In July of 2017, my husband Stephen and I took the boys (ages 8 and 10 years old) to Colorado for their first time. They had a blast seeing real snow-capped mountains and snow for the first time despite it being the middle of summer. Since then, their Christmas wish has been for us to take them back to Colorado to play in the snow for Santa’s arrival. With my husband and I being in love with Colorado, we were happy to oblige!
We made reservations for December 23rd-27th using VRBO (online vacation rental booking site), which we had never used before. VRBO was recommended to us by one of our friends in Colorado, who used the service for ski weekend getaways. We compared locations and prices with Airbnb (also an online vacation rental booking site), which we have used before, but found better deals on VRBO for this trip, especially since we were bringing the kiddos. We reserved a one bedroom condo with a fold out couch and full kitchen that was within walking distance from downtown Estes Park. What exactly do we mean by walking distance? A town block! It was super convenient.
We have had the pleasure to visit Estes Park several times before and love the downtown area. It is a very quiet and family friendly place with cute shops, quaint restaurants, encompassed by the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. Rocky Mountain National Park has two entrances just outside of town for easy access to mother nature’s treasures. We highly recommend the park; it holds a special place in our heart as it’s where we got married on a road trip in 2016! That’s a whole other story, but I digress, we thought this would be a great location to take the boys for Christmas and to play in the snow.
Alright, so one thing Southerners need to be ready for is snow, and driving in the snow! Do not take risks and do not drive like normal. We kept a close eye on the forecast as the date approached, and were alerted to a winter storm in the works. With that in mind, we left a couple of days ahead of our reservations in order to beat any travel hiccups.
The first leg of our trip was a short trip from Austin, Texas to Fort Worth to stay with my aunt for the night. We were lucky to have my mother meet us there to pick up our family dogs. While we would have loved to of brought them with us, the VRBO we selected did not allow pets. The next morning we departed at 0430 bound for Morrison, Colorado. Our good friends, The Odvody’s, opened their home to us to accommodate an early arrival in Colorado.
Since we packed most of our gear on the roof, we decided to keep a small selection of clothes and shower gear in a suitcase in the cargo area in the back of our car. We drive a Jeep Grand Cherokee, which has pretty great amenities but it could definitely use more trunk space. During the summer we purchased a Thule roof rack to help out with this issue.
It has come in pretty handy - especially when both kids and dogs are in tow. During the summer we were not as concerned about weather conditions as we were this trip, so before the Christmas road trip, we purchased some pretty sweet duffle bags to throw up on the roof. We also have some old Army duffle bags that we just waterproofed by layering the insides with thick trash bags.
We usually take road trips several times a year, and we always make sure to take a few things: tire jack, jumper cables, fix-a-flat, baby wipes, power inverter, and of course snacks and water. My favorite road trip snack is definitely white cheddar popcorn….it is literally the most impractical (especially if you are the driver) but it is the most delicious thing ever! Bringing the kids along we wanted to make sure to have some healthy snacking options, so we brought: apples, Gatorade, and Z-bars (Kid Cliff Bars, our kids prefer the oatmeal and chocolate brownie).
We also included two thick blankets, jackets, hats, gloves, snow cables, and several jugs of water in our back cargo area where they were easily reachable. You want to be a pessimist when traveling like this and be prepared for anything, especially with kids so you can keep your family safe and warm if the worst case occurs. Here are some pics of our gear on the roof.
Two small waterproof duffel bags, one large green duffle full of our snow gear, two bags for the boys, snow scooters, and the tire jack. We strapped all of this down using three ratchet straps, but two are sufficient. A quick review of our Adventure Lion waterproof bags, they seem awesome. Our only complaint is we wish they were a little bigger, like the same size as my Army ones - we purchased the largest they offered which is 40 liters. To their credit, they are meant more for kayaking so smaller is probably better for that situation. They held up nicely to the wind, rain, ice, snow, and strapped down nicely.
*Links to: Waterproof dry bag and Kids snow scooter
Arriving in Morrison, CO
Alright, so we arrived in Morrison, Colorado that evening as planned and caught up with our friends. We stayed there for two nights before moving on to Estes Park. Just a note here is that our original plan was to depart Fort Worth, Texas in the wee hours of the morning and head straight to Estes Park but we modified that plan according to weather because we knew we had alternate places to stay along the route.
