This post was written by Eric after a quick solo adventure on New Year’s Eve 2020.
Sometimes when I hike, it’s easy to get so focused on the planned destination that I just put my head down and grind through the miles on the approach, paying little attention to the beauty along the way. So on New Year’s Eve a few months back, I set out on a hike with the specific intention not to reach any particular landmark on the Long’s Peak trail. I knew that I didn’t have the experience or gear to attempt a winter summit of the trail’s namesake on my own, nor did I intend to try to cross the steep ridge over to Chasm Lake without much knowledge of the conditions. I just wanted to get some miles in on a snowy trail through the woods, and pop above the tree line for as long as the typically blustery winter conditions would allow.
Below are some pictures from an absolute treat of a hike—the weather was perfect. Though the temperature was in the single digits at the trailhead, there was almost *no* wind, which again, can be quite rare on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park during the winter months. The trail was generally well-packed, so snowshoes were not required (yak tracks were helpful). It was also wonderful to be nearly alone on one of the busiest 14er trails in all of Colorado; a stark contrast from the parade of headlamps that ascend through the early morning darkness during peak “summit season.” With no objective to achieve, I was able to just soak in the incredible surroundings and be more present for the entire adventure.
I hope to build on this memorable experience and take a “destinationless” approach to hiking more often throughout the year.
“Every purchase we make from a local business is a vote for the survival of our economy” – Estes Park Chamber Executive Director, Donna Carlson
Boxes of steamed rice, spicy sauces, and fortune cookies make up my takeout dream team. On our most recent trip to Estes Park, we decided to go on another food adventure to discover the amazing Asian cuisine that our favorite mountain town offers. Bonus, I feel like each dollar we spent on mouth watering local food helped a local business owner, and that makes me extra happy!
COVID-19 Precautions – LEVEL UP PROGRAM
The state of Colorado has a multi-level response to COVID-19 called Colorado’s Dial. The dial is based on current metrics including new cases, percent positivity, and impact on the local hospitals. Estes Park is in Larimer County which is currently at a level orange (as of 1/9/2021), however restaurants can obtain a level up status through an in-depth certification and inspection process. You can learn more about the Level-Up program at visitestespark.com.
Thanks to the Level-Up program, some restaurants in Estes Park are able to offer onsite dining at limited capacity, however we felt it was easier for our family to order takeout food and enjoy it at our cabin.
After a long day of driving, we were thrilled to finally pull into Estes Park! We unloaded our mountain of luggage and checked online for Thai food options. We selected Thai Kitchen because it is close to our cabin. Online reviews on TripAdvisor rate this restaurant 4 out of 5. One review said, “Good food but plan ahead.” I agree that the food was good. I liked all of the fresh vegetables that they put into my dish. I also appreciate that you can chose the level of spice. Planning ahead is probably good advice too. The wait was longer than we expected, but the fresh food was worth the wait.
What’s a good way to fill a longer wait time? Consider picking up carry out cans from Lumpy Ridge Brewery which right down the street. Thai Kitchen is located at 401 S. Vrain Avenue.
If you are like me, and you aren’t familiar with Nepali food, I think it’s helpful to remember that the country of Nepal is between China and India in South Asia. Nepal is slightly larger than our home state of Arkansas (a fun fact from National Geographic Kids) and is home of the world’s largest peak. Mount Everest is 29,035 feet in elevation. The highest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park is Longs Peak at 14,259 feet.
Nepal’s Cafe serves Indian and traditional Nepali entrees. I ordered the Chicken Vindaloo. Slices of boneless chicken is served with potato, tomato, onion, garlic, ginger and hot sauces. My husband ordered Chicken Momo which is a steamed dumpling entree. We also ordered Chicken Thali off of the children’s menu. The entree came with steamed rice and a sweet rice pudding. To be honest, our kids only ate the rice, but we enjoyed sampling their dish. Everything we ate was delicious. It’s not surprising that this restaurant is so well rated on Tripadvisor.com. This was our first time eating at Nepal’s Cafe, but it won’t be our last.
Nepal’s Cafe is located at 184 E. Elkhorn Avenue in the heart of downtown Estes Park. If you go during the holiday season, make sure to check out the festive holiday lights in George Hix Riverside Plaza which is located directly behind the restaurant.
