we left the lake area. It was pretty hot, so we also noticed the lack of shade. We made it to Luther George Park, which looked like a spot my kids would love.
We headed back and continued the loop around Lake Fayetteville. This time it was less crowded and we were able to catch a breeze to cool off. On this ride we were short on time, but if we wanted to sip a local beer we could have easily stopped by Apple Blossom Brewing Company which is close to Veterans Memorial Park.
Distance: 10.5 miles*
I’m thrilled to be exploring our home town via the trail system. I know there is a lot more to enjoy. Cheers to that!
I recently wrote about our family vacation to Santa Fe, New Mexico and talked about our hotel and the local cuisine. This time I’m trying to help answer, “What to do in Santa Fe with Kids”. I think it’s a testament to the destination that most of our favorite activities happen to be free.
Free ART SHOWS
Santa Fe has numerous art and history museums. There is one called Meow Wolf that looks interesting and interactive. However, the admission price for our family would be about $80. (Our youngest could get in free because kids under 3 are free). To save some money, we walked around an outdoor art show where we talked to local artists about their work.
My favorite part of Santa Fe was walking through town and exploring the southwest charm. You can use an online map from SantaFe.org to navigate your way through different areas of town including the Guadalupe District, The Plaza and The Railyard.
Walking helped burn off some of the amazing food we ate during our trip. I wrote about our favorite restaurants here.
Before kids, we occasionally traveled abroad where we staid in tiny hotel rooms and shared sandwiches (and bottles of wine). European vacations with kids seem much less romantic 😉 Now I’m looking for ways we can gain cultural experiences closer to home.
Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the United States. The blend of Anglo, Spanish and Native cultures can be seen in the architecture, food, and art.
The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi
Santa Fe’s Cathedral is located in downtown Santa Fe near The Plaza. The historic cathedral is an active Catholic church with daily Mass. Visitors are also welcome to tour when services aren’t taking place. We took a moment to say a family prayer of gratitude.
We also visited the Loretto Chapel which is known for the Miraculous Staircase. This historic landmark is no longer an active Catholic church, but can be rented out for weddings. There is a fee to tour the chapel.
Parks and Playgrounds in Santa Fe
We are always on the lookout for playgrounds for our girls to burn off their extra energy. Santa Fe, New Mexico has a lot of great public outdoor spaces. I believe one of the reasons Santa Fe prioritizes outdoor parks is the dry climate. Unlike where we are from (where we are worried about rivers flooding), most homes don’t have large, lush lawns because the financial cost and water waste would be too high. The parks help save precious resources and provide recreation – I’m all for that!
Railyard Park is conveniently located within walking distance to our hotel downtown. It is a green park – designed to fit in with the natural surroundings of the mountains. The children’s area includes climbing walls and slides.
Frenchy’s Field/Santa Fe River Trail park was a big hit. We played on the playground’s swings and teeter-totter, then took a scenic stroll on the walking trail around a large open field and down along the river.
We visited Ragle Park which has an impressive-looking slide. Unfortunately the slide was boarded up during our visit. Another disappointment was our failure to make it into Tent Rocks National Monument. We were hoping to hike in the unique rock formations, however we didn’t arrive early enough. The traffic to get into the park was well over an hour.
Mountain Drive from Santa Fe to Taos & Red River
When it was time to go, we were sad to leave Santa Fe behind, but excited to begin the next part of our trip. From Santa Fe, we took a scenic drive to Taos. There are two routes called the “High Road” and the “River Road”. We drove along the “River Road” where we enjoyed views of the Rio Grande and surrounding mountains. You could make a whole day out of this drive. Taos.org provides tips for places to stop along the way.
We continued our drive to Red River, New Mexico for lunch at Red River Brewing Company. Re-energized by our stop, we drove on to the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Southern Colorado.
New Mexico has always held a special place in my heart because of childhood trips I enjoyed there. It was wonderful to return as an adult with my own kids.