A Winter Walk in Moraine Park That’s Worth Freezing For

Earlier this month we took a winter trip to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. Little did we know, a few weeks later the national parks would be affected by the current government shutdown. Unfortunately, that means visitors can’t drive into the park. Based on articles I’ve read, this hasn’t had a big impact on the local economy yet because winter is typically a slower season. With that said, I hope that the situation is resolved soon!

Moraine Park

During our December trip, we enjoyed a brief but beautiful hike in Moraine Park beginning at the Cub Lake trail head. We chose this area because at 8,080 ft of elevation there is substantially less snow compared to areas of the park with higher altitude.

Frozen river in Moraine Park

I was excited when this picture was featured on the instagram feed @visitestespark where over 930 people liked it.

The first stretch of the hike is in a valley where there is little protection from blasts of freezing wind, but the scenery is worth bundling up and getting out of your cozy cabin for. The Big Thompson River was mostly frozen and seem to glimmer against the blue sky and snow covered mountain backdrop.

rocky mountain national park

Luckily, you don’t have to walk far before tall trees and surrounding rock formations block the wind. Our four-year-old daughter veered off the path to scramble up boulders to join her sister and dad taking in the peaceful views.

view of moraine valley rocky mountain national park

Beautiful views are not the only reason to visit Moraine Park, it is also a great place to encounter wildlife. Last fall we wrote, Cub Lake Trail – a Wildlife Hotspot in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Toddler Friendly Hiking

toddler friendly hiking in rocky mountain national park

Our nearly two-year-old insisted on hiking in her pajamas, wearing socks as gloves, and borrowing my hat. She held on to my husband’s hand in icy patches, but wanted to show off her independence by walking at her own pace. This led to our decision to cut the hike short. The trail to Cub Lake is 2.5 miles each way. We wrote about this hike in more detail in a previous post, Rocky Mountain Tot Goes to Cub Lake.

log bridge in moraine valley near big thompson river

New Year Goals

As we look forward to a New Year and new outdoor adventures, our goal is to have the girls walking rather than riding in kid-carriers during many of our hikes. We are excited to discover new hikes in the Rocky Mountains and the Ozark Mountains which are located near our new home in Fayetteville, Arkansas. We will write about all of them in our family hiking journal and also look forward to sharing with y’all too!

Best Places to ‘Have a Cup of Cheer’ in Estes Park, Colorado

From a steaming mug of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream to a glass of robust red wine, the holiday season is a great time to sip and savor. Estes Park has opportunities for you to pair fun winter adventures with your favorite cup of cheer.

Best Kid’s Drink

Trailhead Restaurant on Fall River Road serves hot chocolate the way  toddlers and their parents like it, with loads of whipped cream! If you are feeling extra festive you can order peppermint hot chocolate or opt for the hot cider that smells just as good as it tastes. 

Another favorite is the milk flight found at Mama Rose’s restaurant. Our kids enjoy small cups of strawberry, chocolate, vanilla and white milk. This is a fun replacement for dessert. 

Best Coffee

Kind Coffee is located on the edge of downtown Estes Park. Grab a cup of quality organic coffee and warm up in the cozy cafe before shopping, or take it with you on a stroll along the Estes Park Riverwalk. For many Christmas is the season for giving, but Kind Coffee gives back year-round by donating a percentage of their revenue to international charities as well as participating in the Estes Park Give Back community partnership. 

Estes Park Coffee Shops
Warm up in local coffee shops before shopping in downtown Estes Park

Best Local Beer

If you appreciate good beer and a laid-back, friendly environment, Rock Cut Brewing Company is your place. It’s a tough choice to decide which beer on their menu to try, so why not go with a flight of 5 tasters? Rockcut also contributes to the local community. When you order a pint of their German-style amber aptly named Altruism, $1 goes to charity. 

In this category we also have to mention Lumpy Ridge Brewery which is located in an old gas station building that feels both hip and compact. What they are lacking in space, they make up for in taste. Their menu currently includes a Winter Breeze Coconut Brown Lager – yum. 

Best Local Wine

We have written about our love of Snowy Peaks winery before and we probably will again because of their awesome play area for kids to enjoy why parents taste local wine. For $6 you can taste 5 wines that are made by Snowy Peaks and other local Colorado wineries. 

Snowy Peaks Winery in Estes Park Colorado
Kids entertained at Snowy Peaks Winery

Best Margarita

Merry Margarita to all! It’s not the first drink you think of on a trip to a winter wonderland like Estes Park, but there are several good Mexican restaurants in town and there is always room in our life for chips and salsa. If that comes with a refreshing margarita, no complaints here. For Mexican cuisine with a Colorado twist, we think Ed’s Cantina and Grille is the place to go.

There are plenty of ways to fill your cup this season in Estes Park, Colorado. We are excited to learn more about a Booze Cruise offered by the Ridgeline Hotel. We have kids traveling with us this season, so we can’t participate, but we want to share for those looking for a safe and fun way to experience local breweries and distilleries. 

The Ridgeline Hotel’s website also highlights Trendz boutique, which is one of our favorite local shops. They now offer a Sip & Shop experience along with a full calendar of great shopping events in December. 

