Scenic Hike to Emerald Lake Lookout – Rocky Mountain National Park

Emerald Lake is one of the most iconic destinations in Rocky Mountain National Park. If you haven’t taken the trip past Nymph Lake and Dream Lake to visit this inspiring spot, I highly recommend it. It’s one of our favorite 2-4 mile hikes in the park.

However, if you are looking for a greater challenge, you can see Emerald Lake from a whole new perspective by hiking from Bear Lake up to the Emerald Lake Lookout via the Flattop Mountain trail. The starting elevation at Bear Lake is 9,475 ft. and the trail continues to gain elevation from this point.

Hike up to Emerald Lake Look out via Flattop Mountain Trail
Hike up to Emerald Lake Look out via Flattop Mountain Trail

We took this trip back in July of 2015 with our friends who wanted to hike up to the summit of Flattop Mountain. We had our daughter with us who was about 8-months-old at the time, so we agreed to hike with them up to the lookout and then hike back down and take a nice stroll around Bear Lake.

Looking down at Emerald Lake
Looking down at Emerald Lake

The trail leading to Flattop Mountain has spectacular views. From this vantage point, you can also look down at Bierstadt Lake, which is another one of our favorite hiking destinations.

You will pass the Dream Lake overlook at 1.7 miles into the hike. Keep going until you spot the dark green lake and see signage for the Emerald Lake viewpoint.

Looking down at Bierstadt Lake
Looking down at Bierstadt Lake.

Our total mileage was about 6.8 miles. (approximately 3 miles up to lookout + 3 miles down to Bear Lake + walk around Bear Lake)

Photo by Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
Photo by Bear Lake

I can’t believe our little baby is 4.5 this summer! I’m really glad that we keep our family’s hiking journal, so I can look back at hikes we’ve taken in the past with fond memories. I wrote more about our hiking journal here.

More Scenic Hikes Around Estes Park

Kruger Rock—A Dog Friendly, Early Season Trail just outside Estes Park, Colorado

9 Hikes with Amazing Views Near Estes Park, Colorado

Crossing the Divide—Bear Lake to Grand Lake Traverse

Riding the Razorback Trail: Biking and Breweries in Fayetteville, Arkansas

This summer I’ve rekindled a long lost love. Before marriage, home ownership, and kids, Eric and I spent many weekends racking up miles on the trails near our apartments. Our goal was to ride a two-day 150 mile bike ride. ( MS-150) It felt great when we accomplished our goal, but soon life got busy and our bikes started collecting dust.

2010 MS 150…almost 10 years ago!

Thanks to great babysitter(s), this summer we decided to tune up our bikes and hit the trails in our new home town of Fayetteville, Arkansas. Fayetteville has an amazing trail system including a portion of the Northwest Arkansas Razorback Regional Greenway. If we wanted to, we could ride 36 paved miles (mostly without crossing a road) all the way to Lake Bella Vista, Arkansas. For now, we’ve been sticking closer to home. Here are 5 trails we’ve enjoyed so far this summer:

We purchased a Saris bike rack from local bike shop Phat Tire for our anniversary present this year.

*We tracked mileage using my husband’s gps watch, so distances given are estimates.

Kessler Mountain to Columbus house

We started at Kessler Mountain parking lot (near the playground) and jumped on the Cato Springs trail which connects Kessler Mountain to the Razorback Greenway system. The first few miles are peaceful and fast moving. Soon we crossed through Walker Park and headed into the lively downtown Fayetteville area. We continued past downtown to North Street where we took a right (East) to get to Columbus House Brewery. We sat outside and enjoyed the local beer before heading back towards Kessler Mountain.

Distance: 11.69 miles*

I highlighted the Cato Springs Trail that connects to the Razorback Trail in yellow.

Kessler Mountain to Fossil cove

We enjoyed Kessler Mountain area so much that we returned for another bike ride. We challenged ourselves to ride a little further on to Poplar Street where we took a right (East) and went to Fossil Cove Brewery. We sat outside and ordered pizza from adjacent Wicked Wood Fire Pizza.

