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Plan My Trip!!

Lake Norman, North...
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Plan My Trip!!

I am overwhelmed with the abundance of information and would love help planning our trip. We are flying into Denver on Thursday Sept 21 at 8:30 am and flying out at midnight on Sunday the 24th. I have the first night booked in Estes Park and the last two nights in Breckenridge. We are a family of four, the kids are 12 and 13. We like to sightsee, love seeing animals in the wild, and enjoy beautiful hikes (not more than a 2ish miles round trip at a time). We are pretty active, but I know our time is limited. Not into shopping and usually eat where we end up, but would love suggestions on restaurants we shouldn't miss (not fast food, but not $$$$).

Is there anything we should see on the way from the airport to Estes Park or should we head straight there to maximize our time in the park?

We plan on taking the scenic route from Estes Park to Breckenridge. I know we won't have time to see everything, what are the most beautiful stops/hikes along the way? We are open to leaving at any hour.

I know Breckenridge is a different forum, but if you could only pick 2-3 must see things in that area, what would they be?

Thanks for your help!

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Denver
Denver
Colorado
Estes Park
Estes Park
Colorado
17 replies to this topic
Windsor, Colorado
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for Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park
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1. Re: Plan My Trip!!

September 22 will be your day to both drive and explore Trail Ridge Road. Here is your route.

https://goo.gl/maps/N255WM5dpbt

See my reply #1 at this recent topic (link below) for details about the many overlooks and short trails along Trail Ridge Road. Scroll down in that reply to the paragraph that begins "I am going to assume you want to travel and explore just Trail Ridge Road." Everything you need to know is in that reply. Of course, you will not be backtracking to Estes Park. With your trip being in September, you will have really nice fall color and great chances to see elk in the meadows on this day. Aim to be at the RMNP Fall River entrance by 8:30 am.

https:/…85710632

September 21 - Because you need to time to adjust to the altitude, you are somewhat limited as to what you can, should and will want to do on arrival day. Take the more scenic route from DIA to Estes Park which is by way of Clear Creek Canyon and the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway. Here is that route.

https://goo.gl/maps/kUi8PqwXwUS2

Make sure you stay properly hydrated and don't overexert yourselves. You don't want to start your trip feeling poorly because of the altitude.

At RMNP Wild Basin, the walk to Copeland Falls is pretty and easy.

rockymountainhikingtrails.com/copeland-falls…

At Lily Lake, the walk around the lake is very nice. The Lily Ridge Trail is even better if you are feeling okay.

cloudhiking.com/mountains/…lilyLakeTrails.php

Because the Bear Lake area is so popular, you are more likely to find parking there around 3 pm or later. To go earlier, shuttles are available from the Park and Ride lot on Bear Lake Road. The Bear Lake loop is easy. From the Bear Lake Trailhead, you can also walk .9 miles downhill to Alberta Falls and then walk .8 miles back to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead to catch the shuttle back to your car. This is easier than hiking back uphill to the Bear Lake Trailhead.

protrails.com/trail/238/rocky-mountain-natio…

dayhikesneardenver.com/alberta-falls-hike-ro…

https:/…shuttle_bus_route.htm

Also along Bear Lake Road is Sprague Lake - another easy loop.

protrails.com/trail/231/rocky-mountain-natio…

As you can see from this map, the Bear Lake Trailhead parking is only 30 minutes or less (depending on traffic) from most lodging in Estes Park.

https://goo.gl/maps/tyrJPkSWsLy

In the later afternoon toward dusk, the elk will be around the golf courses in Estes Park, in the meadow near Marys Lake Road/highway 7 and in the meadows in RMNP - Horseshoe Park, Moraine Park and Upper Beaver Meadows. You are visiting during the peak of elk rut. Park rangers and volunteers will enforce the elk rut area closures in RMNP.

Elk Rut Closures

September 1 through October 31

To prevent disturbance and harassment of elk during the fall mating period and to enhance visitor elk-viewing opportunities, closures in Horseshoe Park, Moraine Park, Upper Beaver Meadows, Harbison Meadow and Holzwarth Meadow are closed to the following acts:

1) Foot travel off established roadways and designated trails, or on closed roadways or trails, daily from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.

2) Fishing in those sections of Fall River, Big Thompson River or Colorado River within the areas listed above, daily from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.

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2. Re: Plan My Trip!!

I would suggest driving the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway to Estes Park. You should see some nice fall foliage then: https:/…peak-to-peak-scenic-byway

Edit: posting at the same time as above. I'd take you up Golden Gate Canyon (hwy 46) instead of Clear Creek. It's not quite as twisty/turny and IMO prettier.

Edited: 12 September 2017, 15:20
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Estes Park
Estes Park
Colorado
Windsor, Colorado
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for Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park
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3. Re: Plan My Trip!!

The favorite restaurant in Estes Park is Smokin' Dave's. The location at the Hangar Restaurant at the golf course is usually much less crowded than the Moraine Avenue location. For breakfast, I like Notchtop.

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Estes Park
Estes Park
Colorado
Windsor, Colorado
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for Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park
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4. Re: Plan My Trip!!

Highway 6 through Clear Creek Canyon is rather curvy but I like traveling along beside Clear Creek. If you would prefer the less winding route along Golden Gate Canyon Road, here is that option.

https://goo.gl/maps/7RcCg3K9gkJ2

I will say that another advantage of the Golden Gate Canyon Road route is that you avoid the casinos in Black Hawk.

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Black Hawk
Black Hawk
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5. Re: Plan My Trip!!

