Kruger Rock—A Dog Friendly, Early Season Trail just outside Estes Park, Colorado

We love hiking with our kids, but it’s also a gift to go on a solo hike. On his birthday (May 30th), Eric took a more challenging hike without the girls – and where better to get a moment away than in a place called Hermit Park?

We are always on the look-out for new (to us) hikes in and around Rocky Mountain National Park, especially in the springtime when snow still covers many of the higher-elevation destinations. Rock Cut Brewery recently started a hiking club, and posted about their group adventure to Kruger Rock a month or so back, and it looked like just the right fit for a quick spring challenge.

The Kruger Rock Trail is located in Hermit Park, just outside of Estes Park on Highway 36. I’ve driven by Hermit Park hundreds of times, but had never stopped to check it out. Its maintained by Larimer County, and there are dozens of campsites, a nice pavilion, and a few other trails to explore. You can read more on their website, here.

Entrance for day usage (hiking) was $9, handled at an easy-to-use self-pay system just off the highway. The trailhead is a couple of miles back near the large pavilion—I found the trailhead locater in the AllTrails app to be helpful in finding it, as the official sign was down when I visited.

Kruger Rock Trail 2 miles each way

The trail is roughly 2 miles each way, steadily gaining just under 1000 feet of elevation. The first section of the trail isn’t spectacular, but is certainly pleasant, as you wind through the pine trees up towards the ridge line.

Kruger Rock Trail Colorado

Less than a mile in, you reach a junction with the Limber Pine trail.

Hiking near Estes Park dog friendly location
kruger rock trail

From here, things start to get more scenic, both looking back over the valley you are ascending, and soon, with views of the Estes Valley beginning to emerge.

views along kruger rock trail
views kruger rock trail of estes valley and rocky mountain national park

If you look closely, you may even sport our cabin 😊 (excuse the grainy iPhone-zoom photo).

solitude cabins

From this point forward, the views are truly wonderful, and the adventure culminates in a fun scramble to the summit. I’m not an expert, but I would put the brief climb at class 3, although its just a few moves and has zero exposure to be concerned about. Might be a little tricky with a dog, but even without the final scramble, the views are fantastic.

class 3 hike up to summit of kruger park trail in hermit park
great views at summit of kruger rock trail in hermit park near estes park colorado

I was back at the trailhead in a total time of just under an hour and a half, including a 5-10 minute stop at the summit. It was an awesome hike, with very few other people out that day (granted it was a Thursday, and I got a relatively early start). Nearly everyone else I encountered had their dog as a hiking partner, and as mentioned above, it seems like a great place to bring them, outside of perhaps the very end of the trail.  Given how close Kruger Rock is to Estes, and how early in the season the snow melts out, we will definitely be recommending this one to our friends, and visiting again soon!

Additional Dog Friendly Hikes Near Estes Park include Lily Mountain and the Homer Rouse Trail.

Spring Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park: Upper Beaver Meadows

Spring is a great time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park

If you want to avoid the summer crowds, spring is a wonderful season to visit Rocky Mountain National Park. However, some of the most popular trails like those leaving from the Bear Lake area can still be covered in snow and ice.

Over Memorial Day weekend, we purchased a new hiking guide called Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park: The Essential Guide written by our favorite local photographer, Erik Stensland. The guide included a new (to us) hike that fit our family’s hiking criteria. First, we wanted to find a lower elevation hike to avoid snow. We also needed an easy hike so our kids could walk the trail partially on their own.

Upper Beaver Meadows

Stensland classified the Upper Beaver Meadows Loop as an easy hike. The loop is approximately 1 mile in length beginning at 8,437 feet in elevation and gaining 108 feet.

The hike begins at the Upper Beaver Meadows trailhead. The turnoff that leads to the trailhead is conveniently located less than a mile from the main entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.

hiking Upper Beaver Meadows in Rocky Mountain National Park

We enjoyed the views of surrounding mountains including Longs Peak and the sweet smell of Ponderosa pine trees as we walked along the trail.

Spring hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park

We accidentally took a wrong turn and tripled our distance walking around the meadow. I highlighted the loop that we should have followed in green and the loop we took in yellow.

Upper Beaver Meadows trail map provided at trailhead by national park service

Parts of the trail were muddy because of recent snow and rain. Soft snow fell briefly while we were hiking.

