Top Posts of 2021

Outside my office window the snow is falling here in Arkansas. Between rising COVID cases and the weather, we are feeling a little stuck. I’m choosing to embrace staying at home by enjoying some chili and watching football with my husband this afternoon. And since it’s a long weekend, I hope to drink some tea by our fireplace and finish my book club book too.

I’m eager to get started with our adventures for 2022, but in the spirit of rest and reflection, today I’m excited to look back at the top 3 posts of 2021. We made such fun memories this year.

Top Post – staying at the lodge at golf shores state park

We typically write about hiking in Colorado and Northwest Arkansas, but this year I also included a review of our trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama. It turns out, we were not the only ones drawn to the ocean this year because Staying at The Lodge at Gulf State Park was our top post! Reading it again makes me want to go back right now.

Lodge at Gulf State Park

Runner up: mount magazine cabins: staying at the highest point in arkansas

Our second most-read post was Mount Magazine Cabins: Stay at the Highest Point in Arkansas. Mount Magazine is just two hours south of our home in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The cabin we rented had a wraparound deck where we could take in the amazing views of the Petit Jean River Valley. Plus, a hot tub!

Mount Magazine Arkansas cabin

third place: a winter hike on long’s peak trail

Our third most popular post from last year was written by my husband about an amazing winter hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. The pictures from his post, A Winter Hike on the Long’s Peak Trail are beautiful. We attempted to repeat this hike in December, which I wrote about here Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park.

These pages and posts have been on our site for a while but continue to be popular.

Happy Birthday to Our Little Mountain Tot

Finally, I want to wish a happy birthday to our youngest daughter who will be turning 5-years-old this month. It’s hard to believe, but when I started writing about our hiking adventures on this blog she wasn’t even born yet.

If you ask Evy, she will say that she prefers ocean to mountains, but when she is in Colorado her favorite activity is to play in the snow. Her favorite hike is Lily Lake and her favorite thing about our cabin is ‘it’s beautiful’.

The Pool: Evy’s First Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park

My husband and I just got back from a romantic getaway in Estes Park, Colorado. We stayed at our cabin at Solitude Cabins where we enjoyed the warm fireplace, views of Longs Peak, and cozy kitchen where we cooked several of our meals.

restaurants in estes park

Besides eating at the cabin, we also enjoyed several meals at local restaurants. Himalayan Curry & Kebob’s spicy cuisine warmed us up as we looked out the window at falling snow. We also enjoyed a warm bowl of soup at Claire’s on the Park for a post-hike lunch.

We selected Bird & Jim’s for our anniversary dinner. Described as, ‘Modern mountain dining from an ingredient-driven kitchen’, dining at this restaurant has been on our Estes Park bucket-list for a long time. We opted to sit in the bar area where we sat on a blue velvety coach. The lounge furniture paired well with our smoked whiskey drinks and hummus appetizer. We enjoyed our meals of roast chicken and steak. The whole experience was perfect!

Estes Park Winter

Our evening walk in downtown Estes Park felt like strolling through a scene in a classic Christmas movie with festive holiday lights and fresh snow.

Estes Park Winter

To warm up from the frosty weather, we enjoyed sampling wine at Snowy Peaks Winery and drinking seasonal pints at our favorite Estes Park brewery, Rock Cut. We sipped Kind Coffee as we strolled down the Estes Park Riverwalk.

Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park

Estes Park is located near the East entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park. In the summer, this is a hikers dream-spot. In the winter months you can hike with traction, or snowshoe depending on trail conditions. When we arrived, the area had just received fresh snow, so we rented snowshoes from Estes Park Mountain Shop along with poles with snow baskets on them.

Snowshoe Rental Estes Park colorado

Winter is considered off-peak season in Rocky Mountain National Park, so there are no timed-entry permits to worry about. Finding a parking spot is quite a lot easier, although we were surprised to see a long line at the entrance around noon (holiday week).

Winter Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park

Winter Hike to The Loch

We went on two snowshoeing excursions during our trip. The first day we attempted to make it to The Loch. We parked at the Glacier Gorge trailhead which is in the Bear Lake corridor. As we stepped out of the car, we were hit with brutal winds. The winds calmed down significantly once we got deeper into the woods. However, my gloves were no match for the 10-degree temperatures, so I was fairly miserable. I was proud of myself for making it past Alberta Falls to the North Longs Peak Trail junction before giving up when a blast of icy wind blew away our snowshoe tracks and scared me to go beyond that point. We gained about 800 feet of elevation and hiked 3.7 roundtrip.

