Honeymoon Hike and Other Things I’m Looking forward to in Estes Park, Colorado

Okay, it’s not actually our honeymoon -we’ve been married for nine years (go us!) and we will have our kids with us on our upcoming trip to Estes Park, Colorado. However, we have an awesome sister willing to watch our kids so that my husband and I can go on a hike together. This is really rare for us, so we are thrilled.

The last time we went on what I call a ‘honeymoon hike’ was in July of 2019. On that trip we climbed through Timberlane Falls to get to the spectacular Sky Pond.

Sky Pond will be hard to beat. The hikes we are considering for our next adventure include Black Lake, Sandbeach Lake, Chasm Lake and Mt. Ida.

Black Lake

Mills Lake is one of my favorite hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and it is on the way to Black Lake which makes this destination very appealing. Beyond Mills Lake we would pass by Jewel Lake and Ribbon Falls. The hike is right under 10 miles in length which is ideal for me. My husband is happy to hike up to 20 miles, so we will need to compromise on the length. The biggest negative is that the hike is located within the Bear Lake corridor which is the most popular area of Rocky Mountain National Park. Timed-entry permits are required for entry between 5am to 6pm in this area. The permits go fast, so we haven’t been able to obtain one yet. That means I need to wake up really early to get there before 5am, or we can hope to get one of the limited permits that are held for purchase the day prior at 5 p.m. through recreation.gov.

I found a great description of the hike to Black Lake on rockymountaintrails.com.

Mills Lake
Past visit to Mills Lake with our kids

Sandbeach Lake

‘Bring your beach towel, sunscreen, and a good book, as this is a great place to enjoy both the mountains and the beach well away from the busy crowds to be found elsewhere.’ says local photographer, Erik Stensland, in his RMNP hiking guide book. Stensland rates this hike as strenuous at 8.7 miles round-trip.

The Sandbeach trailhead is located in the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park. This area is typically much less visited than the Bear Lake corridor which means we’d have some flexibility on arrival time. Reservations are required before 9am in this section of the park. I’m a big fan of sleeping, so this is a major benefit for me. My husband doesn’t mind waking up ultra early to reach a peak at dawn. If I want this hike to be our top-choice, I might have to pack a can of local lager for him to sip on this mountain beach. Cheers!

Chasm Lake

My husband hiked near Chasm Lake this winter. Because of the snowy conditions, he didn’t go the whole way, but he went far enough to know that this hike looks amazing. This 8.8 mile hike is rated 5 out of 5 stars on Alltrails.com. It features a waterfall. Recent hikers called it ‘stunning’, ‘challenging but worth it’, and a ‘quintessential Colorado trail’. Reviewers suggested to bring bug spray and arrive early because the parking lot gets filled early (5am) by hikers going up to Longs Peak.

Chasm Lake Hike in Winter

Mt. Ida

‘Hands down this is the best hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. The views from the summit are simply epic.’ It’s hard to ignore this recommendation from rockymountaintrails.com. Besides the epic recommendation, another positive for this hike is we wouldn’t need the Bear Lake corridor pass. My only hesitation is the trailhead is at Milner Pass which is a further drive (an hour) from our cabin in Estes Park. However, I bet the early morning drive over Trail Ridge Road would be beautiful. We would want to get an early start because this hike is above tree line. I don’t want to be caught up in an afternoon thunderstorm. Speaking of weather, according to the 10 day forecast we have a 50% change of scattered thunderstorms. We will be keeping our eye on the weather and hope for clear skies.

Rain Plans

If it rains, my backup plan is to enjoy a romantic breakfast date at Claire’s Restaurant and Bar and stroll around Erik Stensland’s art gallery which opens at 10:00am in downtown Estes Park.

estes park bucket list

vacation rental in estes park colorado
View from our new home away from home at Solitude Cabins

Besides the hike with my husband, I’m looking forward to adventures with my sister-in-law, having fun with our girls, and even enjoying a little self-pampering during our upcoming trip.

My sister-in-law loves to go shopping, so I’m excited to browse some of the shops along the Riverwalk. Some of my favorite shops include Trenz at the Park, Macdonald Bookshop, and Mary Jane’s.

Our girls (ages 4 and 6) have never played mini-golf, so I think this could be a fun time to try it out. There are several mini-golf spots to choose from in Estes Park. I also want to take them to Penelope’s World Famous Burgers and Fries for a sundae treat.

For ‘me-time’, I’m looking forward to getting my hair cut at Glow Salon and Spa. I also love to catch up on my reading list on vacation. I’m bringing Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, The Rose Code by Kate Quinn, and Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid.

Rocky Mountain National Park with Kids: Alluvial Fan and Sheep Lakes

It has been a few years since I wrote out a suggested itinerary for Rocky Mountain National Park, so today I’m excited to share a mini itenerary that I think is ideal for families with young children.

Animals in Rocky Mountain National Park

If I’m honest, the person who gets the most excited about spotting animals in Rocky Mountain National Park is me. But our kids enjoy spotting wildlife too, and one of the best places to see wildlife is at Sheep Lakes which is located near the Fall River Entrance Station on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park (by Estes Park, Colorado).

