Rocky Mountain National Park with Kids: Alluvial Fan and Sheep Lakes

It has been a few years since I wrote out a suggested itinerary for Rocky Mountain National Park, so today I’m excited to share a mini itenerary that I think is ideal for families with young children.

Animals in Rocky Mountain National Park

If I’m honest, the person who gets the most excited about spotting animals in Rocky Mountain National Park is me. But our kids enjoy spotting wildlife too, and one of the best places to see wildlife is at Sheep Lakes which is located near the Fall River Entrance Station on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park (by Estes Park, Colorado).

When we visited the park in early June, we spotted more bighorn sheep than we’ve ever seen! We also saw a bull moose, elk, and a coyote in the field. Sometimes traffic on the road has to stop so the animals can safely cross. There is a parking lot where you will see excited visitors practicing their wildlife photography with impressive zoom lenses. Or you can be like me and pull out your iPhone to take a quick photo. Either way, it’s a really cool experience and there are usually park rangers stationed at Sheep Lakes to answer questions and help protect visitors and animals by ensuring no one gets too close. Remember, animals need their space.

Bighorn sheep Rocky Mountain National Park
Bighorn sheep rocky mountain national park
Moose at Sheep Lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Best Hikes in Rocky mountain national park For Families

Right down the road from Sheep Lakes you will find the Alluvial Fan which has always been one of our favorite kid-friendly waterfall hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. Thanks to recent renovations, this destination has become even more accessible and beautiful. According to a recent story in the Denver Post, ‘The trail surface is made of FilterPave, which feels solid underfoot — sort of like a backyard patio floor — but is porous to allow for drainage.’

The National Park’s website describes the Alluvial Fan as ‘a beautiful cascade of water flowing down through a boulder field.’ The Alluvial Fan was created when a dam broke at Lawn Lake in 1892.

Alluvial Fan

3 great ways to add on to this adventure

Before arriving in the national park, consider stopping at the Fall River Visitor Center which is located right off Hwy 36. The visitor center has educational displays about the park and helpful staff to answer questions. The visitor center is attached to a huge gift shop and Trailhead Restaurant. This is a great spot to order breakfast and sit on the back deck that overlooks Deer Mountain. We also appreciate the fenced in playground next to the restaurant. At the Gateway, there is a stable where visitors can go on guided rides into Rocky Mountain National Park. I wrote about my horseback riding experience here.

family photo in estes park colorado

Another way to add on to an outing to the Alluvial Fan is to bring a picnic lunch to the nearby Endovalley Picnic Area. Picnic lunches are one of our favorite family-friendly activities in Rocky Mountain National Park. We wrote about five more of our favorite picnic spots here.

My last suggestion for an add-on adventure is to drive up Old Fall River Road to the Alpine Visitor Center. This is a narrow, one-way road that starts at the Endovalley Picnic Area and winds all the way up into the tundra at Fall River Pass. Make sure to stop at Chasm Falls on the way up. Since it is one-way, you take Trail Ridge Road back down towards Estes Park. There are many pull-outs to take pictures and trails to go on breathtaking hikes on the tundra. Old Fall River Road is seasonal. It typically is open to vehicles July 4 through September, however even in the summer, it’s always a good idea to check on road and weather conditions before taking this journey.

When the road is closed to vehicle traffic, visitors use the trail for walking, jogging, and biking. Dogs aren’t allowed on trails in RMNP, but since this is a road, it is one of the few places that dogs are welcome to go on a hike with you inside the national park. We wrote about our hike up Old Fall River Road here.

Chasm Falls off of Old Fall River Road

2 Day Itinerary in Estes Park with Toddlers

When we are on vacation with our young girls we try our best to stick to a regular routine and take advantage of unexpected moments. If you are looking for ideas on how to spend a couple days in Estes Park with your young family, here are a couple days we recently enjoyed in our favorite mountain town.

Day 1 Itinerary in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park 
First thing in the morning we drove to Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park so the girls could burn off some energy by walking around the gorgeous half mile loop. We love this hike because our girls can both walk at their own pace and stop to climb rocks and look at trout. The views of the Continental Divide are stunning – one time we spotted a moose right in the middle of the lake!

Sprague Lake Rocky Mountain National Park

Next we went to Trailhead Restaurant which is attached to the Fall River Visitors Center. We sat outside on the deck and sipped cups of hot chocolate and split warm, gooey cinnamon rolls. The girls played on the attached playground and we enjoyed views of Deer Mountain.

After some quiet time and naps at our cabin, we headed back out in the evening to Snowy Peaks Winery in downtown Estes Park. They have a great kids area with toys and art supplies which occupied our girls while we enjoyed Colorado wine. After the tasting we all headed downstairs and back out to the garden where local bluegrass duo Dahlby & Nadine inspired our own duo to joyfully twirl in circles behind our table.

We went to the playground across the street before heading down the River Walk to Mama Rose’s, an Italian restaurant for dinner. We weren’t lucky enough to grab an outdoor table by the Big Thompson River, but we enjoyed our spot inside. Our three-year-old enjoyed a flight of milk: strawberry, chocolate, vanilla and white. She was nice enough to share sips with her little sister.

Day 2 Itinerary in Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park & Brainard Lake
We started out our morning with another favorite lake hike. Lily Lake loop is less than a mile and it’s flat so our girls can hike on their own. Lily Lake is located six miles south of Estes Park on Highway 7. We enjoyed spotting muskrats swimming the in the lake as well as the awesome views of Twin Sisters Peaks, Longs Peak and Lily Mountain.

Mountain Views around Lily Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Next we enjoyed coffee and hot chocolate at Coffee on the Rocks. Our girls love walking around the duck filled pond behind the coffee shop. We also ventured into Red Rose Rock Shop which shares a parking lot. The girls each thoughtfully selected pink sparkly rocks from the abundant display.

Rock Shop Estes Park Colorado

We got back in the car with the treasure and our 1.5-year-old instantly fell asleep. We decided to seize the opportunity by grabbing an amazing take-and-go sandwich from Scratch Deli & Bakery and driving to Brainard Lake Recreation Area. This popular hiking destination has been on our bucket list all summer. It’s located 50 minutes away from Estes Park. After sitting in line at the entrance we eventually got a parking spot, which was lucky on a holiday weekend. We got out and hiked around the breathtaking setting.

Hiking with Kids in Rocky Mountain National Park, Brainard Lake Colorado

Even though it was overcast and eventually started to hail, the trip was still worth it!

Brainard Lakes Colorado, Indian Peaks Wilderness

Rainy Afternoon Activity in Estes Park, Colorado
The hail was brief but cut our adventure short. We decided to go swimming indoors when we got back to Estes Park. The Estes Valley Community Center opened a new pool with a lazy river, slides and water play area. There are resident and non-resident fees to use the facility. We had so much fun!

We wrapped up our vacation at Rock Cut Brewing Co. which has games and picnic tables outside. We ordered Chinese takeout from the restaurant next door and saw other people order pizza from across the street. There is typically a food truck option as well.