Utah and Colorado National Parks Bucket List

Utah and Colorado National Parks Bucket List

Preview: A Utah and Colorado National Parks Bucket List for families. Join guest writers as we travel around these mountain states to national and state parks!

What’s your reason to visit a national or state park? Why do we go to these parks? Is it the magnificence, the feeling of heaven on earth, the challenge, or the varying landscapes?

We are planning family trips for this summer and so I asked travel bloggers from all over to share their experiences in state and national parks. You may find your reasons to travel to one of the parks from their answers!

The national parks bucket lists will be published in a series of 5. I hope you enjoyed last week’s California National Parks Bucket List! Have you been to many of the California parks?

But now, without further ado, let’s continue our journey and add to your Utah and Colorado National Parks bucket list!

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

Utah and Colorado National Parks bucket list | Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Rocky Mountain National Park, and more! #utahnationalparks #coloradonationalparks

Utah National Parks for families

Bryce Canyon National Park 

Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the most unique and memorable parks we explored in the U.S. on our West Coast road trip.

Technically not a Canyon, the landscape is surreal. Millions of years of erosion through the valley have created pillars called hoodoos, and are scattered over a large area. You can admire the hoodoos from the canyon rim, or take a hike down to the valley floor where the hoodoos tower above you.

Bryce Canyon is great with kids as it is quite small. The park can easily be visited in one day and many of the hiking trails are not too challenging. We took the Navajo Loop Trail starting from Wall Street and also covered the Queens Garden Loop Trail in the valley.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, hoodoos #brycecanyonnationalpark #utahnationalparks

The kids loved walking through the hoodoos, looking for shapes in the towering pillars of sandstone and playing hide and seek amongst the spires.

Our best tip is to visit the park at sunrise or sunset when the colors are simply magnificent. If you have time, sign up for a ranger talk on the trail. They are engaging sessions, and our kids learned a lot from about the landscape and the animals that call the park home. The area around Bryce Canyon is said to be one of the darkest locations in the US. That makes it also the perfect spot for a little star gazing.

By Rachel from Adventure and Sunshine

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is centered around a large canyon. However, unlike most canyons which you see from above, the main accessible part of the park is along the canyon floor. The park is car-free. Instead, there are frequent free shuttle buses that run the length of this part of the park, making it easy to travel, and keeping the park free of traffic.

There are plenty of places to stay in nearby Springdale, but if you want to stay in the park, the lodge is half way along the canyon. At the lodge, you’ll find a restaurant and cafe as well as an enormous cottonwood tree that is lovely to relax under in the summer.

Zion National Park, Utah #utahnationalparks #zionnationalpark

There are plenty of hikes, including The Narrows – a spectacular hike through a narrow slot canyon in a river. Younger kids can do the river walk to the start of this hike easily. You’ll also find plenty of slot canyons that are perfect for canyoneering (rappelling down a series of extremely narrow canyons) – not for little kids, but perfect for adults or even adventurous teenagers.

Also, there are shorter, easier hikes, such as the short half-mile hike to Weeping Rock (a dripping ‘waterfall’ over a rocky outcrop) and a one-mile hike to Canyon Overlook for breathtaking views of the canyon below.

Zion really does have something for everyone of all ages, levels of fitness, and adventurous spirit.

By James from Travel Collecting

Arches National Park

Arches National Park was one of my favourite national parks to visit in the USA. If you have 2 days you should be able to see everything in the park. There are a lot of short hikes that you can do which is ideal if you are going with children.

Just off the main road through the park, there’s a nice little hike of 0.3 miles is to see Balanced Rock which stands at 39 metres tall. More difficult, Delicate Arch was one of my favourite hikes and is a 3-mile hike. Actually, it is quite a strenuous hike as it’s mainly up a steep rock face on the way there. However, it’s well worth it once you get there. It is possible to do with children, but you will need to keep a close eye on them as there are sharp drops in places.

Arches National Park, Utah #archesnationalpark #utahnationalparks

Devil’s Garden trailhead has a lot of different options for hikes with many more arches you can see. Some are very easy walks and some are longer and more difficult. This is a great area to explore though as there is so much to see. Unfortunately, it does mean it is one of the busiest in the park. My favourites to see are Landscape Arch, Partition Arch, and Double O Arch.

