Best Valentine’s Dates in Estes Park, Colorado

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.

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Seeking Adventure 
Enjoy outdoor winter activities in nearby Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Foodies
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.

**The 2018 Wine and Chocolate Festival is sold out, but you can save the date for next year’s event which will take place on February 9, 2019!

The Eclectic Couple
Ghosts of Valentines is a theatrical performance at The Historic Stanley Hotel.

The Classic Romantic 
The Princess Bride
 , a romantic movie favorite is playing at The Historic Park Theatre and Cafe.

Enjoy winter specials at historic Marys Lake Lodge and go to dinner at attached Tavern 1929.

 

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Hold on to your sleds! ‘Snow’ Much Fun in Rocky Mountain National Park

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.

lily lake in the 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.

TIPS

*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.

Hidden Valley sledding

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!

Elk in Estes Park

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.

Big Thompson River frozen

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.

Sunset in Estes Park CO

Have you visited RMNP in the winter? What is your favorite winter activity? 

Don’t Feed the Ducks!

My husband and I had a friendly debate on our drive into Rocky Mountain National Park about the best route to get to Bierstadt Lake. He voted to begin the hike at Bear Lake trailhead which is a downhill slope to the lake. I convinced him that starting at the Bierstadt Lake trailhead would give us better views on our way up and we would end the hike going downhill. Luckily, there was a parking space available in the small Bierstadt Lake parking lot and I won!

The mountains were hazy from wildfires in California and Montana when we started our hike. The haze slowly lifted revealing expansive mountain views.

Hike to Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

We followed switchbacks, steadily gaining elevation before entering a beautiful pine forest.

Bierstadt Lake trail - hiking with a baby

We skirted the lake to get to a clearing with more amazing mountain views. The length of this hike can range from 2.4 miles to 3 + miles roundtrip depending on how much you want to walk around Bierstadt Lake. If you have time, I think it’s worth the extra steps to get a variety of perspectives.

Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

We attempted to have a picnic, but we were interrupted by overly ‘friendly’ ducks.Don't Feed the wildlife in Rocky Mountain National Park

The ambitious ducks followed us all the way from the lake back into the woods. They weren’t happy that we didn’t share our food. The feeling was mutual – our toddler was not a fan of the aggressive ducks.

The ducks were a minor inconvenience and I’m sure will be a fun family memory. However, I’ll take this opportunity to remind everyone to avoid feeding wildlife. It’s so tempting to feed the cute chipmunks or ducks, but it changes their natural ‘wild’ behavior, is a nuisance to fellow park goers, and can wreak havoc on their poor little digestive systems.

Overall, we loved this hike because of the peaceful lake and breathtaking mountain views.

 

Cub Lake Trail – a Wildlife Hotspot in Rocky Mountain National Park

The 2.5 mile hike to Cub Lake begins in the Moraine Valley at the Cub Lake Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Winding trail to Cub Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

The hike is peaceful and scenic. The Big Thompson river winds through the valley and mountains tower in the distance.

Hike to Cub Lake in RMNP

Moraine Park is a hotspot for wildlife. We encountered: a rabbit, Cooper’s Hawks, marmots, a mommy moose with her baby, a big buck elk with several female companions, chipmunks and two snakes.

coopers hawk moraine valley rocky mountain national park

Cooper’s Hawks– A fellow hiker told us to look out for Cooper’s Hawks and we soon spotted what I believe to be a Cooper’s Hawk perching on a pine. According to allaboutbirds.org, these guys are tricky to identify and ‘among the world’s most skillful fliers.’

moose in rocky mountain national park

Moose – If you are hoping to spot moose on your trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, a good place to see them is in the Kawuneeche Valley, but we’ve spotted a couple this summer on the east side of the park at Sprague Lake and here at the Beaver Ponds along Cub Lake trail. Did you know moose can swim? You can learn more fun facts about moose on the National Park Service’s website.

buck elk in rut season - rocky mountain national park

Elk – September 1st began the elk mating season or ‘rut’. During this time, the park closes down areas in the evening until early morning (5pm to 7am). These areas include Horseshoe Park, Upper Beaver Meadows, Moraine Park, Harbison Meadow and Holzwarth Meadow. Closures remain in effect until October 31st. (more info)

Snakes – According to this video clip by Nick Molle, Rocky Mountain National Park does not have poisonous snakes, but you can find garter snakes like the ones we spotted in the meadows by water.

