Seeking Serenity in the Mountains – A Hike To Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

I feel joy and peace when I look at the pictures from our most recent hike to Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. At 5.6 miles round trip, this was our longest and final hike during our Labor Day weekend trip.

Mills Lake

The hike began at Bear Lake trailhead (9,475 ft elevation) with a downhill slope for the first half mile. A female elk crossed ahead of us before we continued on the trail up towards Alberta Falls.

*Alberta Falls, a popular destination, is .8 miles into the hike (200 ft gain )

Hiking with Baby in Rocky Mountain National Park

The hike from Alberta Falls to Mills Lake gains another 500 feet in elevation. Sometimes it’s hard with kids to go on longer hikes, but the longer the distance the more we’ve been able to enjoy the mental, spiritual and physical benefits of hiking in the mountains. It’s worth pushing ourselves through the extra mileage and elevation gain.  Hiking to Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Mills Lake was serene and breathtaking. The weather was sunny and crisp with the first signs of Fall appearing as patches of golden leaves trickling down the mountains.

When things get crazy with scary news, frustrating facebook feeds, dealing with sick kiddos… I’ve been trying to return to Mills Lake in my mind and linger there a while. It’s my ‘happy place.’ Do you have one?

I’m so grateful I get to return to the mountains for another hiking trip this weekend!

 

 

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A Perfect Picnic at Coyote Valley

You are on vacation and it’s lunch time …. if you are like me, there are some days you are handing chicken nuggets back to your toddler from a fast food place (no judgement) or you are begging your kids to sit still at a nicer restaurant and give into screen time (still no judgement). But, some magical days you have the opportuniy to stop and enjoy a meal as a family in a beautiful setting. Picnics are the best!

Rocky Mountain National Park is an ideal place for family picnics. But where are the best places to go? A good resource for picnicking ideas is the National Park’s website which lists over 25 picnic sites.

On a recent trip we decided to try out the Coyote Valley picnic area which is conveniently located off Trail Ridge Road on the way from Estes Park, CO to Grand Lake, CO. There are several parking spots, a restroom and trash receptacles which all come in handy for family picnics.Coyote Valley Trail in Rocky Mountain National ParkA short yet beautiful walk leads to picnic tables on your left. There are seven tables available as first come first serve. The picnic area doesn’t have grills and portable grills are not allowed in this location. Picnicking in Rocky mountain National Park

Best Picnic spots in Rocky Mountain National Park

We enjoyed spectacular views of the Never Summer Mountains and the Colorado River which ribbons through the Kawuneeche Valley.

binoculars in Kawunechee Valley, Rocky Mountain National Park

After being contained in car seats for the drive up Fall River Road and down Trail Ridge Road (with a brief stop at the Alpine Visitor Center where we begged them not to touch items in the gift shop) our girls had fun burning energy and exploring.

Family Hikes Near Grand Lake, COAfter lunch we took a stroll along the Coyote Valley Trail which is a flat half mile walk each way. We appreciated the opportunity to rest on benches and learn about the landscape from educational exhibits along the path.  Never Summer Mountains

The Kawuneeche Valley is an area of  the park we look forward to exploring more in the future!

Don’t Feed the Ducks!

My husband and I had a friendly debate on our drive into Rocky Mountain National Park about the best route to get to Bierstadt Lake. He voted to begin the hike at Bear Lake trailhead which is a downhill slope to the lake. I convinced him that starting at the Bierstadt Lake trailhead would give us better views on our way up and we would end the hike going downhill. Luckily, there was a parking space available in the small Bierstadt Lake parking lot and I won!

The mountains were hazy from wildfires in California and Montana when we started our hike. The haze slowly lifted revealing expansive mountain views.

Hike to Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

We followed switchbacks, steadily gaining elevation before entering a beautiful pine forest.

Bierstadt Lake trail - hiking with a baby

We skirted the lake to get to a clearing with more amazing mountain views. The length of this hike can range from 2.4 miles to 3 + miles roundtrip depending on how much you want to walk around Bierstadt Lake. If you have time, I think it’s worth the extra steps to get a variety of perspectives.

Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

We attempted to have a picnic, but we were interrupted by overly ‘friendly’ ducks.Don't Feed the wildlife in Rocky Mountain National Park

The ambitious ducks followed us all the way from the lake back into the woods. They weren’t happy that we didn’t share our food. The feeling was mutual – our toddler was not a fan of the aggressive ducks.

The ducks were a minor inconvenience and I’m sure will be a fun family memory. However, I’ll take this opportunity to remind everyone to avoid feeding wildlife. It’s so tempting to feed the cute chipmunks or ducks, but it changes their natural ‘wild’ behavior, is a nuisance to fellow park goers, and can wreak havoc on their poor little digestive systems.

Overall, we loved this hike because of the peaceful lake and breathtaking mountain views.

 

Cub Lake Trail – a Wildlife Hotspot in Rocky Mountain National Park

The 2.5 mile hike to Cub Lake begins in the Moraine Valley at the Cub Lake Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Winding trail to Cub Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

The hike is peaceful and scenic. The Big Thompson river winds through the valley and mountains tower in the distance.

Hike to Cub Lake in RMNP

Moraine Park is a hotspot for wildlife. We encountered: a rabbit, Cooper’s Hawks, marmots, a mommy moose with her baby, a big buck elk with several female companions, chipmunks and two snakes.

coopers hawk moraine valley rocky mountain national park

Cooper’s Hawks– A fellow hiker told us to look out for Cooper’s Hawks and we soon spotted what I believe to be a Cooper’s Hawk perching on a pine. According to allaboutbirds.org, these guys are tricky to identify and ‘among the world’s most skillful fliers.’

moose in rocky mountain national park

Moose – If you are hoping to spot moose on your trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, a good place to see them is in the Kawuneeche Valley, but we’ve spotted a couple this summer on the east side of the park at Sprague Lake and here at the Beaver Ponds along Cub Lake trail. Did you know moose can swim? You can learn more fun facts about moose on the National Park Service’s website.

buck elk in rut season - rocky mountain national park

Elk – September 1st began the elk mating season or ‘rut’. During this time, the park closes down areas in the evening until early morning (5pm to 7am). These areas include Horseshoe Park, Upper Beaver Meadows, Moraine Park, Harbison Meadow and Holzwarth Meadow. Closures remain in effect until October 31st. (more info)

Snakes – According to this video clip by Nick Molle, Rocky Mountain National Park does not have poisonous snakes, but you can find garter snakes like the ones we spotted in the meadows by water.

Trail to Cub Lake

A good portion of this hike is in the meadow, but it becomes wooded and lush with ferns and noticeably picks up in intensity – gaining about 500 feet of elevation before arriving at Cub Lake.

Cub Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

The lake was covered in lily pads and made a great resting spot for a hearty snack before our 2.5 mile return trip.

Picnic at Cub Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

On this hike I was carrying my 7 month old daughter, so I just took wildlife pictures with my cell phone quickly from a safe distance.  Photography isn’t my top priority on family hikes, but I love to follow fellow RMNP lovers on instagram that take or feature really amazing, high-quality photos including: @rm_digitalpro, @rockynps, @viewcolorado, @coparkswildlife, @visitestespark, @viewsfromcolorado, @viewcolorado, @co14ers, @trailgirl89, @coloradoinstagram, @lovely_colorado, and @natural_colorado.

Do you follow Colorado photographers on instagram? Who should I be following?

 

 

 

Mountain Hiking – Good for My Soul

‘He put an arm around me and we looked out, feeling the mystifying affinity with the universe that mountain trails can bring.

“When we get back home and life gets busy again, we have to stop and remember how we feel right at this moment.”‘ – The Gratitude Diaries

Hiking is good for the soul
Hiking pre-children with my husband.

Do you dwell in your favorite vacation memories? Today, I’m stopping and remembering what it is like to hike a long mountain trail with my husband. We are lucky to go to our favorite place (Rocky Mountain National Park) pretty often. I’m glad we get to share these experiences with our little ones. We can’t hike as far, but it’s a new adventure each time.  I’m counting down the days until our family is back breathing in the mountain air!

Sometimes You Have to Say ‘No’ so You Can Say ‘Yes’ to Dream Vacations!

