Sweeping Mountain Views and Waterfalls – Our New Favorite Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Wild Basin

This month we drove to the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park which is 19 miles south of Estes Park, CO on highway 7. The roads are a little bumpy and narrow as they wind back to the Finch Lake Trailhead where we began our adventure.

The Finch Lake Trailhead was new to us, so our goal was to hike 2 miles in to explore where it would lead. At first, we regretted our decision because for nearly a mile we hiked straight up hill.

Finch Lake trail

Eventually we turned sharply right and into a dense grove of aspens. The trail flattened out enough for us to catch our breath. We spotted signage that showed a route to the Allenspark Trailhead, but we continued on the main trail towards Finch Lake.

aspens in Rocky Mountain National Park

We decided to keep going…at almost 2.5 miles we stopped at a clearing with views of the surrounding mountains. We could see the Wild Basin Ranger Station below which helped us get our bearings and encouraged us to continue despite another steep uphill climb for .3-.4 miles.

rocky mountain views in wild basin

We came to another trail sign that showed the ranger station via Calypso Cascades was 3.1 miles away. We turned towards that route knowing the extra 2.2 miles up to Finch Lake would be longer and more uphill.

hiking in wild basin rocky mountain national park

We were amazed by the stunning views of Mount Meeker, Longs Peak, Mount Pagoda and Chiefs Head. We met a fellow hiker on the trail who told us about a national park fire that scorched the area in 1978. The fire opened up the view and increased the aspen growth.

wild flowers in wild basin rocky mountain national park

We enjoyed a variety of wild flowers as well as the downhill path that lead us by some of our favorite spots including Calypso Cascades and Copeland Falls.

calypso cascades wild basin

When we arrived at the Wild Basin Trailhead we walked less than a half mile back to our car at the Finch Lake Trailhead.

wild basin rocky mountain national park

We ended up loving this hike! We did it with our 3.5-year-old and 1.5-year-old in carriers which was a bit of a (good) challenge for us.

family hike in rocky mountain national park

Wild Basin is awesome! Here are 5 more posts we’ve written about hiking in this area:

Family Friendly Waterfall Hike in Wild Basin

Into the Wild Basin

Waterfalls, Wildflowers, Weather and Wine – Why I love Rocky Mountain National Park in July

Best Waterfall Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Favorite 2-4 Mile Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

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Deer Mountain – A Great Hiking and Horseback Riding Destination in Rocky Mountain National Park

Hiking Deer Mountain with Toddlers
We just got back from another wonderful family vacation in Rocky Mountain National Park. The first day we decided to hike up Deer Mountain which is one of our favorite hikes because of the amazing views.  Unfortunately, this time the views were pretty hazy from forest fires in nearby Grand Lake, Colorado.

Hazy Skies from Forest Fires in Grand Lake CO

The mountain hike was still beautiful with wildflowers in full bloom. I’m trying to learn more about the different species we see on the trails. Here is a link to some of the most common flowers in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Wildflowers in Bloom in Rocky Mountain National Park

According to Rockymountaintrails.com, this hike starts at 8,940 ft in elevation at the Deer Ridge Junction. It’s 6.2 miles round trip and gains 1,210 ft of elevation.

For us, that’s a pretty tough hike with the kids in their carriers. Our girls are 3 and 1 years old, so longer hikes are a great way to help them grow in patience. I’m really proud of them! It is fun for me to look back on times we’ve hiked this before. Check out past posts:

Deer Mountain – A Family Friendly Summit Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Cecy’s First Trip to Rocky Mountain National Park

Horseback Riding Deer Mountain
Later in the week I got a fresh perspective of Deer Mountain by taking a 2 hour horseback riding tour with National Park Gateway Stables.

Horseback Riding Rocky Mountain National Park

The ride ‘follows the Fall River to the base of Deer Mountain and Aspen Glen area into Lil Horseshoe Park and Hidden Meadows.’ You can learn more about the tours on their website. They even have pony rides for ages 2-7.

Horses Rocky Mountains

Mom Tips:
There isn’t a parking lot, ranger station or toilet available near Deer Ridge Junction, so plan ahead if you can. On trips we keep a potty like this one in our car for our 3-year-old.

