Top Posts of 2021

Outside my office window the snow is falling here in Arkansas. Between rising COVID cases and the weather, we are feeling a little stuck. I’m choosing to embrace staying at home by enjoying some chili and watching football with my husband this afternoon. And since it’s a long weekend, I hope to drink some tea by our fireplace and finish my book club book too.

I’m eager to get started with our adventures for 2022, but in the spirit of rest and reflection, today I’m excited to look back at the top 3 posts of 2021. We made such fun memories this year.

Top Post – staying at the lodge at golf shores state park

We typically write about hiking in Colorado and Northwest Arkansas, but this year I also included a review of our trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama. It turns out, we were not the only ones drawn to the ocean this year because Staying at The Lodge at Gulf State Park was our top post! Reading it again makes me want to go back right now.

Lodge at Gulf State Park

Runner up: mount magazine cabins: staying at the highest point in arkansas

Our second most-read post was Mount Magazine Cabins: Stay at the Highest Point in Arkansas. Mount Magazine is just two hours south of our home in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The cabin we rented had a wraparound deck where we could take in the amazing views of the Petit Jean River Valley. Plus, a hot tub!

Mount Magazine Arkansas cabin

third place: a winter hike on long’s peak trail

Our third most popular post from last year was written by my husband about an amazing winter hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. The pictures from his post, A Winter Hike on the Long’s Peak Trail are beautiful. We attempted to repeat this hike in December, which I wrote about here Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park.

These pages and posts have been on our site for a while but continue to be popular.

Happy Birthday to Our Little Mountain Tot

Finally, I want to wish a happy birthday to our youngest daughter who will be turning 5-years-old this month. It’s hard to believe, but when I started writing about our hiking adventures on this blog she wasn’t even born yet.

If you ask Evy, she will say that she prefers ocean to mountains, but when she is in Colorado her favorite activity is to play in the snow. Her favorite hike is Lily Lake and her favorite thing about our cabin is ‘it’s beautiful’.

The Pool: Evy’s First Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park

My husband and I just got back from a romantic getaway in Estes Park, Colorado. We stayed at our cabin at Solitude Cabins where we enjoyed the warm fireplace, views of Longs Peak, and cozy kitchen where we cooked several of our meals.

restaurants in estes park

Besides eating at the cabin, we also enjoyed several meals at local restaurants. Himalayan Curry & Kebob’s spicy cuisine warmed us up as we looked out the window at falling snow. We also enjoyed a warm bowl of soup at Claire’s on the Park for a post-hike lunch.

We selected Bird & Jim’s for our anniversary dinner. Described as, ‘Modern mountain dining from an ingredient-driven kitchen’, dining at this restaurant has been on our Estes Park bucket-list for a long time. We opted to sit in the bar area where we sat on a blue velvety coach. The lounge furniture paired well with our smoked whiskey drinks and hummus appetizer. We enjoyed our meals of roast chicken and steak. The whole experience was perfect!

Estes Park Winter

Our evening walk in downtown Estes Park felt like strolling through a scene in a classic Christmas movie with festive holiday lights and fresh snow.

Estes Park Winter

To warm up from the frosty weather, we enjoyed sampling wine at Snowy Peaks Winery and drinking seasonal pints at our favorite Estes Park brewery, Rock Cut. We sipped Kind Coffee as we strolled down the Estes Park Riverwalk.

Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park

Estes Park is located near the East entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park. In the summer, this is a hikers dream-spot. In the winter months you can hike with traction, or snowshoe depending on trail conditions. When we arrived, the area had just received fresh snow, so we rented snowshoes from Estes Park Mountain Shop along with poles with snow baskets on them.

Snowshoe Rental Estes Park colorado

Winter is considered off-peak season in Rocky Mountain National Park, so there are no timed-entry permits to worry about. Finding a parking spot is quite a lot easier, although we were surprised to see a long line at the entrance around noon (holiday week).

Winter Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park

Winter Hike to The Loch

We went on two snowshoeing excursions during our trip. The first day we attempted to make it to The Loch. We parked at the Glacier Gorge trailhead which is in the Bear Lake corridor. As we stepped out of the car, we were hit with brutal winds. The winds calmed down significantly once we got deeper into the woods. However, my gloves were no match for the 10-degree temperatures, so I was fairly miserable. I was proud of myself for making it past Alberta Falls to the North Longs Peak Trail junction before giving up when a blast of icy wind blew away our snowshoe tracks and scared me to go beyond that point. We gained about 800 feet of elevation and hiked 3.7 roundtrip.

