4th of July Weekend in Estes Park, Colorado

I can’t believe that next week we will be celebrating 4th of July! If you are heading to Estes Park, Colorado, I looked back through our ‘archives’ to see what we’ve done on this holiday weekend over the past several years.

From firework displays to waterfall hikes, we’ve always had a blast. A lot of people complain about the crowds this time of year, but the key is just getting up early. We aim to get into the park before 7:00am. I also have a few suggestions for trails that are typically less crowded.

4th of July in Estes Park Colorado

FIREWORKS HIKE

We took an evening hike starting at the Lumpy Ridge trail head up to a spot that looks over Lake Estes to watch Estes Park’s annual fireworks show at 9:30pm. After the spectacular display, we hiked back down the trail with a large group of people who had the same idea. It was magical to see the trail lit up by headlamps. My preschooler thought it was the coolest thing because she got to stay up WAY past her bedtime. It was one of the most memorable 4th of July’s we’ve had (ever).

Estes Park Fireworks Show

Hike in the Wild basin

The Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park is located approximately 19 miles south of Estes Park on highway 7. The Wild Basin area is more remote than other areas of the park. There is not shuttle service to this area. Even though it is more remote, you will still need to arrive early to find a parking spot, but we’ve been lucky to find spots there even on 4th of July weekend several times.

Once you turn off the highway, drive down narrow dirt roads to get to the Wild Basin trail head. You can walk to Copeland Falls (.3 miles/way) and Calypso Cascades (1.8 miles/way) which are some of our favorite family-friendly waterfall hikes.

Less Busy Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

The Pool is another hike we’ve enjoyed over the 4th of July weekend. This trail is located in the Moraine Valley area of RMNP. I love that you can shorten the hike by stopping at Arch Rocks or extend it by going on to Fern Falls. I wrote more details in this post.

Alluvial Fan

The Alluvial Fan is a “waterfall” (created by the lawn lake flood in 1982) located right off Old Fall River Road near Horseshoe Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. This is a fun spot to explore. I recommend packing a picnic because there are several picnic spots nearby.

Alluvial Fan

Lake Estes

A walking trail goes around Lake Estes and leads to downtown Estes Park. There is a playground, picnic spots, fishing, and boat rental. You can learn more about the fees, hours, and rentals on their website.

Trail Ridge Road & Grand Lake, Colorado

As I write this post (June 26, 2019) Trail Ridge road is closed because of a late-season snow storm. The scenic highway that connects the East and West sides of Rocky Mountain National Park is typically open this time of year and will hopefully re-open in time for the holiday. Visitors can call 970 586-1222 to get updated information.

You can spend a full day on Trail Ridge Road if you stop at the many outlooks to take pictures and spot wildlife. The Alpine Visitors Center is awesome for lunch, bathroom breaks, shopping, and breathtaking views!

We enjoy going all the way over to Grand Lake, Colorado to walk along the shore of the largest natural lake in Colorado, play on the playground, and eat ice cream while strolling around the scenic mountain town. I wrote more about Grand Lake here.

Trail Ridge Road Open for Season? or is Trail Ridge Road Closed?

Additional POSTS to HELP Plan Your 4th of July Trip to Rocky Mountain National Park

Waterfalls, Wildflowers, Weather and Wine – Why I love the Rocky Mountains in July

A Trail Less Traveled

Get the Most Out of Your Rocky Mountain Vacation by Avoiding Crowds, Bugs and Car Sick Kiddos

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.

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

We love hiking with our kids, but it’s also a gift to go on a solo hike. On his birthday (May 30th), Eric took a more challenging hike without the girls – and where better to get a moment away than in a place called Hermit Park?

We are always on the look-out for new (to us) hikes in and around Rocky Mountain National Park, especially in the springtime when snow still covers many of the higher-elevation destinations. Rock Cut Brewery recently started a hiking club, and posted about their group adventure to Kruger Rock a month or so back, and it looked like just the right fit for a quick spring challenge.

The Kruger Rock Trail is located in Hermit Park, just outside of Estes Park on Highway 36. I’ve driven by Hermit Park hundreds of times, but had never stopped to check it out. Its maintained by Larimer County, and there are dozens of campsites, a nice pavilion, and a few other trails to explore. You can read more on their website, here.

