Black Canyon Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

This hike is ‘in the middle of nowhere’ according to my 5-year-old. In reality, Black Canyon trailhead is in the Lumpy Ridge area of Rocky Mountain National Park. The drive is less than 10 minutes from downtown Estes Park, Colorado.

Here is a map of the Lumpy Ridge trails. Lumpy Ridge trailhead begins at 7,840 ft of elevation, I believe that’s the lowest trailhead elevation in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Twin Owls in Lumpy Ridge of Rocky Mountain National Park
Twin Owls

I agree with my daughter that it feels remote here. That is probably because we didn’t see many other hikers on the trail.

If I were going to buy land someday, my dream would be for it to have a similar landscape. I find the wide-open views and rugged rock formations uniquely inspiring. Drinking coffee and looking out at this view every morning… that’s worth dreaming about. Right!?

Views along Black Canyon trail in the Lumpy Ridge of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.

According to AllTrails.com, this hike is 15.5 miles out and back. The trail will take you all the way to Lawn Lake.

Fifteen miles is obviously longer than we would expect to hike with young kids, so we set out with the expectation to turn around when everyone was feeling tired. The girls both did great. At 3.7 miles roundtrip, we hiked substantially farther than our first hike here. We are making progress!

Hiking with kids in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

We spotted wild turkeys in the grass. Farther down the trail we saw a coyote or fox (we should have brought binoculars). Lucky for the turkeys, I don’t think their paths crossed.

family friendly things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Between spotting animals, climbing on rocks and trees, and taking in the mountain scenery, I could not have asked for a better morning in Rocky Mountain National Park. I’m thankful for time spent ‘in the middle of nowhere’ with my favorite people.

hike with kids in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Low elevation hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Long Lake in Brainard Lake Recreation Area

On today’s hike I have the cutest little hiking buddy around. My 3-year-old daughter and I went on a .3-mile stroll to Long Lake which is located on the border of Brainard Lake Recreation Area entering into the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

Where is brainard lake recreation area?

Estes Park to Brainard Lake
From Estes Park, take Highway 7 to Highway 72 and then turn onto Brainard Lake Road. The drive takes about 50 minutes.

Brainard Lake is also 50 minutes from Boulder and an hour and a half from Denver. Nearby towns include Nederland and Ward. It’s convenient location makes this a popular destination. Plan for long lines at the entrance and limited parking at trailheads, especially on weekends and holidays.

BRAINARD LAKE RECREATION AREA Entrance Fee

A day pass to Brainard Lake typically costs $12 per vehicle during the summer season which is July through mid-October. Brainard Lake Recreation Area is managed by the US Forest Service. You can find more information about fees and guidelines here. We use our annual America the Beautiful pass which includes entry into national forest areas as well as national parks.

When we arrived late in the afternoon, no one was stationed at the entrance booth, so visitors were expected to go to a self-pay kiosk.

Indian Peaks Wilderness. Brainard Lakes Recreation Area. Long Lake trailhead. Hiking Colorado.

parking at long lake trailhead

There are thirty parking spaces at Long Lake trailhead. We were lucky to get a parking spot on this trip. On previous occasions, we’ve parked in the larger parking lot near Brainard Lake and hiked up to the trail. Because of COVID-19, the parking is further restricted to 80% capacity. Once the lots are full, no vehicles are allowed into the park until the next scheduled timed entry. The timed entries are at 6:00 am, 10:30 am, Noon, and 1:30 pm. There is additional parking at the Gateway Trailhead which is located outside of the paying station. Walking trails lead into the main park.

Indian Peaks Wilderness. Brainard Lakes Recreation Area. Long Lake trailhead. Hiking Colorado.

high elevation trails

The elevation of Long Lake is 10,521 ft. There is typically snow until July. It’s unbelievably green and there is an abundance of wildflowers. This area is breathtaking!

Indian Peaks Wilderness. Brainard Lakes Recreation Area. Long Lake trailhead. Hiking Colorado.

dog friendly hiking trails

Dogs are allowed at Brainard Lake Recreation Area if they are on leash. We featured this area in our post, Dog Friendly Hikes near Estes Park, Colorado.

Indian Peaks Wilderness. Brainard Lakes Recreation Area. Long Lake trailhead. Hiking Colorado.

Moose in brainard lake recreation area

On our drive out of the park, we spotted moose near Brainard Lake. We were able to capture these pictures from our car. It’s important to give moose a lot of space because they are fast, large, powerful animals.

Moose at Brainard Lake in Colorado

trail maps for hikes in brainard lake recreation area and indian peaks wilderness

The short walk to Long Lake and back was perfect for my daughter. It was fun to see the little boost to her self-confidence from getting my full attention and slowing the hiking pace to her level. She wanted to look at every rock and step on every tree stump. I don’t have the patience to indulge in this level of curiosity on every hike we go on. It was a special treat for us and I’m thankful for the mini-adventure.

If you want to hike further, there are plenty of options. This map shows the trailheads within Brainard Lake Recreation Area. You can access the Jean Lunning Trail and the Pawnee Pass Trail from the Long Lake trailhead. These trails will take you towards Lake Isabelle. Additional hiking information and an Indian Peaks trail map can be found here.

more posts featuring brainard lake recreation area

Add This to Your Hiking Bucket List! Blue Lake in Indian Peaks Wilderness

2 Day Itinerary with Toddlers in Estes Park

Brainard Lakes Colorado, Indian Peaks Wilderness

Wildflowers in Bloom: A Family Hike to Mitchell Lake

Hike Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park

Don’t you love a great backup plan? Our original plan for the day was to hike to Dream Lake, but when we arrived at the Bear Lake parking lot at 7:45 am it was already full. We started driving back down the mountain and found that Glacier Gorge parking was also full and so was Bierdstand Lake. We pulled into the Hollowell Park area hoping we could find a spot. We were relieved to find several parking spaces available.

