This charming destination is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.
Surrounded on three sides by spectacular mountain scenery, Estes Park, Colorado, embraces its location near Rocky Mountain National Park and is a charming and friendly destination. Just a 90-minute drive from Denver, it’s easily accessible by three scenic routes year round. This year is the perfect time to visit as the town celebrates its centennial with special festivals, races, art shows, and concerts.
Originally a dude ranch, Estes Park has been known for its wildlife and breathtaking panoramas since the 1800s. If you’re interested in the history and legacy of the town, you can learn more at several local museums. If you’re curious about ghosts, schedule a tour to hear haunted stories in the famous Stanley Hotel, which was the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining.
Spring and summer are perfect for hiking with mountain trails suitable for a variety of skill levels. If you’re ready for a challenge (altitude included), consider either a bicycle ride down Trail Ridge Road (starts at 12,000 feet elevation) or a climb up Longs Peak, the most notorious fourteen-er in Colorado. Or take a Jeep tour in the surrounding area for a taste of the wild without going too crazy.
In late September trees glow with yellow and red leaves, summer crowds have dwindled, the weather is cool in the morning, and only light long sleeves are needed in the afternoon. Most outdoor activities not requiring snow are still available. During the fall mating season called Elk Rut (early October), meadows are full of wildlife, so you’re almost guaranteed to see and hear bugling.
As winter approaches, many visitors seek activities related to snow. Snowboarding and snowshoeing are popular—either on your own or with a guided tour. Hundreds of Rocky Mountain trails provide beautiful landscapes for cross-country skiing, and Hidden Valley is a well-known sledding spot.
Not into snow? Go shopping! There are plenty of opportunities, with more than 300 shops in a walkable downtown. Whether you’re looking for antiques, collectibles, handcrafted Southwestern arts and crafts, or to taste distilled spirits, you’ll enjoy the casual ambience of the Elkhorn and Moraine Avenue area.
If you consider yourself a foodie, there’s a wide range of places to dine in Estes Park. Some eateries specialize in regional cuisine like elk chops or pecan-encrusted trout. Don’t be surprised if your burger is made from elk or bison. Of course, it’s great paired with a locally brewed ale or liqueur.
For a natural ambience, stay in a cabin or condo on Fall River, just a few miles from the national park’s entrance, or check out family-friendly amenities and activities at YMCA of the Rockies. Whatever your style, most luxury suites, historic lodges, bed-and-breakfasts, or RV spots are open year round.
No matter which season you visit Estes Park, you won’t be disappointed. Just go, and let the majestic mountains inspire you to indulge your inner adventurer.
This article was first published in Arizona Highroads in May/June 2017. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.