My wife and I are city folks from downtown Chicago. We are not the outdoor type, but we wanted to take our 3 dogs out for a summer vacation. A friend of ours recommended Estes Park, and it far exceeded our expectations.
I love photography so I will first share some of my favorite pictures from the trip:
We rented an unit on vrbo that's on the corner of Weist and Elkhorn, basically on main street in downtown Estes Park. It's a studio with king bed, full kitchen, laundry machines, and an amazing shower. The location is AWESOME. We are literally steps away from all the shops in downtown. There's free parking in the back, and we are right next to the Riverwalk. We couldn't ask for more. Just amazing unit.
Since we have 3 dogs, we are limited to trails that are dog friendly. We spent most of our hiking time at Indian Peaks Wilderness, about an hour from Estes Park. On Saturday, we attempted the Mitchell Lake --> Blue Lake trail. It was much harder than we expected. Lots of uphill hiking. It was too much for our little apartment dogs so we turned back half way. We still enjoyed the hike alot, especially crossing a stream on wood logs. On our last day (Tuesday), we did the Long Lake --> Isabelle Lake trail. We were short on time since we had to go back to town to check out of the loft, so we only did the Long Lake part. It was a MUCH easier hike than Mitchell Lake. Mostly flat terrain. We loved the wildflower meadows on the left side of the lake. Both of these trails are very popular so plan to get there early. We woke up at 5:30am and we usually get to the parking lot by 7:30am. There were quite a few cars already there. When we left around 11:30am, the lot was completely full. People had to park very far away and hike back to the trailhead.
On Sunday, we headed to Trail Ridge Road. We were on the road by 7am, and it was GREAT. Barely any cars in front or behind us for most of the trip. We stopped at all the scenic spots on the map and had a blast. Our dogs were able to come out and enjoy the views since most of the spots have parking lots. The driving was fun and reminded us of Road to Hana in Maui. It can get scary if you never drove on the side of mountains before. Just go nice and steady and keep your eyes on the road. I drove up and my wife drove down so we each get to enjoy the views one time. There are plenty of pull off areas for pictures. As we were coming down, we notice most of the parking lots were getting full, so again, going early is highly recommended.
On Monday, we sent the dogs to day care so we can go horseback riding. We booked a 4 hour trip with National Park Gateway Stables. It was a great time, but my thighs and knees were wobbly after the 4 hours. We rode through forests, open plains, up/down mountains, and across streams. We saw wild turkeys and even a small black bear cub. We highly recommend Gateway Stables. After horseback riding and lunch, we went to Alluvial Fan Trail. It was recommended by a fellow TA member, fv1989. He knows EVERYTHING there is to know about Estes Park and RMNP. Thanks again!!!
We were pretty disappointed with the food options at Estes Park. Most of the food options are overpriced and touristy. Pizza, burgers, BBQ, etc. We had decent meals at Egg and I and Village Pizza. On the last day, we decided to just eat ice cream for lunch instead of paying $10 for a crappy burger. But then the ice cream shake costed like $7.00 already...at least it was good.
Fire Fire Fire:
On Saturday, as we were coming back from Indian Peaks Wilderness, we saw black smoke behind Estes Park. When we arrived in downtown, we could smell the smoke from the balcony of our unit. We were a little freaked out at first. We heard all the planes and helicoptors flying above us. We were glued to our laptop, searching for news online about the fire. After 2-3 hours, the news reported the fire is contained and everything is back to normal. Those firefighters really are amazing.