After checking into your room at Deer Crest Resort On Fall River, you’re ready for a full week of fun and adventure in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. But where to begin? Here are some sure-fire winners.
Photograph Bear Lake
Get up at first light and stop by the Donut Haus for their fresh, handmade pastries. Then drive to Bear Lake, a stunning alpine lake and one of the most visited spots in Rocky Mountain National Park. The early morning sun lights up Hallett Peak that reflects in the water.
From Bear Lake hike to Nymph, Dream and Emerald Lakes, three enchanting destinations less than two miles from the trailhead. If you still have the energy, hike the mile to Alberta Falls, one of the most beautiful falls in the Park.
Local tip: Go early. In the summer the Bear Lake parking lot fills quickly (7:30 a.m.). If the lot is full, take the shuttle from Glacier Basin.
Go on a Horseback Ride
There is no better way to explore the Rocky Mountains than from the back of a horse. Local stables offer one-hour rides for the new rider to all-day rides for the experienced horse lover. Leave the flip-flops at home and wear cowboy or cowgirl boots. Buy a cowboy hat downtown and wear it with pride on your horseback ride.
Drive Trail Ridge Road
Drive spectacular Trail Ridge Road, the highest, continuous paved highway in the United States. At Horseshoe Park, stop at Sheep Lakes and see if the bighorn sheep have come down to drink. At Many Parks Curve, appreciate the majestic Longs Peak dominating the skyline in Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park.
Beyond Rainbow Curve, the trees grow smaller and more gnarled, like a witch’s fingers. At more than two miles above sea level, the trees give way to tundra. After Trail Ridge opens on Memorial Day weekend, visitors often see snowdrifts 20-feet high along the road. At Rock Cut, walk the half-mile path across the tundra to the Toll Memorial. Interpretive signs explain the uncompromising tundra world. Listen for the squeak of a pika and keep an eye out for a marmot or two sunning on a rock.
The Alpine Visitor Center is a lofty 11,796 feet in elevation. Gaze through the plate glass window at the expansive valley below where herds of elk appear as dots in the distance. Get a closer look through the “big eye” binoculars. Look for the cars driving slowly along Old Fall River Road, a nine-mile journey on a narrow gravel road that only goes one way—up!
Next door is the Trail Ridge Store, ideal for grabbing a bite or buying that Rocky Mountain National Park sweatshirt that you suddenly feel the need to have. It is 20-30 degrees colder at 12,000 feet and winds are brisk.
View the Wildlife
Herds of elk are often spotted in Moraine Park, Horseshoe Park, Upper Beaver Meadows, and even on the tundra along Trail Ridge Road. Early morning and evening are the best times to view wildlife.
A trip up Trail Ridge Road can be a one-day adventure itself, especially if crossing the Continental Divide and traveling to and from Grand Lake. Be sure to have well-charged smartphones and camera batteries. It’s a photo-rich environment.
Ride the Aerial Tram
Ready to have your breath taken away without ever leaving Estes Park? Ride the Estes Park Aerial Tram, which ascends 1,100 vertical feet up the side of Prospect Mountain in less than five minutes, the entire length a free span without towers. Designed in 1955 by ski lift and aerial tramway pioneer Robert Heron, the Aerial Tram has taken more than three million visitors safely up and down Prospect Mountain. On a clear day, the views of the Front Range are superb.
Have a Picnic
Stop for a picnic in the shade at Endo Valley and stick your toes in the rushing alpine stream, or stop along Highway 7 at Lily Lake for a meal under the gaze of Longs Peak and Twin Sisters. Hidden Valley is the newest picnic area with plenty of tables and trails to explore.
Go Shopping in Downtown Estes Park
Stroll Elkhorn and Moraine Avenues and buy that Estes Park t-shirt that you had your eye on, try saltwater taffy from the Estes Park Taffy Shop and eat a caramel apple.
Drop a Line and Try your Luck
Lake Estes has four miles of shoreline ideal for fly or spin fishing. In the early evening, try your luck catching greenback, cutthroat trout at Lily Lake, or go fly fishing on the Big Thompson River below the Olympus Dam at the east end of Lake Estes. It’s catch and release fishing.
Introduce the kids to fishing at Trout Haven Fishing Pond, which is stocked with rainbow trout. Everyone is guaranteed a catch. Trout Haven provides poles, bait and all equipment. No fishing license is required.
The Best Cinnamon Roll in Colorado
Drive out Devils Gulch Road and down the switchbacks to the Glen Haven General Store and order a cinnamon roll. It’s the best in Colorado.
The Stanley Stanley Hotel
Have a drink on the veranda of the Stanley Hotel and enjoy the expansive view of Longs Peak, or go on a ghost tour if you have the nerve. The Stanley Hotel inspired writer Stephen King to write “The Shining” and many say ghosts still roam the halls.
Sunday Champagne Brunch at the Other Side Restaurant
Sunday morning, stop by the Other Side Restaurant and enjoy a brunch that features a carving station, omelet bar and extravagant desserts. Sip your complimentary champagne and marvel at the stunning views of the Continental Divide.
After each and every day of exploring, hiking, and taking in the sights and sounds of the Estes Park area, it’s time to slow down and unwind. At Deer Crest Resort, it can be on a riverside rocker along the banks of Fall River. Almost all Estes Park lodges feature hot tubs, fire pits, or sitting areas where visitors can relax and reflect on what was, no doubt, a sensational day in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
Even as you depart Estes Park, you know that one day soon, the mountains will be calling, and you’ll need to return.
Written by Steve Mitchell