Black Lake Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

This morning I received a text from my husband with a link to an article from an Estes Park newspaper that there is a wildfire near Estes Park today (November 16, 2021). The fire is currently 133 acres. They are calling it the Kruger Rock Fire. Strong winds have not helped the situation. The most up-to-date information can be found on the Larimer County website, here.

Today’s wildfire is located a few miles south of our cabin. It’s hard to tell the specific areas where the fire has made an impact. It looks like it is near a hiking destination that we’ve enjoyed in the past called Kruger Rock which is in Hermit Park. I wrote more about the area here.

Rather than anxiously checking and rechecking news updates, I thought it would be more productive to write a post that I’ve been meaning to write for a while. Back in August, my husband and I went on a hike to Black Lake. We chose Black Lake out of many options we were considering for a ‘date hike’ mostly because it felt like a sure bet. I knew that we would pass by Mills Lake on the way which is one of my favorite destinations in Rocky Mountain National Park.

We got into Rocky Mountain National Park before 6:00 am so that we would have a good chance of getting a parking spot at Bear Lake. I’m not a fan of getting out of bed early in the morning, but I am a big fan of watching the sunrise over the mountains. It was also amazing to have one of the most popular destinations in the park to ourselves. I took the following video of Alberta Falls which is located .6 miles from the Bear Lake parking area.

Alberta Falls

We took the hike on August 1st, which meant we had to purchase a timed-entry permit for the Bear Lake corridor. The permits are required between May 28 – October 11, so if you are planning a late fall or winter visit the permits probably aren’t something you will need to worry about. However, I recommend looking at the national park’s website for the latest information because this is a pretty new system.

Mills Lake is located a little less than three miles into the hike.

Mills Lake

We ran into a group of female elk on the trail. I thought they’d be scared and run away when they saw us… nope. They held their ground and we let them. We backed up and let them have their space and time on the trail. It was slightly intimidating, but it is also one of my favorite memories from the hike.

There was a section of the trail that had a lot of knocked down trees. I did a little research and found that, ‘In November of 2011 a microburst, with winds estimated at 70 to 90 mph, hit the region and decimated hundreds of trees in this area alone. The blowdown impacted a section of trail that extends for roughly a half-mile.’ according to Rocky Mountain Trails.com. I thought that was very interesting because I didn’t realize microbursts occur in mountain areas. It’s also remarkable that the event occurred a decade ago, but you can still see noticeable damage.

This trail featured numerous streams and waterfalls along with spectacular mountain views.

Not far from Black Lake we had to climb up the side of a waterfall. Looking back we enjoyed the view of the lush valley below.

Black lake

Black Lake Trail is rated as a 5 star hike on AllTrails.com. Fellow hikers made comments about the privacy and noted ‘hardly any other hikers’ on the trail after Mills Lake. Hikers also stated it is a ‘good workout’ for moderate hikers. Tips include pre-downloading maps on your phone and wearing mosquito repellent.

Black Lake is also one of the hikes featured on the new Rocky Mountain Channel which is a subscription service that provides high-quality video content about Rocky Mountain National Park that can be streamed from anywhere.

We stopped for a snack at Black Lake where we admired the dark reflection quality which is perhaps how the lake earned its name.

On the way back, the sky turned bright blue and the mountains glowed in the sun. Our total hiking distance was 9.6 miles round trip. I’m so glad that my husband and I had an opportunity to do something we love in one of our favorite places.

The town of Estes Park, the fire crews, and the surrounding wildlife areas are in our thoughts and prayers tonight!

Honeymoon Hike and Other Things I’m Looking forward to in Estes Park, Colorado

Okay, it’s not actually our honeymoon -we’ve been married for nine years (go us!) and we will have our kids with us on our upcoming trip to Estes Park, Colorado. However, we have an awesome sister willing to watch our kids so that my husband and I can go on a hike together. This is really rare for us, so we are thrilled.

The last time we went on what I call a ‘honeymoon hike’ was in July of 2019. On that trip we climbed through Timberlane Falls to get to the spectacular Sky Pond.

