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!

Rocky Mountain Tot Goes to Gem Lake

In his guide, ‘Best Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park’, Kent Dannen says, ‘my favorite trail is the one I hiked most recently.’ So true! My heart skips a beat every time I think of our hike to Gem Lake. The autumn aspens, the crisp air, the breathtaking views, 11 month old Cecy content the whole hike…now that’s what my dream hikes are made of!

We started out at Lumpy Ridge trailhead and hiked through boulders and unique rock formations with frequent stops to catch our breath and take in the panoramic views of Estes Park and the Rocky Mountain range behind us. This was a moderately strenuous hike because of the steep steps that lead up to the lake, but the short distance at 1.8 miles each way made it pretty attainable.

Aspens

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Paul Bunyan’s Boot

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Rocky Mountain views

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Gem Lake

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Up, up, up!

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Cutest little hiker on the trail

 

If you work up a thirst, you can try out one of the new breweries in town called Lumpy Ridge Brewing Company. Located in an old gas station, the brewery has a small, eclectic tasting room plus a couple of outdoor picnic tables where you can enjoy the beer and Lumpy Ridge views.

Into the Wild Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park

A less busy, more remote area of Rocky Mountain National Park is appropriately named the Wild Basin. On our first trip, we almost drove right past the entrance station which is located 19 miles south of Estes Park, Colorado on Highway 7. Once you turn in, the road narrows and leads to dirt roads with limited parking.

Initially our goal was to scout out the area. We headed to the Wild Basin trail head and walked just .3 miles to Copeland Falls. The short, relativity flat walk through tall pine forest is lovely. There is an upper and lower falls, so make sure to go to both.

View of Copeland Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park's Wild Basin Area
This picture of Cecy with her Daddy melts my heart.

The Wild Basin trail head starts at 8,500 ft of elevation. We were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed this lower elevation walk, so we came back on our next trip to Rocky Mountain National Park.

On our second excursion we wanted to push ourselves to go on to Ouzel Falls which is 2.7 miles each way. On this hike, you gain approximately 950 ft of elevation. There is a lot to see on your way to Ouzel Falls. After passing Copeland Falls we hiked to Calypso Cascades where water tumbles down against logs and boulders in a memorable display.

Copeland Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park
Calypso Cascades is located 1.8 miles from the Wild Basin trail head.

The trail follows a scenic mountain stream that you get to cross over several times on sturdy wooden bridges.

Wooden bridge crossing river in Wild Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park

We continued our adventure to Ouzel Falls which is 2.7 miles from the trail head.

Ouzel Falls in Wild Basin, Rocky Mountain National Park

When we were there in early September 2015 the bridge at Ouzel Falls that leads to Ouzel Lake was wiped out from flooding. A crew was there working to rebuild.

Trail Closed during September 2015

We hiked a little off trail to find a better view of Ouzel Falls. Our daughter seemed to enjoy the rushing sound of the falls and the soft mist that was coming off of it.

Ouzel falls splashes down boulders giving off mist

My husband hiked an additional .2 miles to the top of the falls which was somewhat technical and not baby friendly. He waved back down at Cecy and me as we played below.

Views from the top of Ouzel Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park
View from the top of Ouzel Falls

We love that the Wild Basin is typically less crowded compared to other areas in Rocky Mountain National Park. We appreciate that you don’t have to walk far to see a waterfall, but you can also push yourself and have quite the adventure.

Have you been to Rocky Mountain National Park’s Wild Basin area? What did you think?