Estes Park is a perfectly picturesque mountain town hidden among the pine forests of Colorado’s Estes Valley. It is also the gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park, 415 square miles of wild and varied terrain that is home to a dense concentration of wildlife and the site of some of the best hiking in the United States.
This national park may not encompass the most remote or extreme of the Rockies, but it is far more accessible for the casual explorer. And the town of Estes Park itself offers a relaxed and comfortable sojourn for those who prefer a less rugged Rockies experience. The town is 90 minutes northwest of downtown Denver, and the nearest airport is Denver International.
From Estes Park visitors can plunge into one of North America’s great wildernesses at Rocky Mountain National Park. The park’s 415 square miles contain a real diversity of terrain: wetland streams and lakes, pine forest, grassland, wildflower meadows and, of course, craggy alpine peaks. Living on this terrain is wildlife including black bears, elk, cougars and coyotes. There are 300 miles of hiking trails in the park, and intrepid walkers can escape the crowds and even camp beneath immense starry skies.
Just on the edge of town is this large lake and marina, shadowed by the surrounding pine-covered mountains. A variety of boats are available to hire, from 1-person kayaks to large pontoons. There are plentiful opportunities for fishing, and the lake is encircled by a rough trail, which can be covered on foot or by bike.
The aerial tramway takes visitors on a ride from the outskirts of Estes Park up to the top of Prospect Mountain. The horizon opens out as the town diminishes in size, with views across the lakes, valleys and craggy mountain peaks that enclose Estes Park. Its open between May and September, and during peak season lines can be long, so ride in the early morning or late afternoon to minimize waiting times.
Photo via their official FB page.
The simple joys of the BBQ are celebrated at Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ and Taphouse, a restaurant that grills slabs of meat to traditional American recipes. Chef Dave is especially proud of the four sauces he’s created, which sit on the restaurant’s tables awaiting be added to one’s food. And of course, there’s a fully-stocked bar, with some excellent beers to accompany the hearty all-American fare.
The Stanley is a beautiful old hotel backdropped by mountain crags, with a grand facade and an unusual yet elegant interior. It offers boutique hotel rooms as well as one, two and three-bedroom condos, all with mountain views. And if you sense something a little eerie as the dusk creeps through your room, don’t dismiss it too quickly – The Stanley was the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining, and has long had a reputation for being haunted.