Just thinking... if you drive the Peak to Peak you'll be coming through Nederland around lunch time. Stop here for lunch and check out the Carousel of Happiness and/or the mining museum. Both are very interesting. You could pick up sandwiches at The Deli at 8236' (their Reuben is delicious) and have a picnic in Chipeta Park.

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Carousel of Happiness
Carousel of Happiness
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Any Beach
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6. Re: Plan My Trip!!

Great advice and tips from the CO crowd here. Your trip will fly by. Please come back and write a Trip Report. Have fun!

Lake Norman, North...
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7. Re: Plan My Trip!!

Wow, thank you so much! I'll definitely be following all of this advice and I'll report back!

Lake Norman, North...
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8. Re: Plan My Trip!!

Trip Report

We had an amazing trip!!

Day 1.

We arrived at 8am on Thursday morning and quickly made our way to pick up our rental. We rented a small Ford SUV which was perfect for our family of 4. We went straight to Estes Park via the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway. We made stops frequently and were in awe of how gorgeous the mountains were. The fall colors were glorious. Once we arrived in Estes we immediately saw all of the Elk on the golf course. There were tons of people watching them and I got great pictures! After that we made our way to our hotel, the Silver Moon Inn. I would absolutely recommend this hotel, it was fantastic. Later that day we ate at Smokin Dave's and then headed over to Bear Lake. It was after 3 pm and we got to park up close right next to the Trailhead. After leaving Bear Lake we saw tons of Elk in the meadow. Unfortunately, time didn't allow us to explore the town of Estes Park, but from what we saw it was super cute.

Day 2.

We woke up early Friday morning and were entering the RMNP before 8 am. Our first stop was to see Horseshoe Falls. We were the only ones at the Falls and enjoyed taking it all in in the peace and quiet! After that we did most of the major stops along Trail Ridge Road. We were lucky enough to have a Moose walk upon us at the Holzwarth Historic Site. We were walking the trail to the cabins and all of the sudden he was crossing directly in front of us. Wow! All of the stops were beautiful. Some had vast vista views while others were full of colorful trees. Overlooking the Tundra Communities at nearly 12K feet was incredible. After leaving the RMNP we drove around Grand Lake and I think that was the place with the most colorful trees we saw. We didn't stop to eat there because we filled up on snacks.

We arrived in Breckenridge sometime in the late afternoon and checked into the Residence Inn Breckenridge. This is another hotel I would highly recommend. The location was perfect. We walked all over town and didn't have to worry about finding parking near Main Street. There is also The Free Ride that has a stop in front of the hotel. We explored and ate dinner at a quaint Italian restaurant.

Day 3.

We had friends from Denver that came over for a visit. We tried to do a drive, but the road was closed, not sure why. She called it the Quandry Peak drive, but it was near the Boras Pass hiking parking lot. Anyway, we were with them so we made the best of it and ended up driving up and checking out some of the ski resorts and then walked around Main Street and ate lunch at Kenosha Steakhouse. After lunch and out of nowhere it started snowing! We were not expecting that. The snow turned to rain and then back to snow so we made our way back to the hotel to relax. It didn't let up all afternoon/evening. I didn't have a rainy/snowy day plan so our day was over.

Day 4.

We woke up to all of the mountains and slopes completely white and covered in snow. It was so beautiful and unexpected. We walked all around town (again, lol) and got souvenirs for the kids. After we checked out of the hotel we made our way to Vail. There was a great little festival going on in Vail Village and we spent hours exploring and eating our way through the little town. The gondolas were running so we went up at both locations, Vail Village and Lionshead. After spending most of the day there we decided to make our way back to Denver as we had a late flight out. Not long after we got in the car it started raining and rained all the way to the airport. We at dinner and arrived at DEN by 8:30.

Overall, the trip was perfect. We had low expectations as we didn't spend a lot of time planning (as I usually do), but sometimes it nice to just wing it. Many activities were closed which was fine because I don't know how we would have fit it all in. I felt that our days were full and we spent most of them seeing all that the area has to offer. I can see why so many move to the area!

Thanks for all of the help and info! The Tripadvisor community is the best! If only I knew how to add pics!!

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9. Re: Plan My Trip!!

Awesome trip report. Thanks for posting it. You said did not anticipated snow. Did you have snow chain for the car? how was the road condition?

We will be visiting Colorado Oct 7th weekend. We are from Texas and not familiar with driving in snow if something like that happens.

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Colorado
Colorado
United States
Texas
Texas
United States
Windsor, Colorado
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for Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park
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10. Re: Plan My Trip!!

swtravller123, there has not yet been enough snow on most roads in Colorado to create any safety issues. Although it does on occasion snow in Colorado this time of year, road beds are still generally too warm for the snow to accumulate on most roads. It is possible to have some snow and ice on roads or mountain passes that travel over very high elevations. Because of snowy and icy conditions at the higher elevations of Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park between the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake, that road has been temporarily closed off and on since 9/23. Trail Ridge Road is a seasonal road and only open part of the year. Most mountain passes in Colorado are open year round and like other roads in Colorado are plowed and deiced.

You can not put chains on a rental car. Even during winter, most regular passenger vehicles in Colorado do not use chains. Trucks and commercial vehicles are required to carry chains. Having proper tires on a car is important. Colorado has traction laws but it would be very unusual for traction laws to be put in place during the time of your visit. You can check road conditions in Colorado at www.cotrip.org at any time and even see the roads in many locations using the live webcams on the interactive map.

Traction laws

https:/…TractionLaw

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