Family Weekend Getaway in Rocky Mountain National Park
1Start your getaway with a birds' eye view of the area from the Estes Park Aerial Tramway. Open daily from May to September, the tram runs from town to the top of Prospect Mountain, climbing 1,100 feet in less than five minutes. From the observation deck on top, visitors overlook the city of Estes Park and enjoy sweeping views of Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, and the Continental Divide.
2Dine beside the Big Thompson River at Poppy's Pizza and Grill in downtown Estes Park. On summer evenings, the patio is jam-packed with local families and visitors enjoying homemade pizzas, salads, and sandwiches. Owners Rob and Julie Pieper have a special affection for craft beers and offer more than 100 international brews, including many from the region. Tip: the hand-cut onion rings are a must-try.
3Rocky Mountain National Park's Night Sky Program kicks off between 8:00 pm and 8:30 pm every Friday night in the summer. Meeting points alternate between the Upper Beaver Meadows Trailhead and the Estes Park Memorial Observatory. Park rangers and local astronomers lead free 30- to 90-minute sessions observing constellations, the moon, and the Milky Way. Bring a flashlight and binoculars, if you have them.
1Get acquainted with Rocky Mountain National Park at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, located three miles from town and open daily at 8:00 am. The center is a National Historic Landmark, designed by the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. Inside, study a giant relief map of the park and watch a 20-minute video of the park's natural features and ecosystems (including the plants and animals you can expect to see in each). Park rangers are on hand to answer questions and offer suggestions, and a well-stocked gift shop sells books and mementos.
2Trail Ridge Road, a 48-mile byway through Rocky Mountain National Park, is arguably one of the most scenic drives in the country with 360-degree mountain views, wildflower meadows, and wildlife galore. Starting in Estes Park, the road ascends 4,000 feet in the first few minutes. If you're short on time, plan to drive only the first 16 miles to the Alpine Visitor Center, which takes you well above treeline to nearly 12,000 feet, and affords multiple picture-perfect vistas.
3Head back into town for lunch at Nepal's Cafe (184 E. Elkhorn Avenue). The small eatery is hard to find, tucked away behind the Subway on the main drag, but the $9.95 lunch buffet is worth the effort. The Asian-style food is every bit as delicious as you'd expect from an authentic family-owned restaurant, and the buffet lets you try a little bit of everything, from the Chicken Tikka Masala to the Nepal Curry.
4Leave some time to peruse Elkhorn Avenue, Estes Park's main road and shopping district. The typical t-shirt shops and souvenir stands are interspersed with notable galleries, home furnishing boutiques, and local arts and crafts. Be sure to visit Earthwood Artisans, representing more than 240 jewelers, painters, woodworkers, and sculptors, and Mountain Blown Glass, whose on-site artists create glass vases as you watch.
5Mosey on over to Jackson Stables located at the YMCA of the Rockies for a cowboy-led trail ride in Rocky Mountain National Park. Long-time Estes Park residents Allen and Julie Jackson oversee the everyday operations of the stable, with some 130 horses in their care. The one-hour ride is suitable for first-timers and children, following mellow terrain along Glacier Creek to the scenic Dorsey Lake area.
6No trip to Estes Park is complete without dinner at Cascades Restaurant, perched on a hillside above town in the iconic 104-year-old Stanley Hotel. Start with aperitifs (handcrafted cocktails for the adults, Shirley Temples for the kids) on the front veranda, soaking in the views and the late afternoon sunlight. Cascades is best known for their Colorado Angus steaks (choose from three different cuts), but the local striped bass, prepared with braised fennel and roasted tomato, is hard to pass up.
7Linger at the Stanley after dinner for ghost stories ($5 for guests, $7 for non-guests). Gather at 8:00 pm in the hotel's library, where you'll sit around the fireplace with the lights out and hear some of the many ghost stories about the hotel (including how it inspired Stephen King's The Shining) and the town of Estes Park. The session lasts 45-60 minutes and is geared toward families, with milk and cookies, and fun, creepy stories for all ages.
1One of Rocky Mountain National Park's most beautiful hikes also happens to be its easiest, making it accessible for youngsters. The Bear Lake hike is a 0.6-mile loop in the heart of the park that circumnavigates a crystal clear subalpine lake set beneath Hallett Peak and the Continental Divide. Interpretive placards along the path help visitors name the ample flora and fauna. Get there before 10:00 am, when the large parking lot at the end of Bear Lake Road usually fills.
2Learn about the founding of Rocky Mountain National Park and the history of the area, from the Ice Age up to today, at the Estes Park Museum on 4th Street. Open on weekends year-round, and daily in the summer, the museum is free for everyone. Browse the museum's ever-changing exhibits, including pioneer and Native American artifacts, or take a self-guided walking tour of Estes Park's historic sites.
3Before heading out of town, make a stop at the Snowy Peaks Winery and Tasting Room. In addition to their 20-plus varietals made in Estes Park, they also carry wine from a dozen other Colorado vineyards, many not available out of state. There's a No Wine-ing play zone for the kids, and a robust selection of gourmet treats and food items ranging from cheese to chocolate from Colorado and beyond.