The Ute Trail is located off of Trail Ridge Road, a scenic highway that connects Estes Park, Colorado to Grand Lake, Colorado. Parking is limited to a handful of cars that can fit into a pull-off area between Rainbow Curve and Forest Canyon Overlook.
We dressed in warm layers because the temperature drops as you rise above treeline. The Ute Trail begins at 11,430 ft of elevation which is incredible! On the tundra, the sun shines bright and the wind can be intense. We lucked out with a beautiful day.
We accidentally locked most of our hiking gear including boots and kid carrier in our storage closet, so we picked this hike for the girls to do (mostly) on their own because it’s basically flat.
Both girls did an amazing job, especially our 3-year-old. She wanted to keep going and going. We decided to turn around approximately a mile into our hike, making this a two mile trek for us. Rockymountainhikingtrails.com lists this as a 4 mile round trip hike which gives us a great goal for our next adventure up on the Ute Trail.
The sweeping views are inspiring, but I also love witnessing the intricate plant life that survives in this harsh climate.
I can just imagine the the Arapaho and Ute tribes passing here between their summer and winter hunting grounds as they did so many years ago. The National Park Service has placed a historical information plaque at the start of the trail.
We spotted wildlife including marmots, pikas and birds. Oh hey, there little guy!
Trail Ridge Road is open seasonally. You can check road status reports on the National Park Service’s website here. In the high elevation take extra caution with weather that can produce lightening or icy conditions.
The Ute Trail is one of my new favorite family-friendly hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. If you are looking for more amazing hikes, check out our favorite hikes under two miles.
In my last post I mentioned that crowds were one of my least favorite parts of our July trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. One of the solutions for us was finding less popular trails. One morning we woke up a little late and couldn’t find parking at Bear Lake, Glacier Gorge, Bierstadt or even the Park and Ride. I’m glad we didn’t give up looking, because we eventually found a spot near Sprague Lake.
We decided to give it a go and hike from Sprague Lake to the Glacier Gorge trailhead via the Glacier Creek Trail. If you are in the parking lot and looking towards the lake, you will find the trailhead to your right. From here, head uphill and follow signs leading to Bear Lake.
The further we hiked, the prettier this trail became. Two miles in we discovered a little lake covered in lily pads blooming with yellow flowers. My daughter nicknamed it Minnie Mouse Lake.
We also passed over a wooden bridge with a roaring mountain stream classified as a ‘loud waterfall’ by our toddler.
We turned around 2.8 miles into our hike. If we continued we would have made it to Bear Lake or Alberta Falls in less than a mile. The return hike was even more enjoyable because it was a downhill slope.
We really enjoyed our hike and will keep this less trafficked trail in mind for days when the park is busy!
Hiking Gear Highlight – Hiking Boots: The dusty first section of this hike inspired me to ditch my running shoes and buy new hiking boots with good wool hiking socks. In downtown Estes Park I noticed a sale sign on the window of Plum Creek Shoe Station. The selection of boots and customer service was amazing. I was given options in my price range that fit the hikes we go on. I’m so glad I bought from a local shop so I could ask questions rather than buying online. Having good hiking boots and socks that fit makes a world of difference!
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?
It’s no secret that I love Rocky Mountain National Park. There is so much to do and see that it’s really hard to narrow down the highlights to a one-day itinerary, but if you just have one day to spend here’s my suggestions:
Start early and get fueled up on good food and good coffee. My favorite sit-down breakfast is Notchtop Bakery & Cafe. You can stare out the windows at the Rockies while you eat. They have a fun kids menu – Cecy likes their pancakes! They are located at 459 E Wonderview Ave in Estes Park, CO and are open from 7am – 3pm. We also love Kind Coffee which opens even earlier (6:30am – 7pm). The coffee shop is located at 470 E Elkhorn Ave which is right on the river walk. I enjoy their oatmeal, breakfast burritos and of course coffee!
If you are feeling acclimated to the elevation, head up to Bear Lake. Take a nice stroll around the lake and capture a Christmas card worthy family picture with Hallett Peak behind you. From there you can hike to Alberta Falls for some more great family photo ops. Hike on to beautiful Mills Lake or The Loch if you want more of a challenge.
Lunch time! Call ahead and order a sandwich to-go from Scratch – Deli & Bakery which is located at 911 Moraine Ave. Their deli is small but the Turkey-Bacon-Avocado sandwich is huge and amazing. It’s great for a picnic on Lake Estes where kids can enjoy the fun playground next to the marina.
