The Low-Down for Labor Day Vacation in Rocky Mountain National Park

Weather in Rockies
We are packing our bags for our 2018 Labor Day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. I’m excited because the weather is (hopefully) going to be beautiful. The forecast is showing mid-70s with pretty low chances of rain. At night the temperatures will drop to mid-40s. Here is a link to check the weather in RMNP. It’s colder at high elevations like Trail Ridge Road. It’s time to layer – I’m excited to break out my fleece jacket!

Beating the Crowds in Rocky Mountain National Park
The park will be busy. I’m hoping we can get up and out the door in time to get to our favorite hiking destinations before all the parking spaces are taken. We will probably need to leave by 6:00 AM (maybe even earlier). There are some park-and-rides if we get a late start. Here is a link to the shuttle service in Rocky Mountain National Park. Visitors can also save time by pre-purchasing a park pass online here.

Even in the most popular areas the further we hike the less people we see on the trails. Also, the West side of the park is home to family-friendly destinations that are typically less crowed. Here are a couple posts-from-the-past about the area:

4 Great Reasons to Visit Grand Lake with Kids

A Perfect Picnic at Coyote Valley

Getting the Best Pictures of the Mountains
Sunrise will be right around 6:30 AM and sunset will be around 7:30 PM. I’m paying attention to my watch so I can photograph these magical moments in the mountains. It’s also a great time to spot wildlife in the park. I can’t wait to see elk and hopefully moose.

Wildlife in Rocky Mountain National Park
When I picked up my daughter from preschool today the teacher informed me that she is afraid of bears. Oh my! We live near Kansas City, Missouri so this isn’t an issue at home, but she knows that bears are in the forest including in Rocky Mountain National Park. We’ve never seen one on our hikes or drives, but I’ve heard sightings of these awesome animals are on the rise. It’s good to be prepared with some black bear knowledge. I found helpful ‘Be Bear Aware’ information on a Colorado Parks & Wildlife website. They also provide a fun bear coloring page.

Potty-Training/ Facilities in Rocky Mountain National Park
And speaking of my preschooler, it’s good to know where the best (flush) potty’s in the park are: Alpine Visitor Center, Fall River Visitor Center, Kawuneeche Visitor Center, Moraine Park Discovery Center, Hidden Valley, Sprague Lake. We also bring our own toddler portable potty because we’ve found vault toilets to be a little challenging.

Hiking with Toddlers
When we hike with our kiddos they like to walk a lot of the way. We’ve listed our favorite short distance hikes here. For longer hikes we use kid carriers. There are several shops in town that rent them out including Warming House.

Festivals, Food, Shopping, Parking and More in Estes Park, Colorado
The town of Estes Park, Colorado will also be busy, but they offer free parking and shuttle services which come in handy on crowded weekends. Learn more here. There is always a lot going on downtown Estes Park. Visitestespark.com has a great calendar of events.

 

 

Sweeping Mountain Views and Waterfalls – Our New Favorite Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Wild Basin

This month we drove to the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park which is 19 miles south of Estes Park, CO on highway 7. The roads are a little bumpy and narrow as they wind back to the Finch Lake Trailhead where we began our adventure.

The Finch Lake Trailhead was new to us, so our goal was to hike 2 miles in to explore where it would lead. At first, we regretted our decision because for nearly a mile we hiked straight up hill.

Finch Lake trail

Eventually we turned sharply right and into a dense grove of aspens. The trail flattened out enough for us to catch our breath. We spotted signage that showed a route to the Allenspark Trailhead, but we continued on the main trail towards Finch Lake.

aspens in Rocky Mountain National Park

We decided to keep going…at almost 2.5 miles we stopped at a clearing with views of the surrounding mountains. We could see the Wild Basin Ranger Station below which helped us get our bearings and encouraged us to continue despite another steep uphill climb for .3-.4 miles.

rocky mountain views in wild basin

We came to another trail sign that showed the ranger station via Calypso Cascades was 3.1 miles away. We turned towards that route knowing the extra 2.2 miles up to Finch Lake would be longer and more uphill.

hiking in wild basin rocky mountain national park

We were amazed by the stunning views of Mount Meeker, Longs Peak, Mount Pagoda and Chiefs Head. We met a fellow hiker on the trail who told us about a national park fire that scorched the area in 1978. The fire opened up the view and increased the aspen growth.

wild flowers in wild basin rocky mountain national park

We enjoyed a variety of wild flowers as well as the downhill path that lead us by some of our favorite spots including Calypso Cascades and Copeland Falls.

calypso cascades wild basin

When we arrived at the Wild Basin Trailhead we walked less than a half mile back to our car at the Finch Lake Trailhead.

