Colorado Vacations 
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Your Guide to Visiting Colorado with the Kids

Taking the Kids to the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park

The Victorian spirit of elegance and hospitality still walks the halls at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.

The spooky vibe and beautiful setting make this a great place for a family vacation.  

The Rocky Mountain Columbine,
 Colorado's state flower.

Winter Lodging Options for your Colorado  Ski Trip with the Kids

From rustic cabins to five star resorts, Colorado offers families a variety of choices for tucking the children in.

See our article about the
Best Hotels for a Colorado Christmas Vacation with the Kids.

Hotel Telluride
Photo: Hotel Telluride

Colorado mountains were named for early explorers to the area.

However, Stephen Long never climbed Long's Peak,

and Zebulon Pike never climbed Pikes Peak!

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Rocky Mountain
 National Park

Colorado's most popular National Park offers families many options for adventure:
  • A drive on spectacular Trail Ridge Road 
  • Wildlife viewing in Moraine Park
  • Glacier studies at the Moraine Park Museum
  • Over 360 miles of hiking trails
  • Etc. etc

Plan your family vacation  to Rocky Mountain National Park with our
series of 11 pages of information and inspiration.

Start with our Rocky Mountain National Park Overview

Take a Hike - a Ranger Hike!

Would you like to get a park ranger to take your family on a hike?

In Colorado's national parks, people do it all the time. Stop in at a visitor center to learn when rangers are taking folks to explore the great outdoors.

They will pick the best trails, help you spot wildlife, tell you interesting facts about the land you are looking at, and answer your questions.

For kids and adults alike, ranger hikes are some of the best ways to see Colorado's National Parks.


The Prettiest Places in Colorado

From Mesa Verde's Far View Lodge to Vail Mountain's Eagle's Nest, Colorado is full of great scenic spots to show the kids.

Check out our article about the Prettiest Places in Colorado.

Photo: The  Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado
impresses both kids and their parents with its architecture,
its history, and its hints of otherworldly phenomena.

The Stanley Hotel, dressed in white clapboard and Georgian Revival architecture,  reclines on its hill. With a lordly pose it surveys the Estes Park Valley that spreads below and the jagged Rocky Mountains rising above.  

Truly the image of Victorian gentility, the Stanley has been the standard bearer of hospitality in north-central Colorado since it first hosted families 1909. 

The Setting

About 50 miles northwest of Denver (as the crow flies) two rivers come plunging off the Continental Divide to meet in an open valley. A dam holds their waters back, creating a lake with broad views of mountains all around. 

Grassy meadows surround the lake and spread across the valley. These meadows are dotted with hotels and restaurants and shops. Upstream from the lake, the buildings coalesce into a picturesque main street. This town is Estes Park, and its main street is called Elkhorn Avenue.  

To the north of downtown a hill rises, and layered up the hill are the terraces, balconies, and tower of the Stanley Hotel, looking like so many layers of a white wedding cake trimmed with a red roof.

Turn-of-the-Century inventor and capitalist F.O. Stanley knew what he was doing when he built his hotel. The Stanley Hotel’s placement and orientation insure that it commands a banner view of the town and the high summits beyond. 

The Accommodations

When the Stanley was built, wealthy families traveled a bit differently than most do today. Usually they brought a nanny with them to look after the children, who did not sleep in the same room as their parents. As a result, many of the rooms at the Stanley have just one large bed. (In the old days, the entire fourth floor was reserved for children and their nannies.) 

Since rooms with two beds are somewhat scarce, it is a good idea for families to make reservations ahead of time. Other options are to book a suite or maybe the Presidential Cottage which features multiple bedrooms, bathrooms, and a kitchenette, plus dining and living areas. 

Guest rooms have fresh décor with elegant dark or period-style furniture, pillow-top mattresses, irons and ironing boards, hair dryers, telephones with data ports, free wireless internet access, and large flat-screened televisions.  

Copies of vintage photographs grace the walls of the guest rooms and hallways, showing scenes from the early years of the hotel. We enjoy noticing how the inn has changed through the years, and how much it has remained the same. 

The rooms at the Stanley Hotel are not air conditioned, and this is not a problem. We stayed there in some of the warmest days in August during a record-breaking hot summer. Our third-floor room was very comfortable. However, we did open our large windows wide to capture more of the view and to let in the cool, thin air. At 7,500 feet above sea level, the low-tech air conditioning they have been using for over 100 years still works just fine

The Amenities

Photo: The  grand staircase at the
Stanley Hotel lends an impressive air to the lobby.

The Stanley Hotel is as much a museum as it is an inn. An antique car, the Stanley Steamer, sits in the lobby and greets visitors when they arrive. Additionally, visitors can take tours of the hotel and learn about the history and of the place and the stories that have emerged through the years. 

We decide on the History and Ghost Tour, and learn about the legends of supernatural phenomena that are told and retold in the hotel. My 12-year-old hits it off immediately with the five or six other children on the tour, and they have an exciting time exploring closets said to be inhabited by spooks and capturing images of orbs on their digital cameras. 

My son shows exceptional watchfulness that evening, and at bedtime is startled when I notice that the people in an antique photograph seemed to have moved. "Cut it out, Mom! You're creeping me out!" Nonetheless, he quickly falls asleep in his cushy bed and sleeps well through the night. 

Madam Vera is not a typical hotel amenity, but given the Stanley’s reputation for otherworldly occurrences, she fits right in. Working from a room in the basement of the hotel, the resident psychic will help you find answers to all manner of life’s mysteries. 

