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

Our New Estes Park Art

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.

Hike in to the East Meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park

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.

Where Should I Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park?

Rocky mountain national park timed entry permit

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.

hike in Hermit Park to Kruger Rock near Estes Park, Colorado

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.

Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

You will find details about these destinations (and more!) in the following pages:

Best Rocky Mountain Hikes Under 2 Miles

Favorite 2-4 Mile Hikes

Favorite Rocky Mountain Hikes for Families: Beyond 4 Miles

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.

On the way to Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park

Articles we’ve written about these destinations:

Sky Pond

Twin Sisters

Flattop Mountain

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.”

Abner Sprague
Moose at Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountains
Sprague Lake