Epic Things to do at Niagara Falls with Kids

Epic Things to do at Niagara Falls with Kids

Did you know if you go to Niagara Falls with kids you’ll experience 3,160 tons of water flowing over Niagara Falls every second? Amazingly enough, the power of Niagara Falls is capable of producing over 4 million kilowatts of electricity. Situated between the two countries, that electricity is shared by both the United States and Canada.

This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

What do I love about these natural giants of power? Absolutely everything! Niagara Falls is one of those super epic impressive sites that if it isn’t on your bucket list, then WHY NOT?? To a child, the immensity of the falls is huge and one of those experiences that will stay with them forever. These are the moments I love to capture with my kiddos. As we begin this year of Operation National Parks, let’s start off with one mouth-dropping state park. This is why we travel to national parks, state parks, and the world!

The perfect family vacation is Niagara Falls with kids. State Parks and family travel are the best! #operationusparks #everykidinapark #familytravel #iloveny #explorermomma

Just the basics

Niagara Falls State Park is located on the border between the United States and Canada. It’s easy to get to from Buffalo, New York or Toronto, Ontario from the Canadian side. Because it is a U.S. State Park, it is located on the U.S. side, but you can get amazing views by crossing over into Canada as well.

TIP: I had no trouble parking and was there mid-September on a weekday. However, I was told the lots fill up quickly in summer, especially on weekends, so if you’re traveling with kids or a large group I would do my best to come on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday to avoid lines and crowds.

TIP 2: If you plan to see all the attractions, save some money and purchase a Discovery Pass before you go. It gets you access to Maid of the Mists, Cave of the Winds, and pretty much everything, with about a 35% discount. Check out the Niagara Falls State Park website for the most up to date prices here.

Rainbow over the crash of the falls. Niagara Falls with kids is the perfect family vacation. #operationusparks #explorermomma

Top 10 things to do at Niagara Falls with kids

1. Cave of the Winds

From the parking lot, I meandered over to the Cave of the Winds ticket booth and building. I walked under a grand archway and enjoyed the plants and flowers smartly planned throughout. There was no line, and the friendly woman working the booth gave me a flier of attractions and suggested some options.

TIP: Conveniently, there are also restrooms right next door to the Cave of the Winds ticket area for that 5-year-old’s emergency!

The actual tour is awesome. I’m an admitted history nut and love to spend hours soaking up little bits of random facts and staring at black and white photographs. The beginning of the Cave of the Winds tour is for the general public, and presents a visual experience through displays and then a short film. It is very well done and designed to make the history of the falls come alive to not just the interested history buff, but for the energetic 12-year-old boy, or anyone.

Hurricane Deck at the falls. Cave of the Wind is a must-see experience with kids. #operationusparks #explorermomma

From there you walk over to get on the elevator to take you down to the walkway at the bottom of the falls. You’re given souvenir sandals to wear and keep (the 12-year-old boy I mentioned was super-excited about this), a bag to protect your own shoes, and a yellow poncho to protect you from the water spray. Wander around. I highly recommend it. It’s amazing!

2. Trolley

Take the Niagara Falls trolley with the family. #operationusparks #explorermomma

The trolley is a fabulous option for families to take to the major attractions and sites all over the park. You can leave your car, save your feet, and the kids love the novelty of taking the trolley to each place. All aboard!

3. Maid of the Mist

Niagara Falls Maid of the Mist boat tour. #operationusparks #explorermomma

Maid of the Mist is another must-do at Niagara Falls with kids. This time you get a blue poncho and a tourist-filled boat takes you lazily down the river past flora and fauna past Bridal Falls, Cave of the Winds, and then into the spray of the mighty Horseshoe Falls. From the bank, it looks as if the boat’s enveloped by the water at the bottom of the falls. It’s an amazing experience for sure and a great memory for kids.

4. Niagara Fall Observation Tower

While you’re at the Maid of the Mists, be sure to ride the elevator up to the Niagara Falls Observation Tower. There are some stairs to the top, but you’re rewarded with fabulous views. In addition, should you have a young up and coming bird watcher with you, this is the perfect location to see some of the local peregrine falcons, bald eagles, and other birds. We search for these birds everywhere we go thanks to our friends the Wild Kratts so this is a huge hit with our family.

