Today I want to share a scouting report for a new (to us) trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park. East Shore is located on the west side of the national park near the town of Grand Lake and Granby Colorado. The trail borders Shadow Mountain Lake and Lake Granby as well as the Colorado River. We parked near Shadow Mountain Dam. Our girls found the dam fascinating. (Their excitement could be attributed to the movie Frozen 2 which features a dam breaking as a major plot point.)
The East Shore trailhead gives hikers access to RMNP as well as the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. From Shadow Mountain Dam, we headed north for a half mile. The total distance of the East Shore trail is over 20 miles.
By the time we made it to East Shore, we had already hiked up on the alpine tundra and gone kayaking on Grand Lake. Given all the activities of the day, it’s not surprising that we only made it through a very small portion of the trail. We are excited to return when we have more energy and time to explore.
Trail Positives: Lake views, mountain views, wildflowers, dam.
Trail Negatives: Distance from our cabin in Estes Park.
Final Thoughts: This trail would be a good option for people visiting Grand Lake or Granby, Colorado. Remember that hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park requires a park pass and a timed-entry permit.
Save the Date! August 25th is the National Park Service’s birthday and that means entrance fees are waived in all U.S. national parks including Rocky Mountain National Park.
rocky mountain national park entrance fee
Typically, the daily entrance fee for one vehicle is $25. You can buy an annual RMNP pass for $70. Our family buys an ‘America the Beautiful’ annual National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands pass which is $80. This is a great deal for us because we go to Rocky Mountain National Park often, and we also like visiting nearby Indian Peaks Wilderness Area which is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Seniors, members of the military, and 4th grade students may be eligible for discounts. You can learn more about these and other pass options online on the national park service’s website.
rocky mountain National park timed entry permit
Starting summer 2020, a timed-entry permit is also required to enter Rocky Mountain National Park between the hours of 6:00 am and 5:00 pm. Permits are typically $2 per day and can be obtained on recreation.gov.
rocky mountain national park hours
The national park is open 24 hours per day every day of the year. Some facilities such as the park’s visitor centers have more limited hours. Current hours are 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. Some roads such as Fall River Road and Trail Ridge Road are open seasonally based on weather conditions.
rocky mountain national park trail conditions
Park rangers at the park’s visitors centers and professional local tour guides/rental companies are helpful resources to get an idea of what to expect out on the trails. You can also review trail condition reports on the national park’s website or on alltrails.com.
Keep an eye out for wildlife like moose, deer, bighorn sheep, and elk. Make sure to bring a good camera.
If you are visiting Rocky Mountain National Park during the winter, you can go sledding or snow-shoeing.
Additional activities include fishing, camping, rock climbing, and more! (additional fees, reservations, or permits may be required) No matter how many times we visit, we never run out of things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park.
One of the highlights of our July trip to Colorado was renting a kayak on Grand Lake. We were staying at our cabin in Estes Park, Colorado so we drove over Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park to get to Grand Lake. A national park pass as well as a timed-entry reservation are required to drive this route. We stopped along the way to do a short hike up on the Tundra Communities Trail. The drive would take about an hour and a half without stops. On our drive to Grand Lake we spotted a couple of moose which is common in this area of the national park.
renting a kayak on grand lake in Colorado
We rented a 15 foot tandem kayak for our family of four from Mountain Paddlers Kayak Shak. The kayak had enough room for two adults and our two small children.
Mountain Paddlers is located right on the lake. Rentals are first come, first served. We rented our kayak for one hour, which was a good amount of time for our first ride with the kids.
best time to go kayaking in grand lake
Mountain Paddlers is open from 8:00 am until 7:00 pm seven days a week from Memorial Day through Labor Day unless the weather is bad.
The rental came with floatation devices for everyone in the kayak as well as a safety whistle and dry bag.
kayaking lake estes vs. grand lake
Last summer we went kayaking on Lake Estes in Estes Park, Colorado. We enjoyed our time on the water. I wrote about our experience in this post.
Grand Lake is a bigger lake which means that there are more boats and some faster boats on the water with you. I enjoyed the natural landscape. As a HGTV fan, it was also fun to see the lake homes. Some of them are dream homes! Grand Lake is the largest natural lake in Colorado while Estes Park is man-made. Grand Lake also connects to Shadow Mountain Lake. We didn’t get that far, but I would like to extend our rental time in the future so we can explore Shadow Mountain Lake as well.
things to do in grand lake, Colorado
We worked up an appetite paddling, so once we were back on land, we ate lunch outdoors at a Mexican restaurant. We enjoyed dessert at an ice cream shop. Then we went on another quick hike before heading back towards Estes Park. I could not have asked for a better day trip. Want more ideas for things to do in Grand Lake? I wrote this post about Great Reasons to Visit Grand Lake, Colorado with Kids.
Don’t you love a great backup plan? Our original plan for the day was to hike to Dream Lake, but when we arrived at the Bear Lake parking lot at 7:45 am it was already full. We started driving back down the mountain and found that Glacier Gorge parking was also full and so was Bierdstand Lake. We pulled into the Hollowell Park area hoping we could find a spot. We were relieved to find several parking spaces available.
On a previous trip, we hiked to the Mill Creek Basin and turned around to return the way we came. On this occation, we hiked a loop around Mill Creek Basin and then connected back up with the trail to return to the Hollowell Park trailhead.
Hike to Mill Creek Basin
The first section of the trail takes you through an open valley with views of Longs Peak. This could be a hot section of the trail during summer afternoons, but soon the path wraps around into a wooded area and follows along side Mill Creek.
We enjoyed the solitude this hike offered. Over the course of four miles, we passed less than a dozen fellow hikers.
Besides some minor complaints during a couple of the uphill sections on the trail, our 5-year-old walked the trail on her own with a great attitude. Our 3-year-old rode in her kid carrier.
A variety of wildflowers bloomed near Mill Creek and in the open fields.
Wilderness Camping at Mill Creek Basin
Half way through the hike (or 2 miles from the trailhead) we crossed into the Mill Creek Basin. There are two wilderness camping spots available in the Mill Creek Basin. The National Park Service offers a map of all the wilderness campsites in the Bear Lake area including Mill Creek Basin. Additional information about permits and regulations can be found on the national park service’s website.
If you are looking for a backup plan hike, a hike that’s less crowded, or a hike with gorgeous wildflowers, I highly recommend giving this loop around Mill Creek Basin a shot. Let me know if you do and what you think!
Want a bigger challenge? This trail connects to several popular destinations in the park including Cub Lake, Bear Lake, and Bierstadt Lake.
Trekking poles – I wish we would have brought trekking poles for the steep downhill section of this trail through the elm trees. I typically don’t have knee issues, but sometimes hiking downhill is hard on my joints and I think the poles help absorb the extra pressure. Trekking poles also come in handy if there are any snowy patches along the trail.