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 book stores 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.

New Family – Favorite Hike: Black Canyon Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

Just when I think we’ve hiked every kid-friendly trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, we find a new one and I get so very excited to try it out. Our recent hike on the Black Canyon trail exceeded our expectations. Our young girls enjoyed themselves because of the short distance and rocks to climb on, while I appreciated the unique rock formations and the mountain views.

Lumpy Ridge Trailhead

The Black Canyon trail leaves from the Lumpy Ridge trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park. The Lumpy Ridge is located off of Devils Gulch road in Estes Park, Colorado.

Raptors

This area is known for unique rock formations which are natural habitats for raptors. When raptors make nests in the rocks, the National Park Service shuts down the trail to protect these birds of prey. When planning a trip, just be aware that the trail might be closed from spring through mid-summer.

rock climbing and trail running

The Lumpy Ridge is a popular technical rock climbing destination. You can see Twin Owls perched above the trail. We saw several rock climbers heading up with their ropes and climbing gear. This trail also seems to be a popular spot for trail running.

Twin Owls
Rock climbing for little rock climbers
Walk through aspen grove with Twin Owls in background

Views of the Rocky Mountains

This area offers expansive views of the peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Views of the Rocky Mountains from Black Canyon Trail
Rocks along the trail
‘Tree house’

There was a huge rock and tree right off the trail that my girls LOVED. They pretended that it was their tree house. This was a great spot to enjoy a water break.

We continued our hike, but soon the trail divided. The left leads to climber access trails for Batman Rock as well as The Book, The Pear, and Sundance Buttress. We were surprised to see that the trail continues all the way to Lawn Lake (9 miles).

Towards the right, there is a trail up to Lower Twin Owls and Upper Twin Owls. We decided to head back the way we came, making the total distance 1.2 miles round-trip.

National Park Service map at trail head – I added yellow highlight to show trail section we hiked on.

More hikes from lumpy ridge Trailhead

On prior trips, we’ve enjoyed hiking up to Gem Lake. Seeing our young kids, a park ranger urged us to go on the Black Canyon trail and I appreciate the suggestion. Gem Lake is a great hike, but a good portion of that hike is straight up the mountain.

Links to our posts about Gem Lake:

Rocky Mountain Tot Goes to Gem Lake

Riding High in New Kid Carrier

9 Hikes with Amazing Views Near Estes Park, Colorado


Through all the things my eyes have seen
The best by far is you

-Andrew McMahon

Tomorrow is my daughter’s 2nd birthday, so I’m feeling extra sentimental about everything… even this post about hikes with amazing views. I asked my husband which hikes near Estes Park, Colorado he thinks of when I say, ‘wide open views’ and he responded, ‘with kids, or without?’ I attempted to break them into two categories, but as you can see there are several hikes that overlap.

Kid-Friendly Hikes with A+ Views

Lily Lake Ridge

View from Lily Lake Ridge in Rocky Mountain National Park
Evelyn got her middle name from this lake

Lily Lake is approximately six miles south of Estes Park on Highway 7. (Lily Ridge shouldn’t be confused with Lily Mountain which can be accessed a quarter mile closer to town.) We hiked up Lily Ridge in late November when Lily Lake was covered in ice. The ridge provided views of the surrounding snow covered mountains including Longs Peak. The hike around the lake is .8 miles. The ridge adds another .4 miles and 100 feet of elevation.

More Articles about Lily Lake

Lily Lake Loop on a Snowy Spring Morning

Relaxing Stroll on Lily Lake

Ute Trail

Hiking on the Ute Trail off of Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park

The Ute Trail is located right off of Trail Ridge Road, a scenic highway that connects Estes Park to Grand Lake. This hike through the alpine tundra begins at 11,430 ft. of elevation. It is basically flat, so our girls hiked it mostly on their own. I wrote about our adventure here, The Most Underrated Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park – Following the Historic Ute Trail

Gem Lake

Hiking up to Gem Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
We found out we were pregnant with Evy right after a hike to Gem Lake. I felt extra tired!

The hike to Gem Lake starts at the Lumpy Ridge trailhead and goes through unique rock formations like Paul Bunyan’s boot. This is a moderately strenuous hike because of the steep steps that lead up to the lake. Gem Lake is small and shallow. It is framed by a rocky, sand beach on one side and sheer rock formations on the other side. The views you see along the way are expansive. The hike is 1.8 miles each way. You can read more here, Rocky Mountain Tot Goes to Gem Lake.

Deer Mountain

Deer Mountain, good spring summit hike for families in Rocky Mountains
Deer Mountain was Evy’s first summit hike

There is something very rewarding about making it to the summit of a mountain. The trailhead for this summit hike is located off of Deer Ridge Junction, a few miles west of Rocky Mountain National Park’s Beaver Meadows entrance. The summit is at 10,013 ft. of elevation. The hike is 3 miles each way.

