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Grand Lake vs Estes for RMNP

Burlington, Vermont
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Grand Lake vs Estes for RMNP

Hi everyone,

My wife and I will be in CO for a wedding in early September and are looking to tack on a couple extra days somewhere cool close to Denver. We're thinking we'll do some hiking in rocky mtn np. Anyone have thoughts on whether we'd want to base out of grand lake or estes? thanks!

We'd be happy to consider any other towns within a couple hours of Denver as well other than boulder and breck as we've done both plenty.

Windsor, Colorado
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for Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park
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1. Re: Grand Lake vs Estes for RMNP

For hiking, I would choose Estes Park and the eastern side of RMNP.

protrails.com/areas/view/8/0/rocky_mountain_…

On that site, eastern side area trailheads include:

Bear Lake, Bierstadt, Cow Creek, Cub Lake, Deer Ridge, Dunraven, Fern Lake, Glacier Gorge, Lawn Lake, Lily Lake, Longs Peak, Lumpy Ridge, Moraine Park, Sprague Lake, Storm Pass, Twin Sisters, Upper Beaver Meadows and the Wild Basin area

If you know what distances/difficulties/special interests you want in hiking, we can make suggestions.

Be aware of Bear Lake Road Reconstruction and plan to get to those TH's early. www.nps.gov/romo and click on the red alert button.

For lodging options, see www.estesparkcvb.com and check reviews here on TA or tell us what you want in lodging and we can narrow your search.

RMNP and Estes Park are still very popular in September especially on weekends. September averages 200,000 fewer visitors than July. Labor Day weekend is a peak attendance time. The Longs Peak Scottish Irish Highlands Festival is September 6-9 in Estes Park. There are fewer people during the week in early September. Estes Park has many more lodging and dining options than Grand Lake.

Grand Lake is known as the quieter side of RMNP because it gets fewer visitors and is not as developed as Estes Park. There are nice hikes on the western side of RMNP and better chances of seeing moose. The TH's I did not list for the eastern side on the protrails site are for the western side. For lodging in Grand Lake, www.grandlakechamber.com is a good place to start. People have had positive results with www.vrbo.com for both Estes Park and Grand Lake.

To get to Estes from Denver, take the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway. The route to Grand Lake (70/40/34) over Berthoud Pass is very pretty as well.

Edited: 30 July 2012, 22:34
Fort Worth, TX
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2. Re: Grand Lake vs Estes for RMNP

In my 58 years of life I've been to Estes Park many many times since childhood. Stay in EP. You will be so glad you made that decision.

Denver, Colorado
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3. Re: Grand Lake vs Estes for RMNP

If you haven't stayed in Estes Park before, you should definitely do that. It's closer to Denver, and the town has nice shops and restaurants - a nice main street to walk down too. It's a nice,short drive into RMNP from Estes (especially if you drive in via Fall River Road), and there is plenty of amazing hiking in the east side of the park (as fv1989 pointed out - excellent recommendations!). You definitely won't regret staying in Estes.

Illinois
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4. Re: Grand Lake vs Estes for RMNP

I really like Grand Lake. It's nowhere near as crowded as Estes and I think the town has nicer shops and restaurants than what we found on Estes' main drag. Also just a minute from the entrance to the park and lots of wildlife on the west side-we saw an average of 10 moose a day without looking too hard. Estes is closer to the more popular hikes but there are plenty of decent hikes on the west side, or it's not that far a drive over to the east side. I think the idea situation would be to split your time between the two-that's likely what we would do next time we return.

Edited: 01 August 2012, 18:50
Windsor, Colorado
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for Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park
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5. Re: Grand Lake vs Estes for RMNP

Librarychick, with only a "couple of extra days," I do not think splitting their time is a good option for this trip. I often suggest people split time between Estes and Grand Lake for longer visits. It is not very convenient to drive back and forth over Trail Ridge Road (at least a 3 hour round trip) to hike both sides of the park from one location.

Regarding the crowds in Estes Park, realize your visit was in July--the busiest month for Estes and RMNP. There are over 200,000 fewer visitors to RMNP in September than in July. Early September, outside of Labor Day weekend, is not nearly as busy in Estes Park. Once elk rut starts to peak (around mid-September), Estes does get busy again--more so on weekends as I said earlier.

Estes Park has good and nicer places to eat, but you are correct that most of them are not in the middle of downtown along Elkhorn Avenue. Reviews here on TA are generally pretty accurate.

Edited: 01 August 2012, 19:35
Windsor, Colorado
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for Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park
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6. Re: Grand Lake vs Estes for RMNP

If you go to the Rocky Mountain National Park forum and click on the restaurant tab at the top, reviews for Estes Park and Grand Lake are combined. This makes it easier to compare.

Illinois
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7. Re: Grand Lake vs Estes for RMNP

I'm not sure why my response required a personalized reply-I was simply stating my opinion, which is that I personally prefer Grand Lake, as I thought the original poster was looking for some opinions and information to help him make his own decision. I also realize July is a busy month. I also realize it's more convenient to stay closer to where you plan to hike but it is also not unreasonable to drive across the park-we did it several times and it sure is a pretty ride back and forth. And if you don't like to drive (we do) then I don't see why splitting your lodging on a short trip makes any less sense than it would on a longer trip. Again, just my opinion-no reply necessary.

Windsor, Colorado
Destination Expert
for Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park
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10,344 posts
129 reviews
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8. Re: Grand Lake vs Estes for RMNP

Most hikers do not want to spend 3 hours round trip driving time to and from their hiking destinations whether it is over beautiful Trail Ridge Road or not. They want to spend their time on the trails. Trail Ridge Road is considered a "do not miss" in RMNP.

The reason I replied to the opinions expressed by librarychick was I felt some of them were not an accurate portrayal of Estes Park and especially of Estes Park in early September. I helped librarychick and family here on the forum when they were planning their recent trip (including suggesting splitting lodging time between Grand Lake and Estes). Because of that and other recent posts, I knew their trip was in July. I also knew they did not lodge in Estes Park. Grand Lake, Estes Park and RMNP are not the same in early September as they are in July. I do not prefer Estes Park, RMNP or Grand Lake in July either. I prefer anytime other than between June 20 and August 20.

While I am the DE for Estes Park and RMNP, I also try to help people with trips to Grand Lake. In my first reply, I pointed out many of the same nice things about Grand Lake that librarychick did.

My comment about not splitting time on a short visit is the result of my personal prejudice. I detest having to change lodging multiple times on the same trip. Newengland, if you would like to split your time, I suggest you stay in Grand Lake first. It is easier and quicker to get to DIA from Estes Park than from Grand Lake.

9. Re: Grand Lake vs Estes for RMNP

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