Weddings, bachelorette parties, wedding showers, baby showers, kids birthday parties, friends birthdays, house-warming parties, family visits…. this summer is booked. I don’t want the invitations to stop because I want to be present in my loved ones’ lives. However, I can’t attend everything and still have enough time and money to go on great vacations. The big question I’ve been wrestling with is, when should I say ‘no’?

Know Yourself– One of my favorite podcasts is ‘Happier with Gretchen Rubin’. Gretchen and her sister Liz frequently ask thought-provoking questions that help listeners know themselves better. My question is based on a belief that people view booked calendars in different ways. Does a booked calendar excite you or leave you feeling stressed out?

Know What You Want– In his book, Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, author Greg McKeown speaks of the advantages of clarifying your top priority. If you want to prioritize a vacation, write down the concrete objective such as, ‘I want to take a week-long trip to Estes Park this summer with my immediate family’. Sharing your goal with others is a great way to gracefully decline events and combat your fears of missing out. Try saying, “Thank you for thinking of me, I would love to go to your birthday dinner but I’m saving money for my dream trip to Australia.”

How Do You Know What You Want? Listen to your body’s reaction to an invitation suggested Cheryl Strayed, best-selling author of  Wild and co-host of ‘Dear Sugars’ in her two-part podcast titled “The Power of No”. The podcast featured an interview with Oprah who admits struggling with saying ‘no’ for years. Oprah spoke of the importance of asking yourself the intention behind your actions. If you are accepting an invitation because you want to be seen as a nice person, that’s not a good reason.

Don’t Become A Resentful Friend and Family Member– a ‘Catholic Stuff You Should Know’ podcast – episode, “Kristen’s Resentment” helped me to see that feeling out of control leads to resentment which is toxic to long-term relationships and leads to feelings of revenge, anger, malice and envy.

Consider Other Ways to Show You Care –  You can offer to watch a friend’s pet when they go on a honeymoon; watch their kids so they can go out on a special anniversary dinner; bring them soup if they are filling ill; or send them a postcard from your vacation destination.

Pay Yourself First – it’s a popular financial investment idea but can be applied to vacations if they are an important investment to your life. Fill out that vacation request today and fill in other activities around it.

Our Adventure on The Estes Park Aerial Tramway

Iconic red trams go up and down Prospect Mountain over Estes Park, Colorado. According to their website, the Estes Park Aerial Tramway was built by Robert Heron who gained experience during World War II and studied tramway design in Europe. The Estes Park tramway opened to the public in 1955 and has safely carried over 3 million people! The tramway is still owned by the Heron family.

Our Trip on The Estes Park Aerial Tramway

The lines can get long for this popular attraction. The website suggests going in early morning or late afternoon. Our line wasn’t bad because we went early in the season, but according to some reviewers on Travel Advisor, getting there before the doors open is optimal. The 2017 tramway schedule is: 9 am to 6 pm from May 27th through September 4th.

lines for estes park aerial tramway

The tickets are $14 for each adult. Our kids are both under 5, so they rode free. It’s hard to guess how children will react to heights, crowded spaces and strangers. I was a little nervous but mostly excited when we boarded our tram with a few fellow visitors. The kiddos both did great. The windows were open which was nice for airflow. I held on extra tight to them and let bigger kids and adults stand closer to the windows. The ride was fast and smooth.

views from estes park tramway

At the top we enjoyed sweeping views from the platform, looking around the small souvenir shop, sipping our drinks and sharing cookies at the Tram Top Coffee Shop and hiking around the family-friendly trails a bit.

prospect mountain estes park aerial tramway

chipmunks estes park aerial tramway

The coffee shop stays open until 5 pm, but peanuts are sold until 5:30 pm. Chipmunks are friendly up on Prospect Mountain and I’ve read they may eat peanuts right from your hands. I’m sure our toddler would love that!

tram top coffee shop

hiking estes park aerial tramway

On the way back down the mountain there was a misting rain so the windows to the tram were shut. If weather gets bad the trams shut down until it clears to ensure rider safety, so make sure to pay attention to the weather forecast.

kid friendly activities Estes Park, Colorado CO

The Estes Park Tramway is located at 420 Riverside Drive in Estes Park, CO. You can learn more about the history, pricing and even wedding information at http://www.estestram.com.