Estes Park Winter Bucket List

The temperatures are dropping, the days are getting shorter, and the first few holiday decorations are going up. Winter is on it’s way, so I’m getting in the spirit by making a winter bucket list for our trip to Estes Park, Colorado.

Go Sledding

Sledding at Hidden Valley in Rocky Mountain National Park is our favorite winter activity.

Snowshoe

Snowshoeing is a fun way to explore Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter. You can rent snowshoes locally at retailers who rent out gear in Estes Park.

Winter Hike

Some of our favorite winter hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park include Alberta Falls, Moraine Park, and Lily Lake.

Frozen river in Moraine Park

Drink Hot Chocolate

Sipping a steamy cup of hot chocolate is the best way to warm up during the winter months. Our favorite places to get a hot chocolate are Kind Coffee and Trailhead Restaurant. For more ideas, we wrote a fun post last winter about the Best Places to ‘Have a Cup of Cheer’.

Shop for a Christmas ornament

One of our favorite holiday traditions is visiting one of the Christmas Shops in downtown Estes Park and letting each of our girls pick out a special ornament to hang on our tree. The town has several Christmas shops including The Spruce House and The Christmas Shoppe.

Sit by the fireplace with a good book

Our cabin has a great fireplace in the living room and I love to sit next to it and read books while the snow falls outside our window. I wrote a post for fellow Book Lovers here.

Star Gaze

Fascinated by outer space? The Estes Park Memorial Observatory schedules private viewing sessions for groups who enjoy learning about astronomy.

go to a Movie theater

Estes Park has two movie theaters, Reel Mountain and the Historic Park Theatre & Cafe. Both venues are showing Frozen II this winter – a movie that our daughters want to watch again and again.

float down the lazy river

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. 

Attend a local festival

The winter is full of exciting events in Estes Park including:

  • Estes Park Tree Lighting Ceremony – 3:30-5:30 pm on November 23, 2019
  • Catch the Glow Parade – 5:30 pm on November 29, 2019
  • Estes Park Holiday Wine Fest – November 30 – December 1, 2019
  • Estes Park Winter Festival – January 19 – 20, 2020
  • Wine and Chocolate Festival – February 8, 2020

Check out the Estes Park Event Complex’s website for more information.

art groove

The First Friday Art Groove events in Estes Park celebrate local artists. A Winter Trolley will run between the galleries. Art Groove events are from 5pm to 8pm on December 6, January 3, and February 7. The event is free to the public.

Enjoy a quiet moment of reflection

This time of year can be hectic with events and shopping. My natural inclination is to have a to-do list running through my head. Seeking out quiet places to reflect on the year will help me maintain a sense of peace and appreciation.

St. Catherine of Siena Chapel (Chapel on the Rock) is open Tuesday – Sunday, 10 AM – 4 PM, except on national holidays. There is a weekly Catholic Mass every Tuesday at 11:45 AM.

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.

A Winter Walk in Moraine Park That’s Worth Freezing For

Earlier this month we took a winter trip to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. Little did we know, a few weeks later the national parks would be affected by the current government shutdown. Unfortunately, that means visitors can’t drive into the park. Based on articles I’ve read, this hasn’t had a big impact on the local economy yet because winter is typically a slower season. With that said, I hope that the situation is resolved soon!

Moraine Park

During our December trip, we enjoyed a brief but beautiful hike in Moraine Park beginning at the Cub Lake trail head. We chose this area because at 8,080 ft of elevation there is substantially less snow compared to areas of the park with higher altitude.

Frozen river in Moraine Park

I was excited when this picture was featured on the instagram feed @visitestespark where over 930 people liked it.

The first stretch of the hike is in a valley where there is little protection from blasts of freezing wind, but the scenery is worth bundling up and getting out of your cozy cabin for. The Big Thompson River was mostly frozen and seem to glimmer against the blue sky and snow covered mountain backdrop.

rocky mountain national park

Luckily, you don’t have to walk far before tall trees and surrounding rock formations block the wind. Our four-year-old daughter veered off the path to scramble up boulders to join her sister and dad taking in the peaceful views.

view of moraine valley rocky mountain national park

Beautiful views are not the only reason to visit Moraine Park, it is also a great place to encounter wildlife. Last fall we wrote, Cub Lake Trail – a Wildlife Hotspot in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Toddler Friendly Hiking

toddler friendly hiking in rocky mountain national park

Our nearly two-year-old insisted on hiking in her pajamas, wearing socks as gloves, and borrowing my hat. She held on to my husband’s hand in icy patches, but wanted to show off her independence by walking at her own pace. This led to our decision to cut the hike short. The trail to Cub Lake is 2.5 miles each way. We wrote about this hike in more detail in a previous post, Rocky Mountain Tot Goes to Cub Lake.

log bridge in moraine valley near big thompson river

New Year Goals

As we look forward to a New Year and new outdoor adventures, our goal is to have the girls walking rather than riding in kid-carriers during many of our hikes. We are excited to discover new hikes in the Rocky Mountains and the Ozark Mountains which are located near our new home in Fayetteville, Arkansas. We will write about all of them in our family hiking journal and also look forward to sharing with y’all too!

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!