ESTES PARK, USA. Like most cities throughout the state of Colorado, Estes Park is paradise for any nature lover. There are outdoor activities ranging from fishing trips to ATV tours. It is also the home of the Stanley Hotel, which was the setting of Stephen King’s The Shining (1980), and is full of the Stanley Family’s rich, spooky history. Yet what really attracts visitors to this city is the Rocky Mountain National Park—where the best hiking trails, scenic views, and animal sightings can be found in close proximity.

I visited Rocky Mountain National Park with my family back-to-back years in early July 2011 and July 2012. According to the park’s tourism website, it was founded on January 26, 1915, and is comprised of 415 square miles with over 350 miles of hiking trails. The road through the park, Trail Ridge Road, is the highest paved road in the United States. At its highest point it reaches 12, 183 feet in elevation.

The Loch, Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park, CO

The Loch, Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park, CO

What to do:

If you are an outdoorsy adventurer, there are many challenging hiking trails that lead to outstanding views. I would recommend these three from experience:

  1. The Loch: 2.7 miles with a 940 foot increase in elevation. The final destination is a gorgeous lake framed by snowcapped mountains
  2. Mills Lake: 2.5 miles with a 700 foot increase in elevation. A close second, I enjoyed every minute of this hike and you pass other landmarks along the way
  3. Cub Lake: 2.3 miles with a 540 foot increase in elevation. What starts as a flat trail through a valley quickly inclines and leads to a tranquil lake covered in lily pads
Cub Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park, CO

Cub Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park, CO

For those who wish to enjoy the sights without too much physical exertion I recommend these three activities:

  1. Bear Lake: 0.6 miles with 20 foot increase in elevation. This trail is literally feet away from the parking lot and very easily accessible
  2. Alberta Falls: 0.6 miles with 160 foot increase in elevation. The trail is a little steeper, but still only a short distance and ends at a magnificent waterfall
  3. Drive Trail Ridge Road

Trail Ridge Road is a beautiful, scenic drive. We saw herds of elk in the higher elevations along with big horn sheep and a marmot. It’s a great way to enjoy the mountain views comfortably as you drive, as long as you’re okay with narrow, winding roads! There are multiple resting points as well as fun landmark where the road crosses the Continental Divide.

Elk at the Continental Divide, Rocky Mountain National Park

Elk at the Continental Divide, Rocky Mountain National Park

When to visit:

Since the area receives large amounts of snow, most of the attractions are closed in the winter months. The best time to visit is in the early summer. At this point the snow that blocks the hiking trails at higher altitudes will have melted away. The different species of animals are more abundant and you will most likely see a baby calf or lamb! The park is open from the early morning to late afternoon and one ticket allows you to come and go for the entire day. You should go early if you wish to avoid the crowds.

The Rocky Mountain National Park is truly the staple of Estes Park. If you love the great outdoors, diverse wildlife, or breathtaking mountain views, you can’t go wrong here.