The Chrysalis Gift Shop (smelling of leather and decorated with a tasteful collection of antiques, jewelry and clothing) devotes a section to paranormal-related items. Included are photographs of people in period dress in the hotel. In these pictures the people are quite transparent.  

The rest of the gift shop delights visitors with an eclectic mix of glassware, guidebooks, and gift items. The dressing room is so lavishly appointed with ornate mirrors, it makes you want to try something on just so you can go in there. 

Don’t miss the shop’s Kids’ Corner. In homage to the Butterfly Encounter area on the lower level, the Chrysalis Gift Shop has an array of butterfly kites including beautiful monarch and endangered Karner blue varieties. Kids can also find hand puppets, stuffed animals, Rocky Mountain National Park animal cookies (think tasty moose, bear, etc.) and a great selection of picture books. Our favorite was Stanley the Moose, a sweet and humorous tale and a great souvenir.  

In the lower level of the hotel, visitors will find the Butterfly Encounter, a display of hundreds of live butterflies and chrysalises. They are part of a cooperative effort between the students at Estes Park High School and the Stanley Hotel. 

The students aim to educate visitors about the decline of butterflies locally. In addition the project  helps boost the local population. Once a week during the summer, students release the butterflies, and visitors can participate by signing up for a butterfly tour in the office directly across the hall from the display. 

The butterflies are released in the backyard of the hotel, which is also home to a lovely sculpture garden. Here, a waterfall fountain cascades over boulders surrounded by native wildflowers and shrubs. 

Photo Credit: Andrew Wilson
Photo: A bronze bear lounges near the cascade waterfall
in the back yard of the Stanley Hotel.

A broad staircase descends beside the waterfall. Sprinkled throughout the garden, bronze statues of children and woodland animals peek through the foliage. A variety of artists sculpted the figures, each of which appeals to guests in a different way. The pieces and their settings are particularly captivating to children. 

On the south side of the hotel, a large swimming pool invites families to take a dip on warm summer days. But beware, although it is filtered and treated and the pool is sparkling clean, these waters are unheated! If the kids are brave enough to take the arctic plunge (and we saw a fair number who were), don’t expect them to splash around for long. Fortunately, the hotel staff stocks a cabinet full of big, cuddly towels at the west end of the pool.  

Photo: The swimming pool at the Stanley Hotel is pretty, but chilly.

Families looking for sustenance can find an elegant breakfast, lunch, or dinner at the Cascades Restaurant. Large windows look out at the back garden with its waterfall fountain. Woodwork columns and trim give this restaurant a feel of understated gentility. 

The east side garden level of the building houses Steamers Cafe, serving Starbucks coffee, and a selection of pastries. Their smooth, creamy gelato makes a fancy afternoon snack before taking the Ghost Tour. 

In a graceful touch, honoring years of the Stanley’s fine hospitality, waiters still stroll along the front porch asking guests if they would like to order something from the restaurant while they are enjoying the view.  

Concierge services at the Stanley are mostly there to sign visitors up for tours. However, they can recommend restaurants and activities in town and make reservations for them. 

The Lodge at the Stanley Hotel

In the olden days, when all those nannies were staying at the Stanley, the abundance of young women attracted young men to the location. In order to avoid impropriety, F.O. Stanley built a separate building for the single men who desired to be guests at the inn. This large building, situated just to the east of the main structure, was known as The Manor House for years.

In 2010, management completely updated the interior and re-branded The Manor House, naming it The Lodge at the Stanley Hotel. While the main building is busy with ghost tours and sight seers, The Lodge offers guests a boutique hotel experience that is more private and refined than next door.

The public spaces, including a fetching guest lounge, have been restored to the cream and white colors of the early years. They strike a pleasing balance between Early Western and Elegant Victorian motifs. 

Photo: Warmth radiates from The Lodge at the Stanley Hotel
on chilly mountain evenings.

Continental breakfast is included for guests at The Lodge, and for us, it was one of the highlights of our trip.

The breakfast room glows as morning sunshine floods through picture windows and highlights fresh flower bouquets. Two large community tables sport fresh herb centerpieces. Coffee tables by the fireplace and front window have comfy upholstered chairs. The view of Longs Peak holds our attention for a beat before we turn to the buffet.

Photo: Morning light on Longs Peak as seen from in front of the Stanley Hotel.

And What a spread it is - as healthy or decadent as you could choose. A farm-to-table menu means that the offerings are made fresh each day. Danish pastries break in delicate flakes on our plates, and the sticky buns are light, crispy, and faintly sweet. A blueberry/blackberry tart with lemon curd tastes like a song on my tongue, while my son revels in his croissant made with chocolate-hazelnut cream. Little pots of preserves made on the premises are scattered about, inviting guests to taste a lovely variety.

My favorite dish, however, is the home-made granola, filled with almonds, oats, dried fruit, and other yummies. Greek yogurt and fresh berries let you make your own granola parfait - fabulous! 

The Lodge at the Stanley Hotel is an oasis of elegance in what can sometimes be a tacky town, and much of the credit goes to the innkeeper, Midge Knerr. A chef by training, and an accomplished hotelier by experience, this woman has a gift for making guests welcome and anticipating their needs. The recipes for the breakfast delicacies are hers, and she oversees their delivery with consummate skill. 

When Mr. and Mrs. Stanley decided to build “a little guest house” in Estes Park to entertain their visiting friends, their aim was to extend the finest in hospitality in the midst of the rugged Rocky Mountains. They were entirely successful.

In that tradition, the Stanley Hotel still greets visiting families and shows them a wonderful time while they are there. It is worth spending a night or two in the old place - just keep an eye on those people in the antique photos.

For information, call the Stanley Hotel at 800-976-1377 or view their website . 

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