Planning Our July Trip to Rocky Mountain National Park

Growing up my Nana claimed that after the 4th of July holiday, summer always flies by. I’m not ready for this summer to be over, so I’m hoping our upcoming trip to Rocky Mountain National Park will slow down time. I can’t wait to relax in the mountains before we have to worry about the uncertainty of the 2020 school year. (Plus, I may be in denial that my oldest is starting kindergarten).

dream hike

I have a long list of hikes I want to attempt during our upcoming trip to the mountains. Dream Lake is at the top of my list. The hike begins at Bear Lake trail head in Rocky Mountain National Park. The first section climbs uphill. Soon you arrive at Nymph Lake which is known for it’s lake lilies. The hike up also includes mountain views and a waterfall.

The total distance is 1.1 miles each way. We’ve hiked to Dream Lake several times as a family, but this will be the first time my 5-year-old daughter will hike it on her own. Other hikes on my wish list include Hollowell Park, Calyspo Cascades in the Wild Basin, and Black Canyon Trail in the Lumpy Ridge area of RMNP.

Rocky Mountain National Park has a new timed entry system. We reserved early morning spots for each day of our trip through recreation.gov. It will be interesting to see how the new system affects traffic in these popular hiking destinations.

Dream Lake Rocky Mountain National Park
Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

dream Drive

I’m also eager to explore the Alpine Tundra. Our plan is to drive up Old Fall River Road and connect to Trail Ridge Road. Potential hikes along our way include the Tundra Community Trail and Poudre Lake.

The views on the tundra are incredible. In the past we’ve hiked the Alpine Ridge Trail and a portion of the Ute Trail. I highly recommend both.

Hiking on the Tundra in Rocky Mountain National Park

dream day trip

Although we will be spending most of our vacation in Estes Park, we want to take a day trip to Grand Lake, Colorado. Potential activities near Grand Lake include renting kayaks or hiking from the East Shore trail head. In the past we’ve enjoyed hiking the East Meadow and Coyote Valley. If you are looking for a place to stay on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, I recommend checking out this spot in Granby.

Grand Lake Colorado

dream dinner with views

I’m excited to head up into the mountains where we can take advantage of the cooler temperatures. I’m on the lookout for restaurants with patios. Latitude 105 is at the top of my list. I also want to check out Dunraven’s new location near Lake Estes. We’ve listed all our favorite restaurants in Estes Park here.

dream dessert

We are pretty loyal to our favorite ice cream shop in Estes Park. I can’t wait to get a big scoop at Hayley’s!

Best Icecream in Estes Park, Colorado

kid-sized dreams

I asked my girls what they want to do on our trip. They said they want to get hot chocolate at Coffee on the Rocks and pick out a rock at the Red Rose Rock Shop next door.

Rock Shop Estes Park Colorado
Rock Shop in Estes Park, Colorado

finding balance

Beyond all of the fun dreams I have for our trip, I want to be intentional about the way I use my down time. I’m going to challenge myself to take significant breaks from social media feeds and news updates while I’m away, basically a social media detox. I’m going to focus on being in the moment out in nature and spending quality time with my family.

At the same time, I also want to come back with some awesome new content to share here. Last month we saw tremendous growth in traffic. I’m excited to see how many people are visiting and hopefully finding helpful information about Rocky Mountain National Park and Northwest Arkansas. Thank you for following!

9 Ways to Save Time and Money in Estes Park, Colorado

  • Take advantage of the free seasonal shuttle service in downtown Estes Park. Click the link above to learn more about 2020 policies (for example face mask requirements) and route information.
  • There are 415 free parking spaces at the parking structure located off of North Saint Vrain Avenue. You can get real-time parking lot availability for all public parking in town here.
  • You can save money by bringing your food instead of eating out every meal. There are grocery stores on your way into the mountains in nearby towns of Longmont and Loveland. These stores are likely less busy than grocery stores in Estes Park. If you want to shop in Estes Park, there is a Safeway, Country Market, and Dollar General. We recommend shopping early in the morning or late at night to avoid crowds. Safeway reserves time for at-risk shoppers on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7am to 9am, so avoid shopping at the store during these time blocks. We have a Safeway card and find that we save a lot of money using it at the grocery store and at the Safeway fuel station.
  • Follow your favorite vacation properties on social media. They will sometimes post specials and discounts. Solitude Cabins (where we have our cabin) was recently promoting ‘buy 2 nights, get 1 free’. That’s an amazing deal!
  • Plan your trip during off peak season. A good rule of thumb is if school is out of session, the town will likely be busier and more expensive to stay in.
  • If you want to go to a sit down restaurant, consider going for lunch instead of dinner. You can often get the same quality and experience, but lunch menus are often less expensive.
  • Our favorite inexpensive souvenir gifts from Estes Park are postcards. Our girls love picking out cards and mailing them to friends and family back home.
  • Love a bargain hunt? Head to Cliffhanger Used Books. In July they are selling nature and travel used books for $1-$2. Proceeds benefit the local library.
  • 2020 Free Days in Rocky Mountain National Park include August 25, September 26, and November 11. Park reservations ($2 online fee) are still required. You can find more details about park fees on the national park’s website.

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