Seeking Serenity in the Mountains – A Hike To Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

I feel joy and peace when I look at the pictures from our most recent hike to Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. At 5.6 miles round trip, this was our longest and final hike during our Labor Day weekend trip.

Mills Lake

The hike began at Bear Lake trailhead (9,475 ft elevation) with a downhill slope for the first half mile. A female elk crossed ahead of us before we continued on the trail up towards Alberta Falls.

*Alberta Falls, a popular destination, is .8 miles into the hike (200 ft gain )

Hiking with Baby in Rocky Mountain National Park

The hike from Alberta Falls to Mills Lake gains another 500 feet in elevation. Sometimes it’s hard with kids to go on longer hikes, but the longer the distance the more we’ve been able to enjoy the mental, spiritual and physical benefits of hiking in the mountains. It’s worth pushing ourselves through the extra mileage and elevation gain.  Hiking to Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Mills Lake was serene and breathtaking. The weather was sunny and crisp with the first signs of Fall appearing as patches of golden leaves trickling down the mountains.

When things get crazy with scary news, frustrating facebook feeds, dealing with sick kiddos… I’ve been trying to return to Mills Lake in my mind and linger there a while. It’s my ‘happy place.’ Do you have one?

I’m so grateful I get to return to the mountains for another hiking trip this weekend!

 

 

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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.

A Trail Less Traveled

Rocky Mountain National Park is a popular vacation destination. The month of July is especially busy. According to an article in the Coloradoan, a record 912,507 people visited the park in July 2016.

In my last post I mentioned that crowds were one of my least favorite parts of our July trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. One of the solutions for us was finding less popular trails. One morning we woke up a little late and couldn’t find parking at Bear Lake, Glacier Gorge, Bierstadt or even the Park and Ride. I’m glad we didn’t give up looking, because we eventually found a spot near Sprague Lake.

We decided to give it a go and hike from Sprague Lake to the Glacier Gorge trailhead via the Glacier Creek Trail. If you are in the parking lot and looking towards the lake, you will find the trailhead to your right. From here, head uphill and follow signs leading to Bear Lake.

The further we hiked, the prettier this trail became. Two miles in we discovered a little lake covered in lily pads blooming with yellow flowers. My daughter nicknamed it Minnie Mouse Lake.

Lake on Glacier Creek Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

We also passed over a wooden bridge with a roaring mountain stream classified as a ‘loud waterfall’ by our toddler.

Roaring Mountain Stream in Rocky Mountain National Park

We turned around 2.8 miles into our hike. If we continued we would have made it to Bear Lake or Alberta Falls in less than a mile. The return hike was even more enjoyable because it was a downhill slope.

Trail Signs Rocky Mountain National Park

We really enjoyed our hike and will keep this less trafficked trail in mind for days when the park is busy!

Hiking with Kids Rocky Mountain National Park

Hiking Gear Highlight – Hiking Boots: The dusty first section of this hike inspired me to ditch my running shoes and buy new hiking boots with good wool hiking socks. In downtown Estes Park I noticed a sale sign on the window of Plum Creek Shoe Station. The selection of boots and customer service was amazing. I was given options in my price range that fit the hikes we go on. I’m so glad I bought from a local shop so I could ask questions rather than buying online. Having good hiking boots and socks that fit makes a world of difference!

Get the Most out of Your Rocky Mountain Vacation by Avoiding Crowds, Bugs and Carsick Kiddos

If you are planning a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park this summer, you are going to create wonderful family memories. My whole website is dedicated to how amazing I think Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park are.  I think it’s also helpful to know the less than spectacular parts of a destination that might come up so you can plan ahead.

#1: Crowds – I’m not the only one that loves the Rocky Mountains. I have to share my favorite place with a ton of fellow tourists who come when it’s most convenient – holidays and weekends. That means during these busy times, we have to wake up super early and try to get the kiddos packed and fed so we can get into the park before 7AM. That sounds terrible, but it’s worth it especially if we are trying to find a parking space near some of the most popular destinations like Bear Lake and Alberta Falls.

How to avoid the crowds in Rocky Mountain National Park:

  • hike in less popular destinations
  • go (really) early in the morning
  • hike on week days
  • pre-purchase your park pass online
  • help lines run faster by asking questions at the visitors centers instead of the park entrances
  • ride the shuttles

#2: Mosquitos – I don’t think I’m alone in my hatred of mosquitos. I noticed more of them on our trip this July, especially in hikes around lakes such as Bear Lake and rivers such as our trip from Fern Lake trailhead to The Pool. You might not want to avoid these beautiful destinations on your trip, so my suggestion is to wear bug spray. If you have babies and are breast-feeding like I am, go for sprays without DEET.

If anyone has a favorite brand of natural bug spray that works, let me know! 

#3: Less wildlife – Compared to May and October, I feel like we saw less wildlife on our trip this July. We got to see an elk really close up on Old Fall River Road and two moose near Grand Lake, so this ‘complaint’ is pretty minor. Could be the warm weather? Could be the crowds? Male Elk off Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain National Park

#4: Carsick Kiddos – Winding mountain roads sometimes make my toddler car sick. This time we weren’t prepared and the cleanup was awful. Next time we go on a trip to the mountains I’m bringing a carsick kit with:

  • bucket
  • towels
  • Clorox wipes
  • trash bags
  • bottle of water
  • change of clothes for everyone
  • pretzels/saltines/ginger snacks

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.