If you are in Utah you need to make the time to have a couple of days or at least a day to visit this park.

By Clare from I Live 4 Travel 

Interested in California State and National Parks?

Yosemite National Park, California National Parks Bucket List #familytravel #everykidinapark

 

(Pssst!! Add all of these to your Utah and Colorado national parks bucket list today!)

Colorado National Parks for Families

The Great Sand Dunes National Park

The Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of the most unique National Parks in the United States. Containing the tallest sand dunes in North America, the dunes stretch across about 30 miles of land. One would think the dunes were close to the ocean, but no, the dunes are actually located in Colorado, at the edge of the San Luis Valley and Sangre De Cristo mountain range.

The dunes can be spotted from miles away, and the closer you drive to them the bigger and bigger they appear. A favorite way to explore the dunes is to rent sand sleds or sandboards and climb to the top for an awesome view and then an even better ride. Families with children can choose to surf down smaller dunes rather than the very large ones.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado #greatsanddunesnationalpark #coloradonationalparks

Another way to explore the dunes is to drive the rugged Medano Pass, a 22-mile sand road that requires a 4 wheel drive vehicle to go on. Don’t have a 4 wheel drive vehicle? You can actually rent fat tire bikes that are the only type of bike allowed pass the no point of return on Medano Pass.

If you don’t feel as adventurous, simply taking a hike to the foot of the dunes at sunset is a magical experience. The dunes light up in a soft ray of orange light and are beautiful to photograph at this time.

By Jess at Unearth the Voyage

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park, just west of Estes Park, Colorado, is my happy place. It feels like a second home to me, always welcoming and awe-inspiring. There are so many different places to explore and fabulous hiking options for families.

In this magnificent park, you’ll find views of majestic mountains, valleys, and snakelike rivers, as well as a variety of wildlife and plants. There are mountain-sides with pine and aspen trees, mountain flowers like the Rocky Mountain columbine, and even the grass of the tundra up on top of Trail Ridge Road.

Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado #trailridgeroad #rockymountainnational park

If you want a day to impress the kids in the park definitely drive up Trail Ridge Road. A highway to the sky, Trail Ridge Road is the 48-mile portion of U.S. 34 between Estes Park and Grand Lake, Colorado. To me, this is one of the most beautiful stretches of road and mountains you will ever see. At the top point, 12,183 feet in elevation, the wind whips and even in summer cars drive by walls of snow.

Take your time and get out of the car to enjoy the scenic views or take one of the short hikes. The Alpine Visitors Center is almost at the top on the Grand Lake side and worth a stop if nothing else but for the photo op.

Personally, when traveling the road I’ve seen moose, elk, deer, coyotes, bighorn sheep, marmots, chipmunks, and all sorts of birds. If your kids keep a written or art journal be sure to encourage them to track all the wildlife they see!

For more information on Rocky Mountain National Park and the area check out these articles:

I may be a little biased as I grew up in the area, but there is no place on earth like Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s perfect for families, adventurers, and wanderers.

By Lauren from Explorer Momma

Pin this post to save for later here!:

Utah and Colorado National Parks | Family Adventure Travel bucket list. Zion National Park to Rocky Mountain National Park and more! #rockymountainnationalpark #familytravel

Operation U.S. Parks

Are you ready for a family education? Teach your kids to respect and honor nature. Visit the parks, hike, camp, and enjoy the outdoors! It’s so much more powerful to have a hands-on experience to demonstrate why we must protect them and the wildlife in them. Truly, as a kid, these are things you’ll never forget, not only the time in these amazing places but the fun as a family.

Are you enjoying our journey around the country to the U.S. Parks? Have you added to your Utah and Colorado National Parks bucket list? Maybe it will give you and yours some inspiration to get out and plan your own trips! Good luck!

Have you been to any of these Utah or Colorado National Parks? What about any other State Parks?

Tag me in your pics on Instagram @explorermomma. I’d love to see them!

