Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park

My husband and I just got back from a romantic getaway in Estes Park, Colorado. We stayed at our cabin at Solitude Cabins where we enjoyed the warm fireplace, views of Longs Peak, and cozy kitchen where we cooked several of our meals.

restaurants in estes park

Besides eating at the cabin, we also enjoyed several meals at local restaurants. Himalayan Curry & Kebob’s spicy cuisine warmed us up as we looked out the window at falling snow. We also enjoyed a warm bowl of soup at Claire’s on the Park for a post-hike lunch.

We selected Bird & Jim’s for our anniversary dinner. Described as, ‘Modern mountain dining from an ingredient-driven kitchen’, dining at this restaurant has been on our Estes Park bucket-list for a long time. We opted to sit in the bar area where we sat on a blue velvety coach. The lounge furniture paired well with our smoked whiskey drinks and hummus appetizer. We enjoyed our meals of roast chicken and steak. The whole experience was perfect!

Estes Park Winter

Our evening walk in downtown Estes Park felt like strolling through a scene in a classic Christmas movie with festive holiday lights and fresh snow.

Estes Park Winter

To warm up from the frosty weather, we enjoyed sampling wine at Snowy Peaks Winery and drinking seasonal pints at our favorite Estes Park brewery, Rock Cut. We sipped Kind Coffee as we strolled down the Estes Park Riverwalk.

Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park

Estes Park is located near the East entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park. In the summer, this is a hikers dream-spot. In the winter months you can hike with traction, or snowshoe depending on trail conditions. When we arrived, the area had just received fresh snow, so we rented snowshoes from Estes Park Mountain Shop along with poles with snow baskets on them.

Snowshoe Rental Estes Park colorado

Winter is considered off-peak season in Rocky Mountain National Park, so there are no timed-entry permits to worry about. Finding a parking spot is quite a lot easier, although we were surprised to see a long line at the entrance around noon (holiday week).

Winter Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park

Winter Hike to The Loch

We went on two snowshoeing excursions during our trip. The first day we attempted to make it to The Loch. We parked at the Glacier Gorge trailhead which is in the Bear Lake corridor. As we stepped out of the car, we were hit with brutal winds. The winds calmed down significantly once we got deeper into the woods. However, my gloves were no match for the 10-degree temperatures, so I was fairly miserable. I was proud of myself for making it past Alberta Falls to the North Longs Peak Trail junction before giving up when a blast of icy wind blew away our snowshoe tracks and scared me to go beyond that point. We gained about 800 feet of elevation and hiked 3.7 roundtrip.

Romantic vacation Estes Park

There is a winter trail that we missed that skips Alberta Falls but offers a more direct route to The Loch.

shopping in downtown estes park

That afternoon, we enjoyed shopping in downtown Estes Park. We bought adorable Smokey the Bear beanies at Trendz boutique for our little girls. We also bought nice ski gloves for me at Hyk.

Winter Hike to Chasm Lake junction

Wind conditions Rocky Mountain National Park

Bolstered by my new glove purchase, we decided to attempt snowshoeing again the next morning. This time, we headed to the Longs Peak trailhead in hopes of hiking to the Chasm Lake trail junction. My husband enjoyed this hike last January which he wrote about here.

snowshoeing rocky mountain natinoal park

The winds were much more tolerable. I had moments where I felt warm as we gained 1,800 feet of elevation. This hike was beautiful in the snow. Some spots were challenging where the snow was deep.

winter gear hiking

Once we approached the tree line, a gush of what felt like hurricane-force wind came down the mountain and we immediately turned around. It was intense!

I enjoyed the hike back down because it was much easier than the way up and went pretty fast. Our total hike was 4.5 miles. I tried to take in the beauty of the forest in the snow while also looking forward to our awaiting seat-warmers.

Layer upon layer – What I Wore hiking in cold weather

pants: Under Armour cold-weather tights and hiking pants

shirt: base layer turtleneck, fleece, winter coat

feet: wool socks, waterproof hiking boots, snowshoes and poles with snow baskets

extras: sunscreen, sunglasses, beanie, neck gaiter, ski gloves, hiking backpack. *our pack’s straw froze, so pack a separate water bottle

COTREX – location tracker and digital topo maps that don’t require cell signal. Keep in mind that cell phones can freeze up in extremely cold temperatures. I found this article about how to prevent loss of use.

A New Year’s Eve Getaway in Estes Park, Colorado

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.

Here is a map of the Area Closures due to fire damage.

America the Beautiful Park Pass

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.

Nymph Lake

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.

Hike to Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

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.

Solitude Cabins in Estes Park, Colorado

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.

Lily Lake Hike in Rocky Mountain National park
Lily Lake in the Snow

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.

Sledding in Rocky Mountain National Park

Sprague Lake

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.

Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Our 5 Most Popular Colorado posts in 2020

I always think it’s fun to see what our readers are finding on our site.

Our fifth most popular post was extra sweet. The Best in Estes Park: A Cinnamon Roll Showdown.

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).

The most popular post was 7 Romantic Things To Do in Estes Park, Colorado. This post was actually written in February of 2019, but most of the points remain true except that the Dunraven has a new location by Lake Estes.

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.

coming soon

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.

Happy New Year!

-Kelly

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