Sky Pond will be hard to beat. The hikes we are considering for our next adventure include Black Lake, Sandbeach Lake, Chasm Lake and Mt. Ida.

Black Lake

Mills Lake is one of my favorite hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and it is on the way to Black Lake which makes this destination very appealing. Beyond Mills Lake we would pass by Jewel Lake and Ribbon Falls. The hike is right under 10 miles in length which is ideal for me. My husband is happy to hike up to 20 miles, so we will need to compromise on the length. The biggest negative is that the hike is located within the Bear Lake corridor which is the most popular area of Rocky Mountain National Park. Timed-entry permits are required for entry between 5am to 6pm in this area. The permits go fast, so we haven’t been able to obtain one yet. That means I need to wake up really early to get there before 5am, or we can hope to get one of the limited permits that are held for purchase the day prior at 5 p.m. through recreation.gov.

I found a great description of the hike to Black Lake on rockymountaintrails.com.

Mills Lake
Past visit to Mills Lake with our kids

Sandbeach Lake

‘Bring your beach towel, sunscreen, and a good book, as this is a great place to enjoy both the mountains and the beach well away from the busy crowds to be found elsewhere.’ says local photographer, Erik Stensland, in his RMNP hiking guide book. Stensland rates this hike as strenuous at 8.7 miles round-trip.

The Sandbeach trailhead is located in the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park. This area is typically much less visited than the Bear Lake corridor which means we’d have some flexibility on arrival time. Reservations are required before 9am in this section of the park. I’m a big fan of sleeping, so this is a major benefit for me. My husband doesn’t mind waking up ultra early to reach a peak at dawn. If I want this hike to be our top-choice, I might have to pack a can of local lager for him to sip on this mountain beach. Cheers!

Chasm Lake

My husband hiked near Chasm Lake this winter. Because of the snowy conditions, he didn’t go the whole way, but he went far enough to know that this hike looks amazing. This 8.8 mile hike is rated 5 out of 5 stars on Alltrails.com. It features a waterfall. Recent hikers called it ‘stunning’, ‘challenging but worth it’, and a ‘quintessential Colorado trail’. Reviewers suggested to bring bug spray and arrive early because the parking lot gets filled early (5am) by hikers going up to Longs Peak.

Chasm Lake Hike in Winter

Mt. Ida

‘Hands down this is the best hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. The views from the summit are simply epic.’ It’s hard to ignore this recommendation from rockymountaintrails.com. Besides the epic recommendation, another positive for this hike is we wouldn’t need the Bear Lake corridor pass. My only hesitation is the trailhead is at Milner Pass which is a further drive (an hour) from our cabin in Estes Park. However, I bet the early morning drive over Trail Ridge Road would be beautiful. We would want to get an early start because this hike is above tree line. I don’t want to be caught up in an afternoon thunderstorm. Speaking of weather, according to the 10 day forecast we have a 50% change of scattered thunderstorms. We will be keeping our eye on the weather and hope for clear skies.

Rain Plans

If it rains, my backup plan is to enjoy a romantic breakfast date at Claire’s Restaurant and Bar and stroll around Erik Stensland’s art gallery which opens at 10:00am in downtown Estes Park.

estes park bucket list

vacation rental in estes park colorado
View from our new home away from home at Solitude Cabins

Besides the hike with my husband, I’m looking forward to adventures with my sister-in-law, having fun with our girls, and even enjoying a little self-pampering during our upcoming trip.

My sister-in-law loves to go shopping, so I’m excited to browse some of the shops along the Riverwalk. Some of my favorite shops include Trenz at the Park, Macdonald Bookshop, and Mary Jane’s.

Our girls (ages 4 and 6) have never played mini-golf, so I think this could be a fun time to try it out. There are several mini-golf spots to choose from in Estes Park. I also want to take them to Penelope’s World Famous Burgers and Fries for a sundae treat.

For ‘me-time’, I’m looking forward to getting my hair cut at Glow Salon and Spa. I also love to catch up on my reading list on vacation. I’m bringing Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, The Rose Code by Kate Quinn, and Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid.

