A Trail Less Traveled: Hollowell Park to Mill Creek Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park

It’s official – we have been away from Rocky Mountain National Park for far too long! But the count-down is on because we reserved our cabin for a trip at the end of May. In anticipation, I’ve been taking a look back through our family’s hiking journal and came across a hike that I haven’t shared before.

Hollowell Park

Back in May of 2016, we ventured to Hollowell Park because it was an area in RMNP that we had never explored. We hoped it would be a good place to hike with our toddler during the spring season when some higher altitude hikes are still covered in ice and snow. The Hollowell Park turnoff is approximately 8,300 ft in elevation according to the park’s website. In comparison, Bear Lake is 9,475 ft.

I took a picture of the sign at Hollowell Park to give myself a visual of all the destinations you can hike to including Cub Lake, Bierstadt Lake, and Bear Lake. Hiking from Hollowell Park is not the most direct route to these popular attractions, but it could be a good alternate route to avoid some of the crowds during peak visitor season.

Hikes from Hallowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park

Mill Creek Basin

We decided to hike to Mill Creek Basin, which is a less popular destination in the park. Our hike was 1.9 miles each way which began in an open grassy area and climbed an additional 600 feet of elevation through towering pines.

The trail followed a mountain stream called Mill Creek. Several snowy patches remained on the trail along with muddy portions caused by recent snow melt. We crossed over a small wooden bridge to get to the Mill Creek Basin, a meadow with aspens which I imagine are even more beautiful in autumn.

Hallowell Park in RMNP Rocky Mountain National Park
Hollowell Park – Open meadow with views of Rocky Mountains
Deer in Rocky Mountain National Park's Hallowell Park
Deer on the hillside
Mill Creek flows in Rocky Mountain National park
Mill Creek
Hallowell Park trails to Mill Creek Basin, Bierstadt Lake, Bear Lake and Cub Lake.
Trail signage points to Mill Creek Basin, Bierstadt Lake, Bear Lake and Cub Lake
Wooded trail leading to Mill Creek Basin
Towering Pines
Small wooden bridge crossing Mill Creek
Small wood bridge crosses Mill Creek
Mill Creek Basin
Mill Creek Basin
Mill Creek melted snow
Snow in May

Avoid Crowds in Rocky Mountain National Park

If you are interested in additional trails that we think are good for avoiding crowds in Rocky Mountain National Park, I wrote a post about the Glacier Creek trail here.

Spring Hiking in RMNP

Spring can be a tricky season to visit Rocky Mountain National Park because the weather varies day-to-day. Here are some additional lower elevation hikes you might consider:

Best Hikes Under 5 Miles

The hike to Mill Creek Basin was just under 4 miles round trip. When we plan hikes for our young family, we typically aim for hikes that are similar in length. We broke down some of our favorite family-friendly ‘short hikes’ with details to help plan your adventure in the pages linked below:

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

 

Lily Lake Loop on a Snowy Spring Morning

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Last week we took a last-minute family road trip to Estes Park, Colorado with our two-year-old, Cecy and our two-month-old, Evy. On the second day of our trip we woke up to snow and decided to go to Lily Lake, which is one of our favorite places in Rocky Mountain National Park. We love it so much that we named Evy – Evelyn Lily after the lake and nearby Lily Mountain. Hopefully when she grows up she thinks that’s cool and not completly corny!?

We pulled on the layers and (mostly) enjoyed the big, white, fluffy flakes. Cecy rode in the sled for part of the .8 mile hike.

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And on her Daddy’s shoulders for the rest.

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While little Evy enjoyed cuddling all warm next to me in our Ergo carrier. You can see the snow was really accumulating quickly on my hat! IMG_7583

We were the only (crazy) ones on the trail and it felt pretty magical.

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We spotted a few ducks swimming in the cold.

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Based on the weather forecast we were surprised when we ended our hike that it was still snowing and that it had snowed so much.  The roads were pretty slippery on the drive back to our condo.

Lesson learned!! Next time we’ll check cotrip.org. They have a camera setup right by Lily Lake to show road conditions.

According to the Spring 2017 edition of RMNP newspaper, Spring is the snowiest season in Rocky Mounation National Park. ‘On average, some of the biggest snowstorms of the year happen in March, April, and even May. Be prepared.’

Besides checking road conditions, you can also check trail conditions at go.nps.gov/RockyTrailConditions.

 

 

Rocky Mountain Tot Goes to Cub Lake

Last week we headed to Colorado to celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary, because what could be more romantic than bringing a one-and-a-half year old hiking? Well, maybe it wasn’t the most romantic trip we’ve been on, but I couldn’t think of a prettier place to celebrate than Rocky Mountain National Park.

Spring Weather Conditions in Rocky Mountains

When we plan hikes with our little one, the first thing we think about is the weather conditions. The Bear Lake area currently has 40 inches of snow. We wanted to stay in lower elevation, so we decided to check out the Cub Lake trail which is in the majestic Moraine Valley. We were lucky to arrive on a sunny day, but melting snow made the trail muddy in places and we went through a few snow patches.

Hiking Gear for Kids

It’s amazing how fast Cecy is growing.  We are planning to replace her beloved baby carrier for a sturdier kid carrier soon, but for this trip we rented one at the Warming House in Estes Park for $10 per day.  This carrier is similar.

I bought trekking poles which helped keep our balance in the snow and took some of the impact off our knees and back. I was also very thankful for my waterproof hiking boots! These hiking boots are similar.

hiking in the moraine valley rocky mountain national park

The Cub Lake trail is 2.5 miles each way. The trail-head starts out in the Moraine Valley where we spotted elk grazing right off the trail.

hiking in the moraine valley rocky mountain national park

Feeling the Burn

Beyond the valley you enter a wooded section of the trail that is scarred by fire damage. Truthfully, the first time I hiked through this area I didn’t think it was very pretty. This time I decided to find the unique beauty in it which made a big difference on how much more I enjoyed this section of the hike.

fire damage in rocky mountain national park

fire damage tree stump rocky mountain national park

There were a few uphill bursts before the lake – made more challenging by snow and baby.

april hike in snow in rocky mountain national park

We made it to Cub Lake and took a little refreshment break! Later in the season we’d likely see lily pads on top.

cub lake in spring rocky mountain national park

After our break I offered to take turns and have Cecy ride on my back. This lasted about 25 minutes going down hill. Aren’t I nice? But honestly, I couldn’t have gone much further. It was tough work!! I’m excited to try again and build up some endurance and muscles this summer.

hiking with a kid carrier