Lake Estes Marina offers afternoon activities like renting pontoon boats or pedal carts. They are typically open May through October, but we’ve learned it’s good to call ahead to verify.
From there you can walk through downtown Estes Park along the river walk and enjoy local shopping and a treat. I’m a huge fan of ice cream and we love Hailey’s located at 102 W Elkhorn Ave.
Early evening is a great time to spot wildlife. Take a drive through Rocky Mountain National Park and make sure to search for elk in the Moraine Valley and near Horseshoe Park/Sheep Lakes.
For dinner go to Poppy’s Pizza & Grill and sit outside by the river. They are located at 342 East Elkhorn Avenue. They have good pizza and an impressive drink selection which includes locally brewed beer.
I hope this sample itinerary is a helpful starting point. Once you spend a day in beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park, I’m sure you’ll be planning your next trip back soon.
Last week we took a last-minute family road trip to Estes Park, Colorado with our two-year-old, Cecy and our two-month-old, Evy. On the second day of our trip we woke up to snow and decided to go to Lily Lake, which is one of our favorite places in Rocky Mountain National Park. We love it so much that we named Evy – Evelyn Lily after the lake and nearby Lily Mountain. Hopefully when she grows up she thinks that’s cool and not completly corny!?
We pulled on the layers and (mostly) enjoyed the big, white, fluffy flakes. Cecy rode in the sled for part of the .8 mile hike.
And on her Daddy’s shoulders for the rest.
While little Evy enjoyed cuddling all warm next to me in our Ergo carrier. You can see the snow was really accumulating quickly on my hat!
We were the only (crazy) ones on the trail and it felt pretty magical.
We spotted a few ducks swimming in the cold.
Based on the weather forecast we were surprised when we ended our hike that it was still snowing and that it had snowed so much. The roads were pretty slippery on the drive back to our condo.
Lesson learned!! Next time we’ll check cotrip.org. They have a camera setup right by Lily Lake to show road conditions.
According to the Spring 2017 edition of RMNP newspaper, Spring is the snowiest season in Rocky Mounation National Park. ‘On average, some of the biggest snowstorms of the year happen in March, April, and even May. Be prepared.’
This was a great first hike for our little Evy. She slept the whole way – snuggled in warm against her mamma.
Last week we made a crazy, last-minute decision to take a trip to Colorado with our toddler and newborn. They did great on the long drive to Estes Park which makes me optimistic about future trips as a family of 4.
We decided to hike to The Pool which is one of our family’s favorite 2-4 mile hikes. The lower elevation was great for me because I haven’t done a whole lot of exercise since Evy was born in January and also great for my husband who had to carry our growing toddler. We started our hike at Fern Lake trail head in the Moraine Valley.
We walked through a few patches of snow and some areas that were a little wet and muddy from melt, but overall the trail was in good walking condition.
We spotted this waterfall which seemed to be the culprit for some of the sogginess.
1.2 miles into our hike we arrived at the always-impressive Arch Rocks.
Eventually our two-year-old Cecy negotiated with her dad to get out of the carrier. She was carried over jagged rocks that we were afraid she might slip on.
She walked a good distance too! She got tripped up on a rock, but made a quick recovery.
We stopped for a snack which made everyone happy.
1.7 miles into our journey along the Big Thompson River we made it to The Pool.
If you cross over the bridge, the trail will continue on to Fern Falls and Fern Lake.
This was a great first hike for our little Evy. She slept the whole way – snuggled in warm against her mamma.
We love our girls and can’t wait to take them on more adventures in RMNP!
A less busy, more remote area of Rocky Mountain National Park is appropriately named the Wild Basin. We almost drove right past the entrance! Once you turn in, the road becomes more narrow and leads to dirt roads with limited parking.
On our first trip to the Wild Basin, our goal was mainly to scout out the area. We headed to the Wild Basin Trailhead and walked .3 miles to Copeland Falls. This picture of Cecy with her Daddy melts my heart.
We were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed this lower elevation walk, so we came back on our next trip. On our second excursion, we went back to Copeland Falls and on to Calypso Cascades (1.8 miles from TH) then Ouzel Falls (2.7 miles from TH).
The trail follows a scenic mountain stream that you cross over several times. When we were there (early September 2015) the bridge at Ouzel Falls that leads to Ouzel Lake was wiped out from flooding. A crew was there working to rebuild.
We hiked a little off trail to find a better view of Ouzel Falls. My husband hiked an additional .2 miles (somewhat technical/not baby friendly) to the top of the falls and waved back down at Cecy and me as we played near the falls. I think Cecy really enjoyed the rushing sound of the falls and the soft mist that was coming off of it.