For our fifteenth wedding anniversary, we decided to drag the kids out of the house for our first winter hike! And where better to do that than Rocky Mountain National Park? It’s just about two hours northwest of our house, so totally doable for a day hike. We did some research and decided to hike to Emerald Lake which meant we’d also pass by Nymph and Dream Lakes.

And since we knew there’d be snow, we decided to try out snowshoeing. There is a great little mountain shop as you’re driving into Estes Park – the adorable town that calls itself the ‘base camp’ for RMNP – where you can rent all kinds of things at a reasonable price, so we stopped there for our equipment. Once we checked out our gear, we were on our way!

There is an entrance fee for national parks, but because Audra is a fourth grader, we got in for free! (If you have a fourth grader, you can find more info about this initiative here.) We also discovered that because James is a disabled veteran with a qualifying VA card, he has lifetime complimentary admittance to national parks. Good to know!IMG_5048blog

Once we got inside the park, we made our way to the Bear Lake trailhead. It’s incredibly popular because it’s the hub for so many trails. Because of this, it’s best to arrive early or park in one of the other lots and ride the bus up. We got lucky and someone was pulling out of a parking spot just as we were arriving.

So then we got suited up and attempted to put on our showshoes. That was an interesting process to say the least. I’m pretty sure James had to help each of us. We aren’t the most coordinated family. And that would be the understatement of the year.IMG_5050blog

But we finally did get those dang things on and we were ready to start hiking. As you can see from this trail sign, there are so many paths one can take right from here. IMG_5053eblog

But we were headed toward Emerald Lake which was 1.8 miles away, so off we went!IMG_5057blog

I had all of these fears about the deep snow, but this is a very well traveled trail, so the snow was packed down.IMG_5059blog

After just half a mile, we had reached the very frozen and snow-covered Nymph Lake! Yep, that’s the lake Aidan’s standing on. And I wasn’t freaking out inside at all about him falling through. Not. At. All.IMG_5061eblog

But my kids are wimps, so we had to take a small break disguised an opportunity to play with the snow. (For all the excitement these three had about our move here, in the end, none of them care about the snow.)IMG_5062blog

Finally, we were off to find the next lake.IMG_5069blog

Even surrounded by just white and green, it really is absolutely beautiful.IMG_5072blog

Gah. I was so excited about a little bit of blue sky.IMG_5073eblog Still not a super hard trek, but the walking did get a bit more strenuous toward the next spot. And somewhere around here, I tripped over my snowshoe and fell. My camera was covered in snow and my ego took a hit, but otherwise I was just fine.IMG_5074blog IMG_5078blog

We got so excited when we saw the sign! Between lakes one and two, it’s only 0.6 miles, but it felt much longer!IMG_5079blog

Unfortunately, we still had a bit to go. IMG_5084eblog IMG_5085blog

And then we finally made it to Dream Lake! There were so many people around, even though it looks like we were the only ones there.IMG_5088blog

The kids were complaining, and we were all sooooo very cold. But we were determined to get to the last lake.IMG_5090blog IMG_5092blog

But then, after hiking another 0.7 miles, we got to Emerald Lake, and this was our view. Austin quickly posed for a photo, and then we turned around to head back. We were all a little underwhelmed with the big finale, but we decided we’d definitely come back again when the weather was nicer. And you know, maybe then we could actually see something!IMG_5094e2blog Even though we were all cold and our noses were running and our feet felt a bit like they might fall off, I’m still thankful we managed to grab this family shot that really captures our new experience here. It’s completely different than Hawaii in just about every way, but it’s magical nonetheless! Look at these lovebirds. IMG_5100eblog

I cannot think of anything I’d rather do on our anniversary to spend time in the mountains!

As usual, the way back was easier.

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Except that snowshoeing downhill can be a bit tricky.IMG_5102blog IMG_0168blog These three may not love adventuring the way I do, but man, I love having them around. And their antics keep me entertained. Audra just decided to slide on down the hill instead of walking. IMG_5137blog

And then we were done. 3.6 miles in the snow – not too bad!

But we did learn a few lessons with this experience.

First, regular Camelbak tubes aren’t meant for temperatures below freezing. It turns out that you can’t drink any water from your reservoir if it freezes before it reaches your mouthpiece. Oops. We did discover that there are insulated tubes available, so we might try that in the future. For now, we’ll just stick to water bottles!
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Second, we remembered that we own MICROspikes. With a trail this heavily-trafficked (and packed down), we would have been just fine wearing those. The snowshoes were a bit clunky and cumbersome. The spikes would have worked perfectly, and we would have saved ourselves some money! (I also believe they can be rented from the mountain shop, but don’t quote me on that.)

Lastly, we were wearing cheap and not well-insulated snow boots. We did have on hiking socks, but it just wasn’t enough. If we’re going to hit the trails when it’s 10-15°F, we have to invest in some better footwear.

But all in all, it was a great first winter hiking experience and I’m really grateful we live here so we can go back and try again later!

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Cherokee Ranch & Castle
Red Rocks Park: Trading Post Trail