More Articles About Deer Mountain

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

Deer Mountain – A Great Hiking and Horseback Riding Destination in Rocky Mountain National Park

Wild Basin from Finch Lake Trailhead

Finch Lake trailhead to calypso cascades to wild basin trailhead

Warning – I think Eric considered this hike harder than his 17 mile trek over the Continental Divide because he was carrying a preschooler on his back. A lot of this hike was uphill, so it was a good challenge for us. The Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park is located 19 miles south of Estes Park. Most hikes we enjoy in this area begin at the Wild Basin trailhead. We wanted to try something new, so we began at the Finch Lake trailhead and we were rewarded with panoramic views. Instead of going up further to Finch Lake we headed downhill towards the Wild Basin trailhead and got to stop at some of our favorite waterfalls along the way. I wrote all about it here, Sweeping Mountain Views and Waterfalls – Our New Favorite Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Wild Basin.

Advanced Level Hiking with Inspiring Views

Lily Mountain

Lily Mountain at sunrise
Eric took this picture on Lily Mountain at sunrise. I have it framed in Evy’s room.

Lily Mountain is a fun, quick summit hike with excellent 360 degree views from the top. Dogs are allowed on the trail because it is part of the Roosevelt National Forest. The trail begins relatively flat. You cross through a landside area at approximately .3 miles. After you cross, the trail climbs up steadily with a few good lookouts of the Estes Valley. The last couple hundred feet are a class 2 scramble to the summit. When Cecy was a baby we took her on this hike, but Eric generously offered to stay back with her while I hiked up the last portion. The hike is 1.8 miles each way.

Estes Cone

summit of estes cone in rocky mountain national park

We hiked to Estes Cone from the Longs Peak trailhead. It can be difficult to find parking spots during the summer, but in early October we had no issues. This was another hike that we brought our daughter on in her baby carrier, but Eric let me hike the last .7 miles on my own because we felt the trail was becoming too steep. The summit is rewarding with amazing views of Longs Peak and surrounding mountains. The hike is 3.3 miles each way. Read more about it here, Hike to Estes Cone.

Twin Sisters Peaks

View from Twin Sisters Peaks
Twin Sisters, my first hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. Look at those views!

Climbing up Twin Sisters Peaks was my very first hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. My husband took me on an adventurous long-weekend trip a few months after we got married. Three years later we hiked the same trail with our baby. It’s amazing how a few years can change things! Part of the trail was wiped out from a large landslide and we learned carrying a baby up to 11,413 feet of elevation was much harder than we expected. I wouldn’t recommend bringing little ones on this hike. For us, it’s a special hike that we get to do when we have kind family members willing to babysit. This hike is 7 miles round trip. I give more details here, Twin Sisters Peaks.

Hallett

Summit of Hallet on a clear day
Summit of Hallet on a clear day. It’s on my 19 in 2019 list.

Standing at Bear Lake, I point up to Hallett Peak and I tell my girls, ‘Your mommy has climbed that.’ This year I’m going to climb it again, it’s on my list!

Evelyn Lily, we love you so much! Happy birthday to our sweet, tough, funny and smart little girl! I wish you a life time of reaching high and enjoying all of the amazing views.

Estes Park, Colorado is a family friendly vacation destination
We love Evy!

A Winter Walk in Moraine Park That’s Worth Freezing For

Earlier this month we took a winter trip to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. Little did we know, a few weeks later the national parks would be affected by the current government shutdown. Unfortunately, that means visitors can’t drive into the park. Based on articles I’ve read, this hasn’t had a big impact on the local economy yet because winter is typically a slower season. With that said, I hope that the situation is resolved soon!

Moraine Park

During our December trip, we enjoyed a brief but beautiful hike in Moraine Park beginning at the Cub Lake trail head. We chose this area because at 8,080 ft of elevation there is substantially less snow compared to areas of the park with higher altitude.

Frozen river in Moraine Park

I was excited when this picture was featured on the instagram feed @visitestespark where over 930 people liked it.

The first stretch of the hike is in a valley where there is little protection from blasts of freezing wind, but the scenery is worth bundling up and getting out of your cozy cabin for. The Big Thompson River was mostly frozen and seem to glimmer against the blue sky and snow covered mountain backdrop.

rocky mountain national park

Luckily, you don’t have to walk far before tall trees and surrounding rock formations block the wind. Our four-year-old daughter veered off the path to scramble up boulders to join her sister and dad taking in the peaceful views.

view of moraine valley rocky mountain national park

Beautiful views are not the only reason to visit Moraine Park, it is also a great place to encounter wildlife. Last fall we wrote, Cub Lake Trail – a Wildlife Hotspot in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Toddler Friendly Hiking

toddler friendly hiking in rocky mountain national park

Our nearly two-year-old insisted on hiking in her pajamas, wearing socks as gloves, and borrowing my hat. She held on to my husband’s hand in icy patches, but wanted to show off her independence by walking at her own pace. This led to our decision to cut the hike short. The trail to Cub Lake is 2.5 miles each way. We wrote about this hike in more detail in a previous post, Rocky Mountain Tot Goes to Cub Lake.

log bridge in moraine valley near big thompson river

New Year Goals

As we look forward to a New Year and new outdoor adventures, our goal is to have the girls walking rather than riding in kid-carriers during many of our hikes. We are excited to discover new hikes in the Rocky Mountains and the Ozark Mountains which are located near our new home in Fayetteville, Arkansas. We will write about all of them in our family hiking journal and also look forward to sharing with y’all too!