Romantic vacation Estes Park

There is a winter trail that we missed that skips Alberta Falls but offers a more direct route to The Loch.

shopping in downtown estes park

That afternoon, we enjoyed shopping in downtown Estes Park. We bought adorable Smokey the Bear beanies at Trendz boutique for our little girls. We also bought nice ski gloves for me at Hyk.

Winter Hike to Chasm Lake junction

Wind conditions Rocky Mountain National Park

Bolstered by my new glove purchase, we decided to attempt snowshoeing again the next morning. This time, we headed to the Longs Peak trailhead in hopes of hiking to the Chasm Lake trail junction. My husband enjoyed this hike last January which he wrote about here.

snowshoeing rocky mountain natinoal park

The winds were much more tolerable. I had moments where I felt warm as we gained 1,800 feet of elevation. This hike was beautiful in the snow. Some spots were challenging where the snow was deep.

winter gear hiking

Once we approached the tree line, a gush of what felt like hurricane-force wind came down the mountain and we immediately turned around. It was intense!

I enjoyed the hike back down because it was much easier than the way up and went pretty fast. Our total hike was 4.5 miles. I tried to take in the beauty of the forest in the snow while also looking forward to our awaiting seat-warmers.

Layer upon layer – What I Wore hiking in cold weather

pants: Under Armour cold-weather tights and hiking pants

shirt: base layer turtleneck, fleece, winter coat

feet: wool socks, waterproof hiking boots, snowshoes and poles with snow baskets

extras: sunscreen, sunglasses, beanie, neck gaiter, ski gloves, hiking backpack. *our pack’s straw froze, so pack a separate water bottle

COTREX – location tracker and digital topo maps that don’t require cell signal. Keep in mind that cell phones can freeze up in extremely cold temperatures. I found this article about how to prevent loss of use.

October Hike to Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

The hike to Dream Lake begins at the Bear Lake trail head in Rocky Mountain National Park. 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 halfway into the hike. In late October, we could see lily pads at Nymph Lake as well as a layer of ice beginning to frost the mountain lake. The pairing made a unique and beautiful combination.

Nymph Lake Rocky Mountain National Park
Nymph Lake

We continued up towards Dream Lake.

hike to Dream Lake Rocky Mountain National Park

dream lake rocky mountain national park

The hike to Dream Lake is one of the most popular hikes in the park. Even though there were quite a few people on the trail, we felt lucky that we could experience it off-peak. October is late in the season for this hike.

We were thankful to the fellow hikers who took a family photo for us with Hallett Peak in the background.

Dream Lake Rocky Mountain National Park
Dream Lake

As we headed back down the trail, I overheard a group of young, fit-looking hikers marvel at how much better our girls were hiking in the high elevation compared to them. I smiled to myself because it was true. Our 4-year-old and 6-year-old made the hike look easy with their abundant energy.

In one of our favorite hiking guides by Erik Stensland, this hike is rated easy unless ‘you are not acclimatized’ – in which case it can be challenging, and it is a good idea to take it slow.

Dream Lake Rocky Mountain National Park

The truth is our girls were motivated by snow, and specifically throwing snowballs (otherwise known as ice pellets) at their parents.

Dream Lake Rocky Mountain National Park

You can see in their smiles that this hike was a lot of fun, but the Mom/teacher in me was excited to sneak in a little education as well. For example, because this hike is so popular, you can see areas along the trail that have been impacted by erosion. We looked at exposed tree roots and talked about how the dirt is needed to keep the trees from falling over. We also talked about snow melt and asked why the waterfall which we had passed in the spring was now a trickle of water in comparison. How do the changing seasons impact the landscape and the animals?

If you have little science and nature lovers in your life, I think a gift from the Rocky Mountain Conservancy would be a meaningful present this holiday season. Purchases support ‘the research and educational missions of Rocky Mountain National Park.’

A New Year’s Eve Getaway in Estes Park, Colorado

Standing under the evergreens on our snowy hike up to Nymph Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park filled my heart with gratitude and relief. Just a few months ago, we were anxiously watching the news and hoping that the wildfires would be contained. Although the damage was substantial, thanks to the incredible effort by firefighters (and perhaps some good luck and answered prayers), Rocky Mountain National Park is open and beautiful.

