The sheer magnitude of the Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) can be overwhelming for lots of travelers, especially if they are parents with a tiny tot in tow. Even when a plan is in place it could be derailed by weather, closures and an abundance of tourists. Don’t fret, even if you only see the entrance of the park the beauty and serenity of these mountains will leave a lasting imprint in your memory. This guide will help you navigate your journey to make amazing memories with your little one by giving a little insight into what to expect.
Entrance into the park is $25 a day or $35 for 7 days. Camping is available in the park, however it does book up quickly so call in advance to secure your reservation. The rangers will give you a map, brochure and let you know if any of the popular areas of the park are temporarily closed. Beaver Meadows Visitor Center is located right before you enter to help address any questions and provide literature.
Once you enter the National Park Bear Lake needs to be a top priority. Bear Lake is extreme popular because of it’s beauty so the road to the parking lot will be temporarily closed throughout peak tourist times. We encountered this and opted to tackle Trail Ridge Rd since a little girl fell asleep. There is a free shuttle that will drop visitors off at Bear Lake for those not wanting to tackle the parking lot.
There is no photo that can ever capture the magnificence of Bear Lake. It was hands down the highlight of our trip to the Rocky’s. To add to its splendor, there is 0.7 mile stroller friendly trail that circles the lake offering one spectacular view after another. Being wheelchair and stroller friendly the park has accessible viewing areas of the lake. The trail does have a one hill that may be challenging for some. A detailed map by the entrance will show visitors where it is located along the loop. Once at Bear Lake there is no dogs allowed, so be sure to take that into account if traveling with a furry friend.
Nearby Sprague Lake also offers a stroller accessible loop. Fair warning, after you see Bear Lake this will pale in comparison. However, Glacier Creek runs right next to it which makes a great adventure for little explorers.
There is a picnic area here, which I highly recommend. Shaded spots are limited and are by the creek. Don’t settle for the picnic spots in the middle of the parking lot unless you have too. There is another little picnic area to your right when you first turn into Sprague Lake that was next to the stream as well. We had delicious sandwiches made from the local market in Lyons and packed a picnic. What better place for picnic then with a scenic mountain backdrop and a babbling creek. It was here were we attempted to strap Sophie into the hiking carrier to do a short trail and in true toddler fashion she had a complete meltdown. Therefore, we did not do any of the hiking trails in the park that were not stroller friendly. There are bathrooms at this location so it makes for the perfect spot for a lunch break.
Moraine Park Discovery Center
The beauty of discovery centers is that it sums up the entire reason you traveled; for you and your little one to discover and learn. Even the tiniest traveler can feel contrasting textures, hear different sounds and view a diverse variety of objects not commonly seen. While the Moraine Park Discovery Center wasn’t the best one we experienced, it still had lots to offer. Including a changing station for baby and running water. I was slightly disappointed that a park of this significance had a discovery center that was only mediocre at best. More child friendly interactive exhibits would put some life into the otherwise dull layout of displays.
Don’t let that deter you from visiting. There is a nice little gift shop, a short hiking trail and it gives the chance for littles to stretch their legs. Especially if you just finished driving Trail Ridge Rd. They do have an indoor viewing area of the gorgeous mountain scene complete with rocking chairs.
Trail Ridge Road
Not the hiking type, but enjoy a good adventure? You can tour the park by taking a drive on Trail Ridge Road which spans the entire park from east to west. Trail Ridge Road also known as highway to the sky, is 48 miles of harrowing turns, nail biting edges and breath taking pull offs. By the time you reach the top you will need change both your baby’s diaper and your own diaper. The Alpine Center is a great point to turn around if you are not committed to the entire journey. Remember that the park will close off the portion of the road to the Alpine Center during certain months. Therefore, depending on when you visit you may only be able to go as far as Rainbow Curve.
A Few Tips
As a new parent this drive was especially horrifying, as all you can envision is one miscalculated turn will send your entire family plummeting to their doom. My advice is if your baby starts to have a meltdown pull over at the nearest overlook and address the situation. A crying child will only add to the stress of driving. Be on the lookout for altitude sickness in them as well. The highest point on the road is at an elevation of 12, 183 ft. Read more about altitude sickness here: https://www.babycenter.com/0_altitude-sickness_11223.bc Thank the good Lord Sophie didn’t experience any of the symptoms, but it is good to know.
When you are climbing to an altitude that high the pressure changes as well. After a few loud pops we realized that bags of chips we packed popped open in addition to all the sealed baby crackers. Nothing like random loud popping noises while driving along the edge of an unguarded cliff to add to your terrifying adventure.
One other tip: IT IS COLD AND WINDY UP THERE! We came so unprepared that it was laughable. My husband in shorts and me in a tank top. Just because it is 80 degrees in Estes does not mean it is 80 degrees in the Park. It was more like 50 degrees at the top of the mountain not counting the wind. The wind is serious business folks, you will get wind burn if you are unprepared. We froze our butts off. We only took Soph out for minimal pictures because even with a jacket it was probably too cold her.
ALPINE VISITOR CENTER
Upon arriving at the visitor center you can breathe a sigh of relief that you have made it through part one of your alarming trek. The second part is going back down! They have a massive gift shop which is the perfect place to get your little one a cute authentic junior ranger outfit and to get a coat if you forgot one. They do have a cafe, a few exhibits and an awesome balcony to take National Geographic worthy photos. The parking lot can be a hot mess, but don’t be discouraged. People are coming and going all the time so parking spots will open up eventually.
Never let having a baby or toddler deter you from traveling! There is so much more to see and do in the RMNP! Plan your visit to the Rocky Mountains today! https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/index.htm
Where To Stay
We opted to stay at an Airbnb in Lyons which is roughly 20 minutes from the RMNP. The Airbnb we picked was the perfect fit for out little family. A full kitchen, laundry, two bedrooms and a patio for us to retreat to after a little one’s bedtime. They even had a pack n play! The highlight of this particular place was that we were right on main street. A short three minute walk took us to the local coffee shop, an authentic soda shop and a marvelous small town market and deli. The guest house was directly across from Oskar Blues, which was a great carry out dinner option one night.
Link to the Airbnb:
A hidden treasure in Lyons is the Laverne M. Johnson Park. The striking sandstone cliffs that partial boarder this family favorite park makes it difficult for visitors to leave. The park offers endless recreational activities from a Whitewater park, splash pad, and a fun-filled playground. Camping is also available here, with spots right along the river. The walk was five minutes from our Airbnb so we ventured here a few different times.
Tip: Be sure to check out the local library for a cute children’s area complete with a Lego table, puzzles and more.
Is Colorado Springs on your itinerary? Check this out: http://consistentlycurious.com/2018/07/05/visiting-garden-of-the-gods-with-a-toddler/