Lunch with a View: 5 Great Spots to Enjoy a Picnic in Rocky Mountain National Park This Fall

It’s officially fall! I can’t think of a better way to take in the splendor of the autumn colors than a picnic in Rocky Mountain National Park. There are over 25 picnicking areas listed on the National Park’s website. Here are some of our favorites:

Upper beaver meadows

The Upper Beaver Meadows area is a new find for us this year. It is quickly becoming one of our favorite picnic spots because it seems less crowded than other areas of the park, has gorgeous views, and fun rocks for our kids to climb around. There are 10 picnic tables available. There is also a vault toilet (which seems important to point out to my fellow potty trainers).

Upper Beaver Meadows picnic
Upper Beaver Meadows picnic area

You can read more about Upper Beaver Meadows hiking trails here.

Lily Lake

Views of Longs Peak and Estes Cone reflect off the water of Lily Lake. Lily Lake is one of my favorite spots to practice photography. You can take a stroll around the lake and enjoy a picnic at one of the 4 picnic tables. An additional 12 tables are available for group rental a quarter mile down the trail. The group picnic spot feels more secluded. There is a vault toilet in the parking area.

Lily Lake in the autumn, Rocky Mountain National Park
Lily Lake in the autumn

Lily Lake is one of the spots we visit most often, here is one of our oldest posts about Lily Lake and here is a post I wrote last month.

sprague lake

If I had to choose just one picnic spot, I’d recommend Sprague Lake. The views of the golden aspens and continental divide can’t be beat. We often see people bird-watching and fishing in this lake. We’ve also spotted a moose here. Plus, there are 27 picnic spots and several benches by the lake where you could eat your lunch right on the water. There are summer flush toilets/winter vault toilets in the parking area.

Sprague Lake in the fall. Rocky Mountain National Park top destinations
Sprague Lake

Want to know more about Sprague Lake? I posted about it here.

coyote valley

My first few choices were on the East side of Rocky Mountain National Park near the town of Estes Park, Colorado. Coyote Valley is on the West side of the park. Coyote Valley has a family-friendly hiking trail along the Colorado River in the Kawuneeche Valley. This is a great place to spot wildlife. There are 7 picnic tables available. There are no toilets.

picnics in rocky mountain national park
Coyote Valley picnic

Read more about the Coyote Valley here.

lake irene

Lake Irene is located off of Trailridge Road on the West side of Rocky Mountain National Park. The lake is mostly surrounded with evergreen trees, so the fall colors won’t be as visible. However, if you are going on a scenic drive and are looking for a peaceful place to stop, this is an ideal spot. There are 8 picnic tables. There is also a vault toilet near the parking lot.

Lake Irene Rocky Mountain National Park
Lake Irene

We recently enjoyed a hike around Lake Irene. You can read all about it here.

building your ITINERARY

Some of our most popular posts include 1 day itineraries of what to do in Rocky Mountain National Park. What I appreciate most about these top picnic destinations is the ability to ‘park and play’. By this I mean, once you get to your destination you can add on a hike, bird-watching, fishing, photography, scenic drive, or other outdoor recreational activity to transform a simple picnic into an enjoyable half-day adventure.

Photos from Lily Lake That I’ll Cherish Forever

Lily Lake is one of our favorite places in Rocky Mountain National Park. I think it’s one of the best places in the park to get great pictures of the beautiful surroundings. On our most recent trip, I was excited to take pictures of the wildflowers, but even more excited to capture a few moments of our girls genuinely happy and having fun together.

I loved how the pictures turned out, so I enlarged my favorite and had it professionally framed for our living room back home. It makes my heart happy every time I walk in the room.

Framebridge photo of sisters holding hands
wildflowers in Rocky Mountain National Park
Lily Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
Longs Peak in the distance from Lily Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
Lily Lake lookout over valley
bridge over Lily Lake

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.

 

 

Hold on to your sleds! ‘Snow’ Much Fun in Rocky Mountain National Park

We recently bundled up our family for a winter adventure in Estes Park, Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park. Our weekend began at Lily Lake where we pulled the girls (ages 1 and 3) around the mostly flat loop on our sled. Our three-year old enjoyed playing in the powdery snow.

lily lake in the snow

We also enjoyed an epic sledding excursion at Hidden Valley which is located inside Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s the only place in the park where true sledding is allowed. The area was once a ski destination.

When we got out of our car the ranger warned, ‘hold on to your sleds.’ After a windy blast, we quickly learned why. Our little sled flew into the air and landed in a patch of distant trees where we recovered it and held on tighter. The winter winds can be mighty!

My husband and I took turns riding on the sled with the girls. It was fun for us and helped guarantee the girls a smoother ride.

TIPS

*This is a BYOS (Bring Your Own Sled 🙂 hill

*There was a flushing toilet/restroom facility located by the Hidden Valley parking lot.

*You can learn more details and tips about Hidden Valley here at visitestespark.com or on the park service’s website.

Hidden Valley sledding

Rocky Mountain National Park is located near Estes Park, Colorado. The quaint downtown is filled with twinkling lights this time of year making the shops and restaurants feel even more festive than normal.  On our way into downtown we spotted a male elk. Hello sir!

Elk in Estes Park

Once downtown, we grabbed a cup of steaming hot Kind Coffee and walked along the Big Thompson River. The river was mostly frozen over with tiny ice droplets dipping into the running water.

Big Thompson River frozen

Some sunsets feel more like gifts. We experienced a bright and colorful display over the snow dusted mountains. It’s beauty reminded me to stop and give thanks for the amazing moments we got to share as family in this special place.

Sunset in Estes Park CO

Have you visited RMNP in the winter? What is your favorite winter activity?