Planning a Memorial Day Trip to Estes Park, Colorado 2021

This year I decided to go back to school to get a master’s degree in teaching, and I also started working part-time as a preschool teacher. I love it, but I haven’t had a lot of time to sit down and write on this site. Now, as the school year is winding down, I’m excited to start planning our summer and begin writing again. The first thing on our list is our annual Memorial Day trip to the mountains. It is hard to believe that we will be heading to our cabin in Estes Park, Colorado in just a couple of weeks.

This Memorial Day, we are excited to host our friends who have never been to Colorado before. As we talked through the new timed-entry permit and the restrictions on hiking in areas of the park due to recent wild fires, I realized that planning a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park feels pretty complicated this year. I’ve attempted to summarize the new system below:

Rocky Mountain National Park Timed-Entry Permit

What: 2 hour reservation to enter the park. There isn’t a restriction on how long you can stay. Parking is not guaranteed. Reservations must be made in advance.

Cost: $2/vehicle + normal park entry fees

When: May 28 – October 11 (pilot program)

Where: There are two types of permits, one for the Bear Lake Road Corridor and another for the rest of the park.

Bear Lake Road Corridor + Rest of the Park– required between 5 am to 6 pm.

Non-Bear Lake Pass – required between 9 am to 3 pm.

How: Reservations for May and June can be made online now through recreation.gov. Reservations for July open up on June 1.

More Information: National Park website.

hiking suggestions

Some of our favorite early season hikes such as Hollowell Park, Cub Lake and Fern Lake are inaccessible right now (as of 5/16/21) because of damage caused by wildfires in 2020. Before planning hikes, make sure to check out the latest information on closures here.

This year we hope to visit the Wild Basin, Gem Lake, Lily Lake, Bierstadt Lake, and Sprague Lake.

The Wild Basin tops our wish list because it wasn’t impacted by the wildfires and the elevation is lower compared to other areas in the park, which means typically there is less snow in May/June. There are also several beautiful waterfalls, and the trail is pretty easy for young kids to hike (ages 4- 7).

Gem Lake also avoided fire damage. Even though it is a short hike, it gains a lot of elevation (1,000 ft.). I’m not sure if we will make it to the top, but there are great views along the way and unique rock formations that the kids will love. Even if we make it half way, the hike will be memorable.

Lily Lake is our go-to hike. No matter what time of year or time of day, it’s always a great choice. We enjoy adding the Lily Ridge trail to lengthen the otherwise short hike around the lake.

Bierstadt Lake and Sprague Lake are in the Bear Lake corridor. This means they are popular attractions and require the Bear Lake corridor pass. These start at decent elevations, so it’s possible to encounter slush or even significant snow in May. We’ve spotted elk and moose in this area, and the views of the continental divide are truly spectacular at both destinations.

I can’t wait to share our favorite places with our friends. Even though it’s a little complicated, I know our trip will be well-worth the extra effort. I’m also hopeful that the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park that have been overused will benefit from less traffic, and that those impacted by fire will be soon on the road to a beautiful recovery!

Related Posts:

How to Survive a Long Family Road Trip

Memorial Day in Rocky Mountain National Park

Moose Spotting Makes for a Memorable Morning Hike Around Sprague Lake

Best Asian Takeout in Estes Park, Colorado

“Every purchase we make from a local business is a vote for the survival of our economy” – Estes Park Chamber Executive Director, Donna Carlson

Boxes of steamed rice, spicy sauces, and fortune cookies make up my takeout dream team. On our most recent trip to Estes Park, we decided to go on another food adventure to discover the amazing Asian cuisine that our favorite mountain town offers. Bonus, I feel like each dollar we spent on mouth watering local food helped a local business owner, and that makes me extra happy!

COVID-19 Precautions – LEVEL UP PROGRAM

The state of Colorado has a multi-level response to COVID-19 called Colorado’s Dial. The dial is based on current metrics including new cases, percent positivity, and impact on the local hospitals. Estes Park is in Larimer County which is currently at a level orange (as of 1/9/2021), however restaurants can obtain a level up status through an in-depth certification and inspection process. You can learn more about the Level-Up program at visitestespark.com.

