Last week we went to Estes Park– the first time flying with both girls– and it was beautiful. Exhausting, but oh so beautiful. The weather was a perfect high of 70 degrees, Leah only had 8 full-on tantrums– nothing makes Derek sweat more than a crying baby in the wilderness–, and the girls were both angels on the plane (thanks to endless snacks and iPad movies.) Compared to all past travels, I would have to say that I planned the very least for this little getaway. Perhaps because Derek took care of the hiking logistics/ rental car/ driving, or maybe just because I was already in the vacation, laid-back Colorado mindset and figured things would just unfold. And they totally did. Some of our favorite stops were planned, some were just by chance (cue bathroom emergency at a local coffee shop.) But whether or not things happened on purpose, I was so happy just being us four, showing the girls a new place, and having them remind us that the best world is outdoors. Here are a few of our favorite findings (and a whole lot of pictures) from our little trip:
Pony Rides at Jackson Stables
This was the only “excursion” I scheduled before our trip. A lot of horseback rides are for children 5 years and older (Mya is 4), but she loves horses and we were able to find a place where she could ride by herself, with just Derek or me leading her. Jackson Stables is nestled within the YMCA of the Rockies (which offers so many other activities for kids too.) The girls are early risers, so we got there right when they opened at 8 and no one else was there. It was such a still, quiet scene with the perfect morning light and Mya was in heaven on her pony “Nibbles.” Leah sat on Nibbles for maybe 2 minutes and spent the rest of the time chasing turkeys and collecting pine cones.
Paddle Boating at Lake Estes
Everyone in our party of four loved this… except for Leah. After wrestling to get a life vest on her, I will never again doubt the strength of a 16 month old. She was sprawled out on the dock of the Lake Estes Marina, adamant not to have fun even before we loaded up on the boat. But I’m the Mom that thought she might change her mind once she got out in open water. Not so much. We paid for the minimum 30 minutes out on the lake, but were probably only out for 6 minutes. Yet despite Leah’s huge fit, the lake surrounded by mountains was so serene and I soaked up every bit I could.
Hiking at Lumpy Ridge
This was my favorite part of the whole trip. We hiked an almost 2 mile loop. Leah was mostly in this Deuter Kid Comfort pack— which we love because she loves. And Mya hiked most of it herself– except for a couple piggy back rides. I would do this hike over and over again.
Ed’s Cantina (and Downtown Estes)
Right in Downtown Estes, Ed’s Cantina offers a large menu that won’t break the bank. It was super kid friendly and clean (apparently my two top requirements for a restaurant with the girls), and the food was so fresh. I would recommend the Bison Taco Salad… and their happy hour margaritas after a boat ride with a feisty toddler. 😉
Junior Ranger Booklet
On our first morning there, we picked up a Junior Ranger Booklet at a NPS Visitors’ Center. They have different versions available depending on age of child, which you can read more about here. This turned out far more awesome than I imaged mainly because: it kept Mya busy in the car, waiting for food at Ed’s Cantina, and back at the rental house while Leah was napping. #momwin 😉 Once completed (pages varied from “I Spy” and writing down observations), she took it back to show a park ranger at the visitors’ center. He took her through the book, asked her questions about her findings, and had a little ceremony where everyone clapped for her. And Mya was so proud.
Bear Lake | Glacier Gorge | Sprague Lake
We didn’t stay long at Bear Lake and Glacier Gorge because the trails were pretty icy and we were sliding all over the place. Derek and I had been to Bear Lake before and it is completely gorgeous. We soon saw signs up that the Bear Lake parking lot was full, so I would recommend starting your day there and then work your way down to different trails. But on that day, Sprague Lake turned out to be the perfect spot for both girls. Although… there are not as many pictures of Mya here because she pet a log and got a splinter in her finger.
This was a steep 1 mile hike up Old Fall River Road (a seasonally closed road) to a waterfall. Leah fell asleep on the way up, so that might have added to the peaceful nature of the ascended trip. On the way down, she woke up and literally ran down the dirt mountain, refusing any help whatsoever. She didn’t break her face, so I’m calling it a win.
Coffee on the Rocks and the Rock Shop
These separate establishments share a parking lot. Coffee on the Rocks has outdoor seating by a duck pond and the owner said that during the summer there are hundreds of ducks. The ducks came right up to the girls (even though Leah was chasing them) and if we would’ve had food, I’m convinced they would’ve ate right out of our hands.
The Red Rose Rock Shop has rooms on rooms of exotic rocks and stones. Mya spent a good amount of time picking out a bag of small rocks for her fairy garden. And I spent that time preventing Leah from dumping out every basket of rocks onto the floor.
Never underestimate the power of caffeine. Much needed when traveling with kiddos. Kind Coffee (located in Downtown Estes near Ed’s Cantina) has great outdoor seating by the river. Mya found some huge chimes and graced everyone with her musical talent.
For only being in Estes two full days and three nights, we crammed a lot into our time there. We were relaxed, yet exhausted if that makes any sense. It was a gamble going when we did (before the busy season) because the weather is more unpredictable. This week, Estes apparently got nailed with a snow storm, but the nature Gods were shining down on us when we were there because it was perfect. So grateful for our little family trip and can’t wait for the next one!
If you’re headed to Estes and are looking for a place to stay, we were super satisfied with our place through VRBO and Happy Family Rentals. It was 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a condo by the river, and less than a 5 minute walk to downtown. Message us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll give you more info on where we stayed.