Good news, fellow explorers: wanderlust has a cure, and that cure sits right at the base of Rocky Mountain National Park. The pure, rugged, inspiring beauty of the Rockies is something every human should witness at least once in their lifetime, and Estes Park, Colo. is the peak picturesque mountain town to revive your family’s tree-hugging, nature-loving, adventure-seeking selves.
This is not your average YMCA. As the largest, most rad location in the country, this mountaintop cluster of cabins—complete with wildlife roaming all over the property and daily family-friendly entertainment—will give you the most wonderful experience just outside your door. Featuring cabins with two to 17 bedrooms and direct access to the national park trails, it’s the most convenient vacation foundation you’ve had, no matter your family’s size. A big bonus: kids will love all the programming designed just for them, including outdoor education, wildlife skills and sports.
Indoor walls have nothing on the rush of climbing a real mountain. Adrenaline junkies and beginners alike absolutely should set up a class with the pros at Estes Park Mountain Shop. They’ll teach you best practices, show you the perfect rocks for your skill level and give you expert tips only true mountaineers know.
These fun, funky tours are a great way for visitors of all ages to immerse themselves in the glory of mountainside views. The tour guides are passionate, vibrant and knowledgeable and will show you favorite sites, hidden gems, awe-inspiring waterfalls, wildlife and more. Pro tip: set this tour up for the beginning of your trip, so you have time to go back and explore all your favorite spots.
This will be, no kidding, an entirely perfect morning in the brisk mountain air. If you’ve never fished before, the guides at Kirk’s Flyshop work hard to help you make at least a few catches. And beyond basking in the gorgeousness of a Rocky Mountain canyon for a few truly tranquil hours, the bursting pride your kids will feel after their first catch is a memory better than any souvenir.
This is the hotel where Stephen King was inspired to write “The Shining.” Enough said.
Let’s be real—this is why you came. And after your breath is taken away by your first peak, it’s probably what you’ll do with 75 percent of your time. Luckily, the base of the park has an incredibly diverse array of trails for every age group and skill level. Our recommendation: baby- and toddler-toters should check out Sprague Lake for stroller-friendly pleasantness. Bear Lake and Cub Lake are excellent trails for little feet. Don’t forget to stop by the visitor center to get your kids in the Junior Ranger program—trust us, it’s precious. And if you would rather drive the scenic route than hike it, check out Trail Ridge Road—the highest continuous paved highway in North America.
Taste and be merry at Elkins Distilling Co. and Snowy Peaks Winery
There are a few great local breweries in Estes Park more than worth a visit. But Snowy Peaks Winery is a kid-friendly spot with live music that’s perfect for a little adult time, and Elkins is the new date night hotspot in town. Besides, whiskey and mountains are pretty much the perfect pair.
Perhaps the worst part about living in a big city is the lack of stars. At this sweet observatory, kid will get a neat astronomy lesson, a magnificent view of more stars than they’ve ever seen and a delightful cup of hot chocolate.
Eat & Eat & Eat at …
Notchtop Bakery & Café: The perfect fuel food for a day of activity.
The Egg & I: Healthy, classic breakfast eats.
You Need Pie: Charming spot with scrumptious food and award-winning homemade pie.
Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ: Clearly a local fave, for good reason.
Hunter’s Chophouse: Yummy steakhouse with great happy hour deals.
Ed’s Cantina: Delicious meals in a festive environment.
Poppy’s Pizza & Grill: Relaxing spot with pizza kids will love.
Dunraven Inn: Amazing Italian cuisine with a romantic, date night atmosphere.
Be absolutely sure to set aside an afternoon to explore adorable downtown Estes Park for taffy, fudge, ice cream and souvenirs galore.