We really wanted Estes Park to be a charming little mountain town. It’s the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, and has a compact, walkable downtown area… that’s full of t-shirt shops and candy stores and tourists. Even in mid-May, the tourists were out in force, browsing the crappy souvenirs. The town has a gorgeous natural setting; for that reason alone it’s worth a visit, and we can give you a couple other recommendations…
KOA… again, it’s closest to town, and reliably well-run. Since we’re early in the season, it was pretty empty, as has been our experience for much of this trip. Internet is decent, town is just a few miles down the road, and across the street is a several-mile walking loop into town and back around the elk-frequented Lake Estes to home.
Eating and drinking
We had some good and some bad eating and drinking experiences. J wrote about the breweries in town here. Basically, we visited two breweries in town, one good and one bad. We HAD to go get a cocktail at the Stanley Hotel, which inspired Stephen King’s The Shining. Food-wise, we had some subpar Thai carryout, and some good picnic sandwiches. And then we gave up and ate and drank at home.
- Friendly, bright Rockcut Brewing Co
- A fancy cocktail at the old-timey Whiskey Bar at the Stanley Hotel
- Scratch Deli & Bakery sandwiches to take hiking
This is where Estes Park shines. We were limited in what we could do in the National Park because of dog and snow, but had a scenic dog-friendly walk in RMNP and a short, tough romp in the woods to a big view in the Roosevelt National Forest.
Rocky Mountain National Park
How did we have a scenic, dog-friendly walk in RMNP, you ask? It is a National Park, after all, and they don’t like dogs. Well, Old Fall River Road, a scenic drive into the western portion of the park, hadn’t opened yet for the season due to the snow still present at elevation, and dogs are allowed on roads in the National Park. Normally, walking down a road isn’t so peaceful, but when there are no cars and we’re the only people walking down said road, it’s fantastic. We three walked up a couple miles, got some good mountain views and stopped at a little waterfall, and saw nary a soul.
Otherwise, RMNP was crowded and muddy (’tis the season) and increasingly windy and snowing, so we left. We’d like to return on another trip and do more hiking, sans mud and dog (don’t tell B). The snow-topped Rockies were incredibly gorgeous, and the valleys were loaded with elk on their Springtime migration to higher ground. Apparently the mating season bugling of the bull elk each fall is quite entertaining, so maybe we’ll come back for that another year.
Roosevelt National Forest
Needing a dog-friendly, quick hike with a rewarding view to knock out before packing up and leaving Estes Park our last morning there, we chose Lily Mountain just outside of town. It’s a pretty easy two miles up to a rock scramble, at the top of which you get a 360° view of Estes Park and the Rockies beyond. It was freezing on the unprotected clifftop, but completely worth it.