I’m nervous and excited to go on our first camping trip in Rocky Mountain National Park this summer. I grew up camping with my family and have fond memories of setting up our tent, cooking meals over campfires, looking up at a big, black sky filled with more stars than I could imagine, and listening to frogs and insects chirping loudly while I tried to fall asleep.
I also remember lots of dirt, bug spray and the occasional upset stomach that would interrupt our fun. So, I think I’m heading into this adventure with a realistic approach to how camping with a 3-year-old and 1-year-old might go. Here’s my tentative game plan:
Reserve our camping spot in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Research by asking friends who have camped with little ones what to pack. I’m especially interested in what my 1-year-old should sleep in. And of course I made a ‘camping with toddlers’ pinterest board!
Borrow and buy necessary camping gear.
Plan trial runs by camping close to our home in Kansas City.
Head out to Colorado! We will stay at a condo or cabin before and after our camping adventure to extend our trip. I’m only brave enough to camp one night this first time.
A couple of the Park’s camping sites are first-come first-serve, but most of the sites are by reservation. You can make reservations up to six months in advance and they fill up fast. I went to the National Park Service’s website to reserve the spot. You can also call (877) 444-6777.
We decided to reserve a spot in the Glacier Basin Campground because it is close to Sprague Lake, one of our favorite kid-friendly hiking spots. Our camping usage fee is $26.00/night. I chose a tent only, non-electric spot which is fairly close to a restroom with flush toilet. The cost does not include entrance fees to get into the park. You can learn more about RMNP entrance fees and annual passes here.
Gretchen Rubin and Liz Craft spoke about the idea of the ‘standardized vacation’ on their most recent Happier podcast. If you aren’t familiar with Gretchen, she is a top-selling author of several books including The Happiness Project. Her co-host, Liz is an accomplished Hollywood writer and producer. They are sisters who are originally from my hometown of Kansas City, so obviously I’m a big fan.
When they started talking about the concept of the standardized vacation I thought it sounded terribly boring. A standardized vacation could mean having a trip planned on the same dates each year, to the same place, with the same people, doing the same activities, and dishing out the same planning responsibilities. There is some flexibility allowed in these factors of course, but the goal would be to get the vacation set on the calendar and to reduce ‘decision fatigue’.
The more I thought of it, the more I fell in love with suggesting a standard-ish vacation to an amazing, adventure-loving friend of mine who is moving across the country this month. Knowing we will have something on our calendar each year would help us make sure years don’t slip by without seeing one another… and that actually does make me feel a little happier!
Do you use the concept of standardized vacations to make planning family vacations easier or to stay in contact with friends and relatives? Any tips?
One of my friends recently asked if I would recommend bringing two young kids to Grand Lake, Colorado.
My answer is yes!Although I love the East side of Rocky Mountain National Park and go there more often, the West side of RMNP which is near the mountain town of Grand Lake has a ton to offer families who are seeking outdoor adventures.
Highlights of our trips to the West side of the park include frequent wildlife spotting including elk and moose.
Grand Lake is typically less busy than Estes Park. This means you will most likely benefit from shorter lines at the national park entrance and less trouble finding parking spots downtown. However, this also could mean there are fewer options for restaurants and entertainment.
I enjoy Grand Lake’s laid back vibe. They have a playground that my littles love to play on before grabbing an ice cream cone and walking along the shore of Grand Lake, the largest natural lake in Colorado. I’m always impressed by the colorful displays of flowers around town. Local residents seem to take great pride in their beautiful home.
Outdoor Adventures include water recreation such as boating, swimming and paddle boarding. You can also go hiking – some of our favorite spots include Coyote Valley (which I wrote about here), Lake Irene and Adams Falls. There are many short hikes, picnic spots and attractions we haven’t had a chance to explore yet including the Holzwarth Historic Site.
Although there are adventures to be had year-round in Grand Lake some top attractions are only open seasonally including Trail Ridge Road. The scenic highway typically opens at the end of May depending on the weather. You can learn about road conditions on the National Park’s website.
It seems like a distant memory – my first trip to Rocky Mountain National Park with my husband. We were well rested, very in love newly weds and we had a fantastic weekend full of amazing hikes. The first hike he took me on was up Twin Sisters. We also went to Flattop and Timberline Falls.
When we had our first daughter we were determined to keep hiking. We purchased our condo and took the voyage across Kansas to Colorado as often as we could.
