Rocky Mountain National Park’s eastern gateway community, Estes Park runs right up against the national park in some spots. The main business district lies less than 3 miles from the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center.
With a year round population of about 5,600 people, the town swells during the high season between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Although winter and fall in their own ways are just as beautiful as summertime in the Rockies, June, July, and August are when Estes Park swings into high gear.
With family activities ranging from horseback riding to miniature golf to a giant slide, to aerial gondola rides, this is a city dedicated to entertaining tourists. Numerous restaurants offer anything from burgers and fries to fancy dining, although the atmosphere in most places runs towards very casual. In fact, folks frequently eat as they stroll past the plentiful souvenir shops and t-shirt emporiums. The smell of caramel corn and saltwater taffy float along with the summer crowds.
For a break from the commercial hustle, head out to Stanley Park, southwest of Lake Estes. There, you’ll find ball fields, picnic shelters, a skate park, play areas, and a place to let your dog run and meet other pooches. Boarding kennels offer a hotel for your best friend if you plan to hike on any of the trails in the national park.
Estes Park has the capacity to shelter thousands of people in its lodges, cabins, rental-condominiums, and hotels. Even so, on busy weekends it can be hard to find a room. Contact the Estes Park Visitor Center (800-443-7837; www.VisitEstesPark.com) for guidance about best places to eat with the kids, great family activities, and where to reserve your pillows ahead of time.
The Estes Park Medical Center, located at the base of Prospect Mountain at 555 Prospect Avenue, has 24-hour emergency services and a family medical clinic. Two large grocery stores offer a place to stock up on necessities. For information about Estes Park and services available in the community, contact the Estes Park Visitor Center at 800-443-7837 or www.estesparkcvb.com.
On the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park, the town of Grand Lake and its namesake tarn lie tucked in a notch in the park’s boundary. The city limits run up against Rocky Mountain National Park, and the town is just over a mile from the entrance station.
Although its population is just shy of 450 people, Grand Lake offers a surprising variety of restaurants and lodging options. Here, as in Estes Park, expect a casual atmosphere. A small grocery/convenience store stocks essential foodstuffs and a few camping supplies. Lodging tends to be rustic, with cabins and lodge rooms for rent.
The town is built right up to the shores of Grand Lake, Colorado’s largest natural lake. A huge glacier carved the Kawuneeche Valley to the north of Grand Lake, and the rubble pile it left when it retreated forms the lake’s dam. Fishing and boating are popular summertime activities. For information, contact the chamber of commerce at 800-531-1019 or www.grandlakechamber.com.
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