Distance: Estimate 13.5 miles, we accidently missed our turn and ended up riding a total of 14.88 miles*

veterans memorial park – lake fayetteville loop

For a shorter ride, we took a quick evening loop around Lake Fayetteville starting at Veterans Memorial Park. Lake Fayetteville can sometimes be a pretty crowded area, but even if you have to slow down to accommodate fellow walkers and bikers, it’s worth it. I enjoy the views of waterfalls, bridges, wildflowers, wildlife, and of course the lake.

Distance: 5.27 miles*

Lake Fayetteville Loop with wildflowers

Gordon long park – lake fayetteville

We started at Gordon Long Park and rode towards Lake Fayetteville. Gordon Long trailhead has a playground, several parking spaces and a restroom facility.

My favorite part of this ride was cruising beside several creeks including Scull Creek, Mud Creek, and Clear Creek. My least favorite part was traveling through the long tunnel under Fulbright Expressway which felt a little eerie. We jumped off the trail on Lake Fayetteville Road to grab a bite to eat at the food trucks. I ate street tacos which were tasty and Eric ordered Thai food. Refueled, we finished our loop around Lake Fayetteville and headed back towards Gordon Long. This was a really fun date! To celebrate, we treated ourselves by driving across town to Crisis Brewing Company.

Distance: 12.94 miles*

Veterans memorial park – Luther george park in springdale, arkansas

We started at Veterans Memorial Park and headed towards Lake Fayetteville. We split off the loop to continue on the Razorback Greenway trail north towards Springdale. I was excited to learn about a new section, but this was my least favorite because their was less nature and more road traffic once we left the lake area. It was pretty hot, so we also noticed the lack of shade. We made it to Luther George Park, which looked like a spot my kids would love.

We headed back and continued the loop around Lake Fayetteville. This time it was less crowded and we were able to catch a breeze to cool off. On this ride we were short on time, but if we wanted to sip a local beer we could have easily stopped by Apple Blossom Brewing Company which is close to Veterans Memorial Park.

Distance: 10.5 miles*

I’m thrilled to be exploring our home town via the trail system. I know there is a lot more to enjoy. Cheers to that!

Traveling with Kids to Santa Fe, New Mexico (Part 2)

I recently wrote about our family vacation to Santa Fe, New Mexico and talked about our hotel and the local cuisine. This time I’m trying to help answer, “What to do in Santa Fe with Kids”. I think it’s a testament to the destination that most of our favorite activities happen to be free.

Free ART SHOWS

Santa Fe has numerous art and history museums. There is one called Meow Wolf that looks interesting and interactive. However, the admission price for our family would be about $80. (Our youngest could get in free because kids under 3 are free). To save some money, we walked around an outdoor art show where we talked to local artists about their work.

Walking tour

My favorite part of Santa Fe was walking through town and exploring the southwest charm. You can use an online map from SantaFe.org to navigate your way through different areas of town including the Guadalupe District, The Plaza and The Railyard.

Walking helped burn off some of the amazing food we ate during our trip. I wrote about our favorite restaurants here.

Santa Fe New Mexico is the oldest capital city in the United States
If you plan to walk a lot, it’s good to remember that Santa Fe sits at 7,199′ in elevation.

Before kids, we occasionally traveled abroad where we staid in tiny hotel rooms and shared sandwiches (and bottles of wine). European vacations with kids seem much less romantic 😉 Now I’m looking for ways we can gain cultural experiences closer to home.

Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the United States. The blend of Anglo, Spanish and Native cultures can be seen in the architecture, food, and art.

The blend of Anglo, Spanish and Native cultures can be seen in the architecture, food and art.

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

Santa Fe’s Cathedral is located in downtown Santa Fe near The Plaza. The historic cathedral is an active Catholic church with daily Mass. Visitors are also welcome to tour when services aren’t taking place. We took a moment to say a family prayer of gratitude.

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

Loretto Chapel

We also visited the Loretto Chapel which is known for the Miraculous Staircase. This historic landmark is no longer an active Catholic church, but can be rented out for weddings. There is a fee to tour the chapel.

Loretto Chapel with famous staircase connected to St. Joseph the carpenter

Parks and Playgrounds in Santa Fe

We are always on the lookout for playgrounds for our girls to burn off their extra energy. Santa Fe, New Mexico has a lot of great public outdoor spaces. I believe one of the reasons Santa Fe prioritizes outdoor parks is the dry climate. Unlike where we are from (where we are worried about rivers flooding), most homes don’t have large, lush lawns because the financial cost and water waste would be too high. The parks help save precious resources and provide recreation – I’m all for that!