The Niagara Gorge has officially been designated an Audubon Important Bird Area (IBA).

Niagara Falls with the Maid of Mist boat below. #operationuspark #explorermomma

5. Aquarium of Niagara

The Aquarium of Niagara is always a hit with kids who love marine animals. Check out the Penguin Coast exhibit and see some sharks! With over 40 exhibits you’re sure to find the California sea lion or seahorse.

6. Hiking Trails and the Discovery Center

Does your family love to hike? Briefly check out the Discovery Center then pick one of the many hikes to explore. There are convenient signs posted around with the distance of each hike, difficulty, and age appropriateness. It’s super-easy to find the best one for you as an individual or a group with different levels.

7. Walking Tour App

Do you have a teenager attached to their phone with you? Did you know the Niagara Fall State Park has its own Walking Tour app? It’s a great thing to put that pre-teen or teen in charge of downloading the app and giving the family the information it sends to you as you complete the walking tour. Just search for Official Niagara Falls Tour in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. There’s information on 17 sites as you make your way around the park and an interactive map. Depending on where you go it can even send coupons for discounts on ice cream, souvenirs, and more. Click here to learn more about the app.

Flowers with Niagara Falls mist in the background. #operationusparks #explorermomma

8. Niagara Adventure Theater

Okay, you’ve walked, hiked, and are planning to bike. Do you need a rest? The Niagara Adventure Theater provides a little break in your active schedule. When it’s time for a rest, stop at the Niagara Falls State Park Visitor Center. There you can view the half-hour presentation of “Niagara: Legends of Adventure” full of daredevils, stories, and history. It’s air-conditioned and a good place to relax for a while.

9. Biking the State Park

While I did not bike, a family with older kids can have a wonderful time biking around the state park. As you finish with the Adventure Theater look for the rentals tents just outside the Visitor Center. There are different kinds of bikes on offer, even kids bikes for ages 7-13. Ask about the best bike routes or explore on your own.

Here you can also rent wheelchairs, strollers, and kid wagons. I love that this gives everyone access and opportunity to explore the park in their own way!

10. Fireworks and Illumination days

Fireworks and illumination. Family travel at Niagara Falls. #operationusparks #explorermomma
Bryan Goff

If you’re going to get the family out at night, the fireworks and Niagara Falls’ illumination days are spectacular and very popular. Kids love the fireworks and the different displays of color on the water.

Travel Stories

I love people watching when you travel. It’s fun to see the families, individuals, and couples and imagine, what brought them to this place at this time? For example, I ran into a couple at the Cave of the Winds last week. Evidently, I’m fairly approachable being a mom, generally with at least a hint of a smile, and the ability to handle an iPhone, because I get asked all the time to take pictures for people.

This particular couple wanted their picture under the falls at Hurricane Deck, so I took the traditional smiling pose. “Great”, she says, “thanks so much!”

They gave each other a quick kiss before coming back to get the phone from me, and I managed to capture that moment with the kiss under the falls. The woman looked at the photo with the kiss, and a gigantic smile lit up her face. “This is absolutely perfect!” she says. “We’re on our honeymoon, and I’m blowing this one up to frame!”

You never know how you can make someone’s day! It definitely was a great addition to mine!

Join us for Operation U.S. Parks!

Get your free U.S. National Parks pass and join us on the U.S. Parks journey.

Congratulations! Free US National Parks pass. #operationusparks #explorermomma

Books and shows with Niagara Falls

It’s always fun to tie something kids know to their travels. If my son sees something on TV or we read a book about it beforehand, that prior knowledge makes it all that much more interesting when you actually visit. For example, “Mommy! This is where Trek fed the baby Spinosaurus!”

Films and shows


Niagara Falls With Kids Books


Are you going to Niagara Falls with kids?

Niagara Falls is one of these magical places on earth that creates an inner joy and excitement to those who experience it. Last week when I visited, I could feel the enthusiasm in people all around me! Travel establishes a bond or camaraderie with those near you like few things can. Also, it’s another teaching point for me to show my kids how to interact with others and be kind to everyone when you’re traveling or just visiting a local event.

