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!
If you are looking for another less crowded hike, I also recommend checking out Hollowell Park.
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:
Breakfast in Estes Park
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 – our toddler likes their pancakes! We also love Kind Coffee which opens even earlier. I enjoy their oatmeal, breakfast burritos and of course coffee!
Family Friendly Hiking
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 in Estes Park
Lunch time! Call ahead and order a sandwich to-go from Scratch – Deli & Bakery. 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.
Estes Park Riverwalk
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 Hayley’s.
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.
Dinner in Estes Park
For dinner go to Poppy’s Pizza & Grill and sit outside by the river. 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.’