wild basin rocky mountain national park

We ended up loving this hike! We did it with our 3.5-year-old and 1.5-year-old in carriers which was a bit of a (good) challenge for us.

family hike in rocky mountain national park

Wild Basin is awesome! Here are 5 more posts we’ve written about hiking in this area:

Family Friendly Waterfall Hike in Wild Basin

Into the Wild Basin

Waterfalls, Wildflowers, Weather and Wine – Why I love Rocky Mountain National Park in July

Best Waterfall Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Favorite 2-4 Mile Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Deer Mountain – A Great Hiking and Horseback Riding Destination in Rocky Mountain National Park

Hiking Deer Mountain with Toddlers
We just got back from another wonderful family vacation in Rocky Mountain National Park. The first day we decided to hike up Deer Mountain which is one of our favorite hikes because of the amazing views.  Unfortunately, this time the views were pretty hazy from forest fires in nearby Grand Lake, Colorado.

Hazy Skies from Forest Fires in Grand Lake CO

The mountain hike was still beautiful with wildflowers in full bloom. I’m trying to learn more about the different species we see on the trails. Here is a link to some of the most common flowers in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Wildflowers in Bloom in Rocky Mountain National Park

According to Rockymountaintrails.com, this hike starts at 8,940 ft in elevation at the Deer Ridge Junction. It’s 6.2 miles round trip and gains 1,210 ft of elevation.

For us, that’s a pretty tough hike with the kids in their carriers. Our girls are 3 and 1 years old, so longer hikes are a great way to help them grow in patience. I’m really proud of them! It is fun for me to look back on times we’ve hiked this before. Check out past posts:

Deer Mountain – A Family Friendly Summit Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Cecy’s First Trip to Rocky Mountain National Park

Horseback Riding Deer Mountain
Later in the week I got a fresh perspective of Deer Mountain by taking a 2 hour horseback riding tour with National Park Gateway Stables.

Horseback Riding Rocky Mountain National Park

The ride ‘follows the Fall River to the base of Deer Mountain and Aspen Glen area into Lil Horseshoe Park and Hidden Meadows.’ You can learn more about the tours on their website. They even have pony rides for ages 2-7.

Horses Rocky Mountains

Mom Tips:
There isn’t a parking lot, ranger station or toilet available near Deer Ridge Junction, so plan ahead if you can. On trips we keep a potty like this one in our car for our 3-year-old.

We pack snacks, drinks, sing songs and play games to keep the girls entertained during longer hikes. Games include ‘tortoise and the hare’ where we take turns who is in the lead and who is going slow paying attention to details (or getting distracted by wildflowers). We also play ‘bear’ where one parent goes ahead with a child and hides behind a tree or rock to jump out and surprise the other parent and sibling.

 

 

Breathtaking Hike to Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Dream Lake is a popular hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. We hiked the trail at the end of May. It’s always helpful to check the park’s trail conditions before selecting a hike, especially this time of year. (Here is the link)

You start at the Bear Lake trailhead which is a hot spot in the park! If you can’t find a parking spot in the lot, don’t give up – the national park has a park and ride shuttle that is free to use once you’ve paid the entrance fee. Routes change with the season. (more info)

Once we unpacked the kids from car, we were greeted by friendly and knowledgeable park staff and volunteers. Don’t forget to say thank you to them for keeping the park such a clean and amazing place – especially the people who have to clean the bathrooms. Bear Lake has several non-flushing toilets available.

The total hike is 1.1 miles each way starting at 9,450 ft in elevation and gaining 450ft. You will cross by Nymph Lake half way into the hike which is a lovely spot.

Nymph is short for Nymphae polysepala the original scientific name for the lily pads that adorn the lake during the summer months. (according to Rocky Mountain National Park – the Complete Hiking Guide by Lisa Foster)

As you continue to climb, the views of the surrounding mountains open up.

Hike to Dream Lake Rocky Mountain National Park

You will pass by a small waterfall which is a great spot for a family picture (if your kids cooperate)

Young Families in Rocky Mountain National Park

Here is a view from the top.

pretty scenes in Rocky Mountain National Park

We were excited for the opportunity to play in a little snow right before Dream Lake, but had to use extra caution because it was pretty slippery in places.

Snow hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

And finally our Dream Lake destination, which never gets old no matter how many times we hike to this gorgeous spot.

Dream Lake Rocky Mountain National Park

 

How to Reserve Camping Spots in Rocky Mountain National Park

I’m nervous and excited to go on our first camping trip in Rocky Mountain National Park this summer. I grew up camping with my family and have fond memories of setting up our tent, cooking meals over campfires, looking up at a big, black sky filled with more stars than I could imagine, and listening to frogs and insects chirping loudly while I tried to fall asleep.

