Having earlier this summer spent a week sailing the seas, in August the family decided to take a trip to the mountains. Specifically the town of Estes right outside of Rocky Mountain National Park that encompasses 415 square miles of some of the most beautiful alpine areas imaginable.
Sunday We fly out of Pittsburgh to Denver, Colorado on a very early flight and since Denver is two hours behind Pittsburgh, it’s still morning by the time we arrive. We drive a rental car from Denver to Estes which takes about an hour and a half and get in about mid-day. Everyone was starving so we look around for places to eat and find the Big Horn restaurant which is popular among the local population and it’s easy to see why. They have a fabulous breakfast menu including pecan waffles! We go for a drive in the park and spot a herd of elk before checking into our rental cabin the Buckland, which will be accommodating six of us for the week. That night we go out for dinner and check out the town a bit. Estes appears to be the capital city for salt water taffy and caramel corn. It’s also very dog-friendly as well.
Monday We go for our morning caffeine run and discover Inkwells, an independent coffeehouse right next to Macdonald’s book shop. Inkwells has some of the most scrumptious scones and hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted so I make a point of returning there every day for the rest of the trip and eating outside in the little courtyard area by the river surrounded by flowers. We then go to Rocky Mountain National Park only to learn the caffeine run means we haven’t beaten the crowds. RMNP had 4.5 million visitors in 2016 and from what we see, 2017 might exceed that. There was no parking to be found at Bear Lake or other spots…but we did eventually find a spot at charming Sprague Lake. We took the Shuttle bus from Sprague to Bear Lake and then hiked from Bear Lake to Beirstadt Lake. That night we dine at the Dunraven Inn which has Italian cuisine and offers gluten free options as well.
Tuesday Get up at the crack of dawn to do a nearly six mile hike at Beaver Falls up to the Ute Meadow and back. The wildflowers and views are just gorgeous, but like most hikes in RMNP it’s quite rocky and there is a sharp elevation gain. Feel we’ve earned the right to kick back in the afternoon, relaxing and shopping to celebrate my uncle’s birthday with cake and steaks.
Wednesday Another morning hike. This time to Fern Lake and back which is over 7.5 miles with high altitude and high elevation gain. But it’s a beautiful hike, the Lake is a great payoff, and it all gets the blood moving. We even see wild grouse in a berry patch and on the drive in we stop for a pair of wild turkeys and half a dozen turkey chicks to cross the road. That night we get New York style, wood-fired pizza from Antonio’s.
Thursday Today, we do a two-hour horseback ride through lovely Moraine Park. It’s a smaller group-only about eight horses, though my aunt was still stuck with the worst behaved horse in the stables. But it was very pleasant and well done. Our ride leader pointed out views of the Continental Divide and had us sniff ponderosa bark which actually smells JUST like butterscotch. That night Mexican food and Margaritas!
Friday We check out Alberta Falls and then return to pay pilgrimage to Sprague Lake once more. Our timing couldn’t be better since we get a close-up view of not one but TWO moose! The bigger, older moose is the mom and the younger one just starting to sprout antlers appeared to be an adolescent male. While everyone on the trail gawked at the moose, they paid no attention to the humans whatsoever but concentrated on the important task of eating. That night we go out to Tavern 1929 where the service may be slow, but the food and drink are great and fresh game is part of the menu.
Saturday Check out of our cabin by 10 a.m. Spend a few hours, shopping and sightseeing in town, with of course a last visit to Inkwells before heading back to Denver. It’s a pretty drive and we make sure to get some last longing looks in of the mountains before we fly home.
Top Bigstock Photo: Longs Peak reflection in Bear Lake at dusk, in Rocky Mountain National Park, near Estes Park, Colorado.