Trail to Cub Lake

A good portion of this hike is in the meadow, but it becomes wooded and lush with ferns and noticeably picks up in intensity – gaining about 500 feet of elevation before arriving at Cub Lake.

Cub Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

The lake was covered in lily pads and made a great resting spot for a hearty snack before our 2.5 mile return trip.

Picnic at Cub Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

On this hike I was carrying my 7 month old daughter, so I just took wildlife pictures with my cell phone quickly from a safe distance.  Photography isn’t my top priority on family hikes, but I love to follow fellow RMNP lovers on instagram that take or feature really amazing, high-quality photos including: @rm_digitalpro, @rockynps, @viewcolorado, @coparkswildlife, @visitestespark, @viewsfromcolorado, @viewcolorado, @co14ers, @trailgirl89, @coloradoinstagram, @lovely_colorado, and @natural_colorado.

Do you follow Colorado photographers on instagram? Who should I be following?

 

 

 

Our Adventure on The Estes Park Aerial Tramway

Iconic red trams go up and down Prospect Mountain over Estes Park, Colorado. According to their website, the Estes Park Aerial Tramway was built by Robert Heron who gained experience during World War II and studied tramway design in Europe. The Estes Park tramway opened to the public in 1955 and has safely carried over 3 million people! The tramway is still owned by the Heron family.

Our Trip on The Estes Park Aerial Tramway

The lines can get long for this popular attraction. The website suggests going in early morning or late afternoon. Our line wasn’t bad because we went early in the season, but according to some reviewers on Travel Advisor, getting there before the doors open is optimal. The 2017 tramway schedule is: 9 am to 6 pm from May 27th through September 4th.

lines for estes park aerial tramway

The tickets are $14 for each adult. Our kids are both under 5, so they rode free. It’s hard to guess how children will react to heights, crowded spaces and strangers. I was a little nervous but mostly excited when we boarded our tram with a few fellow visitors. The kiddos both did great. The windows were open which was nice for airflow. I held on extra tight to them and let bigger kids and adults stand closer to the windows. The ride was fast and smooth.

views from estes park tramway

At the top we enjoyed sweeping views from the platform, looking around the small souvenir shop, sipping our drinks and sharing cookies at the Tram Top Coffee Shop and hiking around the family-friendly trails a bit.

prospect mountain estes park aerial tramway

chipmunks estes park aerial tramway

The coffee shop stays open until 5 pm, but peanuts are sold until 5:30 pm. Chipmunks are friendly up on Prospect Mountain and I’ve read they may eat peanuts right from your hands. I’m sure our toddler would love that!

tram top coffee shop

hiking estes park aerial tramway

On the way back down the mountain there was a misting rain so the windows to the tram were shut. If weather gets bad the trams shut down until it clears to ensure rider safety, so make sure to pay attention to the weather forecast.

kid friendly activities Estes Park, Colorado CO

The Estes Park Tramway is located at 420 Riverside Drive in Estes Park, CO. You can learn more about the history, pricing and even wedding information at http://www.estestram.com.

Waterfalls, Wildflowers, Weather and Wine – Why I love the Rocky Mountains in July

The Best of Rocky Mountain National Park in July

We just got back from a trip to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park and I already miss it! Here are the 4 things I loved most from our July trip to the Rocky Mountains:

#1: Weather – it’s hot, hot, hot back home in Kansas City. The mountains welcomed us with sunshine, cooler breezes and the occasional refreshing rain storm.

#2: Waterfalls – in the early part of summer the snowmelt is still strong, creating impressive displays.

Alluvial Fan
Alluvial Fan
Chasm Falls
Chasm Falls off Old Fall River Road
Wild Basin Waterfall
Wild Basin Waterfall
Waterfall near Alberta Falls
Off trail waterfall near Alberta Falls

#3: Wildflowers – blooms in yellow, white, purple, blue, red and pink created colorful carpets beneath scenic mountain landscapes and surrounding our favorite lakes.

