Following Rocky Mountain National Park’s Historic Ute Trail

The Ute Trail is located off of Trail Ridge Road, a scenic highway that connects Estes Park, Colorado to Grand Lake, Colorado. Parking is limited to a handful of cars that can fit into a pull-off area between Rainbow Curve and Forest Canyon Overlook.

We dressed in warm layers because the temperature drops as you rise above treeline. The Ute Trail begins at 11,430 ft of elevation which is incredible! On the tundra, the sun shines bright and the wind can be intense. We lucked out with a beautiful day.

Rocky Mountain National Park Ute Trail

We accidentally locked most of our hiking gear including boots and kid carrier in our storage closet, so we picked this hike for the girls to do (mostly) on their own because it’s basically flat.

views from Ute Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

Both girls did an amazing job, especially our 3-year-old. She wanted to keep going and going. We decided to turn around approximately a mile into our hike, making this a two mile trek for us. Rockymountainhikingtrails.com lists this as a 4 mile round trip hike which gives us a great goal for our next adventure up on the Ute Trail.

Family Friendly hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

The sweeping views are inspiring, but I also love witnessing the intricate plant life that survives in this harsh climate.

Alpine Tundra Rocky Mountain National Park

I can just imagine the the Arapaho and Ute tribes passing here between their summer and winter hunting grounds as they did so many years ago. The National Park Service has placed a historical information plaque at the start of the trail.

Historic Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado

We spotted wildlife including marmots, pikas and birds. Oh hey, there little guy!

Wildlife in Rocky Mountain National Park Tundra

Trail Ridge Road is open seasonally. You can check road status reports on the National Park Service’s website here. In the high elevation take extra caution with weather that can produce lightening or icy conditions.

The Ute Trail is one of my new favorite family-friendly hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. If you are looking for more amazing hikes, check out our favorite hikes under two miles.

The Low-Down for Labor Day Vacation in Rocky Mountain National Park

Weather in Rockies
We are packing our bags for our 2018 Labor Day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. I’m excited because the weather is (hopefully) going to be beautiful. The forecast is showing mid-70s with pretty low chances of rain. At night the temperatures will drop to mid-40s. Here is a link to check the weather in RMNP. It’s colder at high elevations like Trail Ridge Road. It’s time to layer – I’m excited to break out my fleece jacket!

Beating the Crowds in Rocky Mountain National Park
The park will be busy. I’m hoping we can get up and out the door in time to get to our favorite hiking destinations before all the parking spaces are taken. We will probably need to leave by 6:00 AM (maybe even earlier). There are some park-and-rides if we get a late start. Here is a link to the shuttle service in Rocky Mountain National Park. Visitors can also save time by pre-purchasing a park pass online here.

Even in the most popular areas the further we hike the less people we see on the trails. Also, the West side of the park is home to family-friendly destinations that are typically less crowed. Here are a couple posts-from-the-past about the area:

4 Great Reasons to Visit Grand Lake with Kids

A Perfect Picnic at Coyote Valley

Getting the Best Pictures of the Mountains
Sunrise will be right around 6:30 AM and sunset will be around 7:30 PM. I’m paying attention to my watch so I can photograph these magical moments in the mountains. It’s also a great time to spot wildlife in the park. I can’t wait to see elk and hopefully moose.

Wildlife in Rocky Mountain National Park
When I picked up my daughter from preschool today the teacher informed me that she is afraid of bears. Oh my! We live near Kansas City, Missouri so this isn’t an issue at home, but she knows that bears are in the forest including in Rocky Mountain National Park. We’ve never seen one on our hikes or drives, but I’ve heard sightings of these awesome animals are on the rise. It’s good to be prepared with some black bear knowledge. I found helpful ‘Be Bear Aware’ information on a Colorado Parks & Wildlife website. They also provide a fun bear coloring page.

Potty-Training/ Facilities in Rocky Mountain National Park
And speaking of my preschooler, it’s good to know where the best (flush) potty’s in the park are: Alpine Visitor Center, Fall River Visitor Center, Kawuneeche Visitor Center, Moraine Park Discovery Center, Hidden Valley, Sprague Lake. We also bring our own toddler portable potty because we’ve found vault toilets to be a little challenging.

Hiking with Toddlers
When we hike with our kiddos they like to walk a lot of the way. We’ve listed our favorite short distance hikes here. For longer hikes we use kid carriers. There are several shops in town that rent them out including Warming House.

Festivals, Food, Shopping, Parking and More in Estes Park, Colorado
The town of Estes Park, Colorado will also be busy, but they offer free parking and shuttle services which come in handy on crowded weekends. Learn more here. There is always a lot going on downtown Estes Park. Visitestespark.com has a great calendar of events.

 

 

Breathtaking Hike to Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Dream Lake is a popular hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. We hiked the trail at the end of May. It’s always helpful to check the park’s trail conditions before selecting a hike, especially this time of year. (Here is the link)

You start at the Bear Lake trailhead which is a hot spot in the park! If you can’t find a parking spot in the lot, don’t give up – the national park has a park and ride shuttle that is free to use once you’ve paid the entrance fee. Routes change with the season. (more info)

Once we unpacked the kids from car, we were greeted by friendly and knowledgeable park staff and volunteers. Don’t forget to say thank you to them for keeping the park such a clean and amazing place – especially the people who have to clean the bathrooms. Bear Lake has several non-flushing toilets available.