 

Check out more articles on U.S. parks:

Best Estes Park Hikes For Kids

Best Estes Park Hikes For Kids

This page contains affiliate links. Estes Park hikes for kids

I was such a lucky kid to have many memories hiking around Rocky Mountain National Park and other areas near Estes Park, Colorado. Quite often I think about how fortunate I was to grow up near to such a beautiful place. Naturally, I want my kids to love it as much as I do, and so it’s necessary we explore as often as possible. Of course, we don’t get up there nearly as much as I’d like!

Estes Park hikes for kids elk pin

Flashback!

I close my eyes and flashback to my childhood. My parents and I drive up to Estes Park and eat lunch at a local restaurant. Then, we head into Rocky Mountain National Park to drive around and look at the leaves or the elk, and stop at a hiking trail to explore. My father bends down with his black Canon camera to take close-up pictures of leaves and rocks along the trail. Squeal! I see a chipmunk, and my day is made.

What’s in it for you?

Together, my kids and I adventure out to explore the same trails and others in the Rocky Mountains. For you, we’ve put together a collection of our favorite Estes Park hikes for kids. Why? Because I want you and your family to have a fabulous Rocky Mountain experience. If you’re nearby or plan to vacation next summer and come in from across the country these are must-see beginner hikes. I hope you will love and protect these areas too.

How could you not love it?! Really.

The hikes we’ve listed are an easy introduction to hiking and meant for families to do together. Consequently, they are each no more than a mile or so in distance and fairly level. They were selected intentionally so a 4-year-old can walk them with Mom and Dad, and Grandma can join in if she wants. Try any or all of these Estes Park hikes for kids your whole family will love!

Our 8 favorite Estes Park hikes for kids

1. Lily Lake

Estes Park hikes for kids, Lily Lake

Lily Lake is an absolutely magical place in the Fall. I highly recommend going there anytime, but if you are in the area in late September this is a must-see. There are yellow and orange aspens all about the lake and a nice flat walking area all the way around (about 3/4 of a mile). This is a handicap accessible trail, and you are in for some great photo ops!

Lily Lake is located about 6 miles south of Estes Park on Colorado Highway 7. There’s a convenient parking area very near the entrance to the trail. Everyone in the family will enjoy this one.

Hiking at Lily Lake

Bonus! The historic Bald Pate Inn is just nearly across the street and makes some of the most awesome pie I’ve ever eaten. Read about the Baldpate Inn here.

2. The Knoll

This is a good hike if you’re actually staying in Estes Park or spending a lot of time in town. Maybe you check out the historic Stanley Hotel, go on the ghost tour, and then the kids are ready to run. Park your car in the small parking lot or on Wonderview Avenue, just across from the Stanley Hotel. You will be able to access the trail from the parking lot. FYI – Dogs are not allowed on this trail.

Estes Park hikes for kids, Stanley Hotel

First, start off going south on the trail to the Knoll. Don’t you just like that name? “The Knoll…” What it is really is a view of downtown Estes Park and what’s left of an old stone cabin. For those of you who like histories, I was told it was originally built in 1907 by a former editor of the Denver Post. The elaborate cabin had a huge porch and fireplace, maybe too big, since it burnt down at the end of that year.

Next, go back north on the path until you see a downhill trail to the west. Follow it until you find the cabin built by the editor, Mr. Birch, to replace the one burnt in the fire. This one was built in 1908 and used by the Birch family into the 1980s. It’s is a fun path to scout out and to see some great views of the Stanley Hotel and downtown Estes Park.

3. Lake Estes Trail

Did you bring dogs with you on vacation or your bikes? You can walk with your furry friends around Lake Estes or have a fun family bike ride. When the fog and mists are down you almost imagine yourself in the Scottish Highlands (especially if the Scottish Festival is going on in mid-September, and you can hear the bagpipes over the lake!).

Estes Park hikes for kids, elk #estesparkcolorado #kidshike

4. The Downtown River Walk

The Estes Park Downtown River Walk is a fun “hike” with the kids along the river. There are cafés and restaurants with tables set up should you need refreshment. Also, parents can peruse the gift shops as you walk, and kids can explore with another adult or take a rest at one of the many wooden benches with a fabulous view and sounds of the river running by.

