2 Day Itinerary in Estes Park with Toddlers

When we are on vacation with our young girls we try our best to stick to a regular routine and take advantage of unexpected moments. If you are looking for ideas on how to spend a couple days in Estes Park with your young family, here are a couple days we recently enjoyed in our favorite mountain town.

Day 1 Itinerary in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park 
First thing in the morning we drove to Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park so the girls could burn off some energy by walking around the gorgeous half mile loop. We love this hike because our girls can both walk at their own pace and stop to climb rocks and look at trout. The views of the Continental Divide are stunning – one time we spotted a moose right in the middle of the lake!

Sprague Lake Rocky Mountain National Park

Next we went to Trailhead Restaurant which is attached to the Fall River Visitors Center. We sat outside on the deck and sipped cups of hot chocolate and split warm, gooey cinnamon rolls. The girls played on the attached playground and we enjoyed views of Deer Mountain.

After some quiet time and naps at our cabin, we headed back out in the evening to Snowy Peaks Winery in downtown Estes Park. They have a great kids area with toys and art supplies which occupied our girls while we enjoyed Colorado wine. After the tasting we all headed downstairs and back out to the garden where local bluegrass duo Dahlby & Nadine inspired our own duo to joyfully twirl in circles behind our table.

We went to the playground across the street before heading down the River Walk to Mama Rose’s, an Italian restaurant for dinner. We weren’t lucky enough to grab an outdoor table by the Big Thompson River, but we enjoyed our spot inside. Our three-year-old enjoyed a flight of milk: strawberry, chocolate, vanilla and white. She was nice enough to share sips with her little sister.

Day 2 Itinerary in Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park & Brainard Lake
We started out our morning with another favorite lake hike. Lily Lake loop is less than a mile and it’s flat so our girls can hike on their own. Lily Lake is located six miles south of Estes Park on Highway 7. We enjoyed spotting muskrats swimming the in the lake as well as the awesome views of Twin Sisters Peaks, Longs Peak and Lily Mountain.

Mountain Views around Lily Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Next we enjoyed coffee and hot chocolate at Coffee on the Rocks. Our girls love walking around the duck filled pond behind the coffee shop. We also ventured into Red Rose Rock Shop which shares a parking lot. The girls each thoughtfully selected pink sparkly rocks from the abundant display.

Rock Shop Estes Park Colorado

We got back in the car with the treasure and our 1.5-year-old instantly fell asleep. We decided to seize the opportunity by grabbing an amazing take-and-go sandwich from Scratch Deli & Bakery and driving to Brainard Lake Recreation Area. This popular hiking destination has been on our bucket list all summer. It’s located 50 minutes away from Estes Park. After sitting in line at the entrance we eventually got a parking spot, which was lucky on a holiday weekend. We got out and hiked around the breathtaking setting.

Hiking with Kids in Rocky Mountain National Park, Brainard Lake Colorado

Even though it was overcast and eventually started to hail, the trip was still worth it!

Brainard Lakes Colorado, Indian Peaks Wilderness

Rainy Afternoon Activity in Estes Park, Colorado
The hail was brief but cut our adventure short. We decided to go swimming indoors when we got back to Estes Park. The Estes Valley Community Center opened a new pool with a lazy river, slides and water play area. There are resident and non-resident fees to use the facility. We had so much fun!

We wrapped up our vacation at Rock Cut Brewing Co. which has games and picnic tables outside. We ordered Chinese takeout from the restaurant next door and saw other people order pizza from across the street. There is typically a food truck option as well.

 

 

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

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?