A House Divided over Estes Park
After a long, and I mean LONG (16 hours), drive from Austin, TX to Estes Park, CO for the third time this year, I’m sitting here reflecting on when to prioritize visiting Estes again, and I simply cannot decide! Each season has its most wonderful perks.
Our summer visit was sprinkled with wildlife sightings, entirely outdoor summer camps, beautiful, warm weather and open cabin windows with fresh pine breezes saturating our space. Fall was absolutely the best time to see wildlife, with elk rutt in full swing, some nights we had upwards to four dozen elk outside our door! The weather was still so comfortable but the chance for snow isn’t out of the question either. Winter was completely different and new, our days filled with ice skating, sledding, playing in the snow, spotting the occasional elk, and exploring frozen wonderlands in Rocky Mountain National Park.
We are a house divided, my kids preferring the snowy, winter wonderland, my husband preferring the summer road bike rides on warm, high mountain roads and myself, hands down, could sit on our cabin deck and observe the elk and hope to see a moose all day...although having the kids in summer camp is a very close second.
Regardless of the time of year, Estes has more to offer than most can do in one visit, hence our three! Rocky Mountain National Park alone has so many neat spots for visitors of all ages it could fill many days. So far, our favorite summer spot is Sprague Lake with winding creek beds and our only moose sighting to date, although after peeking at Alluvial Fan this winter, we will need to check it out next summer to put both their winding creeks to the test.
In the winter, all areas of the park are breathtaking, but Hidden Valley is definitely a sledding win! The ghost ski resort inside RMNP was officially founded in 1955 but after a slow snow season and larger resort competition, it was forced to close in 1991. Now, Hidden Valley unofficially hosts the best sledding and tubing in CO (so they say...and I believe it!)
Not far down the road after you exit the “big park” as they say, you wind through some of the prettiest little mountain roads, laced with holiday lit pine trees and cottages along the Big Thompson and Fall Rivers. Make your way into downtown Estes to explore and play, our favorite area being Lake Estes Park.
Lake Estes Park has a little bit of everything: the gorgeous lake sometimes with elk grazing along the shores, 3.75 mile trail, kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, boat rentals, camping, and across the street the Stanley Park pump track and skate park, Community Center, playground, huge natural boulders and my kids favorite, a massive zip line.
If you have any energy left a popular tourist destination awaits just north of downtown that’s cool to see, The Stanley Hotel. The hotel was used to film the 1980 Jack Nicholson film, The Shining.
In pandemic times we’ve opted to keep activities outdoors, so we haven’t done any dining out or large attractions, although there is plenty of that as well with mini-golf, mini-water park, scenic gondola ride, and I’m sure some delicious food. A fourth (and many more!) visits are in our future to delight in lots of still new things!
All in all, there’s just something really magical about Estes that has us spellbound and I imagine it’s a common reaction. We may be a house divided on what season is most ideal but a house united in our love for this little mountain town.