The Keyhole – One Slow Step at a Time

9,500 people per year climb to Longs Peak. I am not one of them.

At 14,259 feet in elevation, Longs Peak is the highest summit in Rocky Mountain National Park. Years ago (7 to be exact), my husband and I took a trip out to Colorado with some of our best friends. We went on several amazing hikes during our vacation. The grand finale was our hike to the Keyhole. I wanted to see what the guys had been bragging about when they talked at length about their epic adventure up Longs Peak.

I started out in a cranky mood. I don’t like waking up early.

There are several routes of varying difficulties that lead to Longs Peak. The Keyhole is the most popular. The National Park Service recommends to start before 3 am in the morning. You will see a lot of head lamps heading up the mountain when you start that early. The average time to complete the summit and return trip is 10-15 hours. You have to start early so that you miss afternoon thunderstorms. (Longs Peak via keyhole route)

It’s only an adventure if you travel through a Goblin Forest… that’s what I always say.
My life-long adventure buddy

Since we weren’t going to the summit, we had a little more flexibility with our start time, but we still had to start early because we would be above tree-line and more vulnerable to lightening for a large portion of our hiking day. The hike to the Keyhole is approximately 12 miles round trip. (add 1.5 miles/way to Longs Peak)

Boulder field

Once you arrive at the Boulder Field, the Keyhole is in sight. At this elevation, each step was slow. It took a lot of energy to keep moving and we had to be careful to choose our steps wisely to avoid turning an ankle.

Stepping over rocks soon turned into more of a scramble up them.

Scramble to Keyhole

Finally, I climbed up the Keyhole and looked out over the vast views on the other side. It was beautiful! I could see the trail continuing on my left side. There were large bullet marks painted on rocks to help people stay on the trail. If you are politely wondering why I didn’t just go the extra 1.5 miles to the summit, the answer is I’m scared of the exposure. I have a lot of respect for everyone who ventures on after seeing the drop off. I was ready to turn back.

I’m writing about this hike 7 years later because I woke up this morning facing another day of being stuck at home because of the coronavirus. Living through this fear and uncertainty is something I never imagined. I started thinking of the tough things I’ve done in my life:

-The first few weeks of track practice in high school

-Running a half marathon

-Biking 150 miles for the MS 150

-Child birth

-Climbing to the Keyhole

I may be smiling, but this picture captured my relief from getting down from the Keyhole.

My list isn’t all that impressive or unique, but it helps me remember that I can do this. I can reflect back on when I purposely pushed myself to do more than I thought was possible. I think the ‘Keyhole lesson’ for me is trying to take one moment at a time, using the legitimate fear I’m feeling to take appropriate caution, relying on family and friends for pep talks (the people who still love me when I get cranky), and remembering to appreciate the beautiful moments too.

*I found information about the Keyhole route on the National Park Service’s website.

7 of the Most Romantic Things to do in Estes Park, Colorado

Happy Valentine’s Day week! Last February, I wrote a post about 7 Romantic Things to Do in Estes Park. This post was one of our most popular last year, so I wanted to add 7 additional ideas for everyone planning romantic trips out to Estes Park.

Watch the sunrise over the mountains – On Valentine’s Day, the sunrise should take place right at 7:00 am. Kind Coffee, one of our favorite local coffee shops, opens at 6:30 am. Grab a warm cup of your favorite caffeinated beverage, and take a quick stroll in the Centennial Open Space at Knoll-Willows which is located across the street from the historic Stanley Hotel. The space overlooks downtown Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Not a morning person? This is a great spot in the evening too. Read more…

The Centennial Open Space is a great spot to enjoy an inspiring sunrise or breathtaking sunset in Estes Park, Colorado

Hike to a frozen waterfall (or climb over a waterfall in the summer) – Taking a break from our hectic lives and spending time out in nature always brings us close as a couple. We recently took a winter hike to Alberta Falls which was frozen over. Sitting in the quiet, we could still hear the water rushing beneath the layers of snow and ice.

Alberta Falls in the snow

If you are looking for a thrilling waterfall hike, I loved our adventure to Sky Pond last summer. My husband and I had to climb through a waterfall together to make it to this dreamy destination. If you think waterfalls are as romantic as I do, here are some more of our favorite waterfall hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Timberline Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

Try out a new (to you) restaurant – there is comfort in returning to our favorite places. (Here is a list we compiled of our top restaurants in Estes Park.) However, this Valentine’s Day I’m craving novel experiences. A few restaurants we are hoping to try this year include Bird & Jim, Clair’s Restaurant and Bar, and Nicky’s Steakhouse.

Play a board game at a local brewery – We have been thrilled to see the number of breweries expand in Estes Park over the last few years. One of our favorites is Rock Cut. This place feels cozy in the winter and inviting in the summer months. It’s a great place to challenge your significant other to a board game over a pint of local brew.

Go indoor rock climbing – Estes Park Mountain Shop has an indoor rock climbing gym that would make a fun and active winter date. You can find out more details about times and pricing on their website.

Star gaze – One of my favorite romantic times during our vacations in Estes Park, is when we put the kids to bed and sneak out to the back deck where we can enjoy a glass of wine, have a moment to talk, and gaze up at the star-filled night sky. For a closer look at the stars above, Estes Park also has an observatory. Book your spot in advance through angelsabove.org.

Sleep in – The thought of snuggling into a warm, cozy bed and sleeping in without an alarm or children to wake us up, sounds amazing to this mom of two little kids + fur baby. If you are looking for a great place to sleep-in, I hope you check out our place at Solitude Cabins for your next trip to the mountains.

Plus: VisitEstesPark.com recently posted ‘3 Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day in Estes Park.’