I also remember lots of dirt, bug spray and the occasional upset stomach that would interrupt our fun. So, I think I’m heading into this adventure with a realistic approach to how camping with a 3-year-old and 1-year-old might go. Here’s my tentative game plan:

  1. Reserve our camping spot in Rocky Mountain National Park.
  2. Research by asking friends who have camped with little ones what to pack. I’m especially interested in what my 1-year-old should sleep in. And of course I made a ‘camping with toddlers’ pinterest board!
  3. Borrow and buy necessary camping gear.
  4. Plan trial runs by camping close to our home in Kansas City.
  5. Head out to Colorado! We will stay at a condo or cabin before and after our camping adventure to extend our trip. I’m only brave enough to camp one night this first time.

A couple of the Park’s camping sites are first-come first-serve, but most of the sites are by reservation. You can make reservations up to six months in advance and they fill up fast. I went to the National Park Service’s website to reserve the spot. You can also call (877) 444-6777.

We decided to reserve a spot in the Glacier Basin Campground because it is close to Sprague Lake, one of our favorite kid-friendly hiking spots. Our camping usage fee is $26.00/night. I chose a tent only, non-electric spot which is fairly close to a restroom with flush toilet. The cost does not include entrance fees to get into the park. You can learn more about RMNP entrance fees and annual passes here.

4 Great Reasons to Visit Grand Lake, Colorado with Kids

One of my friends recently asked if I would recommend bringing two young kids to Grand Lake, Colorado.

My answer is yes! Although I love the East side of Rocky Mountain National Park and go there more often, the West side of RMNP which is near the mountain town of Grand Lake has a ton to offer families who are seeking outdoor adventures.

  1. Highlights of our trips to the West side of the park include frequent wildlife spotting including elk and moose.
  2. Grand Lake is typically less busy than Estes Park. This means you will most likely benefit from shorter lines at the national park entrance and less trouble finding parking spots downtown. However, this also could mean there are fewer options for restaurants and entertainment.
  3. I enjoy Grand Lake’s laid back vibe. They have a playground that my littles love to play on before grabbing an ice cream cone and walking along the shore of Grand Lake, the largest natural lake in Colorado. I’m always impressed by the colorful displays of flowers around town. Local residents seem to take great pride in their beautiful home.
  4. Outdoor Adventures include water recreation such as boating, swimming and paddle boarding. You can also go hiking – some of our favorite spots include Coyote Valley (which I wrote about here), Lake Irene and Adams Falls. There are many short hikes, picnic spots and attractions we haven’t had a chance to explore yet including the Holzwarth Historic Site.

Did you know Rocky Mountain National Park has its own podcast? We listened to an episode titled, “Getting Wild on Rocky’s West Side” which was a great resource for learning more about Holzwarth. Additional resources when planning a trip to Grand Lake include grandlakechamber.com and visitgrandcounty.com.

Although there are adventures to be had year-round in Grand Lake some top attractions are only open seasonally including Trail Ridge Road. The scenic highway typically opens at the end of May depending on the weather. You can learn about road conditions on the National Park’s website.

Lake Irene in Rocky Mountain National Park
Lake Irene in Rocky Mountains
Grand Lake is great for families
Grand Lake – toddler fun
Grand Lake Colorado downtown with baby
Swinging in Grand Lake

Seeking Serenity in the Mountains – A Hike To Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

I feel joy and peace when I look at the pictures from our most recent hike to Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. At 5.6 miles round trip, this was our longest and final hike during our Labor Day weekend trip.

Mills Lake

The hike began at Bear Lake trailhead (9,475 ft elevation) with a downhill slope for the first half mile. A female elk crossed ahead of us before we continued on the trail up towards Alberta Falls.

*Alberta Falls, a popular destination, is .8 miles into the hike (200 ft gain )

Hiking with Baby in Rocky Mountain National Park

The hike from Alberta Falls to Mills Lake gains another 500 feet in elevation. Sometimes it’s hard with kids to go on longer hikes, but the longer the distance the more we’ve been able to enjoy the mental, spiritual and physical benefits of hiking in the mountains. It’s worth pushing ourselves through the extra mileage and elevation gain.  Hiking to Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Mills Lake was serene and breathtaking. The weather was sunny and crisp with the first signs of Fall appearing as patches of golden leaves trickling down the mountains.

When things get crazy with scary news, frustrating facebook feeds, dealing with sick kiddos… I’ve been trying to return to Mills Lake in my mind and linger there a while. It’s my ‘happy place.’ Do you have one?

I’m so grateful I get to return to the mountains for another hiking trip this weekend!