Estes Park Summer Bucket List

My Dad always said planning a trip is sometimes more fun than the actual vacation itself. I don’t know if that’s always the case, but I love to research fun, new activities to do on our famiy’s trips to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. I never run out of options because there is so much to do in this quaint mountain town and in the nearby National Park. Here are some of the top things on our Estes Park Summer Bucket List in 2017:

Eat an ice cream cone at Hayley’s

The delicious smell of waffle cones wafts out the door as you enter our favorite ice cream shop. It’s tiny inside so we choose our favorite flavor and take it outside on a stroll down the river walk. Hayley’s is located at 102 W. Elkhorn Avenue in downtown Estes Park, Colorado.

Best Icecream in Estes Park, Colorado

Pikas in the Park

What’s cuter than a pika? nothing! I’m so excited to participate in this new scavenger hunt activity. Just download an activity guide at visitestespark.com and start looking for 12 bronze pika sculptures in downtown Estes Park.

Be a Junior Ranger

We will head to the Fall River Visitor Center to pickup the Junior Ranger packet for kids 5 and under (they have packets designed for older kids too). The visitor center is open from 9am-5pm every day during the summer. You can pick up packets at any of the park’s visitor centers. Here is a link for more information about Rocky Mountain National Park visitors centers locations and hours. You can find more information about their Junior Park Ranger program here.

Bonus: While we are at the Fall River Visitor Center, we will enjoy a delicious breakfast and spectacular views at the attached Trailhead Restaurant. After dining, we will let our toddler play at the little playground right outside to burn off some endless energy.

rocky mountain national park visitor center playground area

Go on a boat ride

We want to spend some time on the water. Last year we rented a pontoon boat for a half hour ride on Lake Estes. This short amount of time was perfect for our little one’s first boat ride. Lake Estes is beautiful, conveniently located and rentals are fairly inexpensive. The marina website has rental information listed.

Another option is to drive over Trail Ridge Road to get to Grand Lake. The drive could take an hour or two depending on traffic. The boat rentals seem to cost a little more on this side of the mountain and I haven’t found rental options for under an hour. But, it’s always fun to try something new and we could easily make this a full day trip with stops along Trail Ridge Road and visiting attractions in the town of Grand Lake, CO. Two marinas we are considering renting boats from are Trail Ridge Marina  or Grand Lake Marina.

Rent Boat at Lake Estes Marina

Enjoy a Rocky Mountain waterfall

There are many amazing waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park. This year Chasm Falls is on the top of my list. The falls are located right off of  Old Fall River Road, a one-way gravel road which travels all the way up to an elevation of 11,796 ft at the Alpine Visitors Center. The road is scenic and enjoyed at a leisurely pace (15 miles per hour speed limit). It’s a good idea to check park Road Status Reports before heading up.

Gaze at the stars

One of the best things about being further away from the city is being able to see stars light up the night sky. We are excited to attend a “Stories Behind the Moon & the Stars” program at the Moraine Valley Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park. The events will take place around 8:00 on Fridays June 30, July 7, August 4 and August 11 in 2017. You can learn more at angelsabove.org

Hike to a mountain lake 

It’s hard to pick a favorite mountain lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, but this year we are going to attempt a family hike to Mills Lake. The roundtrip journey is roughly six miles. We can start at the Bear Lake trailhead and pass by Alberta Falls on our way up.

Mills Lake RMNP

Watch fireworks

We are going to grab some lawn chairs and watch a spectacular fireworks show over Lake Estes on July 4th. The event begins at 9:30PM.

What are you looking forward to this summer? I’d love to hear about your bucket list!

Family Friendly Waterfall Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Wild Basin

Rocky Mountain National Park’s Wild Basin Area is the setting for some of our favorite waterfall hikes. Located 19 miles south of Estes Park on Highway 7, the Wild Basin is more remote. There is no shuttle service to this area of the park. The roads are narrow and in places pretty rough.

The bumpy drive is worth it.  We love this area of the park – it feels like an adventure and the hike to Copeland Falls is only .3 miles from the Wild Basin trailhead.

There is an upper falls and lower falls, go to both!

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It’s amazing how much beauty you can see on such a short hike. I love the waterfalls and towering trees. I enjoy the contrast of the different color tree barks and spring leaves. It’s a short, relatively flat hike so I try to notice every detail. IMG_8310

My husband was patient while I tried to ‘capture’ the beauty of this moss type plant. Then I remembered he was carrying a 2 year old on his shoulders, so I hiked a little faster for him.

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After Copeland Falls we decided to continue our hike towards Calypso Cascades.IMG_8314

…but we stopped a little short when we felt a few rain drops and noticed gathering dark clouds.

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This picturesque bridge is located just beyond the trail sign and made a great stopping point at 1.5 miles in. Calypso Cascades is stunning, so if you have time to go I highly recommend it.

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Our sleepy little one gives this waterfall hike a thumbs up! IMG_8341

What are your favorite waterfall hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park? Do you ever stop a little shy of your goal destination? 

