I recently visited Colorado with my two young kids, ages 4 1/2 and 6. When I travel, I try to find fun activities we can do as a family, all the while experiencing local flavor. We decided to do a couple of easy hikes so that we could all enjoy the beautiful outdoors that the state of Colorado has to offer. Two hikes recommended for youngsters by the NPS in Rocky Mountain National Park are Sprague Lake and Bear Lake. We did each of these hikes on separate days.
When we arrived on the first day, we really enjoyed stopping in the picnic area near Sprague Lake for a picnic. The air was so fresh and smelled so wonderfully of the pine (which is really nice when you're used to city air!!). The kids ate their lunches quickly so they could run around the area and look for different flowers and wildlife.
Next, we headed to one of the ranger stations to pick up the official Junior Ranger Activities Booklet (for ages 5 and under). The booklet includes 8 fun activities for the kids to do while they're in the park. In order to become a Junior Ranger, they get to do the activities in the booklet, then they need to take the booklet to any visitor center and talk to a ranger about what they saw and did in the park. Then, the ranger will sign their booklet and give them an official Junior Ranger badge.
As we were driving to our first hike, we stopped at a place on the road where there were lots of cars pulled over, wondering what they were all looking at. There were two HUGE male elks hanging out, letting everyone take pictures from relatively close distances; very impressive with their big horns!
Our first lake hike was to Sprague Lake. This lake hike is short (about 1/4 mile long) and flat. The kids had a blast running ahead of us and looking for all sorts of animals. We played "Eye Spy" and they saw fish, squirrels, chipmunks (their favorite), a family of ducks with their 3 little ducklings. They also enjoyed seeing a man fishing in the lake and several families either fishing with poles (one of the boys said they had already caught one fish that afternoon) or using nets to catch fish in a little stream leading up to the lake.
The other activity (from the Junior Ranger booklet) that the kids really loved playing was the Scavenger Hunt. They got to look for something prickly (the pine needles), something soft (baby chipmunks), something that smells good (the flowers), something moving (the water), something an animal eats (the pine cones), something tall (the trees), and something blue (the bluebell flowers). Too much fun!!
This lake has beautiful views - and we went on a gorgeous, sunny day - with nice little areas where you can stop to take pictures, like this one with Hallett Peak in the background!
Our next excursion was to Bear Lake. The first thing the kids noticed as we headed down the path (which is a bit longer than Sprague Lake, and isn't quite as flat) was a patch of snow. Now, mind you, this was the end of July!! The kids loved it and they were throwing snow balls along with several other kids.
This path has lots of fun rocks for the kids to scurry up to the top. They have only hiked once before, so we weren't sure how they would do on the hikes, but there is so much to see and do that they just ran around both of the lakes without any problems at all.
About half way around the lake, my son noticed something moving in the water so he went over to the side of the lake - and low and behold, he really had seen fish. There were three of them hiding (or trying to) under the tree branches in the little stream that ran towards the lake.
Overall, it was a wonderful experience. The only tip I would give (that we forgot, unfortunately) is that since there had been a lot of snow this year, there were lots of mosquitoes - be sure to bring along repellent and good shoes for the kids to climb all over the rocks and run around comfortably!
Here's a final shot taken from Bear Lake ... The thunderstorm just missed us - and it was fun to listen to all the birds and animals, along with the boom of thunder just down the mountains. I highly recommend visiting the Rocky Mountain National Park with little ones. They're going to love it!!
Guest Blogger Kim Maurin
The early morning was cool and breezy with the red light of dawn hitting Longs Peak. I couldn’t wait to get up closer and experience the mountains. I chose the iconic hike to Dream Lake as my destination.
Staying in the Moraine Park Campground, I got up early to catch the first Park Shuttle Bus to Bear Lake at 7:25am so that I didn’t need to park my car at the trailhead. By the time I had finished my hike, not only the Bear Lake parking area, but the huge Park and Ride at Glacier Basin were full of cars.
About 20 people poured off the Shuttle bus and dispersed to their trailheads. I crossed the wooden bridge and followed the trail sign to Dream Lake. Now, any of the thousands of people who have done this hike can tell you that this is not a wilderness experience because the trail is wide and well worn, yet it takes you right into the beauty of the mountains. I started slow to warm up and get used to breathing at 9,450 feet, and set a rhythm where I could sustain the consistent, gentle climb without being out of breath.
Views of Longs Peak and Glacier popped up as the trail curved around the mountain. It wasn’t far until the climb topped a crest to see Nymph Lake, filled with water lilies and reflections of surrounding peaks. Then continuing on, I was soon next to the sounds of rushing water cascading down the mountain from Dream Lake. This is a great family hike because older kids can enjoy the challenge, and everyone has a chance to make it to the destination, only a mile from the trailhead.
This year there were still patches of snow around the lake in mid-July, and cool breezes blew down off of Hallett Peak across Dream Lake. A cloud hung out next to the peak. I found a patch of marsh marigolds in a marshy area next to melting snow. Beautiful rocks surround the lake with twisted pines growing out of them.
I hope I’ve evoked pleasant memories of Rocky Mountain National Park for those of you who’ve been among the thousands of boots and sneakers to enjoy this hike! The cool mountain air, the summer smell of pine trees, the rushing sound of mountain streams – this is paradise!