Romantic vacation Estes Park

There is a winter trail that we missed that skips Alberta Falls but offers a more direct route to The Loch.

shopping in downtown estes park

That afternoon, we enjoyed shopping in downtown Estes Park. We bought adorable Smokey the Bear beanies at Trendz boutique for our little girls. We also bought nice ski gloves for me at Hyk.

Winter Hike to Chasm Lake junction

Wind conditions Rocky Mountain National Park

Bolstered by my new glove purchase, we decided to attempt snowshoeing again the next morning. This time, we headed to the Longs Peak trailhead in hopes of hiking to the Chasm Lake trail junction. My husband enjoyed this hike last January which he wrote about here.

snowshoeing rocky mountain natinoal park

The winds were much more tolerable. I had moments where I felt warm as we gained 1,800 feet of elevation. This hike was beautiful in the snow. Some spots were challenging where the snow was deep.

winter gear hiking

Once we approached the tree line, a gush of what felt like hurricane-force wind came down the mountain and we immediately turned around. It was intense!

I enjoyed the hike back down because it was much easier than the way up and went pretty fast. Our total hike was 4.5 miles. I tried to take in the beauty of the forest in the snow while also looking forward to our awaiting seat-warmers.

Layer upon layer – What I Wore hiking in cold weather

pants: Under Armour cold-weather tights and hiking pants

shirt: base layer turtleneck, fleece, winter coat

feet: wool socks, waterproof hiking boots, snowshoes and poles with snow baskets

extras: sunscreen, sunglasses, beanie, neck gaiter, ski gloves, hiking backpack. *our pack’s straw froze, so pack a separate water bottle

COTREX – location tracker and digital topo maps that don’t require cell signal. Keep in mind that cell phones can freeze up in extremely cold temperatures. I found this article about how to prevent loss of use.

Black Lake Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

This morning I received a text from my husband with a link to an article from an Estes Park newspaper that there is a wildfire near Estes Park today (November 16, 2021). The fire is currently 133 acres. They are calling it the Kruger Rock Fire. Strong winds have not helped the situation. The most up-to-date information can be found on the Larimer County website, here.

Today’s wildfire is located a few miles south of our cabin. It’s hard to tell the specific areas where the fire has made an impact. It looks like it is near a hiking destination that we’ve enjoyed in the past called Kruger Rock which is in Hermit Park. I wrote more about the area here.

Rather than anxiously checking and rechecking news updates, I thought it would be more productive to write a post that I’ve been meaning to write for a while. Back in August, my husband and I went on a hike to Black Lake. We chose Black Lake out of many options we were considering for a ‘date hike’ mostly because it felt like a sure bet. I knew that we would pass by Mills Lake on the way which is one of my favorite destinations in Rocky Mountain National Park.

We got into Rocky Mountain National Park before 6:00 am so that we would have a good chance of getting a parking spot at Bear Lake. I’m not a fan of getting out of bed early in the morning, but I am a big fan of watching the sunrise over the mountains. It was also amazing to have one of the most popular destinations in the park to ourselves. I took the following video of Alberta Falls which is located .6 miles from the Bear Lake parking area.

Alberta Falls

We took the hike on August 1st, which meant we had to purchase a timed-entry permit for the Bear Lake corridor. The permits are required between May 28 – October 11, so if you are planning a late fall or winter visit the permits probably aren’t something you will need to worry about. However, I recommend looking at the national park’s website for the latest information because this is a pretty new system.

Mills Lake is located a little less than three miles into the hike.

Mills Lake

We ran into a group of female elk on the trail. I thought they’d be scared and run away when they saw us… nope. They held their ground and we let them. We backed up and let them have their space and time on the trail. It was slightly intimidating, but it is also one of my favorite memories from the hike.

There was a section of the trail that had a lot of knocked down trees. I did a little research and found that, ‘In November of 2011 a microburst, with winds estimated at 70 to 90 mph, hit the region and decimated hundreds of trees in this area alone. The blowdown impacted a section of trail that extends for roughly a half-mile.’ according to Rocky Mountain Trails.com. I thought that was very interesting because I didn’t realize microbursts occur in mountain areas. It’s also remarkable that the event occurred a decade ago, but you can still see noticeable damage.