Wildflowers near Horseshoe Park
Wildflowers near Horseshoe Park
Flowers Near Lily Lake
Flowers near Lily Lake
We love wildflowers
We love Rocky Mountain wildflowers

#4: Wine – the wine at Snowy Peaks Winery in downtown Estes Park, Colorado tastes even more delicious when your toddler is happily playing in the adjacent children’s area.

Snowy Peaks Winery and tasting room in Estes Park, Colorado
Snowy Peaks Winery and tasting room in Estes Park, Colorado

Snowy Peaks Winery in Estes Park Colorado

Planning a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park? Later this week I’ll let you know about my least favorite parts of our trip and how you can avoid them.

Estes Park Summer Bucket List

My Dad always said planning a trip is sometimes more fun than the actual vacation itself. I don’t know if that’s always the case, but I love to research fun, new activities to do on our famiy’s trips to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. I never run out of options because there is so much to do in this quaint mountain town and in the nearby National Park. Here are some of the top things on our Estes Park Summer Bucket List in 2017:

Eat an ice cream cone at Hayley’s

The delicious smell of waffle cones wafts out the door as you enter our favorite ice cream shop. It’s tiny inside so we choose our favorite flavor and take it outside on a stroll down the river walk. Hayley’s is located at 102 W. Elkhorn Avenue in downtown Estes Park, Colorado.

Best Icecream in Estes Park, Colorado

Pikas in the Park

What’s cuter than a pika? nothing! I’m so excited to participate in this new scavenger hunt activity. Just download an activity guide at visitestespark.com and start looking for 12 bronze pika sculptures in downtown Estes Park.

Be a Junior Ranger

We will head to the Fall River Visitor Center to pickup the Junior Ranger packet for kids 5 and under (they have packets designed for older kids too). The visitor center is open from 9am-5pm every day during the summer. You can pick up packets at any of the park’s visitor centers. Here is a link for more information about Rocky Mountain National Park visitors centers locations and hours. You can find more information about their Junior Park Ranger program here.

Bonus: While we are at the Fall River Visitor Center, we will enjoy a delicious breakfast and spectacular views at the attached Trailhead Restaurant. After dining, we will let our toddler play at the little playground right outside to burn off some endless energy.

rocky mountain national park visitor center playground area

Go on a boat ride

We want to spend some time on the water. Last year we rented a pontoon boat for a half hour ride on Lake Estes. This short amount of time was perfect for our little one’s first boat ride. Lake Estes is beautiful, conveniently located and rentals are fairly inexpensive. The marina website has rental information listed.

Another option is to drive over Trail Ridge Road to get to Grand Lake. The drive could take an hour or two depending on traffic. The boat rentals seem to cost a little more on this side of the mountain and I haven’t found rental options for under an hour. But, it’s always fun to try something new and we could easily make this a full day trip with stops along Trail Ridge Road and visiting attractions in the town of Grand Lake, CO. Two marinas we are considering renting boats from are Trail Ridge Marina  or Grand Lake Marina.

Rent Boat at Lake Estes Marina

Enjoy a Rocky Mountain waterfall

There are many amazing waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park. This year Chasm Falls is on the top of my list. The falls are located right off of  Old Fall River Road, a one-way gravel road which travels all the way up to an elevation of 11,796 ft at the Alpine Visitors Center. The road is scenic and enjoyed at a leisurely pace (15 miles per hour speed limit). It’s a good idea to check park Road Status Reports before heading up.

Gaze at the stars

One of the best things about being further away from the city is being able to see stars light up the night sky. We are excited to attend a “Stories Behind the Moon & the Stars” program at the Moraine Valley Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park. The events will take place around 8:00 on Fridays June 30, July 7, August 4 and August 11 in 2017. You can learn more at angelsabove.org

Hike to a mountain lake 

It’s hard to pick a favorite mountain lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, but this year we are going to attempt a family hike to Mills Lake. The roundtrip journey is roughly six miles. We can start at the Bear Lake trailhead and pass by Alberta Falls on our way up.

Mills Lake RMNP

Watch fireworks

We are going to grab some lawn chairs and watch a spectacular fireworks show over Lake Estes on July 4th. The event begins at 9:30PM.

What are you looking forward to this summer? I’d love to hear about your bucket list!