Here is a map of the Area Closures due to fire damage.

America the Beautiful Park Pass

We bought our annual America the Beautiful Park Pass which covers entrance into national parks and federal recreation lands for the entire family. For us, this is a great deal because we go to the park frequently, plus we feel good about financially supporting the national parks. You can learn more about the pass here.

Details about day passes entrance fees for Rocky Mountain National Park as well as upcoming free days can be found on the nps website.

Nymph Lake

The hike to Nymph Lake begins at the Bear Lake trail head. The journey to Nymph Lake is only .5 miles. Our girls were eager to play in the snow and thrilled that the lake was frozen solid.

Hike to Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Cozy cabin in estes park

I spent a lot of time during our trip sitting next to the fire in our cabin, reading books, and drinking coffee. I read 37 books in 2020 which beat my previous year by 11 books. My 2020 favorites include Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson, The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. If you enjoy reading on vacation, check out my Book Lovers Guide to Estes Park, Colorado.

In 2020, COVID-19 made us weary of airport travel. We were also navigating the school calendar for the first time as our oldest started kindergarten. This meant fewer trips to the mountains last year. The positive side is that we were able to rent our cabin to many families who wanted a safe and relaxing vacation spot. We are reinvesting the rental income we earned into a couple of upgrades including new flooring throughout the first level. Learn more about renting our cabin here.

Solitude Cabins in Estes Park, Colorado

Hike around lily Lake

I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve written about Lily Lake on our site. Lily Lake is our favorite destination because it is easy, fun, and family friendly. A trip to Rocky Mountain National Park without a stroll around Lily Lake feels incomplete.

Lily Lake Hike in Rocky Mountain National park
Lily Lake in the Snow

Sledding in rocky mountain national park

Hidden Valley is the only place where sledding is allowed in Rocky Mountain National Park. We have been taking our girls to this spot every year. It is a blast! You can rent sleds and other winter gear at Estes Park Mountain Shop.

Sledding in Rocky Mountain National Park

Sprague Lake

Sprague Lake is a half mile loop. We enjoyed this hike on New Year’s Day. This felt like a good start to the year even though life remains a little uncertain. Typically, I’m very goal-oriented, but this year (for now at least) I’m not writing a list of goals. I love to hear what other people do to celebrate the beginning of a New Year, so please feel free to share your reflections in the comments below.

Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Our 5 Most Popular Colorado posts in 2020

I always think it’s fun to see what our readers are finding on our site.

Our fifth most popular post was extra sweet. The Best in Estes Park: A Cinnamon Roll Showdown.

The Estes Park Winter Bucket List was the fourth most popular post this year. Although it was written in 2019, the list remains a good one! On our New Year’s Eve trip we checked off several bucket list items including sledding, winter hikes, shopping for a Christmas ornament, sitting by the fireplace with a good book, and swimming at the Estes Valley Community Center.

The Homer Rouse Trail – a Dog Friendly Trail in Estes Park, Colorado and the updated version Homer Rouse Trail – Revisited (written in 2019) continue to be among the most popular posts on our site.

The second most popular post was A Trail Less Traveled: Hollowell Park to Mill Creek Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park which was written in 2019. We returned to Hollowell Park this summer and wrote about it here. The wildflowers were beautiful! If this is a hiking destination you want to try, make sure to check in with the national park service. According to their website, ‘Trails that remain closed in the Bear Lake area include the Fern Lake Trail, Cub Lake Trail, the Mill Creek Basin, and Hollowell Park.’ (as of 1/4/2021).

The most popular post was 7 Romantic Things To Do in Estes Park, Colorado. This post was actually written in February of 2019, but most of the points remain true except that the Dunraven has a new location by Lake Estes.

If you are on pinterest, I’d love for you to check out our profile. I typically add videos on pinterest that aren’t included in the blog posts.

coming soon

I’m going to ask my husband Eric to post his favorite moments from our recent trip too. Some of his pictures are AMAZING. I can’t wait to share them here soon. I’m also excited to share about our latest Estes Park food adventure. A post about our Asian Takeout Extravaganza is coming soon.

Happy New Year!

-Kelly