The Keyhole – One Slow Step at a Time

9,500 people per year climb to Longs Peak. I am not one of them.

At 14,259 feet in elevation, Longs Peak is the highest summit in Rocky Mountain National Park. Years ago (7 to be exact), my husband and I took a trip out to Colorado with some of our best friends. We went on several amazing hikes during our vacation. The grand finale was our hike to the Keyhole. I wanted to see what the guys had been bragging about when they talked at length about their epic adventure up Longs Peak.

I started out in a cranky mood. I don’t like waking up early.

There are several routes of varying difficulties that lead to Longs Peak. The Keyhole is the most popular. The National Park Service recommends to start before 3 am in the morning. You will see a lot of head lamps heading up the mountain when you start that early. The average time to complete the summit and return trip is 10-15 hours. You have to start early so that you miss afternoon thunderstorms. (Longs Peak via keyhole route)

It’s only an adventure if you travel through a Goblin Forest… that’s what I always say.
My life-long adventure buddy

Since we weren’t going to the summit, we had a little more flexibility with our start time, but we still had to start early because we would be above tree-line and more vulnerable to lightening for a large portion of our hiking day. The hike to the Keyhole is approximately 12 miles round trip. (add 1.5 miles/way to Longs Peak)

Boulder field

Once you arrive at the Boulder Field, the Keyhole is in sight. At this elevation, each step was slow. It took a lot of energy to keep moving and we had to be careful to choose our steps wisely to avoid turning an ankle.

Stepping over rocks soon turned into more of a scramble up them.

Scramble to Keyhole

Finally, I climbed up the Keyhole and looked out over the vast views on the other side. It was beautiful! I could see the trail continuing on my left side. There were large bullet marks painted on rocks to help people stay on the trail. If you are politely wondering why I didn’t just go the extra 1.5 miles to the summit, the answer is I’m scared of the exposure. I have a lot of respect for everyone who ventures on after seeing the drop off. I was ready to turn back.

I’m writing about this hike 7 years later because I woke up this morning facing another day of being stuck at home because of the coronavirus. Living through this fear and uncertainty is something I never imagined. I started thinking of the tough things I’ve done in my life:

-The first few weeks of track practice in high school

-Running a half marathon

-Biking 150 miles for the MS 150

-Child birth

-Climbing to the Keyhole

I may be smiling, but this picture captured my relief from getting down from the Keyhole.

My list isn’t all that impressive or unique, but it helps me remember that I can do this. I can reflect back on when I purposely pushed myself to do more than I thought was possible. I think the ‘Keyhole lesson’ for me is trying to take one moment at a time, using the legitimate fear I’m feeling to take appropriate caution, relying on family and friends for pep talks (the people who still love me when I get cranky), and remembering to appreciate the beautiful moments too.

*I found information about the Keyhole route on the National Park Service’s website.

7 of the Most Romantic Things to do in Estes Park, Colorado

Happy Valentine’s Day week! Last February, I wrote a post about 7 Romantic Things to Do in Estes Park. This post was one of our most popular last year, so I wanted to add 7 additional ideas for everyone planning romantic trips out to Estes Park.

Watch the sunrise over the mountains – On Valentine’s Day, the sunrise should take place right at 7:00 am. Kind Coffee, one of our favorite local coffee shops, opens at 6:30 am. Grab a warm cup of your favorite caffeinated beverage, and take a quick stroll in the Centennial Open Space at Knoll-Willows which is located across the street from the historic Stanley Hotel. The space overlooks downtown Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Not a morning person? This is a great spot in the evening too. Read more…

The Centennial Open Space is a great spot to enjoy an inspiring sunrise or breathtaking sunset in Estes Park, Colorado

Hike to a frozen waterfall (or climb over a waterfall in the summer) – Taking a break from our hectic lives and spending time out in nature always brings us close as a couple. We recently took a winter hike to Alberta Falls which was frozen over. Sitting in the quiet, we could still hear the water rushing beneath the layers of snow and ice.