Homer Rouse Trail – a Dog Friendly Trail in Estes Park, Colorado

Dog friendly hiking trails in Estes Park

Meet Duncan, he is our fun-loving Golden Retriever/Newfoundland mix. Sadly, Duncan hasn’t made the trip to Colorado with us quite yet because I’m afraid he will pull me off a mountain with his over-enthusiastic leash pulling. He is an important member of the family though, so I’m sure he will make it out someday soon. I’m always on the lookout for good dog-friendly hikes in Estes Park for him.

Dogs aren’t allowed on trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, but we’ve found some options near the park like Homer Rouse Trail which is a public trail that goes through private property. It’s used for hiking, biking and horseback riding.

The hike starts on Fish Creek Road where you can park off the street. You begin on a gravel road near horse pastures.

Twin Sisters Peaks in RMNP

 

The hike climbs steadily up hill. There are signs throughout the hike to keep you on course. Look up to see beautiful Twin Sisters Peaks towering over the valley.

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Turn left and cross over the creek on a small wood bridge.

Homer Rouse trail, dog friendly hiking trail in Estes Park, CO

This will take you into an enjoyable wooded section of the hike.

Homer Rouse trail

Pop out of the wooded trail and take another left up a dirt road. You can spot glimpses of Twin Sisters on your right. Our toddler walked for parts of this section because the road was pretty wide and clear.

Homer Rouse trail. Dog friendly hike in Estes Park

Approximately 1.5 miles into the hike, you approach historic Baldpate Inn. Built in 1917, the Inn’s dining room serves specialty buffets. Fun fact: Baldpate Inn is also home to the world’s largest collection of keys according to their website.

Baldpate Inn

After our uphill hike it was pretty tempting to stop at the Inn for refreshments, but we hiked a little further to Lily Lake which is right across highway 7.  Note: Lily Lake is part of Rocky Mountain National Park and no pets are allowed on the trail. (sorry Duncan)

Lily Lake trail

Lily Lake has been one of our favorite spots and now it’s even better. We were excited to see the bridge over a marshy area (the side closest to Longs Peak) finished after being under construction for some time.

Lily Lake is a favorite family destination in RMNP

We found a secluded little spot with picnic tables for a rest and snack break off the trail.

Picnic near Lily Lake

The return hike was mostly down hill, so it went pretty fast! I think our dog Duncan would have loved the Homer Rouse Trail. Where do you take your dogs hiking in Estes Park, CO?

Deer Mountain – a Family Friendly Summit Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Looking for a family friendly summit hike in Rocky Mountain National Park? There is something very rewarding about reaching the summit of a mountain, but with young kids it’s hard to spend the time, energy and face the technical challenges of hiking up many of the prominent peaks.

Good news! You don’t have to hike all day to experience wonderful panoramic views and gain that awesome feeling of accomplishment. A three-mile hike up Deer Mountain offers both. The hike is located at Deer Ridge Junction, a few miles west of the Beaver Meadows entrance.

Hiking with a baby in the mountains

There isn’t a parking lot near Deer Mountain. Cars park right off the street making parking limited.

Parking near Deer Mountain is limited

Gear for hiking with young children and babies
I carried our 4 month old in an Ergobaby carrier and my husband carried our 2 1/2-year-old in a Deuter kid comfort carrier. With the added weight, we were happy to take extra breaks to enjoy the inspiring mountain vistas.

Great views on the way up Deer Mountain in RMNP

As we approached the summit, we hiked through melting snow which is pretty common in May –  especially this year.  I was thankful for my waterproof hiking boots, but we still got wet and muddy. Keeping a pair of flip-flops in the car to change into post hike would be helpful.

Deer Mountain Summit near Estes Park Colorado

Trekking poles were also helpful. You gain 1,093 ft of elevation.

Hiking Deer Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park in May

Standing at 10,013′ we made it to the summit. This was our youngest daughter’s first summit hike. Both girls were ready for a snack at this point, but we were worried about dark clouds looming in the distance and decided to start our descent. We probably should have started this hike earlier in the day because storms are more common in the afternoon. Deer Mountain, good spring summit hike for families in Rocky Mountains

On the way down, we had to be cautious in a few areas where slippery rocks were covered in slushy snow (especially with our precious cargo).

Hiking in snow

Luck was on our side, the weather cleared and we enjoyed the 3 mile return trip under blue skies.

Hiking Deer Mountain

 

Moose Spotting Makes for a Memerable Morning Hike Around Sprague Lake

We just got back from a Memorial Day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. Our final hike was a quick half mile loop around picturesque Sprague Lake. Our toddler loves this popular hike because she can do it herself.

Sprague Lake loop in RMNP

There are plenty of bridges to run over and rocks to climb on.

Toddler led hikes around Sprague Lake in RMNP

There are benches to rest on and great places to take family photos (if you can get everyone to look at the camera).

family photos at sprague lake in rocky mountain national park

Oh wait!? Is that a moose in the background?

Moose at Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountains

Yep! Much to our surprise a moose waded into the crisp mountain lake.

family fun in Rocky Mountain National Park

No matter how many times we go, we can’t wait to come back!