Railyard Park

Railyard Park is conveniently located within walking distance to our hotel downtown. It is a green park – designed to fit in with the natural surroundings of the mountains. The children’s area includes climbing walls and slides.

Frenchy’s Field/Santa Fe River Trail park was a big hit. We played on the playground’s swings and teeter-totter, then took a scenic stroll on the walking trail around a large open field and down along the river.

We visited Ragle Park which has an impressive-looking slide. Unfortunately the slide was boarded up during our visit. Another disappointment was our failure to make it into Tent Rocks National Monument. We were hoping to hike in the unique rock formations, however we didn’t arrive early enough. The traffic to get into the park was well over an hour.

Mountain Drive from Santa Fe to Taos & Red River

When it was time to go, we were sad to leave Santa Fe behind, but excited to begin the next part of our trip. From Santa Fe, we took a scenic drive to Taos. There are two routes called the “High Road” and the “River Road”. We drove along the “River Road” where we enjoyed views of the Rio Grande and surrounding mountains. You could make a whole day out of this drive. Taos.org provides tips for places to stop along the way.

We continued our drive to Red River, New Mexico for lunch at Red River Brewing Company. Re-energized by our stop, we drove on to the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Southern Colorado.

New Mexico has always held a special place in my heart because of childhood trips I enjoyed there. It was wonderful to return as an adult with my own kids.


Traveling with Kids to Santa Fe, New Mexico (Part 1)

Iconic Santa Fe train stop

One of my 19 in 2019 goals is to take our daughters to two new states this year. Choosing our first destination was easy. I traveled to New Mexico for family backpacking trips and big cousin reunions when I was a kid. I have many fond memories, so I was excited to return. We decided on the city of Santa Fe because it’s known for food, art, culture, and exploring the outdoors.

Hotel Santa Fe

We stayed at the Hotel Santa Fe, Hacienda & Spa which we selected because it’s the only Native American-owned hotel in downtown Santa Fe. (according to their website) †

Hotel Santa Fe, Hacienda and Spa in Santa Fe, New Mexico

We enjoyed the location because we could easily walk to restaurants and attractions. There is also plenty of parking onsite as well as a shuttle service.

We ate a delicious breakfast and dinner at their Amaya Restaurant, and the girls LOVED the outdoor swimming pool where we met several other young families. (the water was a bit chilly for Mom)

Hotel Santa Fe outdoor pool

Restaurants in Santa Fe, New Mexico

I grew up in a town known for it’s food (Kansas City – barbecue), so when I’m visiting a new city with a foodie reputation, I’m eager to try the local flavors.

Tomasita’s – Our first night in town, we went to Tomasita’s which serves ‘northern New Mexican cuisine’. They are known for their red and green chile. My favorite part of the meal was their sopaipillas served warm with honey butter. This restaurant was conveniently located within walking distance to our hotel.

Second Street Brewery at the Railyard – We enjoyed a few snacks and local beer at Second Street Brewery in the Railyard district which is located near the Farmers Market and was also a walkable distance from our hotel. The brewery has a full food menu. The chocolate milk and soft pretzels were a big hit with our daughters.

Pizzaria da Lino – Our gracious server welcomed us like family and the brick oven pizza was delicious. Chili Line Brewing Co. is right next door and it’s also worth checking out their smoked beer.

Chocolate Maven – It’s not surprising that this chocolate shop that seems to be a bit hidden from the other tourist attractions is decorated with numerous “Best of Santa Fe” signs. Their hot chocolate is the best I’ve ever tasted!

Chocolate Maven in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Best of Santa Fe first place winner. Best bakery in santa fe, new mexico

Mangiamo Pronto!  Sam’s Corner Cafe – We enjoyed friendly service and creamy gelato at this cozy Italian cafe.

Gelato in Santa Fe at Mangiamo Pronto! Sam's Corner Cafe

Tip: We had several friends recommend The Shed. We were amazed that this James Beard Award winning restaurant had a two week waiting list for a reservation! Next time we are in New Mexico we will plan ahead.

Our stay was great and the mouth watering food was top-notch, but there is even more to enjoy in Santa Fe. I’ll write another post about our favorite family-friendly attractions, so keep an eye out for Santa Fe: Part 2.