A year later I found out I was pregnant with our second baby on Memorial Day weekend in Estes Park. We had just hiked up to Gem Lake and I felt a little too tired 🙂 Even during early/mid pregnancy I continued to hike pretty good distances and loved every minute. Soon after Evy was born we headed out to Colorado – even though it was snowing!
Now, looking forward to the summer ahead I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’m not sure why traveling and hiking with a 3-year-old and 1-year-old seems so much more daunting? I keep asking myself, will our trips be worth the long drives and the changes in routine? Will we even be able to go on hikes over 1 mile this year?
After some serious soul-searching and discussions with my husband I think the answer is yes – it will be daunting. And, I don’t know how many hikes we will do over 1 mile. But, most importantly YES it will be worth it.
So, I’m going to take the next month or so brainstorming all the amazing, realistic mountain activities we can enjoy at this specific time in our lives. The girls are so much fun and I know we are going to have a blast.
I believe as they hike further and further on their own two little feet, they will gain confidence that will boost their self-esteem throughout life. I believe being out in nature is good for our souls. I believe having screen free family time is valuable beyond measure. So bring on the tantrums, the challenges, the tests …. we got this! We are not giving up on our beautiful dreams.
Whether you think ghost stories are romantic or chocolate with wine is more your thing, Estes Park, Colorado has something for every couple (or friends group) looking for a winter getaway this Valentine’s season.
Friday, February 9 – Valentine Wine and Chocolate Dinner at Twin Owls Steakhouse who is partnering with Estes Park’s Snowy Peaks Winery for a five coarse meal featuring chocolate and wine. We went to Twin Owls Steakhouse for an anniversary dinner and were impressed by the food, view and romantic atmosphere.
We recently bundled up our family for a winter adventure in Estes Park, Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park. Our weekend began at Lily Lake where we pulled the girls (ages 1 and 3) around the mostly flat loop on our sled. Our three-year old enjoyed playing in the powdery snow.
We also enjoyed an epic sledding excursion at Hidden Valley which is located inside Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s the only place in the park where true sledding is allowed. The area was once a ski destination.
When we got out of our car the ranger warned, ‘hold on to your sleds.’ After a windy blast, we quickly learned why. Our little sled flew into the air and landed in a patch of distant trees where we recovered it and held on tighter. The winter winds can be mighty!
My husband and I took turns riding on the sled with the girls. It was fun for us and helped guarantee the girls a smoother ride.
*This is a BYOS (Bring Your Own Sled 🙂 hill
*There was a flushing toilet/restroom facility located by the Hidden Valley parking lot.
*You can learn more details and tips about Hidden Valley here at visitestespark.com or on the park service’s website.
Rocky Mountain National Park is located near Estes Park, Colorado. The quaint downtown is filled with twinkling lights this time of year making the shops and restaurants feel even more festive than normal. On our way into downtown we spotted a male elk. Hello sir!
Once downtown, we grabbed a cup of steaming hot Kind Coffee and walked along the Big Thompson River. The river was mostly frozen over with tiny ice droplets dipping into the running water.
Some sunsets feel more like gifts. We experienced a bright and colorful display over the snow dusted mountains. It’s beauty reminded me to stop and give thanks for the amazing moments we got to share as family in this special place.
Have you visited RMNP in the winter? What is your favorite winter activity?
I feel joy and peace when I look at the pictures from our most recent hike to Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. At 5.6 miles round trip, this was our longest and final hike during our Labor Day weekend trip.
The hike began at Bear Lake trailhead (9,475 ft elevation) with a downhill slope for the first half mile. A female elk crossed ahead of us before we continued on the trail up towards Alberta Falls.
*Alberta Falls, a popular destination, is .8 miles into the hike (200 ft gain )
The hike from Alberta Falls to Mills Lake gains another 500 feet in elevation. Sometimes it’s hard with kids to go on longer hikes, but the longer the distance the more we’ve been able to enjoy the mental, spiritual and physical benefits of hiking in the mountains. It’s worth pushing ourselves through the extra mileage and elevation gain.
Mills Lake was serene and breathtaking. The weather was sunny and crisp with the first signs of Fall appearing as patches of golden leaves trickling down the mountains.
When things get crazy with scary news, frustrating facebook feeds, dealing with sick kiddos… I’ve been trying to return to Mills Lake in my mind and linger there a while. It’s my ‘happy place.’ Do you have one?
I’m so grateful I get to return to the mountains for another hiking trip this weekend!