Have you been to Niagara Falls? Tag me in your pics on Instagram @explorermomma. I’d love to see them!

Hover over the Pin and click Save for later! Then don’t forget to follow me on Pinterest here!

Niagara Falls with kids. Family travel awesomeness and things to do. #operationusparks #iloveny #explorermomma  The perfect family vacation is Niagara Falls with kids. State Parks and family travel are the best! #operationusparks #everykidinapark #familytravel #explorermomma

Thanks all!

How to get a FREE US National Parks pass

How to get a FREE US National Parks pass

There’s something magical about being a kid in a national park. Everything is new and wondrous and makes an imprint in your mind that will last a lifetime. Did you know that every single fourth grader in the United States can get a FREE Every Kid in a Park Pass? Yes, a free US National Parks pass. It’s good for the entire family for the whole year and gets you into not just National Parks but all federal lands and waters. How cool is that?! My daughter’s in fourth grade this year and has so inspired our year we’ve titled “Operation US National Parks for Families”.

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Impact of U.S. National Parks on kids

I grew up in Colorado and feel as though Rocky Mountain National Park is my own backyard and safe haven or escape. It is and will always be near and dear to my heart, but another national park also made a huge impact and imprint on my childhood. When I was a kid, my grandparents lived in Homer, Alaska. We were fortunate enough to be able to travel up there to visit them a couple of times and also experience the magic that is the Kenai Fjords National Park.

Kenai Fjords National Park, glacier calving

I remember being entranced by the glacier and the huge variety of wildlife I saw in one relatively small area. We took a tour on a little tour boat, and I think my hands were on the bars at the very front with the wind blowing in my face the entire time. I leaned over to see porpoises jump next to us as we sailed along, whales breach and wave their tales in hello, colorful puffins in the rocky cliffs, the bark of sea lions lounging on rocks, a moose on the hill, and SO much more. In a time way before the Wild Kratts entered our lives this was a miracle for me to see. AND it was live and in person, real and in the wild to my mind. It was not a zoo.

Kenai Fjords National Park, sea lions

What is Operation U.S. Parks for Families?

Operation U.S. Parks for Families is a series of blog posts to be featured throughout the  2018-2019 Every Kid in a Park Pass year. The goal of this series is to inspire families to visit national parks together and provide them with ideas for amazing activities in each park they can do as a family.

Who will be featured in Operation U.S. Parks

To begin, Operation US National Parks for Families will feature some of our own fabulous past experiences at national parks. In addition, throughout the year I’ll be highlighting our CURRENT travels to different parks and federal lands. Then as an even bigger BONUS I’ll be highlighting the experiences of other families all over the country! I’m so excited about this aspect of the series so we can provide a broader picture of family experiences with different opinions, likes, dislikes, and interests!

Operation US National Parks for Families. Join our family and more as we travel the United States together. Learn how to get your free US National Parks pass! #travelwithkids #usnationalparks #everykidinapark #explorermomma

Get your FREE US National Parks Pass and join us! 

Would you like to join us for Operation US National Parks for Families Journey? We’d love to have you! Sign up for our newsletter to receive weekly updates on where we’re exploring! Will it be the caves in Carlsbad, New Mexico? Maybe, you’ll get to see and read about an adventure to the giant redwoods and sequoias of Sequoia National Park! Perhaps, if you’re really lucky, we’ll journey to Watkins Glen National Park in New York for scenery and kid-friendly hikes that could be straight out of a Tolkien book. So get your cloaks, backpacks, tents, elf-ears, or whatever you’d like to prepare and join our EPIC National Parks journey today!

How to sign up for your Every Kid in a Park Pass

How do you get your free US National Parks Pass? It is so super simple. All you do is go to the official US Government website here. Explore the website or just click on “Get Your Pass”. As I’m writing this they’ve recently updated the site for the 2018 to 2019 school year. Your fourth grader answers a few questions to make a diary entry to begin to figure out how they’d like to use their new pass. It’s super-easy and a fun activity.

free US National Parks pass, Hand on mouse

Once you sign up and complete the diary on the website, there will be a ticket to print out. Now, you can use it as your yearly pass, or you can take it to your first park or water area, show a ranger, and obtain a wallet-sized card for the year. Did I mention it’s FREE? What an awesome deal to bring families together in nature!