Hollwell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park

On a previous trip, we hiked to the Mill Creek Basin and turned around to return the way we came. On this occation, we hiked a loop around Mill Creek Basin and then connected back up with the trail to return to the Hollowell Park trailhead.

Hollowell Park map
Photo of National Park Service map taken at trailhead. I highlighted over to show our route.
Mountain Views. Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. To Mill Creek Basin. Loop trail
Longs Peak views

Hike to Mill Creek Basin

The first section of the trail takes you through an open valley with views of Longs Peak. This could be a hot section of the trail during summer afternoons, but soon the path wraps around into a wooded area and follows along side Mill Creek.

We enjoyed the solitude this hike offered. Over the course of four miles, we passed less than a dozen fellow hikers.

Towering aspens. Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. To Mill Creek Basin. Loop trail

Besides some minor complaints during a couple of the uphill sections on the trail, our 5-year-old walked the trail on her own with a great attitude. Our 3-year-old rode in her kid carrier.

Wildflowers blooming by Mill Creek. Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. To Mill Creek Basin. Loop trail

A variety of wildflowers bloomed near Mill Creek and in the open fields.

Crossing Mill Creek. Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. To Mill Creek Basin. Loop trail

Wilderness Camping at Mill Creek Basin

Half way through the hike (or 2 miles from the trailhead) we crossed into the Mill Creek Basin. There are two wilderness camping spots available in the Mill Creek Basin. The National Park Service offers a map of all the wilderness campsites in the Bear Lake area including Mill Creek Basin. Additional information about permits and regulations can be found on the national park service’s website.

Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. To Mill Creek Basin. Loop trail
Mill Creeek Basin
Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. To Mill Creek Basin. Loop trail
Uphill section with narrow trail
Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. To Mill Creek Basin. Loop trail
Mountain views
This section of the trail was steep going downhill (if following the direction we came).
Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. To Mill Creek Basin. Loop trail

If you are looking for a backup plan hike, a hike that’s less crowded, or a hike with gorgeous wildflowers, I highly recommend giving this loop around Mill Creek Basin a shot. Let me know if you do and what you think!

Want a bigger challenge? This trail connects to several popular destinations in the park including Cub Lake, Bear Lake, and Bierstadt Lake.

Our original post about Hollowell Park is called A Trail Less Traveled: Hollowell Park to Mill Creek Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Featured Hiking gear – Trekking poles

Trekking poles – I wish we would have brought trekking poles for the steep downhill section of this trail through the elm trees. I typically don’t have knee issues, but sometimes hiking downhill is hard on my joints and I think the poles help absorb the extra pressure. Trekking poles also come in handy if there are any snowy patches along the trail.

*contains affiliate link.

Where is Rocky Mountain National Park? And Answers to Common Questions

I often get so excited about finding new restaurants in Estes Park or trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, that I forget some people are traveling to our favorite town for the very first time and need to know the basics. This post is dedicated to answering common questions for first-time visitors.

Where is Rocky Mountain National Park?

Rocky Mountain National Park is located in the state of Colorado.

What towns are near Rocky Mountain National Park?

Estes Park, Colorado is a mountain town that sits on the eastern side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Estes Park is approximately a one-and-a-half hour drive from Denver, Colorado and less than an hour drive from Boulder, Colorado.

Grand Lake, Colorado sits on the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park and is approximately a two-hour drive from Denver, Colorado.

Traffic in the Denver area can dramatically affect drive times, so I recommend timing your trip to avoid rush-hours if possible.

What is the elevation in Estes Park and Grand Lake?

Estes Park is at 7,522 feet in elevation. Grand Lake is even higher at 8,369 feet. At these elevations, it is good to keep in mind that your body needs time to acclimate. We have found altitude affects each person differently – some people have only minor issues adjusting while others may experience altitude sickness. We try to stay hydrated and find lower elevation hikes that are less strenous on the first day of our trip.

What is the weather like in Rocky Mountain National Park?

Summer: One of the best parts of traveling to the mountains in the summer months is the cooler temperatures and lower humidity (compared to our home in Arkansas). Mornings and evenings are often cool. Afternoon highs can reach into the 80s. Afternoon rain showers are common.

Fall: Crisp fall days, golden aspens, and the elk rut make autumn a wonderful and popular time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park. It can snow in the fall as we learned during an October trip where we ended up doing more sledding than hiking.

Winter: Winter is less busy in Rocky Mountain National Park compared to summer and fall prime months. Temperatures are cold, but on sunny days we have found it comfortable to hike, go sledding, and snow shoe as long as we bring warm layers. Some days the winds are extraordinarily strong which makes it less enjoyable. The town of Estes Park sparkles with holiday lights.

Spring: Snow and snow melt are common in spring. When we want to hike we typically visit lower elevation areas where the snow has melted out. Often the trails are slushy and muddy in spots. We bring trekking poles and fresh shoes to change into when we are done with our hike.

Additional tips about weather conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park can be found on the national park’s website.

I hope this is a good start. I’ll answer more common questions in upcoming posts mixed in with new hikes that we enjoyed from our most recent trip. If you have any questions I should cover in our next post, please ask them in the comments.