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

Book Lovers Guide to Estes Park, Colorado

Reading is one of my favorite things to do on vacation. It’s a treat to dive into one of the books from my always growing to-be-read list. I’m excited to share some of my favorite bookstores in Estes Park, Colorado and suggestions for ideal spots to sit back and enjoy a good book.

MacDonald Bookshop in Estes Park, Colorado

cliffhanger used books

I’m pretty obsessed with Cliffhanger Used Books. Shopping here feels like a treasure hunt for great books at bargain prices. This shop is run by volunteers and proceeds go to the Estes Valley Library Services. You can follow the store on facebook.

Reading Spot: Baldwin park

Baldwin Park is a quiet space located right by the Big Thompson River. When you step out of Cliffhanger Used Books, walk south towards Ivy Street. You will find several park benches and a playground.

macdonald bookshop

Macdonald Bookshop is family owned. They have been serving the Estes Park community with great literature for 90 years. The staff is welcoming and helpful with book suggestions. This is a good place to go if you are looking for regional material. They also have kids books and best sellers. If you are looking for a thoughtful souvenir, this is a great place to go.

Inkwell & Brew

Located behind MacDonald Bookshop, step into Inkwell & Brew where you can order a cup of coffee and shop for a new journal or the perfect fountain pen. I’m confident you will leave inspired to write, whether it’s your next novel or simply a hand-written note to a friend.

Reading Spot: George Hix Riverside Plaza

George Hix Riverside Plaza has flowers, benches, art, and a peaceful river running through. It is lined with restaurants and shops (including Inkwell & Brew). Don’t miss the new sensory garden.

The little free library

The Little Free Library is a community project led locally by the Estes Valley Library. There is a Little Free Library at the Glacier Basin Campground meant to serve the summer guests of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Reading spot: picnic spots in Rocky MOuntain National Park

I recently wrote a post about our favorite picnic spots in Rocky Mountain National Park. All of the places we mentioned would be wonderful spots to read a couple chapters. You could also bring a few children’s books along to read out in nature with your kids. Some of our favorite outdoor themed books include:

  • We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen
  • Brown Bear Brown Bear by Bill Martin Jr./Eric Carle
  • The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland
  • Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots? by Carmela LaVigna Coyle

New! I tried to gather my suggestions for you on Google Maps as a resource for finding my book loving spots in Estes Park. If you have any additional suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

7 Romantic Things To Do in Estes Park, Colorado

I hope everyone had a great Valentine’s Day! Inspired by all the LOVE, this week I’m sharing the most romantic things to do in Estes Park, Colorado.

  1. Linger over breakfast. Typically I eat toast for breakfast, that’s the opposite of romantic! Sitting down to a full service breakfast with a couple cups of coffee is a luxury. There are a lot of places to eat breakfast in Estes Park. A couple of my favorites are Notchtop Bakery & Cafe and Trailhead Restaurant.
  2. Play Outside. There is something very romantic about activities that are playful or adventurous. During the winter months you can grab a sled and ride in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Hidden Valley. Or, you can rent snowshoes and explore the trails you love all covered in bright, white snow. If you are planning a romantic trip in the summer, you could rent a boat at Lake Estes marina or go on a horseback ride with your favorite partner.
  3. Browse Unique Shops. Downtown Estes Park has plenty of shopping. Date-worthy destinations include historic Macdonald Bookshop – I think the fireplace adds to the charm. There are also several art galleries in downtown Estes Park. My favorite is Images of Rocky Mountain National Park.
  4. Wine Tasting. Estes Park is home to Snowy Peaks Winery. They offer tastings of local wine and often host live music.
  5. Sunset. When the sun goes down over the mountains, the sky turns brilliant shades of pink and yellow. Savor these magical moments with a romantic drive through Rocky Mountain National Park.
  6. Romantic Night on the Town. The Dunraven Inn in Estes Park offers home-made Italian food and a cozy atmosphere. It’s a unique, locally owned restaurant. There is a tradition to hang $1 bills on the walls in the bar area and a collection of Mona Lisa themed art work is displayed throughout the restaurant.
  7. Get Cozy. Estes Park has a lot of wonderful places to stay while you visit. If you choose to stay at Solitude Cabins, we hope you take time to relax by the stone fireplace and watch the snow falling down outside. We would love for you to visit our cabin and enjoy a memorable weekend with your loved ones. If you would like more suggestions for your itinerary while in Estes Park, I would love to help!