Since we moved here, people have been asking us if we’ve been to Estes Park yet. Though less than an hour away, we just haven’t taken the time to head out there. My parents were visiting and Rocky Mountain National Park was one thing they wanted to see.
Though Google Maps suggested we take College to 34 west, my parents hadn’t yet been to Horsetooth Reservoir. So we headed west on Harmony into the Foothills for a nice scenic drive. This only added about 15 minutes to the whole trip, although my carsick-prone son would have been happier had we taken the shorter route.
A few weeks earlier I had picked up an Estes Park Insider’s Guide book, which has a nice overview of the trails and trailheads. Since we had our 3.5 and 7 year old kids, and my approaching elderly parents, we decided to do the trails rated as family/easy. Alberta Falls and Dream Lake both can be accessed from the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center so we parked there for a restroom break and a chat with the ranger.
The ranger was extremely helpful, providing a map and highlighting the sections he suggested for young kids. Bear Lake was his suggested spot, with a .5 mile trail around the lake, plus trails to Dream Lake and Alberta Falls. Since we had packed a picnic lunch he said Sprague Lake has picnic tables. So we parked at Sprague Lake and ate our lunch, then went for a walk around the lake. We were lucky enough to see a moose on our walk, the ranger later said it’s rare for people to see them. He walked out of the brush and into the lake for a nice long drink. I got some beautiful shots of the snow-capped Continental Divide, the lake and the moose. The ranger had also provided the kids with their Junior Ranger books. The book rated for ages 6-8 was perfect for our older son. He enjoyed looking for different trees, flowers and animals and answering the questions about keeping the park clean. Our younger son received a book geared for younger kids which contained several pages of I Spy-like scenes. Of course not to be outdone by his brother, he also chose to circle things we saw on our walks.
We got back in the car and continued to Bear Lake. There was a sign saying both the Bear Lake and Glacier Gorge parking lots were full, but we checked Glacier Gorge and there were several spots available. I’m sure the fact that it was now around 2:00, so early arrivers had already left but the parking lots signs weren’t updated. There are shuttles available from the main parking area but I suggest checking the lots first, even if the signs say they’re full.
From the Glacier Gorge lot, it’s an approximately .9 mile hike to Alberta Falls. .3 miles in you can also turn right and head to Bear Lake, another .5 miles from that point. The walk up to the Falls is rated family/moderate and is almost all uphill, though not a difficult walk. If you have people with you who aren’t used to the altitude, make sure to take that into consideration. I kept harping on my parents to drink water but they didn’t seem to believe me. My dad isn’t in the best shape and had a somewhat difficult time with the climb, though my 3 and 6 year olds did pretty well. The 3 year old did ask to be carried but since he had already done the walk around Sprague Lake, and hadn’t had a nap, his fatigue was understandable.
Once we finally made it to the Falls, the view was beautiful. There were large rocks if you wanted to continue climbing, which my boys of course wanted to do. I got some pictures of the Falls and the rushing river, and after a rest and some water we headed back down. Of course going down was much easier and quicker than going up.
We stopped back at the Visitors Center for the boys to turn in their Junior Ranger books. Ranger Drew was great with the kids, asking first our older son questions about what we had seen, and then the younger to find some of the things on the I Spy pages. He then had them recite an oath, presented their Junior Ranger badges, and made an announcement to everyone in the Center welcoming their 2 newest rangers. The kids loved this, as did the other kids we saw get their badges.
The Beaver Meadows Visitor’s Center has some nice features. There’s a topographical map of RMNP where you can view different campsites and trails by pushing a button. There are displays about the destructive pine beetles and the fences that keep the elk out of places they’re not wanted. There’s a book shop that sells trail maps, guides, books for kids and other souvenirs. They also have cute hand and finger puppets representing the animals that can be found in RMNP. Downstairs is a film about RMNP that runs every 30 minutes, though we did not view the film.
One thing that surprised us, still not used to living near the mountains, was how chilly it was. We were dressed in shorts and wished we had light jackets like most other people there. Of course once we were in the sun the chill went away, but I do suggest dressing in layers.
Sunscreen, as always in Colorado, is a must, and bug spray should also be used. We neglected the bug spray and my older son was bitten by some kind of critter that left a pretty big mark. A passing woman and the ranger both thought it was some kind of spider bite, though my husband suspects the horseflies that were hovering around us. Having a topical antihistamine would have helped his discomfort, so we will make sure to have some, along with other antibiotic creams. Fortunately I did have a medical kit in the car, which we used to cover my younger son’s scraped knee.
Finally, if you have kids who will be doing the Junior Ranger program, make sure to have a pencil for each kid. Mine kept fighting over the one pencil we had, and then we ended up losing it somewhere along the way.
And of course don’t forget your camera!