Winter Refresh

We have been doing a winter refresh project on our blog and want to share a couple articles that have updated content. 

The Most Underrated Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park: Following the Historic Ute Trail

Gingerbread Cabin Cookie recipe

Our Magical Snow Vacation in Estes Park, Colorado

Waking up to a winter wonderland in Estes Park, Colorado wasn’t what we expected when we planned our trip for October. We expected crisp autumn weather with blue skies and golden aspens. This trip took us by surprise but we had a wonderful time getting cozy by the fireplace in our cabin, taking in the views, playing in Rocky Mountain National Park and enjoying all the shops and treats downtown Estes Park has to offer.

Snow in Estes Park Colorado
Snow in Estes Park Colorado

Aspen in Colorado

We expected to see the golden aspens. The contrast with the snow made them even more breathtaking.

Aspen in snow in estes park colorado

Shopping in Downtown Estes Park

We got all bundled up to play in the snow.  Then I realized in the rush of packing I forgot to bring along gloves so we purchased some in downtown Estes Park. I always love an excuse to go shopping in Estes, so while we were down there I also picked out a cute hat for my husband to ‘surprise’ me with on Christmas.

family friendly trips to colorado

Sledding in Hidden Valley

Our favorite snow adventure was going sledding in Hidden Valley which is located inside of Rocky Mountain National Park. We were worried that there might not be enough snow, but there was just enough to have a blast! We had the hill to ourselves and lucked out with a gorgeous day. The last time we went to Hidden Valley it was very windy and cold! I can say without a doubt it’s the most epic place I’ve ever gone sledding. Plus there is ample parking and a nice shelter with restrooms.

sledding joy in rocky mountain national park

Warm up with Hot Chocolate

Getting hot chocolate at Trailhead Restaurant on Fall River Road was another big hit with my girls. Besides the ample whipped cream, they also enjoyed spending time on the playground right outside.

hot chocolate at trailhead restaurant

Standing on the restaurant’s back deck we got a family photo with ALL OF US LOOKING! I think this is the only one we’ve captured this year. You can basically count on it being our Christmas card.

family photo in estes park colorado

Winter Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park

You can’t go to the mountains without getting in a little hiking so we took a stroll around Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. This short loop trail is one of our favorites because it is very toddler friendly and the views are beyond amazing. This time the lake was half-frozen and the trails were half frozen too.

sprague lake half frozen

The trail around Sprague Lake was nothing compared to the slipping and sliding my sister-in-law and I did on our way up to Bear Lake which is a little higher up the mountain. It was too slippery to carefully carry the girls up to see the beautiful views. That’s Hallet Peak in the background. Yep, I climbed that once!

bear lake in the snow

Elk in Estes Park

Another reason to visit Estes Park in October is to experience elk rut season. They didn’t seem to mind the early snow.

elk season in estes park colorado

We had to cut our trip a few days short because more snow was expected and we didn’t want to get stuck. Well… I don’t know how much I would have minded getting stuck in winter paradise, but we had to get back to work and school.

national park service snow baby

Even though it was cut short, I’d say that our trip was a snow ball. Get it!? Okay that’s my Mom humor coming out.

snow ball

Have you been to Estes Park in the winter? Let us know your favorite snow day activities!

Hold on to your sleds! ‘Snow’ Much Fun in Rocky Mountain National Park

We recently bundled up our family for a winter adventure in Estes Park, Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park. Our weekend began at Lily Lake where we pulled the girls (ages 1 and 3) around the mostly flat loop on our sled. Our three-year old enjoyed playing in the powdery snow.

lily lake in the snow

We also enjoyed an epic sledding excursion at Hidden Valley which is located inside Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s the only place in the park where true sledding is allowed. The area was once a ski destination.

When we got out of our car the ranger warned, ‘hold on to your sleds.’ After a windy blast, we quickly learned why. Our little sled flew into the air and landed in a patch of distant trees where we recovered it and held on tighter. The winter winds can be mighty!

My husband and I took turns riding on the sled with the girls. It was fun for us and helped guarantee the girls a smoother ride.

TIPS

*This is a BYOS (Bring Your Own Sled 🙂 hill

*There was a flushing toilet/restroom facility located by the Hidden Valley parking lot.

*You can learn more details and tips about Hidden Valley here at visitestespark.com or on the park service’s website.

Hidden Valley sledding

Rocky Mountain National Park is located near Estes Park, Colorado. The quaint downtown is filled with twinkling lights this time of year making the shops and restaurants feel even more festive than normal.  On our way into downtown we spotted a male elk. Hello sir!

Elk in Estes Park

Once downtown, we grabbed a cup of steaming hot Kind Coffee and walked along the Big Thompson River. The river was mostly frozen over with tiny ice droplets dipping into the running water.

Big Thompson River frozen

Some sunsets feel more like gifts. We experienced a bright and colorful display over the snow dusted mountains. It’s beauty reminded me to stop and give thanks for the amazing moments we got to share as family in this special place.

Sunset in Estes Park CO

Have you visited RMNP in the winter? What is your favorite winter activity?