Spring is a great time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park
If you want to avoid the summer crowds, spring is a wonderful season to visit Rocky Mountain National Park. However, some of the most popular trails like those leaving from the Bear Lake area can still be covered in snow and ice.
Over Memorial Day weekend, we purchased a new hiking guide called Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park: The Essential Guide written by our favorite local photographer, Erik Stensland. The guide included a new (to us) hike that fit our family’s hiking criteria. First, we wanted to find a lower elevation hike to avoid snow. We also needed an easy hike so our kids could walk the trail partially on their own.
Upper Beaver Meadows
Stensland classified the Upper Beaver Meadows Loop as an easy hike. The loop is approximately 1 mile in length beginning at 8,437 feet in elevation and gaining 108 feet.
The hike begins at the Upper Beaver Meadows trailhead. The turnoff that leads to the trailhead is conveniently located less than a mile from the main entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.
We enjoyed the views of surrounding mountains including Longs Peak and the sweet smell of Ponderosa pine trees as we walked along the trail.
We accidentally took a wrong turn and tripled our distance walking around the meadow. I highlighted the loop that we should have followed in green and the loop we took in yellow.
Parts of the trail were muddy because of recent snow and rain. Soft snow fell briefly while we were hiking.
We passed by a herd of elk and tried to give them extra space. Female elk can become protective of their babies during the spring season.
Upper Beaver Meadows is the ending point to the Ute Trail which I wrote about here. It also connects to the scenic Moraine Valley.
For breathtaking pictures and insider knowledge that far exceed my own, I recommend picking up Erik Stensland’s guide. And if you are looking for an easy hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, I hope you consider adding Upper Beaver Meadows Loop to your list along with some of our favorite hikes under 2 miles.
It’s official – we have been away from Rocky Mountain National Park for far too long! But the count-down is on because we reserved our cabin for a trip at the end of May. In anticipation, I’ve been taking a look back through our family’s hiking journal and came across a hike that I haven’t shared before.
Back in May of 2016, we ventured to Hollowell Park because it was an area in RMNP that we had never explored. We hoped it would be a good place to hike with our toddler during the spring season when some higher altitude hikes are still covered in ice and snow. The Hollowell Park turnoff is approximately 8,300 ft in elevation according to the park’s website. In comparison, Bear Lake is 9,475 ft.
I took a picture of the sign at Hollowell Park to give myself a visual of all the destinations you can hike to including Cub Lake, Bierstadt Lake, and Bear Lake. Hiking from Hollowell Park is not the most direct route to these popular attractions, but it could be a good alternate route to avoid some of the crowds during peak visitor season.
Mill Creek Basin
We decided to hike to Mill Creek Basin, which is a less popular destination in the park. Our hike was 1.9 miles each way which began in an open grassy area and climbed an additional 600 feet of elevation through towering pines.
The trail followed a mountain stream called Mill Creek. Several snowy patches remained on the trail along with muddy portions caused by recent snow melt. We crossed over a small wooden bridge to get to the Mill Creek Basin, a meadow with aspens which I imagine are even more beautiful in autumn.
Avoid Crowds in Rocky Mountain National Park
If you are interested in additional trails that we think are good for avoiding crowds in Rocky Mountain National Park, I wrote a post about the Glacier Creek trail here.
Spring Hiking in RMNP
Spring can be a tricky season to visit Rocky Mountain National Park because the weather varies day-to-day. Here are some additional lower elevation hikes you might consider:
Lily Lake -this post really highlights the unpredictable weather in RMNP!
Best Hikes Under 5 Miles
The hike to Mill Creek Basin was just under 4 miles round trip. When we plan hikes for our young family, we typically aim for hikes that are similar in length. We broke down some of our favorite family-friendly ‘short hikes’ with details to help plan your adventure in the pages linked below:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Rocky Mountain National Park’s Wild Basin Area is the setting for some of our favorite waterfall hikes. Located 19 miles south of Estes Park on Highway 7, the Wild Basin is more remote. There is no shuttle service to this area of the park. The roads are narrow and in places pretty rough.
The bumpy drive is worth it. We love this area of the park – it feels like an adventure and the hike to Copeland Falls is only .3 miles from the Wild Basin trailhead.
There is an upper falls and lower falls, go to both!
It’s amazing how much beauty you can see on such a short hike. I love the waterfalls and towering trees. I enjoy the contrast of the different color tree barks and spring leaves. It’s a short, relatively flat hike so I try to notice every detail.
My husband was patient while I tried to ‘capture’ the beauty of this moss type plant. Then I remembered he was carrying a 2 year old on his shoulders, so I hiked a little faster for him.
After Copeland Falls we decided to continue our hike towards Calypso Cascades.
…but we stopped a little short when we felt a few rain drops and noticed gathering dark clouds.
This picturesque bridge is located just beyond the trail sign and made a great stopping point at 1.5 miles in. Calypso Cascades is stunning, so if you have time to go I highly recommend it.
Our sleepy little one gives this waterfall hike a thumbs up!
What are your favorite waterfall hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park? Do you ever stop a little shy of your goal destination?