Congratulations! Free US National Parks pass

The next step is to take the family on hundreds of adventures until the card expires August 31, 2019 (or the current school year). Do you know what? If you miss something or don’t have time, little brother can get his own pass in the next year or two. Then you get to plan for that national park year as well!

How to use your free US National Parks Pass

If you’re going to use it you’ve got to plan your first trip! Are you going to camp in the woods? Do you want to see protected animals and wildlife? Maybe you’d just like to find your nearest park to start! Before you go read the official rules here. Then, just present your ticket as you enter the park! The park ranger will trade your printed paper copy of the ticket for an official Every Kid in a Park card, and your fourth grader will sign it. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Every Kid in a park pass, free US National Parks pass

There are sooo many opportunities for exploration and fun with this pass! Literally, you’ve got hundreds of places to visit near or far, it’s up to you.

Plan your trip with Operation U.S. Parks for Families

Now, I challenge you! Get out and explore! Follow along with our blog series and gain inspiration. Yes, I formally invite you to travel along with us virtually on our Operation U.S. Parks for Families journey. You can create your own adventures, the sky’s the limit! It’s such fun to plan destinations as a family and give every member a say. Can you tell I’m excited!?

Lily Ridge Trail with free US National Parks pass

Carlsbad Caverns National Park for Families

10 Musts for visiting Carlsbad Caverns with kids

Let’s travel with our free US National Parks pass!

I am so thrilled to explore our US National and State parks all over the country! My family and I will be planning and writing about our own trips using the Every Kid in a Park Pass. Also, we’ll all have the opportunity to travel virtually all over the country with other National Park loving families. Truly, I cannot wait to see the beauty of our parks and hear about the super-awesome and life-changing family experiences only nature can inspire and bring together.

My friends, I hope you follow along with us on this magnificent journey to explore our US National Parks!

I’d love to see your own adventures! Tag me in your National and State Park travel pics on Instagram @explorermomma.

Explore a National Park today!

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Operation US National Parks for Families. Join our family and more as we travel the United States together. Learn how to get your free US National Parks pass! #travelwithkids #usnationalparks #everykidinapark #explorermomma     Did you know you can get a FREE US National Parks pass? Find out how and join our family travel adventure around the United States. #operationnationalparks #everykidinapark #familytravel #ustravel #explorermomma

Thanks to all and HAPPY TRAVELS!

Carlsbad Caverns With Kids: 10 MUSTS For An Amazing Visit

Carlsbad Caverns With Kids: 10 MUSTS For An Amazing Visit

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Carlsbad Caverns is high on my list of natural wonders of the world. Where else can you go down 700 feet into the earth and be transported into what seems another world? Moreover, it’s a world you’ve only imagined in stories with dwarves and Gandalf, or perhaps with Tom Sawyer, Becky, and Injun Joe. But should you visit Carlsbad Caverns with kids? The answer to that questions is yes, this is a place you want to take your kids. Not only will you look around, but believe me, it will create an impression in their minds they will remember their entire lives.

We have a family reunion almost every year in Ruidoso, New Mexico, and we often do side day trips from there exploring New Mexico. Carlsbad Caverns is definitely a favorite one of those trips for both adults and kids and not to be missed! The kids didn’t even mind the 3-hour drive (too much) back and forth they were so excited.

Carlsbad Caverns is no little cave you walk in and do a quick walk around the main room. The “Big Room” as it’s called, is about a mile around with a walking trail. Keep in mind only part of the area is wheel-chair friendly and strollers are not allowed down in the main cave. There are over 300 limestone caves in the area, and if you are a brave soul you can even arrange a  spelunking adventure in some of the less frequented caves. However, it is not for the faint of heart! There will be ropes, crawling, climbing, dirt and wet involved. If that’s your thing then go for it; it’s awesome!

Are you a fan of National Parks?

Pick up some great tips here for exploring Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park with kids in winter.

10 MUSTS for visiting Carlsbad Caverns with kids

Carlsbad Caverns 3

Back to the main point. If you happen to be in New Mexico, or even if you’re not, make sure you plan to visit the Caverns. To make the most of your visit, by all means, read and utilize these 10 tips for an amazing visit to Carlsbad Caverns with kids!