5. Moraine Park Discovery Center Nature Trail

As you enter Rocky Mountain National Park, hold onto that map and newspaper the ranger hands you after you pay your fee to get in. The newspaper lists a ton of hikes and activities you can participate in during your visit. Certainly, take a look at your map if you need to, and head on over to the Moraine Park Discover Center.

Rocky Mountain National Park Visitor's Shuttle, Estes Park Hikes for kids #estespark #colorado

After you park, you’ll find an easy half-mile trail the kids will enjoy just behind the Discovery Center. Before you begin, be sure to find a ranger in the center and get the activity booklet for kids to complete as they explore. You can get other great ideas from the rangers here for things to do with kids, and in the summer there are activities like Discover Days and Discover Hikes led by the rangers.

Another awesome program is the Junior Ranger Program where kids can complete a booklet, speak with a ranger, and earn a Junior Ranger badge. Lots of fun! For more information on the Junior Ranger program click here.

6. Sprague Lake

Sprague Lake trail

Sprague Lake, oh how I love you! Sprague Lake is located in Rocky Mountain National Park up Bear Lake Road. This is a fabulous place to go for a leisurely picnic by a stream. We like to go to Sprague Lake in the fall, generally mid-week when it’s less busy. Although, as long as you can find a parking spot there are many picnic tables and a nice path around the lake. We always have a good time whether it’s busy or not.

Estes Park hikes for kids, Sprague

First of all, you can enjoy your picnic, and then put your lunch stuff in the car. There’s even a well-kept bathroom with regular toilets during the summer, which is always important with kids! From there, head over to the path around the lake. It’s about 3/4 of a mile all the way around, and my kids love it! You’ll find log benches placed every 50 feet or so to sit and take in the magnificent views. Not only that, but it’s wheel-chair accessible, stroller friendly, and ready for the perfect photo op! A couple of weeks ago when we visited, my son stopped at every bench, rock, sign, flower, whatever, then plastered a smile on his face and yelled, “Picture!”

Sprague Lake view and tree

Therefore, take your camera or phone. You’ll get some great shots.

7. Bear Lake

After you finish at Sprague Lake if everyone’s still full of energy head up Bear Lake Road until you get to the Bear Lake Trailhead. The loop trail around Bear Lake is not to be missed, and even though it’s only about .6 miles, it’s a bit more challenging than Sprague Lake and others. I don’t mean it’s incredibly difficult, but it’s not completely level and may be harder for younger kids.

Bear Lake, summer Estes Park hikes for kids

Word of warning. Bear Lake is INCREDIBLY popular all times of the year so I would suggest going early, or late in the day, mid-week. There are a lot of other fun more lengthy trails that start out here, but they’re more advanced. For example, Nymph Lake is only .5 miles away, but it has an elevation gain of 225 feet. You can look at RMNP’s list of trails here.

 

8. Copeland Falls

If you’re heading out of Estes Park to Meeker or Allenspark south on Colorado Highway 7, you’ll want to pay a visit to the Wild Basin Trailhead. It’s about 12 miles south of Estes Park, then turn right off of Colorado Highway 7 onto Wild Basin Road. From there, drive about half a mile more and take another right into Rocky Mountain National Park. Keep going to the Wild Basin Trailhead just a couple more miles from the park turn-off.

In our experience, this trail is not nearly as busy as some of the others. Moreover, it’s conveniently located near Allenspark and one of my absolute favorite restaurants, the Meadow Mountain Cafe, a rather fabulous gem you should definitely check out (read about it here in Estes Park Restaurants With Character). But enough tangent there, back to the hike!

So you’ve made it to the Wild Basin Trailhead. The trail will eventually take you all the way up 2565 feet and seven miles to Lion Lake. However, with the kids we like to hike to the Lower, then the Upper Copeland Falls, only about .3 to .4 miles up the trail. There’s an elevation gain of 15 feet so pretty manageable! From the main trail, you will want to branch off to the side trail to take you right by both parts of the falls. After you pass by the Upper Falls it will reconnect back to the main trail without having to backtrack down by the falls on the same path. There are more lakes, cascades, and falls the farther up you go, but it’s also a lot steeper so I’d wait until the kids are quite a bit older to tackle those.

