After my dad retired, my parents vacationed in Estes Park, Colorado more than fifteen times. The city of Estes Park is the home base for many tourists that visit the Rocky Mountain National Park. My parent’s love of the mountains, the scenery, the trails, the wildlife and just being there, lured them back year after year. Their dream was to have my two sisters, myself, and our families join them for a trip to Estes Park. That dream, after many years, finally became a reality in June 2017.
Tricia and I had visited Estes Park once before, five days only, clearly not enough time to see and absorb the scenery and wildlife experience. There is a lot to do, see and experience in and near Estes Park and the Rocky Mountain National Park. Now, we have the opportunity to return, for 5 more days.
Where is Estes Park, Colorado?
Estes Park is Northwest of Denver. My parents always drove from South Louisiana; 2 full days of driving! For those that want to fly and then rent a car, the Denver International Airport is located approximately 2 hours from Estes Park. No driving to Colorado this time; all flew from South Louisiana to Denver.
Three cabins, Two rental cars, 15 out of 20 family members!
Can you believe it? Two grandparents, 3 children, 5 grandchildren and 5 spouses were able to coordinate, plan and schedule a 7 day vacation together? Unfortunately, we were still missing 1 grandson and his family. As most of us have experienced, life sometimes interrupts plans. But, most of us were together, with two rental cars and cabins on Fall River near the Rocky Mountain National Park entrance. Seeing my mom and dad’s smile, with everyone there, was worth every bit of the planning and scheduling efforts. Their dream comes true.
We’re here, we have 5 fun filled days to go!
We had pre-purchased 15 tickets weeks ago, and made the 2 hour drive from Estes Park to Georgetown to board the Georgetown Loop Railroad at the Devil’s Gate Depot. Riding a narrow gage railroad operated by a steam locomotive is definitely a unique way to travel; especially when riding in an open car, no top. Although, flying ash and cinder can be a nuisance, and irritate eyes, we chose the open car for an unobstructed view of the scenery. We were not disappointed. The scenery was amazing with views of the locomotive and cars, picturesque stream crossings, abandoned mining camps, mountain views and wildlife.
Day 2 –
Off road trail riding is a blast, scenic and exciting. It is an activity that most people can enjoy, and is as safe as your driving skills and speed. Our age group ranges from 12 to 79. Prior to the trip, we had pre-rented UTVs and ATVs through Estes Park ATV Rentals. After signing the release forms, reviewing a safety video, getting sized and assigned 15 helmets at the store, we drove to the trail head at Bunce School Road. We were then provided maps, instructions and assigned to our UTVs and ATVs. The older crowd, me included, took it slow and easy as we traveled the off road trails. Some of the younger crowd, including Tricia, drove at speeds that were faster, which were dependent on trail conditions and driver comfort. Some, drove as if hounds from hell were snapping at their back tires!
Day 3 –
It’s the third day, and we haven’t driven into the National Park, and the entrance is only 2 miles from the cabins! What??? The first two days were fun, but according to all the requests from family members, it’s time to “See the park, look for wildlife, throw snowballs, stop at some scenic overlooks and drive to the Alpine Visitors Center.” So, all of us pile into the 15 seat passenger van, now nicknamed the clown car, due to the visual of how we all look when we start climbing, falling and stepping out of the van. We did see many elk, chipmunks and some marmots. We also stopped at various overlooks throughout the park; seeing beautiful valleys, mountain ranges, quiet and roaring rivers. The highlight of the day was the drive on Trail Ridge Road to the Alpine Visitors Center. At an elevation of 11,798 feet, even in June, there is plenty of snow to stumble in, throw and make snow angels. Since all of us had not seen snow in a long time, some of us had never seen snow, most of the afternoon was spent playing and hiking near the Alpine Visitors Center.
Day 4 –
Hiking, horseback riding were the two new activities for the week. Everyone travelled back into the park, but some went hiking, some went horseback riding, some drove various roads in the park viewing and photographing scenery and wildlife once again.
Hiking is available to all; there is something for everyone. Any age group can find a trail to accommodate their physical capabilities. According to those that hiked the out-and-back trail past Bear Lake at 9,475 feet, to Nymph Lake, then Dream Lake, then Emerald Lake, the scenery was literally and physically breath taking. Keep in mind that any physical activity at 10,000 feet is difficult, especially if your body is used to working at sea level.
The twenty-somethings in our group went horseback riding. Can you say saddle-sore? I know they had a great time; they told us stories of cliff edged trails, green forest, forging streams, bucking horses and unexpected full gallops. Only one of the five had experience riding. The remaining had little to no experience, but the guide at National Park Gateway Stables assisted and made the horseback ride memorable for all.
Day 5 –
It’s the morning of the last day, so soon! This is the wish day; wishing we had more time, wishing we could hike another trail, wishing we could have seen big horn sheep, wishing for…! No one wanted to leave. Not everyone had the opportunity to hike during the week, so we returned to Bear Lake, hiked trails in that area, until the stormy weather started rolling in. %#& – time to return to the cabins and pack!
During the week, photography subjects are everywhere. The mountain scenery is amazing. The quaint mountain towns, old buildings and abandoned mine sites provide unique photos opportunities. The wildlife is everywhere, approachable and varied. All of us had multiple opportunities to photograph various birds, chipmunks, marmots, elk, moose, whitetail deer and mule deer.
It may be difficult to believe, but we were able to plan and schedule activities for 5 days, and satisfy everyone’s wish list. As we packed the van and drove to the airport, there were a lot of discussions about returning, capturing better photos, hiking different trails, taking more time to relax. Although it will be difficult to plan and schedule a similar trip, we will make efforts to return. After all, we have the other family of five that needs to experience the Rocky Mountain National Park.
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