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 half way into the hike which is a lovely spot.

Nymph is short for Nymphae polysepala the original scientific name for the lily pads that adorn the lake during the summer months. (according to Rocky Mountain National Park – the Complete Hiking Guide by Lisa Foster)

As you continue to climb, the views of the surrounding mountains open up.

Hike to Dream Lake Rocky Mountain National Park

You will pass by a small waterfall which is a great spot for a family picture (if your kids cooperate)

Young Families in Rocky Mountain National Park

Here is a view from the top.

pretty scenes in Rocky Mountain National Park

We were excited for the opportunity to play in a little snow right before Dream Lake, but had to use extra caution because it was pretty slippery in places.

Snow hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

And finally our Dream Lake destination, which never gets old no matter how many times we hike to this gorgeous spot.

Dream Lake Rocky Mountain National Park

 

Fantastic Family Hike to Fern Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

I can feel the frustration coming out in my writing when I look back at the last time we made it to Fern Falls with a Fussy Baby.

This time around, I hope I can express my delight with this waterfall hike. We ventured out on May 25th, the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. Although the Rocky Mountain National Park filled up with visitors over the holiday, we lucked out with great parking* close to the Fern Falls trailhead.

A highlight of this lower elevation* hike is the nearly constant view of the Big Thompson River. Most of the hike is very child friendly as long as you watch out for little ones wandering too close to the river, or getting too adventurous on the amazing rock formations.

Big Thompson River

Arch Rocks

We started the hike with the hopes of making it to Arch Rocks (1.2 miles) or The Pool (1.7 miles) if we were lucky, but the girls were doing so awesome we decided to hike to Fern Falls which is 2.6 miles each way. That’s a little far for our kids to hike on their own, so we carried them a lot of the way in a deuter kids carrier and an ergo baby carrier.

kids hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park

The distance from The Pool to Fern Falls is a little under a mile, but you gain 400 feet of elevation quickly. I was out of breath but had to remind myself that I was carrying a 16-month-old toddler.

The hike up was totally worth it. Everyone was in a great mood and the waterfall was impressive.

Fern Falls lives up to its name, the surrounding area is lush and damp. We didn’t stop long because mosquitoes were swarming the area.

Trip Tips:

*Fern Lake trailhead has a small non-paved parking area. The road leading to the trailhead becomes narrow for two-way vehicle traffic. There is shuttle service and some additional parking .8 miles away from the trailhead.

*Fern Falls trailhead begins at 8,150 ft of elevation so when I say ‘lower elevation’ I mean  low compared to many places in RMNP, but high for those of us from non-mountain regions. Remember to take it easy and drink lots of water!

Holding on to a Beautiful Dream

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It seems like a distant memory – my first trip to Rocky Mountain National Park with my husband. We were well rested, very in love newly weds and we had a fantastic weekend full of amazing hikes. The first hike he took me on was up Twin Sisters. We also went to Flattop and Timberline Falls.

When we had our first daughter we were determined to keep hiking. We purchased our condo and took the voyage across Kansas to Colorado as often as we could.

A year later I found out I was pregnant with our second baby on Memorial Day weekend in Estes Park. We had just hiked up to Gem Lake and I felt a little too tired 🙂 Even during early/mid pregnancy I continued to hike pretty good distances and loved every minute. Soon after Evy was born we headed out to Colorado – even though it was snowing!

Now, looking forward to the summer ahead I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’m not sure why traveling and hiking with a 3-year-old and 1-year-old seems so much more daunting? I keep asking myself, will our trips be worth the long drives and the changes in routine? Will we even be able to go on hikes over 1 mile this year?

After some serious soul-searching and discussions with my husband I think the answer is yes – it will be daunting. And, I don’t know how many hikes we will do over 1 mile. But, most importantly YES it will be worth it. 

So, I’m going to take the next month or so brainstorming all the amazing, realistic mountain activities we can enjoy at this specific time in our lives. The girls are so much fun and I know we are going to have a blast.

I believe as they hike further and further on their own two little feet, they will gain confidence that will boost their self-esteem throughout life. I believe being out in nature is good for our souls. I believe having screen free family time is valuable beyond measure. So bring on the tantrums, the challenges, the tests …. we got this! We are not giving up on our beautiful dreams.

Best Valentine’s Dates in Estes Park, Colorado

Whether you think ghost stories are romantic or chocolate with wine is more your thing, Estes Park, Colorado has something for every couple (or friends group) looking for a winter getaway this Valentine’s season.

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Seeking Adventure 
Enjoy outdoor winter activities in nearby Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Foodies
Friday, February 9 – Valentine Wine and Chocolate Dinner at Twin Owls Steakhouse who is partnering with Estes Park’s Snowy Peaks Winery for a five coarse meal featuring chocolate and wine. We went to Twin Owls Steakhouse for an anniversary dinner and were impressed by the food, view and romantic atmosphere.

**The 2018 Wine and Chocolate Festival is sold out, but you can save the date for next year’s event which will take place on February 9, 2019!

The Eclectic Couple
Ghosts of Valentines is a theatrical performance at The Historic Stanley Hotel.

The Classic Romantic 
The Princess Bride
 , a romantic movie favorite is playing at The Historic Park Theatre and Cafe.

Enjoy winter specials at historic Marys Lake Lodge and go to dinner at attached Tavern 1929.

 

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?