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.

Fires in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is closed due to spreading wildfires in and around the park. We are praying for rain and snow to help slow the fires down. Our thoughts are with the fire fighters and the communities affected by the fires, especially Estes Park, Colorado and Grand Lake, Colorado. Both places hold special places in our hearts.

You can find out more information about the closures on the national park’s website, here.

We are also keeping updated by following the Estes Valley Fire Protection District on facebook as well as the official page for the Cameron Peak Fire.

NASA also has a near real-time heat map that you can view here.

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