Thanks to the Level-Up program, some restaurants in Estes Park are able to offer onsite dining at limited capacity, however we felt it was easier for our family to order takeout food and enjoy it at our cabin.

Thai Kitchen

After a long day of driving, we were thrilled to finally pull into Estes Park! We unloaded our mountain of luggage and checked online for Thai food options. We selected Thai Kitchen because it is close to our cabin. Online reviews on TripAdvisor rate this restaurant 4 out of 5. One review said, “Good food but plan ahead.” I agree that the food was good. I liked all of the fresh vegetables that they put into my dish. I also appreciate that you can chose the level of spice. Planning ahead is probably good advice too. The wait was longer than we expected, but the fresh food was worth the wait.

What’s a good way to fill a longer wait time? Consider picking up carry out cans from Lumpy Ridge Brewery which right down the street. Thai Kitchen is located at 401 S. Vrain Avenue.

Nepal’s Cafe

If you are like me, and you aren’t familiar with Nepali food, I think it’s helpful to remember that the country of Nepal is between China and India in South Asia. Nepal is slightly larger than our home state of Arkansas (a fun fact from National Geographic Kids) and is home of the world’s largest peak. Mount Everest is 29,035 feet in elevation. The highest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park is Longs Peak at 14,259 feet.

Nepal’s Cafe serves Indian and traditional Nepali entrees. I ordered the Chicken Vindaloo. Slices of boneless chicken is served with potato, tomato, onion, garlic, ginger and hot sauces. My husband ordered Chicken Momo which is a steamed dumpling entree. We also ordered Chicken Thali off of the children’s menu. The entree came with steamed rice and a sweet rice pudding. To be honest, our kids only ate the rice, but we enjoyed sampling their dish. Everything we ate was delicious. It’s not surprising that this restaurant is so well rated on Tripadvisor.com. This was our first time eating at Nepal’s Cafe, but it won’t be our last.

Nepal’s Cafe is located at 184 E. Elkhorn Avenue in the heart of downtown Estes Park. If you go during the holiday season, make sure to check out the festive holiday lights in George Hix Riverside Plaza which is located directly behind the restaurant.

Cafe de Pho Thai

We ordered an appetizer of crab and cheese wontons. My husband order Beef Pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup. The garnishes of fresh Thai basil, bean sprouts, jalapeños, and lime on the side really added to the flavor of the soup. This a great dish for warming up during the winter months in Estes Park. This restaurant also serves a variety of curry dishes and traditional entrees like Cashew Nut Chicken and Pad Thai. The restaurant is located at 255 W Riverside Drive. Cafe de Pho Thai earns the top spot for favorite Asian Restaurant in town on TripAdvisor.com.

China Garden

The first time we ate at China Garden (a few years ago), we were a little disappointed with the General Chicken dish. I’m glad we’ve given this restaurant another chance because we’ve ordered several delicious dishes including the Tropical Fried Rice, Penang Curry, and Drunken Noodles.

China Garden is located at 460 W Riverside Drive next door to Rock Cut Brewing Company. According to the brewery’s website, ‘China Garden shares our patio! Check out their menu, then call 970-586-2488 to place your order with Li, the owner. We love the Mongolian chicken, hot & sour soup, and veggie egg rolls.’

Himalayan Curry & Kebob

Our original plan was to go to Oppa Asian Bistro, but the restaurant wasn’t open on the day we planned to go. Oppa is a restaurant we’ve enjoyed several times before, so I’m glad it worked out that we ended up searching for a new spot in town. We decided to try Himalayan Curry & Kebob. They serve traditional Nepalese & Indian dishes. According to their restaurant, this food is ‘Typically meat and vegetables cooked in a sauce made from scratch full of strong, aromatic spices packed with health benefits and also delicious, served with rice.’

I ordered a Chai Tea and Chicken Tikka Masala. My husband ordered a Chicken Kebob. All the dishes are spiced according to your preference ranging from mild to extra hot. Everything was amazing – the flavors were unique and memorable. I can’t wait to go back. Himalayan Curry and Kebob is located at 101 W Elkhorn Avenue. Check out their menu online.