Black Lake Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

This morning I received a text from my husband with a link to an article from an Estes Park newspaper that there is a wildfire near Estes Park today (November 16, 2021). The fire is currently 133 acres. They are calling it the Kruger Rock Fire. Strong winds have not helped the situation. The most up-to-date information can be found on the Larimer County website, here.

Today’s wildfire is located a few miles south of our cabin. It’s hard to tell the specific areas where the fire has made an impact. It looks like it is near a hiking destination that we’ve enjoyed in the past called Kruger Rock which is in Hermit Park. I wrote more about the area here.

Rather than anxiously checking and rechecking news updates, I thought it would be more productive to write a post that I’ve been meaning to write for a while. Back in August, my husband and I went on a hike to Black Lake. We chose Black Lake out of many options we were considering for a ‘date hike’ mostly because it felt like a sure bet. I knew that we would pass by Mills Lake on the way which is one of my favorite destinations in Rocky Mountain National Park.

We got into Rocky Mountain National Park before 6:00 am so that we would have a good chance of getting a parking spot at Bear Lake. I’m not a fan of getting out of bed early in the morning, but I am a big fan of watching the sunrise over the mountains. It was also amazing to have one of the most popular destinations in the park to ourselves. I took the following video of Alberta Falls which is located .6 miles from the Bear Lake parking area.

Alberta Falls

We took the hike on August 1st, which meant we had to purchase a timed-entry permit for the Bear Lake corridor. The permits are required between May 28 – October 11, so if you are planning a late fall or winter visit the permits probably aren’t something you will need to worry about. However, I recommend looking at the national park’s website for the latest information because this is a pretty new system.

Mills Lake is located a little less than three miles into the hike.

Mills Lake

We ran into a group of female elk on the trail. I thought they’d be scared and run away when they saw us… nope. They held their ground and we let them. We backed up and let them have their space and time on the trail. It was slightly intimidating, but it is also one of my favorite memories from the hike.

There was a section of the trail that had a lot of knocked down trees. I did a little research and found that, ‘In November of 2011 a microburst, with winds estimated at 70 to 90 mph, hit the region and decimated hundreds of trees in this area alone. The blowdown impacted a section of trail that extends for roughly a half-mile.’ according to Rocky Mountain Trails.com. I thought that was very interesting because I didn’t realize microbursts occur in mountain areas. It’s also remarkable that the event occurred a decade ago, but you can still see noticeable damage.

This trail featured numerous streams and waterfalls along with spectacular mountain views.

Not far from Black Lake we had to climb up the side of a waterfall. Looking back we enjoyed the view of the lush valley below.

Black lake

Black Lake Trail is rated as a 5 star hike on AllTrails.com. Fellow hikers made comments about the privacy and noted ‘hardly any other hikers’ on the trail after Mills Lake. Hikers also stated it is a ‘good workout’ for moderate hikers. Tips include pre-downloading maps on your phone and wearing mosquito repellent.

Black Lake is also one of the hikes featured on the new Rocky Mountain Channel which is a subscription service that provides high-quality video content about Rocky Mountain National Park that can be streamed from anywhere.

We stopped for a snack at Black Lake where we admired the dark reflection quality which is perhaps how the lake earned its name.

On the way back, the sky turned bright blue and the mountains glowed in the sun. Our total hiking distance was 9.6 miles round trip. I’m so glad that my husband and I had an opportunity to do something we love in one of our favorite places.

The town of Estes Park, the fire crews, and the surrounding wildlife areas are in our thoughts and prayers tonight!

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.’

Weather in Rocky Mountain National Park

‘Unpredictable weather alternates between warm and cold, wet and dry.’ – National Park Service

The summer is flying by. I want to stop and remember the sweet moments, so today I’m going back to write about our first adventure of the summer. We are always excited to take our annual Memorial Day trip to Estes Park, Colorado, but this year felt extra special because we had the opportunity to share our favorite spots with some of our best friends.

This was our friends’ first visit to Colorado, so they were excited to explore. Unfortunately, for the first couple days of our trip, the weather was overcast, cold, and rainy. Despite the gloomy skies, I was impressed with everyone’s positive attitudes and willingness to get out and hike.

Packing for trip to Estes Park, Colorado
Welcome to Colorado!

Weather in rocky mountain national park

Preparing for the trip, my friend asked me what to pack. It’s a tougher question than you might think because the weather in Rocky Mountain National Park seems to always be changing. I suggested packing warm coats in case it snows, water-proof items in case it rains, and shorts for when it is sunny. Good thing they have a minivan to fit it all in, right? We typically wear comfortable layers because we’ve experienced all of these weather conditions in one day – especially when we drive up the mountain to higher elevation.

