Estes Park Summer Bucket List

My Dad always said planning a trip is sometimes more fun than the actual vacation itself. I don’t know if that’s always the case, but I love to research fun, new activities to do on our famiy’s trips to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. I never run out of options because there is so much to do in this quaint mountain town and in the nearby National Park. Here are some of the top things on our Estes Park Summer Bucket List in 2017:

Eat an ice cream cone at Hayley’s

The delicious smell of waffle cones wafts out the door as you enter our favorite ice cream shop. It’s tiny inside so we choose our favorite flavor and take it outside on a stroll down the river walk. Hayley’s is located at 102 W. Elkhorn Avenue in downtown Estes Park, Colorado.

Best Icecream in Estes Park, Colorado

Pikas in the Park

What’s cuter than a pika? nothing! I’m so excited to participate in this new scavenger hunt activity. Just download an activity guide at and start looking for 12 bronze pika sculptures in downtown Estes Park.

Be a Junior Ranger

We will head to the Fall River Visitor Center to pickup the Junior Ranger packet for kids 5 and under (they have packets designed for older kids too). The visitor center is open from 9am-5pm every day during the summer. You can pick up packets at any of the park’s visitor centers. Here is a link for more information about Rocky Mountain National Park visitors centers locations and hours. You can find more information about their Junior Park Ranger program here.

Bonus: While we are at the Fall River Visitor Center, we will enjoy a delicious breakfast and spectacular views at the attached Trailhead Restaurant. After dining, we will let our toddler play at the little playground right outside to burn off some endless energy.

rocky mountain national park visitor center playground area

Go on a boat ride

We want to spend some time on the water. Last year we rented a pontoon boat for a half hour ride on Lake Estes. This short amount of time was perfect for our little one’s first boat ride. Lake Estes is beautiful, conveniently located and rentals are fairly inexpensive. The marina website has rental information listed.

Another option is to drive over Trail Ridge Road to get to Grand Lake. The drive could take an hour or two depending on traffic. The boat rentals seem to cost a little more on this side of the mountain and I haven’t found rental options for under an hour. But, it’s always fun to try something new and we could easily make this a full day trip with stops along Trail Ridge Road and visiting attractions in the town of Grand Lake, CO. Two marinas we are considering renting boats from are Trail Ridge Marina  or Grand Lake Marina.

Rent Boat at Lake Estes Marina

Enjoy a Rocky Mountain waterfall

There are many amazing waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park. This year Chasm Falls is on the top of my list. The falls are located right off of  Old Fall River Road, a one-way gravel road which travels all the way up to an elevation of 11,796 ft at the Alpine Visitors Center. The road is scenic and enjoyed at a leisurely pace (15 miles per hour speed limit). It’s a good idea to check park Road Status Reports before heading up.

Gaze at the stars

One of the best things about being further away from the city is being able to see stars light up the night sky. We are excited to attend a “Stories Behind the Moon & the Stars” program at the Moraine Valley Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park. The events will take place around 8:00 on Fridays June 30, July 7, August 4 and August 11 in 2017. You can learn more at

Hike to a mountain lake 

It’s hard to pick a favorite mountain lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, but this year we are going to attempt a family hike to Mills Lake. The roundtrip journey is roughly six miles. We can start at the Bear Lake trailhead and pass by Alberta Falls on our way up.

Mills Lake RMNP

Watch fireworks

We are going to grab some lawn chairs and watch a spectacular fireworks show over Lake Estes on July 4th. The event begins at 9:30PM.

What are you looking forward to this summer? I’d love to hear about your bucket list!

Deer Mountain – a Family Friendly Summit Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Looking for a family friendly summit hike in Rocky Mountain National Park? There is something very rewarding about reaching the summit of a mountain, but with young kids it’s hard to spend the time, energy and face the technical challenges of hiking up many of the prominent peaks.

Good news! You don’t have to hike all day to experience wonderful panoramic views and gain that awesome feeling of accomplishment. A three-mile hike up Deer Mountain offers both. The hike is located at Deer Ridge Junction, a few miles west of the Beaver Meadows entrance.

Hiking with a baby in the mountains

There isn’t a parking lot near Deer Mountain. Cars park right off the street making parking limited.

Parking near Deer Mountain is limited

Gear for hiking with young children and babies
I carried our 4 month old in an Ergobaby carrier and my husband carried our 2 1/2-year-old in a Deuter kid comfort carrier. With the added weight, we were happy to take extra breaks to enjoy the inspiring mountain vistas.

Great views on the way up Deer Mountain in RMNP

As we approached the summit, we hiked through melting snow which is pretty common in May –  especially this year.  I was thankful for my waterproof hiking boots, but we still got wet and muddy. Keeping a pair of flip-flops in the car to change into post hike would be helpful.