Getting Chili in Estes Park – Where You Can Find the Best Chili in Town

On our most recent trip to Estes Park, the low temperatures meant more time by the fireplace and enough spare time to venture out on a unique quest. We were on a mission to find the best chili in town. Eating chili for lunch every day of vacation isn’t something I would normally do (nor do I recommend it, honestly). But, our passion for chili goes way back.

Winter in Rocky Mountain National park

Lord of the beans

My husband and his friends used to compete at the Midwest Regional Chili Championship in Lenexa, Kansas. On their best year (back in 2011) they earned a fourth place ribbon for home style chili out of 198 teams. The unfortunate outcome of cooking for a competition is that we find it challenging to cook chili unless it’s made in mass production, so typically we cook it only once or twice per year.

Chili cookoff, chili competition

estes park winter festival

Perhaps we will one day compete again. The city of Estes Park hosts an annual Winter Festival which will take place January 18-19, 2020 from 12 pm to 4 pm at the Estes Park Events Complex. The festival includes a chili cook off, free beer samples from local breweries, and live music. Individuals and organizations can register to compete. The competition is sponsored by Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI).

trailhead restaurant

Unfortunately, we can’t make the Winter Festival this year, so testing chili at local restaurants was the next best thing. The first restaurant we tried was Trailhead Restaurant which is near the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. The main reason we chose this spot is because our girls love their hot chocolate. The chili was pretty good, but for us, the best things about this restaurant continue to be the views, playground, hot chocolate, and cinnamon rolls.

The wapiti pub

wapiti pub estes park colorado

This was our first time going to Wapiti Pub. We are glad that our chili quest brought us here. This pub serves the ‘Colorado 100’ which means they have a huge selection of Colorado beers. They also had the Kansas City Chiefs football game on, which was a huge bonus to us. (Although I’m sure if the Broncos were on, they might have to switch the channel). According to their menu, the Wapiti Red Chili includes a mix of elk, bison, and beef. It also has beans and roasted corn. The chili is great and the overall experience was fun. We are adding this spot to our list of favorite restaurants.

Smokin’ dave’s bbq

My husband went on a winter hike up Deer Mountain. On his way home he grabbed to-go lunch from Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ where they offer two types of chili on their menu. Smokin’ Dave’s Red Chili has beef and several types of beans and spices. They add stout beer which I could definitely taste. They also serve Pork Green Chili. I enjoyed tasting both, but if I had to order one bowl, I’d go with the green chili which had great flavor.

waterfront grille

waterfront grille estes park colorado

Waterfront Grille has competed in and won awards at the Estes Park Chili Cook-off, so we were expecting great chili when we ordered. I’m happy to report the Award-Winning Bison Chili lived up to it’s reputation. It was hearty, with just the right amount of spice.

Top 10 Posts in 2019

In 2019, we were lucky to enjoy the outdoors as a family both in our new home town of Fayetteville, Arkansas as well as our favorite mountain getaway in Estes Park, Colorado. Writing about these adventures on rockymountaintot brings me a lot of joy. My goal is to provide as much helpful information as I can in each post and hopefully inspire people to check out some of the places I love.

The number of views on rockymountaintot this year quadrupled! Thank you to everyone who took the time to check us out. I’ve compiled the list of our Top 10 Posts of 2019:

Top Colorado Hikes & More

Romantic sunset over Estes Park, Colorado

Our most popular post of 2019 was, 7 Romantic Things To Do in Estes Park, Colorado. I recommend reading this post if you are planning a Valentine’s getaway to the mountains.

Dog friendly hiking trails in Estes Park
Homer Rouse Trail

The next most-read post in 2019 was, Homer Rouse Trail – A Dog Friendly Trail in Estes Park, Colorado. If you are planning to travel with your pup to Estes Park, I put together a whole list of trails you can take dogs on here.

Hollowell Park

Coming in third was, A Trail Less Traveled: Hollowell Park to Mill Creek Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park. I recommend reading this article if you are looking for a less crowded area of Rocky Mountain National Park to explore.

Hiking with Kids in Rocky Mountain National Park, Brainard Lake Colorado
Colorado Hiking with Toddlers

Our 2 Day Itinerary in Estes Park with Toddlers continues to be a popular post. I recently wrote a 2 day winter itinerary here.

View from top of Estes Cone

9 Hikes with Amazing Views Near Estes Park, Colorado is one of our top 10 posts of the year. This post includes suggestions for kid-friendly trails and more advanced options.

Ski in Granby, Colorado

Taking Root in Colorado – An Interview with Alison Stafford was another top post this year. Read this interview if you are interested in getting the insider scoop on skiing in Granby, Colorado.

Top Northwest Arkansas Hikes & More

Winery in Northwest Arkansas

The most popular post from our Northwest Arkansas adventures was, Falling for Fayetteville – Our 9 Favorite Things Since Moving to Northwest Arkansas Last Month.

Devil’s Den State Park – Arkansas

Our second top Arkansas post was, Devil’s Den Self-Guided Trail in Northwest Arkansas. This is the first hike we did in Arkansas, and I’m eager to go back to Devil’s Den State Park to hike on more trails.

Pigeon Roost Trail – Hobbs State Park in Arkansas

The third top Arkansas post was, The Best Way to Spend a Spring Day? Hiking Pigeon Roost Trail in Arkansas’ Hobbs State Park.

Lost Valley Trail – Buffalo National River in Arkansas

Hiking Arkansas: Lost Valley Trail, Buffalo National River was one of our top posts this year and my prediction is it will make next year’s Top 10 list too. It’s that cool of a hike.

I hope next year will be even more adventurous for us all!