The perfect evidence of this can be seen live on Rocky Mountain National Park’s webcams. As I write, the mid-day temperature listed on the Continental Divide webcam says 71.6 F while the Alpine Visitor Center webcam reads 48.2 F.

The National Park has resources on their website that give up-to-date information for weather in Rocky Mountain National Park. This includes current road conditions , current trail conditions, and Rocky Mountain National Park weather trends by season.

Best Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park: Early Season Hikes

We consider early season hikes ones that are lower in elevation because snow is common on trails in late spring and early summer in popular destinations like Bear Lake. Check out our post about Lower Elevation Hikes for ideas.

On this trip, we chose Lily Lake/ Lily Ridge for its views of Longs Peak and Twin Sisters Peaks and accessible path that’s easy for kids. The hike around Lily Lake remains one of our favorite short hikes in the park. Adding on Lily Ridge makes the hike a little more challenging, but I think the views are worth it.

Lily Ridge in Rocky Mountain National Park
Hike up Lily Ridge

Next, we hiked in the Wild Basin up to Calypso Cascades. With so much rain and snow melt, we had to be careful in the Wild Basin as we hiked near waterfalls and rushing streams. The kids all did a great job staying on the path. Near Calypso Cascades, there were even a few spots of snow on the trail. The kids thought it was the coolest part.

This hike was a little more challenging for our crew. It is 1.8 miles each way and gains 780 feet of elevation. We didn’t hear any grumbles though, perhaps the key to complain-free hiking is inviting a best buddy along.

Weather in Rocky Mountain National park
rain, rain, go away!
Weather in Rocky Mountain National park
Copeland Falls in Wild Basin
Wild Basin trail
Calypso Cascades RMNP

Beyond hiking, we enjoyed staying dry inside by visiting some of our favorite Estes Park restaurants including Latitude 105.

Estes Park restaurants
sharing a lemonade at Latitude 101

I was thankful the dads offered to hang out with the kids for a few hours so my friend and I could get some much-needed girl-chat at Snowy Peaks Winery.

Estes Park winery

Overall, I hope that our friends had a good first trip to Colorado (despite the colder weather). We loved sharing Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park with them!

A Land of Extremes: Tundra Communities Trail in Rocky Mountain Natonal Park

‘You have entered a land of fierce extremes’ reads signage on the Tundra Communities Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. The signage is referring to the high altitude and intense weather conditions, but it feels like a good metaphor for life during a pandemic when everyone is trying to make good decisions and sometimes coming up with opposite answers.

Views from Tundra Communities Trail

To get to the Tundra Communities Trail, you drive up Trail Ridge Road which is inside Rocky Mountain National Park. It connects Estes Park on the east to Grand Lake on the west. A national park pass and timed entry permit are required. The road is a popular attraction in the park because it takes you above tree line and offers panoramic views of the mountain ranges. We often see herds of elk.

There are several turnoffs along Trail Ridge Road where you can take pictures or walk on park trails. The Tundra Communities Trail is located at the Rock Cut parking lot near the highest point of Trail Ridge Road. The path begins at 12,050 feet of elevation. The hike is a half mile each way with 260 feet of elevation gain. At this high elevation, be cautious of changing weather conditions, especially pop-up storms with lightening. The sun is strong, so make sure to put on sunscreen. You may be surprised how much the temperature drops as you gain elevation, so it is a good idea to bring warm layers even during summer months.

marmot with mountain views on tundra in rocky mountain national park

The fuzzy marmots that we spotted off the trail didn’t seem to mind the cool morning temperatures.

the tundra communities trail is a half mile paved trail

The trail is paved. It’s important to stay in the paved area to protect the delicate landscape.

rock formations with mountain views on the alpine tundra in rocky mountain national park, colorado

There are several unique rock formations off the main trail to explore including Mushroom Rocks.

toll memorial and mountain marker on tundra community trail

The Roger Toll Memorial can be found at the end of the trail. There is also a marker that shows which peaks you are looking at in the distance. After a fun scramble on these rocks, the views of the surrounding mountains are inspiring.

wildflowers in alpine tundra in rocky mountain national park, colorado

The wildflowers along the trail are a testament to beauty thriving in harsh realities. This is a short trail, but I encourage you to take your time to see how it speaks to you.

Today I’m praying for wisdom, compassion, and health for my family and yours. Thank you for following along with our adventures!

more HIKES ON THE TUNDRA

Alpine Ridge Trail

Kid-sized portion of the Ute Trail