Alberta Falls in the snow

If you are looking for a thrilling waterfall hike, I loved our adventure to Sky Pond last summer. My husband and I had to climb through a waterfall together to make it to this dreamy destination. If you think waterfalls are as romantic as I do, here are some more of our favorite waterfall hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Timberline Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

Try out a new (to you) restaurant – there is comfort in returning to our favorite places. (Here is a list we compiled of our top restaurants in Estes Park.) However, this Valentine’s Day I’m craving novel experiences. A few restaurants we are hoping to try this year include Bird & Jim, Clair’s Restaurant and Bar, and Nicky’s Steakhouse.

Play a board game at a local brewery – We have been thrilled to see the number of breweries expand in Estes Park over the last few years. One of our favorites is Rock Cut. This place feels cozy in the winter and inviting in the summer months. It’s a great place to challenge your significant other to a board game over a pint of local brew.

Go indoor rock climbing – Estes Park Mountain Shop has an indoor rock climbing gym that would make a fun and active winter date. You can find out more details about times and pricing on their website.

Star gaze – One of my favorite romantic times during our vacations in Estes Park, is when we put the kids to bed and sneak out to the back deck where we can enjoy a glass of wine, have a moment to talk, and gaze up at the star-filled night sky. For a closer look at the stars above, Estes Park also has an observatory. Book your spot in advance through angelsabove.org.

Sleep in – The thought of snuggling into a warm, cozy bed and sleeping in without an alarm or children to wake us up, sounds amazing to this mom of two little kids + fur baby. If you are looking for a great place to sleep-in, I hope you check out our place at Solitude Cabins for your next trip to the mountains.

Plus: VisitEstesPark.com recently posted ‘3 Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day in Estes Park.’

9 Wintry Hikes in Estes Park, Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park

I am not a fan of the cold, so it’s surprising how much I enjoy hiking in the snow. From snowshoeing to a mountain lake with my husband to kick off a New Year, to pulling on yaktraxs for extra traction on a hike to a frozen waterfall with our kids, some of the most memorable hikes we’ve done in Rocky Mountain National Park have been in the snow.

I’ve listed nine of our favorite wintry hikes in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park along with links to articles that provide additional information. I also recommend checking out the National Park Service’s website for weather conditions, safety tips, and activities you can enjoy during colder months in the park.

Moraine Park

At 8,080 ft of elevation there is substantially less snow in Moraine Park compared to areas of the park with higher altitude. The first stretch of the hike is in a valley where there is little protection from blasts of freezing wind, but the scenery is worth bundling up and getting out of your cozy cabin for.

Read more: A Winter Walk in Moraine Park That’s Worth Freezing For

Frozen river in Moraine Park
The Big Thompson River frozen in the Moraine Valley

Lily Lake And Lily Ridge

Lily Lake is located 6 miles south of Estes Park on Highway 7, right across the street from Twin Sisters trail head. The elevation is 8,930 ft. The loop trail around the lake is flat with benches available for rest. The Lily Ridge trail takes you up 100 ft in elevation and adds .4 miles to hike. The slight elevation gain is rewarded with wide open views of Twin Sisters, Estes Cone, and Longs Peak

Read more: Walking in a Windy Winter Wonderland

Lily Ridge Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park
Views of Longs Peak from Lily Ridge

Did you know that spring can be the snowiest season in Rocky Mountain National Park?

Read more: Lily Lake Loop on a Snowy Spring Morning

Winter hike around Lily Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
Snow covered hike around Lily Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Centennial Open Space at Knoll-Willows

The Centennial Open Space at Knoll-Willows is located across the street from the historic Stanley Hotel. The open space is home to two historic structures. This is a great spot for a quick evening stroll to watch the sunset over downtown Estes Park.

Read more: Top Spot for a Sunset Stroll Overlooking Estes Park, Colorado

Views of downtown Estes Park from Centennial Open Space at Knoll-Willows
Views of Downtown Estes Park from Centennial Open Space at Knoll-Willows

Sprague Lake

This half mile loop is one of our favorite toddler-friendly spots. The path around the lake has magnificent views of the Continental Divide.

