A New Era in Family Hiking, The Best 3 to 6 Mile Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

This summer we reached a turning point. Gone are the days of baby packs, kid carriers, and short strolls with preschoolers. We will look back on our early years of hiking with fond memories. But let’s be real, hiking with very young children is challenging!

This summer our seven-year-old and five-year-old daughters exceeded our expectations by hiking several of our favorite three to six mile hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park on their own.

Mills Lake

A hike to Mills Lake marked the first big trek of the summer. Mills Lake is in the Bear Lake Corridor of Rocky Mountain National Park. The hike begins at Bear Lake trailhead (9,475 ft elevation). The trail passes by the iconic Alberta Falls. The total distance is 5.6 miles roundtrip.

Looking Back: 2017 post, Seeking Serenity in the Mountains

Mills Lake

EMERALD LAKE

Hiking with best friends was the secret to our successful hike to Emerald Lake. Our group hiked 3.6 miles with an elevation gain of 650 ft. The hike to Emerald Lake is one of the best hikes in RMNP because you pass by Nymph Lake and Dream Lake on your way up. Like Mills Lake, this hike also starts at the Bear Lake trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park. We didn’t get to enjoy the views at Emerald Lake for long before a sudden hail and rainstorm had us heading down the mountain. By the time we reached the parking lot, the sky cleared, and we saw the most spectacular double rainbow.

Looking Back: 2018 post, Breathtaking Hike to Dream Lake

Young Families in Rocky Mountain National Park

gem lakE

Gem Lake is in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Lumpy Ridge area. The hike is 3.6 miles (1.8 miles each way), gains 1,000 ft of elevation, and features unique rock formations like ‘The Boot’. Rock steps lead to the small mountain lake. These steps are moderately challenging for me. For the girls and their shorter legs, the climb required an extraordinary effort.

Looking Back: 2015 post, Rocky Mountain Tot Goes to Gem Lake

Ouzel Falls

Ouzel Falls is located in the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park where abundant wildflowers bloom beside rushing waterfalls. This area is often less crowded and is lower in elevation compared to the Bear Lake area. The hike to Ouzel Falls begins at 8,500 ft of elevation and gains 950 ft. The total distance is 5.4 miles (2.7 miles/way). Before arriving at Ouzel Falls, the trail passes Copeland Falls and the Calypso Cascades which are both beautiful destinations on their own.

Looking Back: 2015 post, Into the Wild Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park

Deer Mountain

The trailhead for this summit hike is located off of Deer Ridge Junction, a few miles west of Rocky Mountain National Park’s Beaver Meadows entrance. The 10,013 ft. summit features sweeping views. The hike is 6 miles total distance (3 miles/way).

Looking Back: 2017 post, Deer Mountain – a Family-Friendly Summit Hike In Rocky Mountain National Park

Deer Mountain, good spring summit hike for families in Rocky Mountains

Blue lake in indian peaks wilderness

Unlike the other hikes in this post, Blue Lake is located in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area rather than Rocky Mountain National Park. The recreation area is located approximately 1 hour 20 minutes from Denver, 50 minutes from Boulder, and 50 minutes from Estes Park. The hike is 6.2 miles round trip and gains 1,250 feet in elevation. The trail passes several mountain lakes including Mitchell Lake. We spotted several moose along the trail.

Looking Back: Post from 2016 hike, Add This to Your Hiking Bucket List, Blue Lake in Indian Peaks Wilderness.

The fact that we were able to experience six world-class hikes as a family fills my heart with gratitude. To celebrate, we purchased the girls’ hiking badges for each destination they reached.

I can’t wait to see which badges they will add to their collections next!

Outdoor Fun with our Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board and Kayak

School is back in session and tonight’s post is a bit of a ‘brain break’ for me. Starting a new school year is bittersweet because I love spending time with my girls during the summer, they are at such fun ages. One of favorite outdoor activites was taking out our new inflatable stand up paddle board and inflatable 2-person kayak.

SUP is short for Stand Up Paddle Board, but I don’t feel hip enough to use the term ‘SUP’.

I received an EvaJoy Inflatable Paddle Board as a gift for my birthday. The paddle board came with a hand pump, repair kit, fin, paddle, and dry bag. The paddle board is big (10’10″” long by 32″” wide) which means that I could paddle in the back and have one of my daughters sit comfortably in front of me.

I’ve heard that paddle boarding is a good exercise for core muscles, but for me, the workout starts before we hit the water. Inflating the board with the hand pump is a lot of work! After several uses, I’m having a hard time keeping the hose connected while I pump so it usually takes two of us to inflate the board. Once inflated, the board feels very sturdy.

We purchased a Star 2-person inflatable kayak similar to this one. We also purchased kid-sized paddles. Our girls are learning how to steer and turn. This kayak has worked well for our family on lakes this summer, but I think it will perform even better for floating the river next spring.

We took both the board and kayak to several lakes in Colorado including Lake Estes and Grand Lake. We’ve also enjoyed paddle boarding and kayaking on lakes in Arkansas including Beaver Lake and Greers Ferry Lake.

Our Stay at Greers Ferry Lake – Arkansas

Today I want to share about a recent trip we took to Juniper Tree Lodge overlooking Greers Ferry Lake in Central Arkansas. This was our first time in the area, and we were amazed by the views and hospitality.

