Best Valentine’s Dates in Estes Park, Colorado

Whether you think ghost stories are romantic or chocolate with wine is more your thing, Estes Park, Colorado has something for every couple (or friends group) looking for a winter getaway this Valentine’s season.

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Seeking Adventure 
Enjoy outdoor winter activities in nearby Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Foodies
Friday, February 9 – Valentine Wine and Chocolate Dinner at Twin Owls Steakhouse who is partnering with Estes Park’s Snowy Peaks Winery for a five coarse meal featuring chocolate and wine. We went to Twin Owls Steakhouse for an anniversary dinner and were impressed by the food, view and romantic atmosphere.

**The 2018 Wine and Chocolate Festival is sold out, but you can save the date for next year’s event which will take place on February 9, 2019!

The Eclectic Couple
Ghosts of Valentines is a theatrical performance at The Historic Stanley Hotel.

The Classic Romantic 
The Princess Bride
 , a romantic movie favorite is playing at The Historic Park Theatre and Cafe.

Enjoy winter specials at historic Marys Lake Lodge and go to dinner at attached Tavern 1929.

 

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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? 

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!

 

 

A Perfect Picnic at Coyote Valley

You are on vacation and it’s lunch time …. if you are like me, there are some days you are handing chicken nuggets back to your toddler from a fast food place (no judgement) or you are begging your kids to sit still at a nicer restaurant and give into screen time (still no judgement). But, some magical days you have the opportuniy to stop and enjoy a meal as a family in a beautiful setting. Picnics are the best!

Rocky Mountain National Park is an ideal place for family picnics. But where are the best places to go? A good resource for picnicking ideas is the National Park’s website which lists over 25 picnic sites.

On a recent trip we decided to try out the Coyote Valley picnic area which is conveniently located off Trail Ridge Road on the way from Estes Park, CO to Grand Lake, CO. There are several parking spots, a restroom and trash receptacles which all come in handy for family picnics.Coyote Valley Trail in Rocky Mountain National ParkA short yet beautiful walk leads to picnic tables on your left. There are seven tables available as first come first serve. The picnic area doesn’t have grills and portable grills are not allowed in this location. Picnicking in Rocky mountain National Park

Best Picnic spots in Rocky Mountain National Park

We enjoyed spectacular views of the Never Summer Mountains and the Colorado River which ribbons through the Kawuneeche Valley.

binoculars in Kawunechee Valley, Rocky Mountain National Park

After being contained in car seats for the drive up Fall River Road and down Trail Ridge Road (with a brief stop at the Alpine Visitor Center where we begged them not to touch items in the gift shop) our girls had fun burning energy and exploring.

Family Hikes Near Grand Lake, COAfter lunch we took a stroll along the Coyote Valley Trail which is a flat half mile walk each way. We appreciated the opportunity to rest on benches and learn about the landscape from educational exhibits along the path.  Never Summer Mountains

The Kawuneeche Valley is an area of  the park we look forward to exploring more in the future!

Don’t Feed the Ducks!

My husband and I had a friendly debate on our drive into Rocky Mountain National Park about the best route to get to Bierstadt Lake. He voted to begin the hike at Bear Lake trailhead which is a downhill slope to the lake. I convinced him that starting at the Bierstadt Lake trailhead would give us better views on our way up and we would end the hike going downhill. Luckily, there was a parking space available in the small Bierstadt Lake parking lot and I won!

The mountains were hazy from wildfires in California and Montana when we started our hike. The haze slowly lifted revealing expansive mountain views.

Hike to Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

We followed switchbacks, steadily gaining elevation before entering a beautiful pine forest.

Bierstadt Lake trail - hiking with a baby

We skirted the lake to get to a clearing with more amazing mountain views. The length of this hike can range from 2.4 miles to 3 + miles roundtrip depending on how much you want to walk around Bierstadt Lake. If you have time, I think it’s worth the extra steps to get a variety of perspectives.

Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

We attempted to have a picnic, but we were interrupted by overly ‘friendly’ ducks.Don't Feed the wildlife in Rocky Mountain National Park

The ambitious ducks followed us all the way from the lake back into the woods. They weren’t happy that we didn’t share our food. The feeling was mutual – our toddler was not a fan of the aggressive ducks.

The ducks were a minor inconvenience and I’m sure will be a fun family memory. However, I’ll take this opportunity to remind everyone to avoid feeding wildlife. It’s so tempting to feed the cute chipmunks or ducks, but it changes their natural ‘wild’ behavior, is a nuisance to fellow park goers, and can wreak havoc on their poor little digestive systems.

Overall, we loved this hike because of the peaceful lake and breathtaking mountain views.

 

Cub Lake Trail – a Wildlife Hotspot in Rocky Mountain National Park

The 2.5 mile hike to Cub Lake begins in the Moraine Valley at the Cub Lake Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Winding trail to Cub Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

The hike is peaceful and scenic. The Big Thompson river winds through the valley and mountains tower in the distance.

Hike to Cub Lake in RMNP

Moraine Park is a hotspot for wildlife. We encountered: a rabbit, Cooper’s Hawks, marmots, a mommy moose with her baby, a big buck elk with several female companions, chipmunks and two snakes.

coopers hawk moraine valley rocky mountain national park

Cooper’s Hawks– A fellow hiker told us to look out for Cooper’s Hawks and we soon spotted what I believe to be a Cooper’s Hawk perching on a pine. According to allaboutbirds.org, these guys are tricky to identify and ‘among the world’s most skillful fliers.’

moose in rocky mountain national park

Moose – If you are hoping to spot moose on your trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, a good place to see them is in the Kawuneeche Valley, but we’ve spotted a couple this summer on the east side of the park at Sprague Lake and here at the Beaver Ponds along Cub Lake trail. Did you know moose can swim? You can learn more fun facts about moose on the National Park Service’s website.

buck elk in rut season - rocky mountain national park

Elk – September 1st began the elk mating season or ‘rut’. During this time, the park closes down areas in the evening until early morning (5pm to 7am). These areas include Horseshoe Park, Upper Beaver Meadows, Moraine Park, Harbison Meadow and Holzwarth Meadow. Closures remain in effect until October 31st. (more info)

Snakes – According to this video clip by Nick Molle, Rocky Mountain National Park does not have poisonous snakes, but you can find garter snakes like the ones we spotted in the meadows by water.

Trail to Cub Lake

A good portion of this hike is in the meadow, but it becomes wooded and lush with ferns and noticeably picks up in intensity – gaining about 500 feet of elevation before arriving at Cub Lake.

Cub Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

The lake was covered in lily pads and made a great resting spot for a hearty snack before our 2.5 mile return trip.

Picnic at Cub Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

On this hike I was carrying my 7 month old daughter, so I just took wildlife pictures with my cell phone quickly from a safe distance.  Photography isn’t my top priority on family hikes, but I love to follow fellow RMNP lovers on instagram that take or feature really amazing, high-quality photos including: @rm_digitalpro, @rockynps, @viewcolorado, @coparkswildlife, @visitestespark, @viewsfromcolorado, @viewcolorado, @co14ers, @trailgirl89, @coloradoinstagram, @lovely_colorado, and @natural_colorado.

Do you follow Colorado photographers on instagram? Who should I be following?

 

 

 

Mountain Hiking – Good for My Soul

‘He put an arm around me and we looked out, feeling the mystifying affinity with the universe that mountain trails can bring.

“When we get back home and life gets busy again, we have to stop and remember how we feel right at this moment.”‘ – The Gratitude Diaries

Hiking is good for the soul
Hiking pre-children with my husband.

Do you dwell in your favorite vacation memories? Today, I’m stopping and remembering what it is like to hike a long mountain trail with my husband. We are lucky to go to our favorite place (Rocky Mountain National Park) pretty often. I’m glad we get to share these experiences with our little ones. We can’t hike as far, but it’s a new adventure each time.  I’m counting down the days until our family is back breathing in the mountain air!