How do you bring the feeling of vacation home with you? This blog is one way. I enjoy writing about our experiences and often re-read the hikes we went on when the girls were babies. Another way we are savoring these moments is through the art work we are slowly collecting and displaying in our home. We have blown up pictures I’ve taken of the girls walking around Lily Lake. We’ve purchased professional landscape photography from Images of Rocky Mountain National Park gallery. And just recently, I commissioned my first painting from an Estes Park artist.
Last summer we attended an art fair in downtown Estes Park, Colorado. Walking around the stalls, I fell for a painting of two young deer curiously peeking out of the aspens. I didn’t purchase the painting right away, but I kept thinking of the piece. It reminded me of a hike we went on with our two little girls in the East Meadow. During the hike we were quietly followed by a mother deer and her two young fawns.
The artist is Liz Zornes. I’m glad I grabbed her contact information even though I wasn’t ready to buy at that moment!
After months of internal debate, I decided to ask for this piece for Mother’s Day/my birthday in May. I reached out and learned the original painting I spotted at the show was already sold, but Ms. Zornes graciously said she would paint another one for me.
I’m excited to say that it is now hanging here in our home. Every time I walk by, I smile. I love the colors, texture, and the happy memory it evokes from our magical hike.
I’m not sure how many art fairs will be taking place this year, but another great way to see local artists is walking through galleries in downtown Estes Park. Here is a list of the galleries to visit the next time you are in town, Estes Park Art Galleries.
Planning a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park this summer? You need to make a reservation. The reservation will give you a two hour window to enter the park. The new system is designed to cut down on traffic and allow guests to practice social distancing. You can make a reservation on recreation.gov. There is a $2 online reservation fee in addition to the cost of park pass.
Keep in mind that the lines at the park entrances may be long, so for example if your timed entry is between 8:00 am and 10:00 am, I would avoid arriving last minute at 9:45 am. Also remember to print your pass and have it with you.
hiking near estes park, colorado
Visitors to Estes Park who do not have a reservation to Rocky Mountain National Park have several great trail options outside the park boundaries. If you don’t mind paying a fee, we recently hiked Kruger Rock in Hermit Park. The views are amazing!
Free adventures near Estes Park include walking or biking around the Lake Estes loop, climbing Lily Mountain, or hiking the Homer Rouse trail.
favorite hikes in Rocky mountain national park
Sometimes we spend hours debating which hike we should do during our limited time in Rocky Mountain National Park. The reality is, you can’t go wrong. To help make the decision a little easier, I put together a chart (see above) to narrow down the hikes that are best for you based on the number of miles you want to hike, the popularity of the trail, and type of destination such as lake, waterfall or summit.
You will find details about these destinations (and more!) in the following pages:
Sky Pond, Twin Sisters, and Flattop Mountain are some of my favorite hikes in the park, so I included them in my decision chart. I don’t classify these destinations as ‘family hikes’ because they are more strenuous. I recommend them to people looking for a fun challenge.
My list is just the beginning. There are countless adventures in and around Rocky Mountain National Park. I relate to the following quote by Abner Sprague, owner of Sprague Lake Lodge from 1910-1940.
‘If he (the guest) fails to see every nook and corner of the place on one visit, he comes year after year…. Our guests never get tired, the same old urge to visit spots seen more than once brings them back on their next vacation. They go home rested.”
One of the highlights of our trips to Rocky Mountain National Park is spotting wildlife. During our most recent visit, we were lucky to see both bighorn sheep and moose at Sheep Lakes which is located in Horseshoe Park.
According to the national park’s website, Rocky Mountain National Park is home to approximately 350 bighorn sheep. Sheep Lakes is a great place to see bighorn sheep from May through the middle of August. There is a parking lot where you can safely pull off the road to view the animals who frequent the area. This is not a hiking destination, visitors are required to give the animals plenty of space to make sure both animals and humans stay safe. Many times park rangers will be stationed at the parking lot to direct traffic and answer visitor questions.
The park has a ‘Bighorn Crossing Zone’ in Horseshoe Park during spring and summer months. This means if you are driving, you will need to stop and wait for the sheep to pass.
Bighorn sheep are attracted to Sheep Lakes because it is a natural salt lick that provides the animals with needed minerals.