Read more: Our Magical Snow Vacation in Estes Park, Colorado

sprague lake half frozen
Icy Sprague Lake

Bierstadt Lake

Start out at the Bierstadt Lake trail head in Rocky Mountain National Park and climb uphill 1.3 miles to the frozen lake.  The vast mountain views are gorgeous the whole way.

Read more: Snowshoe in Rocky Mountain National Park

Snowshoe hike up to Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
Snowshoe up to Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Alberta Falls

The hike to Alberta Falls begins at the Glacier Gorge trail head which sits at 9,180 ft. in elevation. At this altitude, there can be a lot of snow and ice on the trail. The hike gains 220 ft of elevation and is a little under 1 mile each way.

Read more: Winter Hike to Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

Alberta Falls in the snow, RMNP. Rocky Mountain National Park
Alberta Falls in the snow

Bear Lake

The seasons in the mountains don’t go along with our calendar. One of the most enjoyable hikes we took last year was around Bear Lake on June 1st. The loop around Bear Lake is a half mile. Bear Lake sits at 9,475 ft of elevation which can take your breathe away if you aren’t acclimated. There are benches placed around the path to enjoy a moment of rest and take in the scenery.

Read more: Bear Lake in the Snow

Bear Lake half frozen. RMNP. Rocky Mountain National Park
Views of Hallett Peak from Bear Lake

Mills Lake

Mills Lake is serene and breathtaking. The hike begins at Bear Lake trail head. Continue on the trail past Alberta Falls.  This hike is 5.6 miles round trip.

Read more: Itinerary for Estes Park and Eldora Winter Adventure Weekend

Winter hike up to Mills Lake in RMNP. Rocky Mountain National Park
Winter hike up to Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Deer Mountain

The hike up Deer Mountain is 6.2 miles round-trip. The trail gains just over 1,200 feet of elevation. Along with having great views and being one of the more moderate summit hikes in the park, Deer Mountain is also one of the best year-round options due to it’s proximity to the park entrance (less icy roads to contend with) and the fact that the snow tends to blow off/melt out earlier here than in some of the other popular trail head areas, such as Bear Lake and Glacier Gorge.

Read more: A Winter Hike up Deer Mountain

Views from Deer Mountain in RMNP. Rocky Mountain National Park.
Views from Deer Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park

Bear Lake in the Snow

I’m working on a list of our favorite winter hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. Looking back through the pictures, I realized that the seasons in the mountains don’t go along with our calendar. One of the most enjoyable hikes we took last year was around Bear Lake on June 1st.

Bear Lake in the Snow. Rocky Mountain National Park. Colorado

The loop around Bear Lake is one of our favorite hikes under 2 miles. Our preschoolers can usually walk the half mile on their own.

Bear Lake in the Snow. Rocky Mountain National Park. Colorado
This popular spot offers views of Hallett Peak.

We had to hold on to little hands because of the slippery ice and snow on this trip.

Bear Lake in the Snow. Rocky Mountain National Park. Colorado

The air temperature was chilly, but not freezing. The girls happily played in the snow. We were able to capture some of the happy moments.

Bear Lake in the Snow. Rocky Mountain National Park. Colorado

We found a bench that was clear of snow to rest on and take silly photos.

Bear Lake in the Snow. Rocky Mountain National Park. Colorado
Bear Lake in the Snow. Rocky Mountain National Park. Colorado

The icy lake was melting in the sunshine. But, there were still sections along the trail where the snow had piled up high enough that it was challenging to see if we were walking on the trail or not. We had to be careful not to step into the freezing lake on accident.

Bear Lake in the Snow. Rocky Mountain National Park. Colorado

Bear Lake sits at 9,475 ft of elevation. We took a hike the same weekend in Beaver Meadows where the snow had already melted out. It’s amazing how vastly different the conditions can be at higher altitudes.

The conditions also vary significantly year-to-year. At the end of May in 2018, we took a hike from the Bear Lake trailhead and made it further up the mountain to Dream Lake before we encountered a little patch of snow.

If you love the snow, stay tuned for our upcoming post about our favorite snowy hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.