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:
Reserve our camping spot in Rocky Mountain National Park.
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!
Borrow and buy necessary camping gear.
Plan trial runs by camping close to our home in Kansas City.
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.
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.
Highlights of our trips to the West side of the park include frequent wildlife spotting including elk and moose.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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.
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!
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.
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.
Have you visited RMNP in the winter? What is your favorite winter activity?
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.
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 )
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.
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!
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.A 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.
We enjoyed spectacular views of the Never Summer Mountains and the Colorado River which ribbons through the Kawuneeche Valley.
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.
After 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.
The Kawuneeche Valley is an area of the park we look forward to exploring more in the future!
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.
We followed switchbacks, steadily gaining elevation before entering a beautiful pine forest.
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.
We attempted to have a picnic, but we were interrupted by overly ‘friendly’ ducks.
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.