When we visited the park in early June, we spotted more bighorn sheep than we’ve ever seen! We also saw a bull moose, elk, and a coyote in the field. Sometimes traffic on the road has to stop so the animals can safely cross. There is a parking lot where you will see excited visitors practicing their wildlife photography with impressive zoom lenses. Or you can be like me and pull out your iPhone to take a quick photo. Either way, it’s a really cool experience and there are usually park rangers stationed at Sheep Lakes to answer questions and help protect visitors and animals by ensuring no one gets too close. Remember, animals need their space.

Bighorn sheep Rocky Mountain National Park
Bighorn sheep rocky mountain national park
Moose at Sheep Lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Best Hikes in Rocky mountain national park For Families

Right down the road from Sheep Lakes you will find the Alluvial Fan which has always been one of our favorite kid-friendly waterfall hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. Thanks to recent renovations, this destination has become even more accessible and beautiful. According to a recent story in the Denver Post, ‘The trail surface is made of FilterPave, which feels solid underfoot — sort of like a backyard patio floor — but is porous to allow for drainage.’

The National Park’s website describes the Alluvial Fan as ‘a beautiful cascade of water flowing down through a boulder field.’ The Alluvial Fan was created when a dam broke at Lawn Lake in 1892.

Alluvial Fan

3 great ways to add on to this adventure

Before arriving in the national park, consider stopping at the Fall River Visitor Center which is located right off Hwy 36. The visitor center has educational displays about the park and helpful staff to answer questions. The visitor center is attached to a huge gift shop and Trailhead Restaurant. This is a great spot to order breakfast and sit on the back deck that overlooks Deer Mountain. We also appreciate the fenced in playground next to the restaurant. At the Gateway, there is a stable where visitors can go on guided rides into Rocky Mountain National Park. I wrote about my horseback riding experience here.

family photo in estes park colorado

Another way to add on to an outing to the Alluvial Fan is to bring a picnic lunch to the nearby Endovalley Picnic Area. Picnic lunches are one of our favorite family-friendly activities in Rocky Mountain National Park. We wrote about five more of our favorite picnic spots here.

My last suggestion for an add-on adventure is to drive up Old Fall River Road to the Alpine Visitor Center. This is a narrow, one-way road that starts at the Endovalley Picnic Area and winds all the way up into the tundra at Fall River Pass. Make sure to stop at Chasm Falls on the way up. Since it is one-way, you take Trail Ridge Road back down towards Estes Park. There are many pull-outs to take pictures and trails to go on breathtaking hikes on the tundra. Old Fall River Road is seasonal. It typically is open to vehicles July 4 through September, however even in the summer, it’s always a good idea to check on road and weather conditions before taking this journey.

When the road is closed to vehicle traffic, visitors use the trail for walking, jogging, and biking. Dogs aren’t allowed on trails in RMNP, but since this is a road, it is one of the few places that dogs are welcome to go on a hike with you inside the national park. We wrote about our hike up Old Fall River Road here.

Chasm Falls off of Old Fall River Road

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

A Winter Hike on the Long’s Peak Trail

This post was written by Eric after a quick solo adventure on New Year’s Eve 2020.

Sometimes when I hike, it’s easy to get so focused on the planned destination that I just put my head down and grind through the miles on the approach, paying little attention to the beauty along the way. So on New Year’s Eve a few months back, I set out on a hike with the specific intention not to reach any particular landmark on the Long’s Peak trail. I knew that I didn’t have the experience or gear to attempt a winter summit of the trail’s namesake on my own, nor did I intend to try to cross the steep ridge over to Chasm Lake without much knowledge of the conditions. I just wanted to get some miles in on a snowy trail through the woods, and pop above the tree line for as long as the typically blustery winter conditions would allow.

Below are some pictures from an absolute treat of a hike—the weather was perfect. Though the temperature was in the single digits at the trailhead, there was almost *no* wind, which again, can be quite rare on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park during the winter months. The trail was generally well-packed, so snowshoes were not required (yak tracks were helpful). It was also wonderful to be nearly alone on one of the busiest 14er trails in all of Colorado; a stark contrast from the parade of headlamps that ascend through the early morning darkness during peak “summit season.” With no objective to achieve, I was able to just soak in the incredible surroundings and be more present for the entire adventure.

I hope to build on this memorable experience and take a “destinationless” approach to hiking more often throughout the year.

Hiking in snow Rocky Mountain National Park
Snowy Trail Conditions
Granite Pass Rocky Mountain National Park
Granite Pass – near where I turned around for the day
Chasm Lake trail
On the way back – I wandered down the Chasm Lake trail for a bit
Chasm Crossing
If you look closely, you can see someone making the “Chasm crossing” along a steep ridge
Coyote in snow Rocky Mountain National Park
Back under the tree line, I was greated by a friendly coyote on the trail (excuse the iphone zoom quality)