Cafe de Pho Thai
We ordered an appetizer of crab and cheese wontons. My husband order Beef Pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup. The garnishes of fresh Thai basil, bean sprouts, jalapeños, and lime on the side really added to the flavor of the soup. This a great dish for warming up during the winter months in Estes Park. This restaurant also serves a variety of curry dishes and traditional entrees like Cashew Nut Chicken and Pad Thai. The restaurant is located at 255 W Riverside Drive. Cafe de Pho Thai earns the top spot for favorite Asian Restaurant in town on TripAdvisor.com.
The first time we ate at China Garden (a few years ago), we were a little disappointed with the General Chicken dish. I’m glad we’ve given this restaurant another chance because we’ve ordered several delicious dishes including the Tropical Fried Rice, Penang Curry, and Drunken Noodles.
China Garden is located at 460 W Riverside Drive next door to Rock Cut Brewing Company. According to the brewery’s website, ‘China Garden shares our patio! Check out their menu, then call 970-586-2488 to place your order with Li, the owner. We love the Mongolian chicken, hot & sour soup, and veggie egg rolls.’
Himalayan Curry & Kebob
Our original plan was to go to Oppa Asian Bistro, but the restaurant wasn’t open on the day we planned to go. Oppa is a restaurant we’ve enjoyed several times before, so I’m glad it worked out that we ended up searching for a new spot in town. We decided to try Himalayan Curry & Kebob. They serve traditional Nepalese & Indian dishes. According to their restaurant, this food is ‘Typically meat and vegetables cooked in a sauce made from scratch full of strong, aromatic spices packed with health benefits and also delicious, served with rice.’
I ordered a Chai Tea and Chicken Tikka Masala. My husband ordered a Chicken Kebob. All the dishes are spiced according to your preference ranging from mild to extra hot. Everything was amazing – the flavors were unique and memorable. I can’t wait to go back. Himalayan Curry and Kebob is located at 101 W Elkhorn Avenue. Check out their menu online.
Standing under the evergreens on our snowy hike up to Nymph Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park filled my heart with gratitude and relief. Just a few months ago, we were anxiously watching the news and hoping that the wildfires would be contained. Although the damage was substantial, thanks to the incredible effort by firefighters (and perhaps some good luck and answered prayers), Rocky Mountain National Park is open and beautiful.
We bought our annual America the Beautiful Park Pass which covers entrance into national parks and federal recreation lands for the entire family. For us, this is a great deal because we go to the park frequently, plus we feel good about financially supporting the national parks. You can learn more about the pass here.
Details about day passes entrance fees for Rocky Mountain National Park as well as upcoming free days can be found on the nps website.
The hike to Nymph Lake begins at the Bear Lake trail head. The journey to Nymph Lake is only .5 miles. Our girls were eager to play in the snow and thrilled that the lake was frozen solid.
Cozy cabin in estes park
I spent a lot of time during our trip sitting next to the fire in our cabin, reading books, and drinking coffee. I read 37 books in 2020 which beat my previous year by 11 books. My 2020 favorites include Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson, The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. If you enjoy reading on vacation, check out my Book Lovers Guide to Estes Park, Colorado.
In 2020, COVID-19 made us weary of airport travel. We were also navigating the school calendar for the first time as our oldest started kindergarten. This meant fewer trips to the mountains last year. The positive side is that we were able to rent our cabin to many families who wanted a safe and relaxing vacation spot. We are reinvesting the rental income we earned into a couple of upgrades including new flooring throughout the first level. Learn more about renting our cabin here.
Hike around lily Lake
I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve written about Lily Lake on our site. Lily Lake is our favorite destination because it is easy, fun, and family friendly. A trip to Rocky Mountain National Park without a stroll around Lily Lake feels incomplete.
Sledding in rocky mountain national park
Hidden Valley is the only place where sledding is allowed in Rocky Mountain National Park. We have been taking our girls to this spot every year. It is a blast! You can rent sleds and other winter gear at Estes Park Mountain Shop.
Sprague Lake is a half mile loop. We enjoyed this hike on New Year’s Day. This felt like a good start to the year even though life remains a little uncertain. Typically, I’m very goal-oriented, but this year (for now at least) I’m not writing a list of goals. I love to hear what other people do to celebrate the beginning of a New Year, so please feel free to share your reflections in the comments below.