Departing Morrison for Estes Park CO
The drive up from Morrison to Estes Park was smooth sailing. We were careful to check the road conditions constantly using this site: Cotrip.org
Arriving in Estes Park, CO
It finally started to snow on us about ten minutes out from Estes Park and by the time we parked it started getting heavier - we were thrilled! The boys were super excited too, so we all worked together to get the car unloaded and settled into the condo before heading out to play in the snow. Downtown was lit up beautifully for the holidays. We enjoyed the sites and had tons of fun playing in the freshly fallen snow. That night I went to the grocery store and picked up breakfast, lunch, and dinner essentials for the week. We did not eat out once the entire stay! I cooked quick and easy recipes like chicken noodle soup, chili dogs, and hamburger helper for dinner. Breakfast was typically eggs, toast, and bacon. Not to mention we were not eating fast food. I despise fast food, but sometimes it is unavoidable on the road. I know these still may not seem like the absolute healthiest, but they were easy and kid friendly!
Day 1 - YMCA
The first full day we found some snowy spaces at the YMCA of the Rockies which was literally like a 5-minute drive from our condo. We had a blast and were freezing by the end of the day! One side note - I did get us stuck by trying a 17 point turn in a snowy parking lot. I think subconsciously I was testing my limits on the snow in a populated area. Luckily some friendly passersby helped us get the jeep “unstuck” and we continued the mission. Of course, the running joke for the rest of the trip was that we were about to get stuck again every time there was snow in view! The views from the area where we played that day were absolutely breathtaking! We also found a small piece of a tree to take back to the condo and decorate for our Christmas tree. That night we made a gingerbread house, decorated the tree, and ate cookies! It was Christmas Eve so of course we saved some for Santa too.
Day 2 - Christmas Day
Christmas day we woke up to find out Santa did know we were in Colorado! The boys enjoyed playing on their new tablets, and we all stayed warm and bundled up inside for a while. That afternoon we took a walk around downtown Estes and picked up a few souvenirs for ourselves and some family. This was kind of our down relaxing day where we just enjoyed the views and stayed warm. We were all pretty exhausted from all the playing the day before.
Day 3 - Hidden Valley Snow Recreation Area in Rocky Mountain National Park
Alright, this place was amazing. When we first arrived, we thought it was closed due to snow on the trail leading up to it. However, we found out we were wrong and on the last day made it up there. We were definitely worried about driving on the snow packed and icy roads, but we had snow cables in case. We did not end up needing them though. We drove very slow, like between 10-20 mph, the entire way up. It was a 6-mile drive into Rocky Mountain National Park, but only about 3 of them were super snowy. Our Jeep Grand Cherokee is not four wheel drive, so we wanted to be sure to be very careful. We had the most fun of the whole trip this last day! I even went snow sledding face first on our snow tubes, and it was incredible. The boys preferred their snow scooters. I will warn you it is a hike up the hill each time you sled down. It can definitely get exhausting, but it is totally worth it. I have added some pics from our drive and our snow play below.
*Link to: Hidden Vally Snow Recreation Area
Day 4 - Headed Home
The last morning we woke up and ate breakfast then packed up all our stuff and headed out. Check out was a breeze because VRBO does everything through an app and the door auto-locks itself. We will definitely be returning! I will say the only complaint about our condo was some sound coming from stairs in the condo above kept squeaking, other than that it was stress-free and relaxing. We pulled off the trip home all in one day.
I wanted to write this post to encourage families to take trips and travel with your kiddos. It was a great trip where we all got to experience new things together and make tons of new memories. We absolutely love to travel and learn more about ourselves, each other, and this world we live in every time! I hope this post encourages you to go take a trip and Explore America!
Thank you for reading this article. We hope you found it entertaining. If so, please share it with others and don't forget to leave a comment down below!
The world is a large place, and life is short. Together, we can accomplish much more than we ever could alone.
Guest Author: Cheyenne Izaguirre
Baker and Ashlie are the owners of Bourn Adventure and together they author the majority of the articles and content found here.