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.
Through all the things my eyes have seen The best by far is you
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Even though it was overcast and eventually started to hail, the trip was still worth it!
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.
This time around, I hope I can express my delight with this waterfall hike. We ventured out on May 25th, the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. Although the Rocky Mountain National Park filled up with visitors over the holiday, we lucked out with great parking* close to the Fern Falls trailhead.
A highlight of this lower elevation* hike is the nearly constant view of the Big Thompson River. Most of the hike is very child friendly as long as you watch out for little ones wandering too close to the river, or getting too adventurous on the amazing rock formations.
We started the hike with the hopes of making it to Arch Rocks (1.2 miles) or The Pool (1.7 miles) if we were lucky, but the girls were doing so awesome we decided to hike to Fern Falls which is 2.6 miles each way. That’s a little far for our kids to hike on their own, so we carried them a lot of the way in a deuter kids carrier and an ergo baby carrier.
The distance from The Pool to Fern Falls is a little under a mile, but you gain 400 feet of elevation quickly. I was out of breath but had to remind myself that I was carrying a 16-month-old toddler.
The hike up was totally worth it. Everyone was in a great mood and the waterfall was impressive.
Fern Falls lives up to its name, the surrounding area is lush and damp. We didn’t stop long because mosquitoes were swarming the area.
*Fern Lake trailhead has a small non-paved parking area. The road leading to the trailhead becomes narrow for two-way vehicle traffic. There is shuttle service and some additional parking .8 miles away from the trailhead.
*Fern Falls trailhead begins at 8,150 ft of elevation so when I say ‘lower elevation’ I mean low compared to many places in RMNP, but high for those of us from non-mountain regions. Remember to take it easy and drink lots of water!