Rocky Mountain National Park – Spotting Wildlife at Sheep Lakes

One of the highlights of our trips to Rocky Mountain National Park is spotting wildlife. During our most recent visit, we were lucky to see both bighorn sheep and moose at Sheep Lakes which is located in Horseshoe Park.

sheep lakes

According to the national park’s website, Rocky Mountain National Park is home to approximately 350 bighorn sheep. Sheep Lakes is a great place to see bighorn sheep from May through the middle of August. There is a parking lot where you can safely pull off the road to view the animals who frequent the area. This is not a hiking destination, visitors are required to give the animals plenty of space to make sure both animals and humans stay safe. Many times park rangers will be stationed at the parking lot to direct traffic and answer visitor questions.

The park has a ‘Bighorn Crossing Zone’ in Horseshoe Park during spring and summer months. This means if you are driving, you will need to stop and wait for the sheep to pass.

Bighorn Crossing Zone – taken on previous trip to Rocky Mountain National Park from inside car

Bighorn sheep are attracted to Sheep Lakes because it is a natural salt lick that provides the animals with needed minerals.

We spotted the bighorn sheep at Sheep Lakes on the first day that the park opened to visitors after the shutdown for COVID-19. We came back later in the week to see if we could see the sheep again, and were surprised to see a pair of moose instead.

Bull moose can weigh up to 1,500 pounds and run as fast as 35 miles per hour.

Helpful links and resources

We’ve seen moose on both sides of Rocky Mountain National Park. On the East side of the the park we’ve spotted them at Sheep Lakes, Bierstadt Lake trail, Cub Lake trail, and Sprague Lake. On the West side of Rocky Mountain National Park, we’ve spotted moose in the Kawuneeche Valley and in the East Meadow. I’ve shared posts from all these hikes below. I’ve also included the National Park web pages where I found the moose and sheep facts for this post.

Family Hike to Bierstadt Lake Plus An Unexpected Moose Sighting

Moose Spotting Makes for a Memerable Morning Hike Around Sprague Lake

Peaceful Hike to East Meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park

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

Rocky Mountain Animal Game

Wildlife viewing – National Park service website

Bighorn Sheep – National Park service website

Moose – National Park service website

Peaceful Hike to East Meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park

On our most recent visit to Rocky Mountain National Park, we did something that we’ve wanted to do for a long time – we staid a night on the West side of the park near Grandby and Grand Lake, Colorado. (Up until now, we’ve always staid in Estes Park, which is on the East side of RMNP.)

We spent our time in Grand Lake splashing in the largest natural lake in Colorado, eating pizza at White Buffalo, and hiking to East Meadow where we spotted a moose.

East Meadow and Adams Fall hike in Rocky Mountain National Park's West side.

The hike to East Meadow begins at the East Inlet trailhead at 8,390 ft in elevation. From here you can see Grand Lake in the distance.

Adams Falls and East Meadow Hike is near Grand Lake, Colorado

One of the reasons we chose this destination is because our daughters (ages 4 and 2) can hike most of it on their own. The total distance is close to 3 miles round trip.

Adams Falls hike in Rocky mountain national park is a kid-friendly, family-friendly hike

We followed the East Inlet trail for .3 miles to Adams Falls where there is a viewing deck. The waterfall is a popular destination for park visitors, but once we passed the falls, the trail became much less crowded.

Adams Falls is a top destination on the West Side of Rocky Mountain National Park
Click here to watch more of the waterfall.

After enjoying the waterfall, we climbed the path to the side of the falls to meet back up to the East Inlet trail. This is a steeper section of the trail where we held on tight to our children’s hands.

Adams Falls hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

We followed trail signage towards Lone Pine Lake. The trail levels as you walk through a pine forest.

Adams Falls and East Meadow hike is an easy hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Soon we arrived at an open meadow where families were fishing and playing in the stream.

East Meadow is a good spot for fishing in Rocky Mountain National Park

One of my favorite things about hiking in July are the colorful wildflowers. My least favorite are the mosquitoes. I always forget to bring bug spray.

Wildflowers bloom off the trail leading to East Meadow

Even pesky mosquitoes didn’t stop us. We continued on to East Meadow which was beautiful – the contrast between the wide open blue skies and the lush, green meadow was striking.

A river snakes through the East Meadow. East Meadow is a great place to spot wildlife including moose in Rocky Mountain National Park
Click here to see a full view of the meadow. Did you see the moose?

We spotted a mother deer and her twin fawns several times on our hike.

Deer are seen on the way to East Meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park

Perhaps they were curious what our two girls were singing as they walked along the trail.

East Meadow is a family friendly hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

The hike to the East Meadow featured waterfalls, mountain streams, moose, deer, wildflowers, and boulders for our girls to climb. This was the perfect hike to start our family vacation.

Additional Articles about Rocky Mountain’s West Side:

Crossing the Divide—Bear Lake to Grand Lake Traverse

4 Great Reasons to Visit Grand Lake, Colorado with Kids

A Perfect Picnic at Coyote Valley

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.

 

 

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.

Grand Lake, Colorado

My answer is yes! The mountain town of Grand Lake has a ton to offer families who are seeking outdoor adventures. Grand Lake is located on the West side of Rocky Mountain National Park. If you love water, you will enjoy having Grand Lake, Shadow Mountain Lake, and Lake Granby all within a half hour drive.

Typically when we are visiting Grand Lake, we are coming from Estes Park and have been in the car for a long time. Town Square Park is a beautiful green space with a nice playground. The park is wonderful to burn off the energy from our car ride.

Ice cream in charming downtown Grand Lake, Colorado

Downtown Grand Lake has numerous shops and restaurants to explore. We love grabbing an ice cream cone and walking along the shore of Grand Lake, the largest natural lake in Colorado.

The mountain lakes are wonderful, but I’m also impressed by the colorful displays of flowers around town. It feels very welcoming. Local residents seem to take great pride in their beautiful home.

Grand Lake Colorado is simply beautiful!

grand lake is less busy

Grand Lake is typically less busy than Estes Park, which is located on the East side of the national park. This means you will most likely benefit from shorter lines at the national park entrance and less trouble finding parking spots downtown.

outdoor adventures abound

Outdoor adventures in Grand Lake, Colorado include water recreation such as boating, swimming, sailing, and paddle boarding.

Grand Lake beach

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.

Hikes Near Grand Lake, Colorado

Some of our favorite family-friendly hiking spots near Grand Lake include:

Coyote Valley
Lake Irene
Adams Falls and East Meadow

If you are looking for a challenge, you can cross over the continental divide from Bear Lake to Grand Lake. You can read about the 18 mile hike here.

more to explore!

There are many 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.

Grand Lake is great for families
Grand Lake – toddler fun