Estes Park is full of amazing things to see and do. The morning is cool and brisk in mid-September. I finally made the trip that I longed for. The air in the morning is crisp with the coolness of the autumn surrounding me. The leaves of the trees had a multitude of colors that shouted the impending change of seasons.
I could hardly believe that I was finally in Colorado. This moment was even better since I began my journey in the picturesque town of Estes Park. In the distance, I see the imposing peaks of the Rocky Mountains. I started my exploration of this town with the anticipation of the many wonderful things to see and do, at the portal to the Rocky Mountains.
History of Estes Park
The land that Estes Park occupies has a long history. Before the arrival of American settlers, it was well known by Native American tribes such as the Arapaho. They made summer homes in the valley, camped around Mary's Lake, and used their dogs to carry the meat out of the valley. The town is named for Joel Estes who arrived here in the early 1860s. William Byers, the editor of a Denver newspaper, publicized the area as an excellent location for exploring the wilderness.
The area became well known to travelers from the eastern United States and Europe by the late 1860s. The Earl of Dunraven arrived in the area in 1872 and acquired 6000 acres initially as a hunting preserve and later as the location of Estes Park Hotel. He served as the basis for a character in the novel Centennial by James Michener.
By the early 1900s, the valley was known as a place where you could go to improve your health and many people came here to recover from tuberculosis and other breathing ailments. A road between Loveland and Estes Park opened in 1903 and allowed much easier access to the area. In 1909, the Stanley Hotel was built on the outskirts of Estes Park using Stanley Steamer motor carriages. Today the town is a resort area with significant tourism as it is the eastern entrance to the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Things to do in Estes Park
Exploring the downtown area
Begin your day by exploring the downtown area of Estes Park. This begins with the majestic Park Theatre on Moraine Avenue. It was built in 1913 and is on the National Registry of Historic Places. It is the oldest single house motion picture theatre in the United States and still operates as a movie theater. In the evening it is visible as the only building in Estes Park to have a Neon sign after it received a special variance from the city. If you are in the mood for a light snack, then the Estes Park Café located next to the theater is the perfect stop. The café serves Philly Cheese Steak, Classic Reuben sandwich, Chili, Salad, and many more items. It is open daily with the exception of Monday and Wednesday.
As you leave the café, you will enter the beginning of the River Walk along the Big Thompson River. This walkway has shops and restaurants for you to explore. There will not be any chain stores, so anything that you find will be an item unique to Colorado.
Continue your exploration of the town along Elkhorn Drive. One of the gems that we found here is the Old Church Shop. The building was in the past a church but has been repurposed to hold shops and restaurants. One of the most interesting that I found is the Weavers Attic which holds some vintage looms that are still in use.
When you have finished shopping in Estes Park, make sure to leave room in your schedule for an excursion where you can appreciate the beauty and majesty of the Rocky Mountains and Estes Park Valley. It is a short trip to get into the Rocky Mountain National Park, where many hiking trails are available for all levels of ability.
If you are interested in using your own or even renting a bicycle to see the area, the best riding location is the Roosevelt National Forest with 12 miles of trails available for bikers. The Rocky Mountain National Park does not allow bikes on their hiking trails.
When you are exploring trails and other outstanding outdoors attractions, you may want to take pictures of wildlife or landscape to keep for your memories. Typically your camera will not include the best lens for this purpose. If you are taking landscape photographs then the lens that you should use is a 14 to 24mm lens. If you want to get a picture of wildlife while you are out on the trail then the lens that you should use is the 70 to 300mm zoom lens. In order to have the appropriate lens for this, you will either need to spend money for a premium lens or use a company that specializes in renting the needed lens. The company that we recommend is Borrow Lens.
Where to Eat
Your explorations of the town and in the trails nearby will leave you ready for a good meal. We found many good choices for satisfying our hunger. Clair's Restaurant and Bar is a very popular choice, so be ready to wait to be seated. They have sandwiches and other entrees, with many of the meal choices sourced locally. One of the best aspects of this restaurant is its excellent view of nearby mountains.
Another choice to explore is The Estes Park Pie Shop. It is much easier to get a seat here than at the other nearby restaurants. I found that I had many more choices here beyond just the pies, although I can attest that the pies are very good. They are an excellent choice for both breakfast and lunch.
For the evening meal, a trip to the Cascades Restaurant in the Stanley Hotel cannot be beaten. It is definitely more upscale than other eating places that I have described, it is worth the effort of bringing dress-up clothes. You will have the opportunity to enjoy a four-star dining experience.
Choosing your Lodging
There are many choices in lodging for your stay in Estes Park. These range from inexpensive motels to resort-style hotels such as The Stanley Hotel or The YMCA of the Rockies. If you can fit it in your budget, staying at the Stanley Hotel is an incredible experience.
My visit to Estes Park in Colorado was truly the culmination of everything that I hoped for. This part of Colorado is as beautiful and captivating as I had always envisioned. For me, the two nights in Estes Park were the beginning of a magical exploration of the Rocky Mountains National Park. If you have the time, I would recommend spending time in this captivating town. It is definitely on my list of places for a return visit.