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.

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