This trail featured numerous streams and waterfalls along with spectacular mountain views.

Not far from Black Lake we had to climb up the side of a waterfall. Looking back we enjoyed the view of the lush valley below.

Black lake

Black Lake Trail is rated as a 5 star hike on AllTrails.com. Fellow hikers made comments about the privacy and noted ‘hardly any other hikers’ on the trail after Mills Lake. Hikers also stated it is a ‘good workout’ for moderate hikers. Tips include pre-downloading maps on your phone and wearing mosquito repellent.

Black Lake is also one of the hikes featured on the new Rocky Mountain Channel which is a subscription service that provides high-quality video content about Rocky Mountain National Park that can be streamed from anywhere.

We stopped for a snack at Black Lake where we admired the dark reflection quality which is perhaps how the lake earned its name.

On the way back, the sky turned bright blue and the mountains glowed in the sun. Our total hiking distance was 9.6 miles round trip. I’m so glad that my husband and I had an opportunity to do something we love in one of our favorite places.

The town of Estes Park, the fire crews, and the surrounding wildlife areas are in our thoughts and prayers tonight!

Weather in Rocky Mountain National Park

‘Unpredictable weather alternates between warm and cold, wet and dry.’ – National Park Service

The summer is flying by. I want to stop and remember the sweet moments, so today I’m going back to write about our first adventure of the summer. We are always excited to take our annual Memorial Day trip to Estes Park, Colorado, but this year felt extra special because we had the opportunity to share our favorite spots with some of our best friends.

This was our friends’ first visit to Colorado, so they were excited to explore. Unfortunately, for the first couple days of our trip, the weather was overcast, cold, and rainy. Despite the gloomy skies, I was impressed with everyone’s positive attitudes and willingness to get out and hike.

Packing for trip to Estes Park, Colorado
Welcome to Colorado!

Weather in rocky mountain national park

Preparing for the trip, my friend asked me what to pack. It’s a tougher question than you might think because the weather in Rocky Mountain National Park seems to always be changing. I suggested packing warm coats in case it snows, water-proof items in case it rains, and shorts for when it is sunny. Good thing they have a minivan to fit it all in, right? We typically wear comfortable layers because we’ve experienced all of these weather conditions in one day – especially when we drive up the mountain to higher elevation.

The perfect evidence of this can be seen live on Rocky Mountain National Park’s webcams. As I write, the mid-day temperature listed on the Continental Divide webcam says 71.6 F while the Alpine Visitor Center webcam reads 48.2 F.

The National Park has resources on their website that give up-to-date information for weather in Rocky Mountain National Park. This includes current road conditions , current trail conditions, and Rocky Mountain National Park weather trends by season.

Best Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park: Early Season Hikes

We consider early season hikes ones that are lower in elevation because snow is common on trails in late spring and early summer in popular destinations like Bear Lake. Check out our post about Lower Elevation Hikes for ideas.

On this trip, we chose Lily Lake/ Lily Ridge for its views of Longs Peak and Twin Sisters Peaks and accessible path that’s easy for kids. The hike around Lily Lake remains one of our favorite short hikes in the park. Adding on Lily Ridge makes the hike a little more challenging, but I think the views are worth it.

Lily Ridge in Rocky Mountain National Park
Hike up Lily Ridge

Next, we hiked in the Wild Basin up to Calypso Cascades. With so much rain and snow melt, we had to be careful in the Wild Basin as we hiked near waterfalls and rushing streams. The kids all did a great job staying on the path. Near Calypso Cascades, there were even a few spots of snow on the trail. The kids thought it was the coolest part.

This hike was a little more challenging for our crew. It is 1.8 miles each way and gains 780 feet of elevation. We didn’t hear any grumbles though, perhaps the key to complain-free hiking is inviting a best buddy along.

Weather in Rocky Mountain National park
rain, rain, go away!
Weather in Rocky Mountain National park
Copeland Falls in Wild Basin
Wild Basin trail
Calypso Cascades RMNP

Beyond hiking, we enjoyed staying dry inside by visiting some of our favorite Estes Park restaurants including Latitude 105.

Estes Park restaurants
sharing a lemonade at Latitude 101

I was thankful the dads offered to hang out with the kids for a few hours so my friend and I could get some much-needed girl-chat at Snowy Peaks Winery.

Estes Park winery

Overall, I hope that our friends had a good first trip to Colorado (despite the colder weather). We loved sharing Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park with them!