Our 5 Most Popular Colorado posts in 2020
I always think it’s fun to see what our readers are finding on our site.
The Estes Park Winter Bucket List was the fourth most popular post this year. Although it was written in 2019, the list remains a good one! On our New Year’s Eve trip we checked off several bucket list items including sledding, winter hikes, shopping for a Christmas ornament, sitting by the fireplace with a good book, and swimming at the Estes Valley Community Center.
The Homer Rouse Trail – a Dog Friendly Trail in Estes Park, Colorado and the updated version Homer Rouse Trail – Revisited (written in 2019) continue to be among the most popular posts on our site.
The second most popular post was A Trail Less Traveled: Hollowell Park to Mill Creek Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park which was written in 2019. We returned to Hollowell Park this summer and wrote about it here. The wildflowers were beautiful! If this is a hiking destination you want to try, make sure to check in with the national park service. According to their website, ‘Trails that remain closed in the Bear Lake area include the Fern Lake Trail, Cub Lake Trail, the Mill Creek Basin, and Hollowell Park.’ (as of 1/4/2021).
If you are on pinterest, I’d love for you to check out our profile. I typically add videos on pinterest that aren’t included in the blog posts.
I’m going to ask my husband Eric to post his favorite moments from our recent trip too. Some of his pictures are AMAZING. I can’t wait to share them here soon. I’m also excited to share about our latest Estes Park food adventure. A post about our Asian Takeout Extravaganza is coming soon.
Today I want to share about a trip we took over Thanksgiving break to Lake Catherine State Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. We rented a cabin right on the lake and enjoyed hiking within the park which I wrote about here.
What to do in hot springs, arkansas
We spent a large part of our time hiking and relaxing at Lake Catherine, but we were excited to explore the area too. There is a lot to do!
Garvan Woodland Gardens is the botanical garden of the University of Arkansas. We didn’t make it to the gardens on this trip, but a stroll through the Evan Childrens Adventure Garden which features the Bob and Sunny Evans Tree House is high on my list for return visits.
The Mid America Science Museum is another spot that is high on my list for our next trip to Hot Springs. The museum has an outdoor exhibit called Dino-Lites which features festive dinosaurs dressed up for the holiday season.
Hot Springs National Park is located in historic downtown Hot Springs. The indoor tours are currently closed because of COVID-19, but we were happy to walk the trails and read signage about the history of the park.
According to hotsprings.org, ‘Native American tribes called this location the “Valley of the Vapors” and believed that the naturally hot springs had healing powers.’
Grand promenade at hot springs national park
The Grand Promenade is a National Recreation Trail. Learn more about the history of the promendade here. Despite being adjacent to the busy downtown streets, this area felt serene. Our girls loved stomping in the autumn leaves.
We also enjoyed walking past Bath House Row which consists of eight bathhouse buildings and the historic Arlington Hotel , the largest hotel in Arkansas according to the hotel’s website.
“Politicians, dignitaries, actors, gangsters and entertainment and sports legends bathed in our bath house, danced to our music and enjoyed our splendor and charm. The Arlington has survived a devastating fire, economic downturns, changing social attitudes and much more. Steeped in history, The Arlington is truly a legend.” (arlingtonhotel.com)
where to eat in hot springs, arkansas
As we strolled the streets of downtown Hot Springs, we made mental notes of several restaurants and breweries we hope to visit on return trips (post COVID-19). This time we grabbed a quick (and delicious!) cupcake at Fat Bottomed Girl’s Cupcakes. This local favorite was featured on the Food Network’s television show, Cupcake Wars.
We also found a great lunch spot with outdoor seating outside downtown. Taco Mama was a hit for our whole family. The authentic Mexican food was fresh and delicious. The local owner exuded hospitality.
I’m currently reading a book called This is Where You Belong: Finding Home Wherever You Are which explores place attachment. I admit that I never expected to live in Arkansas, but since moving here two years ago, I’ve enjoyed exploring the Natural State. Trips like this one, and our recent trip to Mount Magazine State Park, have been great ways to build a deeper connection to the beautiful state which we now call ‘home’.