Estes Park, Colorado is the base camp for unrivaled adventures in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s easily one of the best places to explore the Colorado Rockies. Whether you are planning a weekend escape or the family vacation of a lifetime, Estes Park has the events, lodging, and activities to create the perfect vacation.
We traveled up from Denver, located just 1.5 hours away, for an early fall weekend. While there are numerous ways to get up to Estes Park, we decided to drive the standard route up US-36. As we rounded the final bend before town, Estes Park and the grandeur of Rocky Mountain National Park came into focus. We’ve been to Estes Park numerous times, and that first view of Lake Estes, the historic Stanley Hotel, and the high peaks behind never disappoint.
Stanley Hotel – We immediately decided to head to one of our long-time haunts, The Stanley Hotel. Famous for its old world charm, The Stanley Hotel possesses spectacular views in every direction. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a member of Historic Hotels of America, the 140-guest room Stanley Hotel offers over 14,000 square feet of unique meeting and event space.
But it’s one of my favorite novels and movies, The Shining, which drew us in for our visit this time. The Stanley inspired horror novelist Stephen King to write The Shining. In 1974, King and his wife spent one night in Room 217 while on vacation during their short residency in Boulder, Colorado. Upon arrival, they discovered that they were the only overnight guests at the hotel. King and his wife were served dinner in an empty dining room accompanied by canned orchestral music. The Kings were then shown to infamous Room 217. Room 217 of the Overlook Hotel features prominently in the novel, having been the room at the Stanley where King spent the night. In 1980, The Shining became the basis for a film adaptation directed by Stanley Kubrick.
As we walked the extravagant grounds and halls of The Stanley, I couldn’t help but hear the words, “Here’s Johnny,” and “REDRUM, REDRUM,” echo from all around! With an imagination like King’s, it’s no wonder that an eerie evening all alone at The Stanley unearthed the foundation for The Shining.
Rocky Mountain National Park – Happy 100th birthday to America’s best idea, the National Park Service! And Rocky Mountain National Park is one of its crown jewels. There’s no more heralded place in Rocky Mountain National Park than the 14,259-foot tall Longs Peak.
I’ve climbed Longs Peak five times throughout the years (most of them while attending the University of Colorado at Boulder). Although The Keyhole Route isn’t terribly technical, certain portions (such as The Narrows) can really scare the pants off people. It’s a 15-mile round trip journey to the summit and back down.
You must possess basic bouldering skills to pass through The Keyhole and get over the choke stone in The Trough. If you attempt Longs Peak, be sure to allocate the whole day to the climb – hit the trail early in the morning. Moreover, bring plenty of water and food. The last thing you need is to be tired, without fuel in your body.
Also, do not attempt to travel beyond The Keyhole if bad weather is approaching. Storms can build and move quickly through Rocky Mountain National Park. Many people have been severely injured or worse attempting to summit Longs Peak during poor weather.
It’s worth noting that the view from the privies near the Boulder Field is one of the best in the Rockies. If you’ve “got to go,” there is no better place to do it.
Even if you aren’t fully up to climbing Longs, the hike to Chasm Lake (8.5 miles round trip) is absolutely spectacular. You can’t beat the view of The Diamond, the sheer and prominent east face of Longs Peak.
Downtown Estes Park – What would a visit to Estes Park be without a stop into town for some saltwater taffy and other goodies? More than 200 shops and restaurants line downtown along Elkhorn and Moraine Avenues. One of the best parts about the shops is that they’re independently owned businesses. You won’t find a chain store here, which means you’ll find plenty of unique gifts and souvenirs.