We spotted the bighorn sheep at Sheep Lakes on the first day that the park opened to visitors after the shutdown for COVID-19. We came back later in the week to see if we could see the sheep again, and were surprised to see a pair of moose instead.
Bull moose can weigh up to 1,500 pounds and run as fast as 35 miles per hour.
Helpful links and resources
We’ve seen moose on both sides of Rocky Mountain National Park. On the East side of the the park we’ve spotted them at Sheep Lakes, Bierstadt Lake trail, Cub Lake trail, and Sprague Lake. On the West side of Rocky Mountain National Park, we’ve spotted moose in the Kawuneeche Valley and in the East Meadow. I’ve shared posts from all these hikes below. I’ve also included the National Park web pages where I found the moose and sheep facts for this post.
In January our family went to Estes Park on a mission to find the best chili in town. We had so much fun seeking out our favorite flavors, we decided to do another food adventure in May. This time we were craving our favorite breakfast treat – cinnamon rolls!
how we chose which cinnamon rolls to taste test
Unfortunately, we were somewhat limited on how many cinnamon rolls we could try during our trip to Estes Park. We decided since we were in town for a week we would taste a new cinnamon roll every other day. That means we tried rolls from four different restaurants. We chose the restaurants based on trip advisor, yelp reviews, and our own prior experience. Our cinnamon roll showdown contenders were Scratch Deli, Notchtop Bakery & Cafe, Trailhead Restaurant, and Cinnamon’s Bakery.
We judged based on appearance/presentation, taste and texture of the roll itself, and taste of the icing.
scratch deli & Bakery
Scratch Deli is one of our favorite lunch spots in Estes Park. The deli is inside a small space, so we always take our sandwiches to-go. This was our first time ordering anything sweet off their menu. The cinnamon rolls were very good. You could tell the dough was made fresh. The icing wasn’t overly sweet – even a little tangy. By the time we got home, we had to warm the rolls up a little bit in the microwave to get the full ooey-gooey effect.
notchtop Bakery and Cafe
One thing we noticed about all the cinnamon rolls we tried in Estes Park – they are generous in serving size! Every time we ordered, we split two rolls between our family of four and usually had some left over. The cinnamon rolls at Notchtop were delicious. The texture of the roll at Notchtop stood out among the others.
This was the only cinnamon roll that we ate at the restaurant, so it had the advantage of being the warmest roll we tasted. Our girls (ages 3 and 5) both voted this as their top choice. I think they especially appreciate the sweetness of the frosting. We loved sitting on the back deck with views of Deer Mountain. Trailhead was the first restaurant we’ve been to for months because of COVID-19, which makes the memory even sweeter.
Locals and visitors alike flock to Cinnamon’s Bakery for their fresh rolls. Considering how much we love cinnamon rolls, it’s surprising that this was our first visit to Cinnamon’s Bakery. This place is so popular, that my husband patiently waited in line outside and texted me, ‘should have camped’. Thankfully, the line moved quickly and he secured the rolls before they sold out.
And the winners are…
Best Roll – Notchtop Kids Favorite – Trailhead Best All Around – Cinnamon’s (but if they are sold out, head on over to Scratch and order some amazing sandwiches to go along with your rolls)
That’s our opinion, but we’d love to hear what you think!
estes Park restaurant News
We keep a list of our favorite places to eat and drink in Estes Park on our website. During our last trip, we noticed several location changes in town and wanted to share here:
The Dunraven Inn moved to a new location at the Estes Park Resort on Lake Estes. Dunraven has been our go-to date night spot, so we are eager to visit their new location. They are expanding service to include breakfast and lunch. You can read more here.
Twin Owls Steakhouse is moving to Taharaa Mountain Lodge. Several years ago we went to Twin Owls Steakhouse for an anniversary dinner. We are thrilled to see the change of location because it’s close to our old condo at Mary’s Lake Lodge. The views over there are unbelievable, especially around sunset.
Over the winter, The Other Side restaurant became Wayfinder. I took a look at their menu, and there are several items I’m eager to try.
I know there were many people (including us) who were sad to see Donut Haus closing last summer. The good news is the popular donuts will now be available at Tiny Town Sinclair (860 Moraine Ave).