We pack snacks, drinks, sing songs and play games to keep the girls entertained during longer hikes. Games include ‘tortoise and the hare’ where we take turns who is in the lead and who is going slow paying attention to details (or getting distracted by wildflowers). We also play ‘bear’ where one parent goes ahead with a child and hides behind a tree or rock to jump out and surprise the other parent and sibling.

 

 

Breathtaking Hike to Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Dream Lake is a popular hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. We hiked the trail at the end of May. It’s always helpful to check the park’s trail conditions before selecting a hike, especially this time of year. (Here is the link)

You start at the Bear Lake trailhead which is a hot spot in the park! If you can’t find a parking spot in the lot, don’t give up – the national park has a park and ride shuttle that is free to use once you’ve paid the entrance fee. Routes change with the season. (more info)

Once we unpacked the kids from car, we were greeted by friendly and knowledgeable park staff and volunteers. Don’t forget to say thank you to them for keeping the park such a clean and amazing place – especially the people who have to clean the bathrooms. Bear Lake has several non-flushing toilets available.

The total hike is 1.1 miles each way starting at 9,450 ft in elevation and gaining 450ft. You will cross by Nymph Lake half way into the hike which is a lovely spot.

Nymph is short for Nymphae polysepala the original scientific name for the lily pads that adorn the lake during the summer months. (according to Rocky Mountain National Park – the Complete Hiking Guide by Lisa Foster)

As you continue to climb, the views of the surrounding mountains open up.

Hike to Dream Lake Rocky Mountain National Park

You will pass by a small waterfall which is a great spot for a family picture (if your kids cooperate)

Young Families in Rocky Mountain National Park

Here is a view from the top.

pretty scenes in Rocky Mountain National Park

We were excited for the opportunity to play in a little snow right before Dream Lake, but had to use extra caution because it was pretty slippery in places.

Snow hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

And finally our Dream Lake destination, which never gets old no matter how many times we hike to this gorgeous spot.

Dream Lake Rocky Mountain National Park

 

Fantastic Family Hike to Fern Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

I can feel the frustration coming out in my writing when I look back at the last time we made it to Fern Falls with a Fussy Baby.

This time around, I hope I can express my delight with this waterfall hike. We ventured out on May 25th, the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. Although the Rocky Mountain National Park filled up with visitors over the holiday, we lucked out with great parking* close to the Fern Falls trailhead.

A highlight of this lower elevation* hike is the nearly constant view of the Big Thompson River. Most of the hike is very child friendly as long as you watch out for little ones wandering too close to the river, or getting too adventurous on the amazing rock formations.

Big Thompson River

Arch Rocks

We started the hike with the hopes of making it to Arch Rocks (1.2 miles) or The Pool (1.7 miles) if we were lucky, but the girls were doing so awesome we decided to hike to Fern Falls which is 2.6 miles each way. That’s a little far for our kids to hike on their own, so we carried them a lot of the way in a deuter kids carrier and an ergo baby carrier.

kids hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park

The distance from The Pool to Fern Falls is a little under a mile, but you gain 400 feet of elevation quickly. I was out of breath but had to remind myself that I was carrying a 16-month-old toddler.

The hike up was totally worth it. Everyone was in a great mood and the waterfall was impressive.

Fern Falls lives up to its name, the surrounding area is lush and damp. We didn’t stop long because mosquitoes were swarming the area.

Trip Tips:

*Fern Lake trailhead has a small non-paved parking area. The road leading to the trailhead becomes narrow for two-way vehicle traffic. There is shuttle service and some additional parking .8 miles away from the trailhead.

*Fern Falls trailhead begins at 8,150 ft of elevation so when I say ‘lower elevation’ I mean  low compared to many places in RMNP, but high for those of us from non-mountain regions. Remember to take it easy and drink lots of water!

Rocky Mountain National Park Art

We’ve been admiring the work of Erik Stensland’s for years. He is a talented  photographer who captures the beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park. We’ve strolled through his galleries in Estes Park and Grand Lake countless times trying to decide on our favorite piece. We’ve endlessly flipped through his award-winning book, Wild Light which was given to us as a gift. And now we have finally decided on a print for our home!