Sprague Lake purple flowers

Now go hike!

There you have it! Those are 8 of our favorite hikes in and around Estes Park, Colorado. Give them a try and let us know what you think. OR if you have another kid-friendly hike suggestion in the area PLEASE let me know because we’d love to try them out!

Estes Park hikes for kids pin-

Estes Park Restaurants With Character

Estes Park Restaurants With Character

We all love to eat, right? I probably do a little too much!  Without a doubt eating out when traveling is one of my favorite parts of a vacation.  We all need to make healthy food choices, but the occasional splurge can be considered a learning opportunity to promote cultural diversity (that’s what I tell myself).  Local food specialties are a part of the culture of an area, and an occasion for a food adventure.  With that in mind, we try not to eat at food chains or anything familiar while traveling (unless the children are completely losing it), rather search out the hidden gems in an area.  So just for you, here are some of my discoveries in and around Estes Park, Colorado.  Estes Park restaurants with character!

Estes Park restaurants with character

Poppy’s Pizza and Grill

First off, I’ll start out in town with a few of the places we enjoy.  For a great place to go with kids, try Poppy’s Pizza and Grill at 342 Elkhorn Avenue, just across the street from the public library and parking area.  You will want to park near the library and cross the street at the light. Then why not do some shopping and exploring before or after you head to Poppy’s?  I’m drooling just thinking about the pizza at this place.  Above all, my favorite is the Thai Pizza with peanut sauce, red onion, chicken, broccoli, water chestnuts, and mozzarella.  YUM!

The traditional meat lovers in your family may like the Straziante: Italian sausage, pepperoni, salami, cappricola, smoked mozzarella, & Italian herbs.  However, if a picky eater doesn’t care for any kind of pizza they also have sandwiches, burgers, and salads. 

BONUS: Plenty of gluten free and dairy free options!

Why else do we like Poppy’s?  Great location and a beautiful view by the river.  Great place for lunch or dinner.

 Estes Park Restaurants

Antonio’s Real New York Pizza & Deli

Another great pizza place in Estes is Antonio’s Real New York Pizza & Deli.  Are you from the east coast?  Did you grow up with east coast style pizza?  If yes, then this is the place for you!  If you are a fan of traditional wood-fired New York pizza head on over to 552 Elkhorn Avenue and dig in.  Moreover, Antonio’s staff is super friendly, and you can even order on-line to take back to your cabin if you don’t want to eat in. 

Hint: If you like garlic, or are trying to ward off vampires, try the garlic sauce NY white pizza made with local mozzarella.

The Other Side

The Other Side Restaurant

Did I mention Estes Park restaurants with character?  If I had to pick a character for The Other Side it would be a duck because they’re so associated with the place. Not to eat mind you, but to watch out the window on the duck pond.  This restaurant is comfortable, welcoming, and in many ways homey to me.  In the downstairs dining area, there are huge windows displaying beautiful mountain views over a charming duck pond.  Also, at Christmas time we love the huge Christmas wreath on display. 

Hint:  Do request to eat downstairs, not up in the cafe as it’s a much more open area with those fabulous picture windows.

This is a wonderful restaurant for kids for several reasons:

  1. Big parking lot for easy access to the restaurant
  2. Great basic kids menu with Rocky Mountain National Park coloring map to keep them busy
  3. If they get tired of coloring they can go outside on the deck and look at the ducks at the duck pond.  I like to send Grandpa or Daddy out to help them with this task so I can enjoy a moment to breathe and enjoy the view!
  4. There are different mountain animals on the backs of the chairs so it becomes a huge game to see what “animal” everyone is for lunch that day.  The moose is highly coveted.
  5. Nice location on the west side of Estes close to Rocky Mountain National Park

Drake

The food at The Other Side I would describe as American, and you can get a good burger, fried trout, or a very important grilled cheese for the four-year-old. 