The lodge includes three bedrooms and a roomy yet cozy indoor living area as well as an expansive outdoor living space with inspiring views of the lake.

We arrived on a rainy weekend, so we were thankful for amenities like a large covered deck, nice firepit, indoor and outdoor fireplace, and the 7 x 14 swim spa.

One of my favorite design elements was the accessibility of a full bathroom onto the deck which allowed our kids to easily go from the spa to shower without getting the entire living room wet. So smart! I should have taken more pictures of the inside spaces because they were beautifully done, however I couldn’t take my eyes off the sunset views.

Before visiting the Lodge, I was a little nervous about the location because I have young kids (I’m cautious by nature). The website mentioned that the home is perched 600 ft above Greers Ferry lake on the bluffs. We talked about the importance of always sticking with adults and we didn’t venture off the deck area without holding hands.

restaurants in greers ferry and heber springs, arkansas

We didn’t have to go out to many restaurants because the kitchen was fully stocked with everything we needed to make meals plus the home is furnished with both a gas grill and a charcoal grill. We shopped for groceries at Harps in nearby Heber Springs, Arkansas.

We drove to Las Playitas Greers Ferry for Mexican Food which we enjoyed. I made the somewhat embarrassing mistake of ordering a margarita. I didn’t realize that Greers Ferry is located in a dry county and doesn’t serve alcohol. Oops!

During our stay we ate lunch in Heber Springs at Hilda’s Home Cooking which serves ‘authentic Southern food made entirely from scratch.’ In an attempt to eat healthy, I ordered a salad and soup combination which was very flavorful, but I’m still regretting not ordering the banana pudding when I had the chance.

Nearby Hikes and attractions

If you love nature, there are many things to do in Heber Springs, Arkansas. We enjoyed a visit to Bridal Veil Falls. The hike to the viewing deck is short and easy, we just had to watch the kids because it was a little slippery on trails from recent rainfall. According to park signage, the waterfalls are also known as Cornelius Falls after the former landowner.

Besides Greers Ferry lake and these spectacular waterfalls, this area is also home to the Little Red River, a premier-class trout stream. The Lodge’s website lists several additional attractions including the marina and fishing guides.

Greers Ferry is located approximately three hours from our home in Fayetteville, Arkansas making this an easy trip for our family. We took a wonderful detour on our way with a stop at Petit Jean State Park which I wrote about here

Introverts Guide to Estes Park, Colorado

I’ve been on a search for a better vacation destination for our family than Estes Park, Colorado. Guess what!? I haven’t discovered one yet. The reason why is because Estes Park combines the beauty of the natural world with a lot of family-friendly entertainment options.

I found a fun article, The Vacation You Should Take, Based on Your Introverted Myers-Briggs Type. I believe there is something in Estes Park for every personality type or mood that you are in. Here are some ideas for my fellow introverts:

The article says that ‘INTJ: Go on a reading retreat at a secluded cabin’. If this is you, Estes Park is perfect because there are a lot of cabins like ours to rent in Estes Park. One of my favorite things to do on vacation is sit by our fireplace and get lost in a good book. I stock up on books when I’m in town at Macdonald Bookshop and Cliffhanger Used Books. Check out my Book Lovers Guide to Estes Park.

For the personality type INTP, the article suggests you ‘Attend your favorite convention, like Comic-Con.’ I used to work at a convention center, so I know there is a convention for every hobby. Some of the hobby conventions held in Estes Park include the Craft Spirits Festival, Bigfoot Days, and Wool Market which are held at Estes Park Events Complex. There is also a large Scottish-Irish Highlands Festival at the Estes Park Fairgrounds.

INFP types should ‘Connect with nature, like going on a quiet forest retreat’. Estes Park is located next to Rocky Mountain National Park. There are countless opportunities to connect with nature in the park. However, because this is such a popular tourist destination, you’ll benefit from venturing to the park during off-peak seasons such as winter and spring. If you go during summer months, avoid holiday weekends, get up early, and go hiking further than most fellow hikers (over 3 miles). One of my favorite spots to connect with nature is the Calypso Cascades in the Wild Basin.

The article says ISFP types should ‘Take a trip to the beach’. Based on the articles description (‘love spending time with a few favorite friends and hobbies’ + ‘often like to be creative and to explore new places’), this is the personality type I most relate to. One of the things I struggle most with Estes Park is that I feel like I’m going to run out of new places to explore if we keep going back every year. That’s why I often come up with ‘food adventures’ on our trip. For example we went to all the Asian restaurants in town to figure out which we liked most. We also did a Cinnamon Roll Showdown and searched for Estes Park’s best bowl of chili.

Finally, INFJ types should ‘Have “creative space” at an Airbnb in a new town.’ For these types I recommend going on a relaxing stroll along Estes Park Riverwalk. First stop at Kind Coffee whose mission is to ‘Promote the sustainability of our environment through the sales of certified organic and fairly traded coffees’. Next step into one of the town’s numerous art galleries. This summer I’m excited to check out Joy House, ‘a store made up of gifts that are all made by friends with special needs or disabilities.’ You might also enjoy spending time in Rocky Mountain National Park sketching or photographing the incredible mountain landscape and wild animals like elk or moose that frequent the area. For tips check out local photographer Erik Stensland’s new book, ‘The Photographers Guide to RMNP’.