Bring water bottles

Water is the only thing allowed down in the caves so don’t try to sneak in lunch, snacks, juice, etc. This is for the protection of the caves so I wouldn’t get too worked up about it. Still, this makes it even more important to bring water bottles for all as you will be walking around at the very least for an hour or two. There is a little snack area for emergency refueling, and it’s an almost eerie experience sitting at your table in the dark cave eating a sandwich.

Don’t forget a jacket or sweatshirt

It’s chilly down in the caves, even in 100-degree summer weather, so be sure to bring a jacket or sweatshirt for everyone. Or you can be like my husband and refuse then just be a little cold walking around. However, if you want to enjoy your trip, make sure everyone, especially the kids, have sweatshirts.

Carlsbad Caverns walkway

The Natural Entrance vs. the elevator

So here’s the debate. Do you walk down the Natural Entrance or use the elevator? It completely depends on your group. The Natural Entrance is about a mile and a fourth and is narrow in places and quite steep. If you have the time, health, a group including older kids, and a sense of adventure take the awesome Natural Entrance where the original explorers descended. On the other hand, if you have younger kids or anyone with health problems (such as a bad knee or asthma) I would suggest taking the elevator down to the Big Room.

Prep kids for what’s below

I didn’t have to worry too much about this as my kids showed only interest and no fear, but I would describe a cave for your kids before you go down. It’s not a small, enclosed area, but it is dark with spotlights around to see the pathway and formations. In addition, it’s cool and feels humid so very different than what they’ve experienced on the surface. Another thing to remember is that a cave echoes! Signs and rangers encourage you to speak quietly if you must speak. Your cell phone won’t work either so you’ll want to put it in airplane mode.

Carlsbad Caverns 7

Cameras all around!

Do you have a budding photographer in the family? Flash photography is permitted in the caves as long as you’re considerate of those around you. Take advantage of it! My little guy loved getting his camera out and taking pictures of the pools, the “tree”, and “dinosaur” formations as he called them.

Carlsbad Caverns camera man

Flashlights/headlamps

Another warning! There are multi-colored mining helmets with lamps for sale at the gift shop and down in the cave. It is inevitable the kids will want one. If this purchase is not something you’re willing to make for everyone, arm the family with their own flashlights or headlamps. We have a couple headlamps we take camping, and they’re great because wherever you look, BAM! the light points there. This lets you see some of the areas that may not be as well lit as others. Explore!

      

Read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (or listen to it in the car on your way to the cave!)

Okay, so this one is me. You will probably have some travel time on the way to Carlsbad so fill that time with a classic! The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain was a great favorite of mine when I was a kid and should be shared. While you’re not in Missouri, you will be in a cave, and who can forget the great scene when Tom and Becky are lost in the cave with a murderer?! Right? Please tell me this made an impression on you as a child as well because it always comes to mind when I think of caves.

                                                                        

Exodus of the Brazilian free-tailed bats

Are there naturalists in the family with an interest in bats? Be sure to plan time in the evening to sit and watch the departure of the Brazilian free-tailed bats leaving the caves. Don’t worry, they won’t be down in the Big Room on your cave tour, they live in another cavern and stay away from people. Go to the amphitheater for a free talk from one of the rangers about the bats and wait for the mass exodus. The best time to see them is from August to September when the babies join in. It’s quite an experience even for those who may not be quite so fond of the creatures. For more details see the link here.

Carlsbad Caverns ceiling 2

Self-guided and optional ranger-led cave tours

Speaking of Park Rangers, there are all sorts of tours you can sign up for if you want more of an adventure away from the Big Room. My daughter begged to go on the Spider Cave tour because she thought it would be awesome to crawl around through the cave maze on your stomach with her head lamp. Unfortunately for her, most tours are for those 12 years old and up. If anyone in your group is not great with small, enclosed spaces, be sure to talk to the rangers about the particular tour you’re interested in. Take a look at the tour schedule here: Carlsbad Caverns tour scheduleOf course, you can do your own self-guided tour of the Natural Entrance and Big Room.