Favorite Snack Stop: The Taffy Shop

The Taffy Shop, and yes I mean the original Taffy Shop established in 1935, is a nostalgic treasure in Estes Park.  The front of the store is white and decorative with a turquoise sign reading simply, “The Taffy Shop”, which makes you feel as if you’ve stepped into a movie from the 50s.  First of all, don’t be shy and just peek in from the window!  Well, of course, you might be mesmerized for awhile by the period taffy pulling machines working away in the front window.   Once you can pull (ha! pull!) yourself away check out the front counter and all the different colored taffy lined up in front of you. 

Next, you really must sample a few of the different flavors and make a show of selecting exactly the right mix for your box to take home.  I love them all but am partial to the peppermint, cinnamon, and lemon.  Select flavors that go well together because “the children” (well me really) will want to experiment and twist two pieces together to create new flavors like chocolate peppermint, lemon vanilla, and who knows maybe molasses cinnamon?  Hmmm…not so sure about that one.

Salt water taffy – does that sound appealing?  Not so sure?  Well, believe me, it is amazing! In addition, visiting the shop is an experience you and your kids will remember for years to come.

Salt water taffy - foodiesfeed

(Word of caution: Pecans are used in one of the taffy flavors so beware for any tree nut allergies.  If necessary check with the store for any other allergens.)

My favorite Estes Park restaurants with character not quite in Estes Park (but close by!)

The Baldpate Inn

Baldpate wagon

You don’t have to travel far from Estes to find this amazing inn tucked in amongst the pine and aspen trees near Lily Lake.  It’s located at 4900 South Hwy. 7, Estes Park, so still considered a part of the town.  There is so much character in this place, I need a new word for it, or maybe a few.  To begin, make reservations for lunch and step back in time at the Baldpate Inn; she has a quaint personality and sense of humor all her own! 

Baldpate Inn    Near Lily Lake

The inn is closed for the winter, but I strongly encourage visiting in September when the aspens are in their full autumn yellow splendor.  Definitely have a relaxing lunch, and be sure to plan some time to explore the famous Key Room (thousands of keys on display).  Then take a stroll around nearby Lily Lake with your camera for some breathtaking shots.  You’ll eat so much you’ll want to get some exercise besides.

First of all, when you visit the Ballpate Inn for their soup and salad buffet, you will be seated in the sunporch dining room boasting an unrivaled treetop view of the mountain valley.  For lunch or dinner you can enjoy the buffet with delicious homemade soups, salads, breads, muffins and other buffet items.  My son especially enjoyed the peanut butter muffins, and they have different flavors every day like strawberry rhubarb, banana butterscotch, or savories such as garlic onion.

Baldpate chocolate pie

You know that extra stomach you have for pie?  Be prepared because you will need it here!  Enjoy some conversation with the family and some coffee as you finish your buffet, and then go drool over the assortment of pies available.  If you have a larger group you can all get a different kind and then sample each other’s.  Of course, if you get pieces of the apple or chocolate pies you may not feel inclined to share!

Meadow Mountain Cafe

Meadow Mt Cafe

The Meadow Mountain Cafe is like finding the X at the end of a treasure map when you’re hungry.  It’s located in the small, rustic town of Allenspark, Colorado, just outside of Estes Park.  If you’re wanting character with AMAZING food this is the place to be.  They’re open for breakfast and lunch, but due to the weather in winter they may be closed some days so you’ll probably want to call before you visit.  Be ready to slow down and relax.  Here you can chat with friends or read a book by the wood burning stove and sip on a cup of coffee with just a hint of cinnamon.

Meadow Mt Cafe sign

This cozy mountain cafe is popular with locals and the perfect place to stop for rustic charm, hippie flair, and home-cooked delicious food. They have great breakfasts with eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, waffles and more.  If you’re around for lunch try a fabulous burger, BLT, veggie burger or soup of the day.  They also generally have a special of the day like a Cuban sandwich or other choice.

Hint: Try the homemade bread; it is awesome! 

Meadow Mountain Cafe is definitely worth the quick trip from Estes or your rented cabin in the area.

Also, please check out our post on winter activities in Rocky Mountain National Park with kids! 

I hope you try some of these places out on your next trip to Northern Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park.  You won’t be sorry eating at any of these Estes Park Restaurants with character.  Bon appétit!

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

YUM!!!

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!

This post contains affiliate links.

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

Pin It on Pinterest

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.

Close