Entrance for day usage (hiking) was $9, handled at an easy-to-use self-pay system just off the highway. The trailhead is a couple of miles back near the large pavilion—I found the trailhead locater in the AllTrails app to be helpful in finding it, as the official sign was down when I visited.

Kruger Rock Trail 2 miles each way

The trail is roughly 2 miles each way, steadily gaining just under 1000 feet of elevation. The first section of the trail isn’t spectacular, but is certainly pleasant, as you wind through the pine trees up towards the ridge line.

Kruger Rock Trail Colorado

Less than a mile in, you reach a junction with the Limber Pine trail.

Hiking near Estes Park dog friendly location
kruger rock trail

From here, things start to get more scenic, both looking back over the valley you are ascending, and soon, with views of the Estes Valley beginning to emerge.

views along kruger rock trail
views kruger rock trail of estes valley and rocky mountain national park

If you look closely, you may even spot our cabin 😊 (excuse the grainy iPhone-zoom photo).

solitude cabins

From this point forward, the views are truly wonderful, and the adventure culminates in a fun scramble to the summit. I’m not an expert, but I would put the brief climb at class 3, although its just a few moves and has zero exposure to be concerned about. Might be a little tricky with a dog, but even without the final scramble, the views are fantastic.

class 3 hike up to summit of kruger park trail in hermit park
great views at summit of kruger rock trail in hermit park near estes park colorado

I was back at the trailhead in a total time of just under an hour and a half, including a 5-10 minute stop at the summit. It was an awesome hike, with very few other people out that day (granted it was a Thursday, and I got a relatively early start). Nearly everyone else I encountered had their dog as a hiking partner, and as mentioned above, it seems like a great place to bring them, outside of perhaps the very end of the trail.  Given how close Kruger Rock is to Estes, and how early in the season the snow melts out, we will definitely be recommending this one to our friends, and visiting again soon!

Additional Dog Friendly Hikes Near Estes Park include Lily Mountain and the Homer Rouse Trail.

Spring Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park: Upper Beaver Meadows

Spring is a great time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park

If you want to avoid the summer crowds, spring is a wonderful season to visit Rocky Mountain National Park. However, some of the most popular trails like those leaving from the Bear Lake area can still be covered in snow and ice.

Over Memorial Day weekend, we purchased a new hiking guide called Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park: The Essential Guide written by our favorite local photographer, Erik Stensland. The guide included a new (to us) hike that fit our family’s hiking criteria. First, we wanted to find a lower elevation hike to avoid snow. We also needed an easy hike so our kids could walk the trail partially on their own.

Upper Beaver Meadows

Stensland classified the Upper Beaver Meadows Loop as an easy hike. The loop is approximately 1 mile in length beginning at 8,437 feet in elevation and gaining 108 feet.

The hike begins at the Upper Beaver Meadows trailhead. The turnoff that leads to the trailhead is conveniently located less than a mile from the main entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.

hiking Upper Beaver Meadows in Rocky Mountain National Park

We enjoyed the views of surrounding mountains including Longs Peak and the sweet smell of Ponderosa pine trees as we walked along the trail.

Spring hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park

We accidentally took a wrong turn and tripled our distance walking around the meadow. I highlighted the loop that we should have followed in green and the loop we took in yellow.

Upper Beaver Meadows trail map provided at trailhead by national park service

Parts of the trail were muddy because of recent snow and rain. Soft snow fell briefly while we were hiking.

We passed by a herd of elk and tried to give them extra space. Female elk can become protective of their babies during the spring season.

elk in Upper Beaver Meadows

Upper Beaver Meadows is the ending point to the Ute Trail which I wrote about here. It also connects to the scenic Moraine Valley.

crossing the creek in Upper Beaver Meadows

For breathtaking pictures and insider knowledge that far exceed my own, I recommend picking up Erik Stensland’s guide. And if you are looking for an easy hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, I hope you consider adding Upper Beaver Meadows Loop to your list along with some of our favorite hikes under 2 miles.