Carlsbad Caverns & me

Carlsbad Caverns with kids: The Junior Ranger program

Finally, for my last MUST, take advantage of the Junior Ranger program. Ask in the Visitor’s Center or one of the rangers for a free Junior Ranger Activity Book. They have two books, one for ages 0-6, and the other for 7-12 year-olds. Your child will visit the caverns then complete the book and other requirements. After that, a ranger will review their work and award the participants with a Junior Ranger badge. Super-fun free educational experience! Score!

Are you ready for some more exploration either without kids or with those 12 and older? Experience a ranger-led tour like one of these:

The King's Palace

Try this hour and a half journey to the deepest part of the cave open to the public! View the different formations as you go 830 feet below the desert surface. Experience the ranger-led blackouts on one of the most impressive mile hikes you will ever take part in.

Left-Hand Tunnel

2 hours exploring an unpaved section of the cave by candle-lit lantern. Don your hiking boots for staying upright as you view slippery slopes, cavern pools, and delicate formations.

Slaughter Canyon Cave

A 5 and a half hour “moderately strenuous” tour where your efforts will allow you to gaze upon magnificent formations: the Christmas Tree, the Monarch, the Mushroom, and the Chinese Wall.

Hall of the White Giant

Are you ready to rough it, get dirty, and do some crawling around in small spaces? Enjoy ladder climbing, slippery surfaces, and free climbing too! Make your way through the narrow passage of Matlock’s Pinch and see the fabulous White Giant formation.

So what comes to mind when you picture a giant cave? Have you been in a large cave before? For me, it’s a once in a lifetime experience not to be missed! Make your plans for summer vacation and visit Carlsbad Caverns with kids. Also, be sure to keep all the MUSTS in mind for a super-amazing trip to be talked about in AWE for years to come!

Carlsbad Caverns 4

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Visit Carlsbad Caverns with kids for an awe inspiring experience. Operation U.S. Parks #familytravel #carlsbadcaverns

Secrets of Rocky Mountain National Park in Winter

Secrets of Rocky Mountain National Park in Winter

Oh, how I love Rocky Mountain National Park!  RMNP is one of my favorite places to go with kids, by myself, or with friends and family.  There’s a power in the immensity and beauty of the mountains, the trees, the wildlife, and being out in nature.  With this in mind, if you’ve never been, what are you waiting for?  Any season is a great time to visit the park, but today let’s focus on winter with a few pointers.  Over the years the park has gotten busier and busier due to the popularity of tourism in the area and an outdoor lifestyle.  I’m going to share some of my secrets with you for exploring the park in winter, although I admit somewhat reluctantly!

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Secrets of RMNP

Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park

Snowshoeing is a great way to see the park in winter, get some exercise, and leisurely enjoy yourself.  Furthermore, this is an activity you can do without any lessons or preparation, you just strap some snowshoes on.  Recently I went on a trip with family, including my four and eight year olds, and they did awesome!  If you can, plan your trip during the week and not on a holiday to avoid some of the crowds, although you never will completely avoid the masses.

Where to go

You can print out your park map by clicking here beforehand, or a ranger will offer you one when you enter the park.  Take a look at it whilst I recommend a few choice spots to visit.

Snowman at Bear Lake

There are some great trails around Bear Lake, and depending on the amount of snow you can also take the easy trail around Sprague Lake.  Warning!  These parking lots fill up quickly, and you will be surrounded with other explorers.  If you like this atmosphere that’s great!  However, if you are looking for a chance to get out on your own in the snowy expanse this is not the choice for you.

Hollowell Park

I’m going to let you in on my little secret: Hollowell Park.  I’m struggling right now typing this because instinctively I don’t want to share this blissful spot. Even when Bear Lake trails are packed, and the entire road is cut off due to the amount of traffic, Hollowell Park is a peaceful, wide-open trail with very few people, and when you do occasionally meet someone you share that knowing smile that yes, you’ve discovered a gem of a hike.  You can take it fast or slow, with kids or without.

