A New Year’s Eve Getaway in Estes Park, Colorado

Standing under the evergreens on our snowy hike up to Nymph Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park filled my heart with gratitude and relief. Just a few months ago, we were anxiously watching the news and hoping that the wildfires would be contained. Although the damage was substantial, thanks to the incredible effort by firefighters (and perhaps some good luck and answered prayers), Rocky Mountain National Park is open and beautiful.

Here is a map of the Area Closures due to fire damage.

America the Beautiful Park Pass

We bought our annual America the Beautiful Park Pass which covers entrance into national parks and federal recreation lands for the entire family. For us, this is a great deal because we go to the park frequently, plus we feel good about financially supporting the national parks. You can learn more about the pass here.

Details about day passes entrance fees for Rocky Mountain National Park as well as upcoming free days can be found on the nps website.

Nymph Lake

The hike to Nymph Lake begins at the Bear Lake trail head. The journey to Nymph Lake is only .5 miles. Our girls were eager to play in the snow and thrilled that the lake was frozen solid.

Hike to Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Cozy cabin in estes park

I spent a lot of time during our trip sitting next to the fire in our cabin, reading books, and drinking coffee. I read 37 books in 2020 which beat my previous year by 11 books. My 2020 favorites include Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson, The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. If you enjoy reading on vacation, check out my Book Lovers Guide to Estes Park, Colorado.

In 2020, COVID-19 made us weary of airport travel. We were also navigating the school calendar for the first time as our oldest started kindergarten. This meant fewer trips to the mountains last year. The positive side is that we were able to rent our cabin to many families who wanted a safe and relaxing vacation spot. We are reinvesting the rental income we earned into a couple of upgrades including new flooring throughout the first level. Learn more about renting our cabin here.

Solitude Cabins in Estes Park, Colorado

Hike around lily Lake

I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve written about Lily Lake on our site. Lily Lake is our favorite destination because it is easy, fun, and family friendly. A trip to Rocky Mountain National Park without a stroll around Lily Lake feels incomplete.

Lily Lake Hike in Rocky Mountain National park
Lily Lake in the Snow

Sledding in rocky mountain national park

Hidden Valley is the only place where sledding is allowed in Rocky Mountain National Park. We have been taking our girls to this spot every year. It is a blast! You can rent sleds and other winter gear at Estes Park Mountain Shop.

Sledding in Rocky Mountain National Park

Sprague Lake

Sprague Lake is a half mile loop. We enjoyed this hike on New Year’s Day. This felt like a good start to the year even though life remains a little uncertain. Typically, I’m very goal-oriented, but this year (for now at least) I’m not writing a list of goals. I love to hear what other people do to celebrate the beginning of a New Year, so please feel free to share your reflections in the comments below.

Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Our 5 Most Popular Colorado posts in 2020

I always think it’s fun to see what our readers are finding on our site.

Our fifth most popular post was extra sweet. The Best in Estes Park: A Cinnamon Roll Showdown.

The Estes Park Winter Bucket List was the fourth most popular post this year. Although it was written in 2019, the list remains a good one! On our New Year’s Eve trip we checked off several bucket list items including sledding, winter hikes, shopping for a Christmas ornament, sitting by the fireplace with a good book, and swimming at the Estes Valley Community Center.

The Homer Rouse Trail – a Dog Friendly Trail in Estes Park, Colorado and the updated version Homer Rouse Trail – Revisited (written in 2019) continue to be among the most popular posts on our site.

The second most popular post was A Trail Less Traveled: Hollowell Park to Mill Creek Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park which was written in 2019. We returned to Hollowell Park this summer and wrote about it here. The wildflowers were beautiful! If this is a hiking destination you want to try, make sure to check in with the national park service. According to their website, ‘Trails that remain closed in the Bear Lake area include the Fern Lake Trail, Cub Lake Trail, the Mill Creek Basin, and Hollowell Park.’ (as of 1/4/2021).

The most popular post was 7 Romantic Things To Do in Estes Park, Colorado. This post was actually written in February of 2019, but most of the points remain true except that the Dunraven has a new location by Lake Estes.

