We spent several days in the general Estes Park area. We spent a couple of days exploring town and the YMCA of the Rockies (where we stayed) and one day exploring parts of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Our first day in town the group split. Some of our group went white water rafting. There are several outfitters that do day and half day trips from Estes Park. Our group went with Rapid Transit Rafting. We had rafted with them before and had a good experience. There really isn’t anywhere in Estes Park to raft. So it’s about an hour drive to the river. How good the rapids are is going to depend on a lot of factors like what time of year you are there and snow pack for the year. Our group said they had a great time and that the river was running fairly fast but nothing too scary.
The other part of our group (the one’s that say rafting is for the young folk and the one’s watching the kids) explored the Estes Park Tramway. This is located just a little ways outside of town. I would get to the tramway station a little early in the morning if you don’t want to wait in a long line. We were there about 20 minutes after opening (thanks to a wrong turn) and the line wasn’t too long. I think we waited for about four cars to go up the mountain before we boarded. They do really pack people into the cars so keep that in mind. You can bring strollers but I would suggest folding it up and holding baby for the ride to the top.
The tramway does have a fee. Adults were $14 and kids 6-11 were $10. It’s about a ten minute ride to the top of the mountain. Once there you can take in the views and there are some hiking trails. We saw a lot of very fat chipmunks (or maybe some type of ground squirrels). The lady working the gift shop mentioned they had a sighting of a bear just before busy season. The kids had a good time climbing over the rocks and checking out how small the town looked down below. There was a gift shop with a small snack bar (there is another gift shop at the base where you buy your tickets), and they did have a smashed penny machine. We spent about an hour looking around the top. We were able to get on the very next car going down the mountain (if two cars are running there is normally only about 5 minutes between cars depending on how fast they are able to load and unload). Overall I think the tickets are a little pricey for what there is to do at the top. It was a fun experience but I’m not sure I’d do it again.
Since our rafting group only did a half day trip, we met back up with them a little after noon and ate lunch. We then had a lot of fun shopping down the main stretch of town. There are lots of great little stores to explore. The Christmas shop was my favorite but I think the kids enjoyed the ice cream shop and candy store more. Parking can be a bit of a problem during the summer. Check out Estes Park’s website for a listing of parking lots (https://www.visitestespark.com/).
We stayed at the YMCA of the Rockies in one of their large family cabins and we spent some time each day exploring the grounds. They have a lot of options some of which are included in your room rate (giant connect four anyone?) and other activities for a fee. Several of my cousins took an archery class and they said they had a lot of fun. We did some hiking around the grounds and saw a few deer. The kids also enjoyed some downtime just playing on the swing sets.
Overall impression: Estes Park has a lot to offer. It could easily be a weeklong destination. It is a very busy town in the summer. Locals I talked to said that if you visit in off-season it’s a completely different and much more relaxed experience.