We passed by a herd of elk and tried to give them extra space. Female elk can become protective of their babies during the spring season.

elk in Upper Beaver Meadows

Upper Beaver Meadows is the ending point to the Ute Trail which I wrote about here. It also connects to the scenic Moraine Valley.

crossing the creek in Upper Beaver Meadows

For breathtaking pictures and insider knowledge that far exceed my own, I recommend picking up Erik Stensland’s guide. And if you are looking for an easy hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, I hope you consider adding Upper Beaver Meadows Loop to your list along with some of our favorite hikes under 2 miles.

Great Sand Dunes National Park: A One-of-a-Kind Family Adventure

Great Sand Dunes National Park

As I watched my daughter dancing on the sandy beach, I looked up at the snow-capped mountains and the largest dunes in North America. The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Reserve is located in southern Colorado, and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Medano Creek

We went to the park mid-day on Memorial Day, so I was relieved when we got into the park without a long wait at the entrance and we were able to find a good spot in the popular Dunes Parking area. We were very lucky! During peak season it’s better to avoid crowds and afternoon storms by arriving early in the morning.

Medano Creek runs in late May at Great Sand Dunes National Park

To get to the dunes, we had to cross Medano Creek which flows each season when the snow melts off the mountains (typically in late May). The water was freezing cold, but it was so much fun to take off our shoes and run laughing and splashing across the icy stream.

Sand, water, mountains at Great Sand Dunes National Park

We played in the sand, which was nice and cool on our bare feet. During summer months, the sand can be as hot as 150 degrees Fahrenheit!

Dancing in the sand at Great Sand Dunes National Park

We witnessed some visitors carrying sand sleds and sandboards which can be rented out at local equipment stores.

Wind at Great Sand Dunes National Park

Wind created the formation of the Sand Dunes over time, so it’s not surprising the Sand Dunes can be windy. We experienced a little bit of the wind which can blow sand and make hiking less enjoyable. The park recommends using sunglasses, long sleeves and pants during high winds.

Our visit to the Great Sand Dunes National Park was short, but amazing. I hope we can go back soon to explore more of the park and surrounding areas.

You can learn more about the Great Sand Dunes National Park in the online visitor’s guide.

The Best Way to Spend a Spring Day? Hiking Pigeon Roost Trail in Arkansas’ Hobbs State Park

Hobbs State Park is the largest state park in Arkansas. This weekend we took advantage of the sunny weather to explore the park and venture out on a new (to us) trail.

The Pigeon Roost trail is 8.4 miles long. It is broken into two loops, the Dry Creek Loop and the Huckleberry Loop. We walked a portion of the Dry Creek Loop from the trail head to the Beaver Lake Overlook which was about 1.5 miles in length each way.

Pigeon Roost trail signage
I highlighted the portion of the trail we hiked in yellow.
family hiking pigeon roost trail in hobbs state park - northwest arkansas

Our 4-year-old hiked on her own (and rode on her Dad’s shoulders) while her younger sister mostly rode in an ergo carrier on my back.

spring hiking. family hiking pigeon roost trail in hobbs state park - northwest arkansas

Spring is a colorful time to hike in Northwest Arkansas because white dogwood and pink and purple redbud trees bloom throughout the forest.

family friendly hiking. family hiking pigeon roost trail in hobbs state park - northwest arkansas

The trail was well marked, but narrow and a bit slippery in some places with loose gravel. We had to be extra cautious as we hiked near steep hills.

We read that ticks can be bad on this trail, luckily we didn’t find any unwelcome visitors.

View of Beaver Lake. family hiking pigeon roost trail in hobbs state park - northwest arkansas

After hiking through the forest and over several small bridges crossing a creek, we arrived to a spot where we could see Beaver Lake. I was amazed by the turquoise water. The color reminded me of the green waters we saw at Point Lobos Park in California which I wrote about here.

View of Beaver Lake family hiking pigeon roost trail in hobbs state park - northwest arkansas

An overlook with a pair of benches can be found a little further down the trail. This is a great spot to rest and take in the view.

family hiking pigeon roost trail in hobbs state park - northwest arkansas

We were thrilled to find a family-friendly trail that is close to our new home in Northwest Arkansas.

family hiking pigeon roost trail in hobbs state park - northwest arkansas

Hobbs State Park has 36 miles of trails to explore – we are excited to head back soon so we can hike more of them.