It’s one of those “get to know you” questions. “Beaches or mountains?” My answer is “both.”
While I love the beaches of Florida and South Carolina, that’s nothing like being in the mountains of Colorado. Specifically, Estes Park.
As a kid, my family and I traveled to Estes Park fairly often. We’d all pack up in our big, green Winstar van and make the long trek from Missouri to Colorado. Now it’s much more simple. Hop on a plane from STL to Denver that takes roughly 2 hours and then drive an hour and a half to Estes Park.
Every time we’d stay in Whispering Pines Cottages right by the Big Thompson River. You’d walk outside and be next to calming, running water that you knew was really cold but you wanted to wade in anyway.
So let’s break down some of the main reasons you should visit Estes Park, Colorado.
Rocky Mountain National Park: The main attraction was always Rocky Mountain National Park, and for good reason. While the National Park is a fan-favorite for many Americans, I’ve never felt crowded when I’ve visited and we’ve always had enough space to do what we want without being bothered. If you want to hike, bike, or walk, you can do that here. If you just want to sight-see, you can drive Trail Ridge Road and get out when you want to take photos or breathe in the fresh, crisp air.
As the altitude is higher here, make sure to give yourself all the time you need to catch your breath, relax, and have a good time. Always have snacks and stay hydrated, and I’d recommend bringing both headache medicine and Tums. The road can be windy and you don’t want anyone getting sick during this incredible trip.
If you want souvenirs they’ve got plenty at the RMNP gift shop. Right outside you can also climb up stairs to get to the top of the park, which provides for a great photo-op.
But the Park has much more to offer than just mountain views and uphill walks. If you want to going chasing waterfalls, it’s completely acceptable here, no matter what TLC tries to tell you.
After a nice hike, my family and I finally arrived to Alberta Falls. A beautiful waterfall where you can either view from a distance, or get up close and personal. This is just one of the waterfalls you can view here in Rocky Mountain National Park. Definitely remember to pack a lunch and plenty of water during this trip.
For an easier, shorter walk, check out the abundance of lakes Rocky Mountain National Park has to offer. We chose to walk around Bear Lake, pretty much just because my family loves bears, but also because the distance was fairly short. As you can see, the lake is surrounded by woods and mountains. It’s a picturesque scene that’s perfect for taking photos. I guess I was also feeling extra adventurous this go round and decided to get on a rock in the lake for the perfect photo. Wouldn’t recommend it for all, but if you’re feeling like living on the edge, you’ve got the chance to do it.
There’s so much more to do in RMNP, but let’s move on to some of the other great things the Town has to offer.
The Stanley Hotel: Ever seen ‘The Shining’? Come see the hotel that inspired the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s story.
It’s now one of my travel bucket list goals to stay here. The beautiful hotel is quite the view itself, but if you turn around from where I’m at in the picture above, you’ll look out to see the mountains surrounding Estes Park and the town itself. We went there just when sunset was happening, and the view was amazing.
The wildlife: It’s safe to say Colorado is one of the greatest places in the country to see wildlife. I remember as a kid driving through Estes Park and having to stop in the middle of the street just to let the elk walk by. Now, with the help of an IPhone, I’m able to capture these moments a little better.
The Big Thompson runs right through downtown Estes Park, and the elk love to gather here in some of the Town’s green spaces. It’s a perfect moment to grab a photo of these stunning animals. You’re encouraged not to feed the elk or get close to them. While they are quite peaceful animals, they’re also very large and I definitely don’t want to go head to head with a full rack of antlers. There are also many baby elk in the area, so the parents could get defensive if you get too close.
One of the first things you’ll come across in downtown Estes Park is Lake Estes. It’s a beautiful place to come walk, swim, and eat at the restaurants right when you get into town. There’s also boats, paddle boards, and kayaks you can rent. You can also go fishing.
The housing options in Estes Park are also very diverse. You can stay in something fancy like the Stanley, or you can stay in a regular hotel like the Best Western. There’s also cabins and cottages like Whispering Pines, or you can grab an Airbnb like my family and I did back in 2020.
You also can’t miss out on the shopping and eateries. Stop by any of the local restaurants and you’ll be sure to find something you like. There’s also plenty of candy stores, souvenir shops, and ice-cream for dessert. One of my family’s favorite things to do is stop by the taffy shops and fill up a bag.
While there’s so much more to do and see in Estes Park, I hope this gives you some options if you ever choose to go there. If you’ve been there, please let me know what your favorite activities are to do!