Family snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park

Chasm Falls

Chasm Falls is another great snowshoe hike you can do with kids.  It’s located up the Old Fall River Road, and in winter you can park in the lot and picnic area at the junction of Endovalley Road and Old Fall River Road.  From there you will hike about a mile up Fall River Road to Chasm Falls.  It doesn’t sound very far, but it’s a good length for kids, guaranteed to wear them out!  Couple that with the fact your reward at the end of the trail is an icy waterfall, few kids can resist it.

Another nice option is to join one of the free ranger-led snowshoe trips.  For more information on this awesome opportunity check out the Rocky Mountain National Park website here.  Did I mention they’re free?!

Hidden Valley Sledding

In the event you have a child set on sledding, the only place in the park where it’s permitted is the old Hidden Valley Ski Area.  The sledding area is the bunny hill, and there are no tows so you’ll get some exercise!  Also, make sure you bring your own sled because there aren’t any on site to borrow or rent.  This can be a fun family activity, but it is a valley and when it’s windy it is COLD.  You can call the park Information Office to ask about the wind before you go, 970-586-1206.

Hidden Valley sledding in Rocky Mountain National Park

Wildlife quest at Rocky Mountain National Park

Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park

Another secret of Rocky Mountain National Park is the wide range of wildlife you can see, especially if you get back on a quiet path with snowshoes.  What can you find?  Even in winter you may see elk, moose, deer, and bighorn sheep.  My son was incredibly excited to see a coyote walking through the snowy woods the other day.  Also, we’ve seen snowshoe hares before, and the kids are fascinated by the fact they change colors depending on the season.  On this trip, unfortunately we were only able to find the tracks of a snowshoe hare, but finding tracks is a great way to learn about all the wildlife in the area.

Snowshoe hare tracks in Rocky Mountain National Park

For the birdwatchers out there, you will find no shortage of camera candy in RMNP.  Fun fact: there are 280 bird species in the park, and it’s been designated as a Global Important Bird Area.  Take special note, Lumpy Ridge, which is north of Estes Park in RMNP, is actually closed to hikers at certain times while the peregrine falcons nest there.  Swoon!  For the Wild Kratts obsessed four year old boy, this is a paradise.  You can also see the white-tailed ptarmigan, three-toed woodpecker, blue grouse, northern pygmy owl, and oh so many more.  Take some binoculars and a camera and see how many different species you can find.

Peregrine Falcon - pixabay

Equipment

If you don’t have your own snowshoes and poles, you can rent them at any number of locations in Estes Park, Colorado before heading up into the National Park.  Some are bigger stores than other, but here’s another little secret: The Warming House at 790 Moraine Avenue in Estes Park.  This is my favorite location to rent snowshoes and other equipment.  The store is in a cabin-type building, the staff is helpful and friendly, and it makes for a homey, familiar feel.

They have all kinds of snowshoes for kids and adults, gators, waterproof shoe covers, poles, pretty much anything you might need to rent for a snowshoe trip.  In addition, if you need one, you can even rent a Kelty child carrier (backpack) to explore the park.

If you are looking for skis, snowboards, or other snow sport equipment, the Estes Park Mountain Shop is one option with rentals available.

Rocky Mountain National Park Soundtrack

This is one of my last little secrets for today.  First of all, remember music is extremely powerful, and your mind will associate it with experience.  Secondly, make an appropriately majestic soundtrack to listen to as you drive the magical roads through the park, and force your kids (and spouse) to listen to it.  Don’t succumb to putting on the Wiggles (while we still love them), a Disney mix, or the Laurie Berkner Band!

You can create your own mix, but might I suggest:

So, I got stuck on soundtracks, but I do recommend The Last of the Mohicans along with some John Denver above the others.  Gotta love it!  Just humor me and try it out, or at least nod.  There you go!

Above all, have some fun on your Rocky Mountain National Park adventure in winter!  In particular, get some exercise, breathe the mountain air, and search for wildlife.  I am certain you will not regret it.

SUMMER BONUS!

Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park

What? Why bring up summer camping in a post about winter?  Well, if you want a good campsite this summer, and you know when you’ll be in the area, now is the time to book your perfect campsite before all the good spots fill up.  Gone are the days when you can drive in and be pretty certain of finding a campsite.  Dream, plan, and book your trip on-line here!

Estes Park Hikes for Kids

Estes Park hikes for kids, mountain with golden aspens

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