Traveling west on highway 34 through “The Sweetheart City” of Loveland, Colorado, we begin making our way into the Big Thompson Canyon. The canyon was a national media focal point on September 12, 2013, when a wave of rushing flood water carrying debris destroyed several mountain communities and hundreds of miles of road. But this particular adventure will bring a smile to your face.
Estes Park, Colorado is located just outside the boundaries of the Rocky Mountain National Park and above the Big Thompson Canyon. The popular summer destination can also be enjoyed tourist-free in winter months as well. It is truly a winter wonderland filled with wildlife and serene settings. We are very fortunate to experience a spring snow that makes for a cozy stay.
Elk in these parts are a permanent fixture to the landscape. The tourists, traffic and everyday life doesn’t seem to bother them much. They hang out In the city park and open areas in and around the town of Estes Park. They migrate down from the mountains after hunting season in search of food. Visitors really don’t want to get too close because they have been to known to charge, especially during mating season.
The side streets in Estes Park seem to disappear over the horizon with every turn. The park, sidewalks and main street are all coated with newly falling snow, which gives us a renowned sense of the holiday season. We pass one of the town’s most historical landmarks. The Park Theater is the oldest operating movie theater in the United States. Its clock tower stiletto shows its early 1900’s design. We find our lodging and settle in for a good nights sleep by the fire place.
The next morning we get up and enjoy an early soak in the lodge’s oversized hot tub. The snow has been showering down all night and is still falling. The walk to the facility is a brisk one, to say the least.
We relax in the hot tub for awhile and enjoy the liquid warmth. However, the trip back to our room is a bit chilling. From here we decide to pack up and spend the rest of the day in Estes Park’s main business district. This is one time of the year where we have the luxury of having all the shops, restaurants and novelty boutiques all to ourselves.
We decide to have lunch before strolling down Main Street. The north end of Estes Park has a small river front park and walkway that provides us a picturesque scene. This small waterway makes its journey through Estes Park, eventually ending up in Lake Estes. We follow the snow covered path to a small cluster of shops that included a bar and grill.
The multi-level mining style center includes a replica of an old fashion waterwheel that operates with the river’s current. The Wapiti is our chosen stop for food and beverage. We enjoy local cuisine and comforting libations before we venture on.
After a great meal and warming up a bit, we head towards Estes Park’s tourist district. All the unique shops like Simply Christmas and The Old Church Shops captures our curiosity with unique store fronts and window displays. During the wintery months the holiday season seems to linger a little longer, especially on days like this (pictured left).
The Old Church Shops give us quite a surprise once we enter the foyer. The shops, stairs, décor and ambience seems surreal. This time of year the town of Estes (known to the locals) is pretty quiet. We have Main Street mostly to ourselves. Browsing was easy and at our own leisure.
We find a woodsy styled shop by the name of Rustic Mountain Charm. It has lots of spirited merchandise that could fill a log home with one-of-a kinds. The slogan shown below right could be taken two ways, I guess. It’s either “Good for business” or the other meaning for “Good Eating!” Oh well, I think it’s kind of cute. I also like the family of bears crawling around the carved out tree. Bears in these parts are frequently seen and when it says “Do Not Feed The Wild Life,” they mean it. That also goes for the deer, elk, moose and all the other creatures who make Colorado’s majestic mountains their home.
One of Estes Park’s older, if not oldest, watering holes is The Wheel. I have spent a few hours in this particular establishment. The Wheel sponsors a lot of charity benefits for this close-knit community. The homey, but rustic hangout is very popular with locals and seasonal visitors alike.
As much as we regret it, it’s time to leave this beautiful mountain community. If you ever have the chance to visit the gorgeous state of Colorado, you have to put Estes Park and the Rocky Mountain National Park on your must-do list. To get more information about this area, go to RockyMountainNationalPark.com and VisitEstesPark.com.
A special thanks to Chuck & Mitzi for making this trip possible.