Mother nature at it’s finest is how I would describe Rocky Mountain National Park. It took my breath away with its pure beauty, enchanted me with its majestic peaks and I couldn’t help but just stare, and repeat, “Is this real?!” We spent 2 days in the park, and I am craving for more already!
We went in October, the first week, and I can’t speak to any other time of year but this timeframe was PERFECT! Light jackets, crisp air, sunshine, changing leaves, lots of ELK and SNOW! Huge bonuses for my kids. Some days on our hikes the temperature was in the high 60Fs, with sunshine. We were hot in our long sleeves!
We were able to conquer three activities in RMNP during our time there:
- Hiking Gem Lake Trail
- Driving Trail Ridge Road
- Walking Sprague Lake Trail
Gem Lake Trail
On our second day in Estes Park, we took the kids for an ambitious afternoon hike on Gem Lake Trail. A few things:
- It is only 5 minutes from downtown, making it easy to get to and park.
- We went at 3pm with it being 60F and sunny out. We overdressed with long jeans and a sweater (stupid southerners). Workout pants and a short sleeve shirt would have been perfect. Tennis shoes worked great – hiking shoes not needed.
- I saw different ratings for this climb – easy and moderate. It was an incline, I will give it that, but it was much more on the easy than moderate side. If your not a big hiker but you are in good shape/active, you can definitely do it (heck – I did it with 30lbs on my back!) Granted, we only made it half way 🙂 It is not a flat walk, it is a true hike, but it is very manageable.
- My son started to loose it thanks to no nap (real life with toddlers!) so we turned around at about the .075 mark (the trail is a little over a mile). So while we didn’t get to see Gem Lake, it was still a fun hike with gorgeous views.
Trail Ridge Road
We almost didn’t drive the Trail Ridge Road because I thought, hmm…two kids in a car for two hours? I wasn’t sold – big mistake! This is a MUST DO! We timed it around naptime for Easton (20 months), so he was awake for the first 20 or 30 minutes and was able to see and play before he crashed and made the drive much more enjoyable for us! The views off this road are stunning – white capped mountains, bright yellow aspens and evergreens as far as you can see. I am so thankful we got to see this national park in October – I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful season than fall!
We got lucky and spotted several groups of Elk along the way. We pulled over to the side, along with the other visitors, and we able to snap some pictures and observe these large creatures. My son loved them and kept saying “Elk, Elk, Elk!”. What an experience to see these beauties out in the wild.
After gazing at the elk, we drove up further along the Trail Ridge Road to around the Forest Canyon area. My son was about to fall asleep so we pulled over once we saw some snow to let him play around in it. The area was on an incline so it was a little slippery (three out of four of us took a tiny spill), but the kids were excited to see snow and it was a great little detour.
We thought that little snow on the ground was fun, but once we hit the Gore Range area of the Trail Ridge road we were in for a real treat! Several areas had 6+ inches and the views were incredible! While my son napped in the car, my husband and daughter commenced an impressive snowball fight and I tried to capture the beauty around us through a lens. It honestly doesn’t do it justice – this place was impressive. We wished we could have gone the whole way, but with naptime coming to a close we decided to turn around at the Alpine Visitor Center and head back to Estes Park.
Sprague Lake Trail
On the last morning, I had my heart set on doing the Bear Lake/Emerald Lake hike followed by a peaceful picnic lunch. However, things with two little ones don’t always turn out as planned. We got a later start than I wanted, thanks in large part to me forgetting to put the battery in the camera and having to turn around (sigh!), and the parking was full by 9am at Bear Lake, just like all the reviews had mentioned. My husband didn’t love the idea of unloading the two kids on a bus to make it back to Bear Lake, so we settled for Sprague Lake instead. And boy did we “settle” (insert sarcasm).
A few things:
- This is an EASY trail, its completely flat and has been smoothed with gravel. You can take a stroller, wheelcheer, etc….anyone can do it!
- There is a nice breeze off the water, and since you aren’t climbing elevation or working as hard, we needed our jackets.
- We walked slow, taking in the beauty, stopping for photos, etc. We even went “off path” a few times and played around the woods, letting the kids climb all the rocks. We were there for about 1.5 hours, but if you walk quickly you can do this trail in less than 30 minutes.
- They have several picnic tables in the parking lot area at the beginning on the trail. We brought our lunch with us and ate here with a beautiful backdrop – so nice!
This is definitely a beautiful lake with an easy walk-able path – recommended for everyone, including young kids and their grandparents!