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.
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.
We had to hold on to little hands because of the slippery ice and snow on this trip.
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.
We found a bench that was clear of snow to rest on and take silly photos.
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 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.
In 2019, we were lucky to enjoy the outdoors as a family both in our new home town of Fayetteville, Arkansas as well as our favorite mountain getaway in Estes Park, Colorado. Writing about these adventures on rockymountaintot brings me a lot of joy. My goal is to provide as much helpful information as I can in each post and hopefully inspire people to check out some of the places I love.
The number of views on rockymountaintot this year quadrupled! Thank you to everyone who took the time to check us out. I’ve compiled the list of our Top 10 Posts of 2019:
Flying out of Northwest Arkansas regional airport (xna) to Denver
Last week we took a spontaneous trip out to Rocky Mountain National Park to play in the snow. It was the first time that I flew out of the airport in Northwest Arkansas. I was impressed with the ease of the small airport. We were able to walk from our parking spot right into the airport. Parking was less than $10/day. We easily found our gate and there were several places to grab a meal or purchase a magazine.
It was also the first time I attempted to fly with both girls without my husband. Since we were flying out of a small airport, the plane we traveled in had two seats on each side. The girls (ages 5 and 2) sat on one side of the aisle, and I sat on the other. Loaded with Kindles and Halloween leftovers, we happily made it through the two-hour flight to Denver.
The contrast between the airport in Northwest Arkansas and the busy Denver International Airport was huge. Luckily, I have some experience navigating the Denver airport. We were happy when we spotted my husband waiting for us at arrivals after getting off the train between concourses. With work visits scheduled along the way, he drove out to Colorado on his own, bringing our luggage and vehicle with him.
Hiking in the snow – alberta falls
Once in Colorado, we were ready to get out in the snow. We bundled up our family and headed into Rocky Mountain National Park. We decided to hike to Alberta Falls beginning at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead which sits at 9,180 ft. in elevation.
At this altitude, there was a lot of snow and ice on the trail, so my husband and I both wore Yaktrax on our shoes to help with traction.
The hike gains 220 ft of elevation and is a little under 1 mile each way. Our oldest daughter was able to hike most of it on her own. She did some slipping and sliding, so we were careful to hold her hand in spots we thought might be precarious.
The weather was cold, but since we bundled up and kept moving, we felt pretty comfortable with the trees protecting us from the wind and the sun shining above.
The trail to Alberta Falls is well maintained, even in the snow. This is a very popular trail during the peak summer months. Many times when the Glacier Gorge parking lot is full, we have started this hike from Bear Lake.
Alberta Falls is a powerful waterfall, but on this visit there was little visual evidence. Buried under the snow and ice, we could still hear water rushing underneath.
The trip back down to the trailhead was equally as beautiful as the journey up. I didn’t mind when my daughter frequently stopped to practice writing her name in the snow with a stick ‘wand’ she found, because I could look up and see snow dusted mountains towering in the distance.
The highlight of the trail for the girls was when their Dad slid down the final steep hill with them.
I highly recommend hiking to Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park anytime of year. If you want a quiet hike and a front-row seat to see this landmark, winter is a great time to visit.
If you plan to hike during the winter, make sure to keep an eye on the weather and talk to the helpful park rangers about trail and road conditions. I got the trail stats for this post from one of our favorite guide books, Rocky Mountain National Park: The Complete Hiking Guide by Lisa Foster.
Kids make trips to the mountains fun in so many ways. However, with two young girls, the number of long distance hikes my husband and I can go on are limited. One of the keys to our vacation happiness, is giving each other time to go on adventures while the other person stays back and plays with our kids. On a recent trip, I was excited that my husband could take my brother on one of our favorite hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.
I was pretty jealous of their adventure, but not jealous about their alarm clock. They woke up before dawn and started the hike up to Hallett Peak in the dark with head lamps on. Since they arrived so early (5:25am), they were able to find a parking spot near Bear Lake which can be difficult to do on holiday weekends. (we went on Labor Day weekend)
Hallett reaches 12,713 ft in elevation. The hike is 10 miles round-trip and involves a bit of class 2 scramble to reach the final destination. From the Bear Lake trailhead, the route follows the easy to follow trail to the summit of Flattop mountain for the first 4.4 miles, passing scenic overlooks of Dream Lake and Emerald Lake (link) along the way.
To reach Hallet from the aptly named summit of Flattop, hikers must do a bit of route finding, following cairns off-trail (trying to stay on hard surfaces to avoid damaging the fragile tundra flowers and plants). The route is relatively flat as it skirts around Tyndall Glacier on the left, but then gains nearly 400 feet of elevation in the last quarter-mile scramble to the summit. Its a fun challenge, with minimal exposure to steep drop-offs, though a turned ankle this far away from the car would still be miserable.
The views from the top are amazing in all directions, from the Estes Valley, to Longs Peak, and even over to Grand Lake and the Never Summer Mountains to the west.
After snapping a few photos and taking a brief rest, they headed back down the mountain to Bear Lake with a round-trip time of just under 5 hours. I was very impressed that they were back in time for us all to go out to lunch together!