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.
You will pass by a small waterfall which is a great spot for a family picture (if your kids cooperate)
Here is a view from the top.
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.
And finally our Dream Lake destination, which never gets old no matter how many times we hike to this gorgeous spot.
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.
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.
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.
*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!
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.
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.
Enjoy outdoor winter activities in nearby Rocky Mountain National Park.
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.
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.
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.
*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.
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!
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.
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.
Have you visited RMNP in the winter? What is your favorite winter activity?
I feel joy and peace when I look at the pictures from our most recent hike to Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. At 5.6 miles round trip, this was our longest and final hike during our Labor Day weekend trip.
The hike began at Bear Lake trailhead (9,475 ft elevation) with a downhill slope for the first half mile. A female elk crossed ahead of us before we continued on the trail up towards Alberta Falls.
*Alberta Falls, a popular destination, is .8 miles into the hike (200 ft gain )
The hike from Alberta Falls to Mills Lake gains another 500 feet in elevation. Sometimes it’s hard with kids to go on longer hikes, but the longer the distance the more we’ve been able to enjoy the mental, spiritual and physical benefits of hiking in the mountains. It’s worth pushing ourselves through the extra mileage and elevation gain.
Mills Lake was serene and breathtaking. The weather was sunny and crisp with the first signs of Fall appearing as patches of golden leaves trickling down the mountains.
When things get crazy with scary news, frustrating facebook feeds, dealing with sick kiddos… I’ve been trying to return to Mills Lake in my mind and linger there a while. It’s my ‘happy place.’ Do you have one?
I’m so grateful I get to return to the mountains for another hiking trip this weekend!
You are on vacation and it’s lunch time …. if you are like me, there are some days you are handing chicken nuggets back to your toddler from a fast food place (no judgement) or you are begging your kids to sit still at a nicer restaurant and give into screen time (still no judgement). But, some magical days you have the opportuniy to stop and enjoy a meal as a family in a beautiful setting. Picnics are the best!
Rocky Mountain National Park is an ideal place for family picnics. But where are the best places to go? A good resource for picnicking ideas is the National Park’s website which lists over 25 picnic sites.
On a recent trip we decided to try out the Coyote Valley picnic area which is conveniently located off Trail Ridge Road on the way from Estes Park, CO to Grand Lake, CO. There are several parking spots, a restroom and trash receptacles which all come in handy for family picnics.A short yet beautiful walk leads to picnic tables on your left. There are seven tables available as first come first serve. The picnic area doesn’t have grills and portable grills are not allowed in this location.
We enjoyed spectacular views of the Never Summer Mountains and the Colorado River which ribbons through the Kawuneeche Valley.
After being contained in car seats for the drive up Fall River Road and down Trail Ridge Road (with a brief stop at the Alpine Visitor Center where we begged them not to touch items in the gift shop) our girls had fun burning energy and exploring.
After lunch we took a stroll along the Coyote Valley Trail which is a flat half mile walk each way. We appreciated the opportunity to rest on benches and learn about the landscape from educational exhibits along the path.
The Kawuneeche Valley is an area of the park we look forward to exploring more in the future!