Deer Mountain Summit near Estes Park Colorado

Trekking poles were also helpful. You gain 1,093 ft of elevation.

Hiking Deer Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park in May

Standing at 10,013′ we made it to the summit. This was our youngest daughter’s first summit hike. Both girls were ready for a snack at this point, but we were worried about dark clouds looming in the distance and decided to start our descent. We probably should have started this hike earlier in the day because storms are more common in the afternoon. Deer Mountain, good spring summit hike for families in Rocky Mountains

On the way down, we had to be cautious in a few areas where slippery rocks were covered in slushy snow (especially with our precious cargo).

Hiking in snow

Luck was on our side, the weather cleared and we enjoyed the 3 mile return trip under blue skies.

Hiking Deer Mountain


Moose Spotting Makes for a Memerable Morning Hike Around Sprague Lake

We just got back from a Memorial Day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. Our final hike was a quick half mile loop around picturesque Sprague Lake. Our toddler loves this popular hike because she can do it herself.

Sprague Lake loop in RMNP

There are plenty of bridges to run over and rocks to climb on.

Toddler led hikes around Sprague Lake in RMNP

There are benches to rest on and great places to take family photos (if you can get everyone to look at the camera).

family photos at sprague lake in rocky mountain national park

Oh wait!? Is that a moose in the background?

Moose at Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountains

Yep! Much to our surprise a moose waded into the crisp mountain lake.

family fun in Rocky Mountain National Park

No matter how many times we go, we can’t wait to come back!

10 Questions to Ask Before Booking Lodging in Estes Park, Colorado

Rustic mountain cabins, condos with sweeping mountain views, historic lodges, river-walk lofts – there are a wide-variety of options for your stay in Estes Park, Colorado. Beyond price, availability and customer reviews, here are additional questions to consider before booking your family’s Rocky Mountain vacation:

  1. Where is the cabin located in relation to attractions we are most interested in? Anticipate traffic during prime summer months. It’s worth considering if you prefer lodging close to downtown Estes Park, close to a Rocky Mountain National Park entrance, or in a more remote spot away from congestion.
  2. Where are we going to eat our meals? There are a lot of restaurants in town, but you’ll save money and time if you can make some of your own meals. Many vacation rentals come with grills, ovens, refrigerators and all the plates and utensils you need. There is a Safeway grocery store in Estes Park. Get a saver card at customer service to save extra money in-store and at the nearby Safeway gas station.
  3. Is there a good way to bathe our little ones? We bought our condo when our daughter was a baby without thinking about the challenges of bath time without a bath tub. Now she’s learning to use the shower which is great because she’s getting too big for baths in our kitchen sink.
  4. Will we have a way to wash dirty laundry? Not everyone wants to spend vacations doing laundry, but my girls go through several outfits a day. Having laundry in the condo or cabin you rent can be really helpful to cut down on the amount of luggage you transport.
  5. Are cribs available? Many hotels have cribs or pack n’ plays available. Call ahead to reserve them. If they don’t have cribs available, make sure the room is big enough to set up your portable crib.
  6. Could there be noise issues caused by traffic, event venues, etc. that could disrupt sleep? If you are concerned about noise, consider bringing along a small noise machine.
  7. Is there enough room and privacy for everyone? For us this comes up more when extended family or friends are sharing a space. If the condo says it sleeps 5, is one or more of those beds a pull-out couch located in a gathering space, a bunk bed, or in a loft?
  8. Does the facility have enough parking? And, is there a shuttle stop nearby? Estes Park has a free shuttle service that runs during peak times of the year. Different routes stop at various lodging, restaurants, shopping and information centers in town. You can learn more by visiting the Town of Estes Park, Colorado website.
  9. Does the hotel have the amenities we are looking for such as a pool, hot tub, mountain views, fireplace, free wireless connection, air conditioning, etc.? A good site to check out for lodging in Estes Park, Colorado is You can search with their map feature and filter by amenities.
  10. Are there any child safety concerns like high balconies, proximity to river/water, smoke-free rooms, steep staircases, open lofts, etc.? If you have any concerns, it’s always good to think ahead so you have a game-plan on how to child-proof the place you are staying the best you can.

    We have special memories from all of the places we’ve stayed in Estes Park, from sharing a bottle of wine on the patio after a long days hike as newly weds to worrying about how best to store milk for our baby as new parents. Here are a few pictures from places we’ve stayed along our way.
    Sept 2013 172 Sept 2013 500IMG_0418IMG_1920IMG_1924IMG_1941