With hundreds of breathtaking images to choose from it was hard to narrow down. We ultimately chose ‘The Oasis‘ and had it printed on the Plaque on Plaque format so it stands out on our wall. Taken in a peaceful setting in the backcountry of Rocky Mountain National Park, this picture inspires calm serenity. I can sit and look at it, imaging that I am sitting by the mountain lake in a moment of peaceful solitude.

You can see this image and hundreds of other amazing shots online at imagesorrmnp.com or at Stensland’s galleries when you are visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. They are located at: 203 Park Lane in Estes Park, CO and in Studio 8369 at 1117 Grand Avenue in Grand Lake, CO.

Pro Tip – If you are planning a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park this Spring and want to take your own great photographs, Erik gives great advice on his website. He suggests taking pictures 15 minutes before and after sunrise and sunset to get the best lighting. You can basically put your camera down for the rest of the day and just take in the beauty around you.

One of our favorite early season hikes is Deer Mountain which I wrote about here and you can’t go wrong with a short stroll around Lily Lake or Sprague Lake.

The Oasis, Backcountry in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photography by ImagesofRMNP

How to Reserve Camping Spots in Rocky Mountain National Park

I’m nervous and excited to go on our first camping trip in Rocky Mountain National Park this summer. I grew up camping with my family and have fond memories of setting up our tent, cooking meals over campfires, looking up at a big, black sky filled with more stars than I could imagine, and listening to frogs and insects chirping loudly while I tried to fall asleep.

I also remember lots of dirt, bug spray and the occasional upset stomach that would interrupt our fun. So, I think I’m heading into this adventure with a realistic approach to how camping with a 3-year-old and 1-year-old might go. Here’s my tentative game plan:

  1. Reserve our camping spot in Rocky Mountain National Park.
  2. Research by asking friends who have camped with little ones what to pack. I’m especially interested in what my 1-year-old should sleep in. And of course I made a ‘camping with toddlers’ pinterest board!
  3. Borrow and buy necessary camping gear.
  4. Plan trial runs by camping close to our home in Kansas City.
  5. Head out to Colorado! We will stay at a condo or cabin before and after our camping adventure to extend our trip. I’m only brave enough to camp one night this first time.

A couple of the Park’s camping sites are first-come first-serve, but most of the sites are by reservation. You can make reservations up to six months in advance and they fill up fast. I went to the National Park Service’s website to reserve the spot. You can also call (877) 444-6777.

We decided to reserve a spot in the Glacier Basin Campground because it is close to Sprague Lake, one of our favorite kid-friendly hiking spots. Our camping usage fee is $26.00/night. I chose a tent only, non-electric spot which is fairly close to a restroom with flush toilet. The cost does not include entrance fees to get into the park. You can learn more about RMNP entrance fees and annual passes here.

Stay in Touch with Standardized Vacations

Gretchen Rubin and Liz Craft spoke about the idea of the ‘standardized vacation’ on their most recent Happier podcast. If you aren’t familiar with Gretchen, she is a top-selling author of several books including The Happiness Project. Her co-host, Liz is an accomplished Hollywood writer and producer. They are sisters who are originally from my hometown of Kansas City, so obviously I’m a big fan.

When they started talking about the concept of the standardized vacation I thought it sounded terribly boring. A standardized vacation could mean having a trip planned on the same dates each year, to the same place, with the same people, doing the same activities, and dishing out the same planning responsibilities. There is some flexibility allowed in these factors of course, but the goal would be to get the vacation set on the calendar and to reduce ‘decision fatigue’.

The more I thought of it, the more I fell in love with suggesting a standard-ish vacation to an amazing, adventure-loving friend of mine who is moving across the country this month. Knowing we will have something on our calendar each year would help us make sure years don’t slip by without seeing one another… and that actually does make me feel a little happier!

Do you use the concept of standardized vacations to make planning family vacations easier or to stay in contact with friends and relatives? Any tips?