If you are on pinterest, I’d love for you to check out our profile. I typically add videos on pinterest that aren’t included in the blog posts.

coming soon

I’m going to ask my husband Eric to post his favorite moments from our recent trip too. Some of his pictures are AMAZING. I can’t wait to share them here soon. I’m also excited to share about our latest Estes Park food adventure. A post about our Asian Takeout Extravaganza is coming soon.

Happy New Year!

-Kelly

Guide for Things to do in Estes Park, Colorado This Winter – 1 Day Itinerary

breakfast at a local coffee shop

The first thing on my mind when I wake up on a cold winter morning is drinking a warm cup of coffee. Our day started in downtown Estes Park at our favorite local coffee shop, Kind Coffee. I featured Kind Coffee when I wrote about the Best Places to Have a ‘Cup of Cheer’ in Estes Park. My girls were delighted to get hot chocolates. Along with our coffees, I ordered oatmeal and my husband enjoyed a breakfast burrito.

sledding in rocky mountain national park

The highlight of our day was going sledding as a family. After breakfast, we headed into Rocky Mountain National Park towards Hidden Valley. It is the only place within the park where you are allowed to go sledding. We were immediately hit with a strong blast of winter wind when we opened the doors to our SUV. We bundled up and started walking up hill to find the perfect sled run. Thankfully, the tall pines blocked the gusts. We flew down the hill on our little blue sled. We took turns – I was secretly competing with my husband to see how far I could make the sled go.

sledding at hidden valley in rocky mountain national park

Winter Hike at Lily Lake

After everyone had enough sledding, we decided to head over to Lily Lake for a short winter hike. The lake was mostly frozen over, but not solid. The wind made a marble pattern across the top. We enjoyed views of Longs Peak, the highest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Lily Lake frozen in ice. Views of Longs Peak, the highest mountain in rocky mountain national park

lunch

For lunch we went to my husband’s favorite sandwich shop. Scratch Deli makes fresh, delicious sandwiches. We took our meals back to our cabin and enjoyed lunch around our table. After lunch, we rested for awhile. We took showers and changed out of our snow gear. The girls happily played with each other, but refused to nap.

afternoon scenic drive around estes park

We decided to carry out our secret nap plan. An afternoon drive is a great way to explore the surrounding area. We saw a large herd of elk near our cabin. The girls drifted off to sleep as we cruised along the curvy mountain roads.

herd of elk in rocky mountain national park

shop estes park

In the late afternoon, we headed back to downtown Estes Park to go shopping. Cliffhanger Used Books is my favorite place to shop. I picked out three novels and several children’s books. Our total was under $20. Proceeds benefit the Estes Valley Library.

wine tasting in estes park

Happy with my deals, we walked further down the block to do a wine tasting at Snowy Peaks winery. The girls enjoyed their colorful play room and got to pick out a special rock from their treasure chest after they cleaned up the toys that entertained them while we sipped local wines.

family dinner in downtown estes park

For dinner we headed to a restaurant that has become a family-tradition, Mama Rose’s. The girls shared a milk flight and enjoyed spaghetti (our oldest) and meatballs (our youngest).

mountain retreat

After a full day, we headed back to our cabin. On a short trip, it’s hard to decide what to fit in. I hope our winter 1-day winter itinerary is helpful for anyone planning a trip to Estes Park this season. If you have any questions or suggestions, please comment below.

7 Romantic Things To Do in Estes Park, Colorado

I hope everyone had a great Valentine’s Day! Inspired by all the LOVE, this week I’m sharing the most romantic things to do in Estes Park, Colorado.

  1. Linger over breakfast. Typically I eat toast for breakfast, that’s the opposite of romantic! Sitting down to a full service breakfast with a couple cups of coffee is a luxury. There are a lot of places to eat breakfast in Estes Park. A couple of my favorites are Notchtop Bakery & Cafe and Trailhead Restaurant.
  2. Play Outside. There is something very romantic about activities that are playful or adventurous. During the winter months you can grab a sled and ride in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Hidden Valley. Or, you can rent snowshoes and explore the trails you love all covered in bright, white snow. If you are planning a romantic trip in the summer, you could rent a boat at Lake Estes marina or go on a horseback ride with your favorite partner.
  3. Browse Unique Shops. Downtown Estes Park has plenty of shopping. Date-worthy destinations include historic Macdonald Bookshop – I think the fireplace adds to the charm. There are also several art galleries in downtown Estes Park. My favorite is Images of Rocky Mountain National Park.
  4. Wine Tasting. Estes Park is home to Snowy Peaks Winery. They offer tastings of local wine and often host live music.
  5. Sunset. When the sun goes down over the mountains, the sky turns brilliant shades of pink and yellow. Savor these magical moments with a romantic drive through Rocky Mountain National Park.
  6. Romantic Night on the Town. The Dunraven Inn in Estes Park offers home-made Italian food and a cozy atmosphere. It’s a unique, locally owned restaurant. There is a tradition to hang $1 bills on the walls in the bar area and a collection of Mona Lisa themed art work is displayed throughout the restaurant.
  7. Get Cozy. Estes Park has a lot of wonderful places to stay while you visit. If you choose to stay at Solitude Cabins, we hope you take time to relax by the stone fireplace and watch the snow falling down outside. We would love for you to visit our cabin and enjoy a memorable weekend with your loved ones. If you would like more suggestions for your itinerary while in Estes Park, I would love to help!

Our Magical Snow Vacation in Estes Park, Colorado

Waking up to a winter wonderland in Estes Park, Colorado wasn’t what we expected when we planned our trip for October. We expected crisp autumn weather with blue skies and golden aspens. This trip took us by surprise but we had a wonderful time getting cozy by the fireplace in our cabin, taking in the views, playing in Rocky Mountain National Park and enjoying all the shops and treats downtown Estes Park has to offer.

Snow in Estes Park Colorado
Snow in Estes Park Colorado

Aspen in Colorado

We expected to see the golden aspens. The contrast with the snow made them even more breathtaking.

Aspen in snow in estes park colorado

Shopping in Downtown Estes Park

We got all bundled up to play in the snow.  Then I realized in the rush of packing I forgot to bring along gloves so we purchased some in downtown Estes Park. I always love an excuse to go shopping in Estes, so while we were down there I also picked out a cute hat for my husband to ‘surprise’ me with on Christmas.

family friendly trips to colorado

Sledding in Hidden Valley

Our favorite snow adventure was going sledding in Hidden Valley which is located inside of Rocky Mountain National Park. We were worried that there might not be enough snow, but there was just enough to have a blast! We had the hill to ourselves and lucked out with a gorgeous day. The last time we went to Hidden Valley it was very windy and cold! I can say without a doubt it’s the most epic place I’ve ever gone sledding. Plus there is ample parking and a nice shelter with restrooms.

sledding joy in rocky mountain national park

Warm up with Hot Chocolate

Getting hot chocolate at Trailhead Restaurant on Fall River Road was another big hit with my girls. Besides the ample whipped cream, they also enjoyed spending time on the playground right outside.

hot chocolate at trailhead restaurant

Standing on the restaurant’s back deck we got a family photo with ALL OF US LOOKING! I think this is the only one we’ve captured this year. You can basically count on it being our Christmas card.

family photo in estes park colorado

Winter Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park

You can’t go to the mountains without getting in a little hiking so we took a stroll around Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. This short loop trail is one of our favorites because it is very toddler friendly and the views are beyond amazing. This time the lake was half-frozen and the trails were half frozen too.

sprague lake half frozen

The trail around Sprague Lake was nothing compared to the slipping and sliding my sister-in-law and I did on our way up to Bear Lake which is a little higher up the mountain. It was too slippery to carefully carry the girls up to see the beautiful views. That’s Hallet Peak in the background. Yep, I climbed that once!

bear lake in the snow

Elk in Estes Park

Another reason to visit Estes Park in October is to experience elk rut season. They didn’t seem to mind the early snow.

elk season in estes park colorado

We had to cut our trip a few days short because more snow was expected and we didn’t want to get stuck. Well… I don’t know how much I would have minded getting stuck in winter paradise, but we had to get back to work and school.

national park service snow baby

Even though it was cut short, I’d say that our trip was a snow ball. Get it!? Okay that’s my Mom humor coming out.

snow ball

Have you been to Estes Park in the winter? Let us know your favorite snow day activities!