Tired of the I-70 gridlock and the masses of people at the ski slopes? Take a breath and escape with your family to Estes Park this spring break. Discover what it feels like to snowshoe across a frozen alpine lake and spot a bull elk forage in a snow-covered meadow. Or join your kids for some old-fashioned fun, sledding down a slope at Hidden Valley.
March is the snowiest month in Rocky Mountain National Park, but the temperatures are mild and the roads are plowed. Best of all, Estes Park’s shops and restaurants are open and less crowded. It’s the perfect time to take advantage of the area’s amazing lodging deals, often with rates 50 percent less than during summer months.
The Animals Come Out
Don’t forget your camera! Photographers know that winter is the ideal time to spot and photograph animals—elk, deer, bighorn sheep, coyotes and, amazingly enough, bobcats. Locals have been spotting more bobcats hunting in their neighborhoods this year. Could they be chasing the wild turkeys that are seen everywhere?
Hiking, Snowshoeing and Sledding
Snow limits hiking at high elevations, but there are many south facing trails that allow hiking year round. One of our favorites is the Gem Lake Trailhead at Lumpy Ridge. Beginning at 8,000 feet elevation, hike two miles to the pristine alpine lake, or make a left at the junction and hike the Black Canyon Trail along the meadow that borders MacGregor Ranch. Look up at the rocks above—The Book, The Pear, Bowels of the Owls, and Sundance Buttress. If you’re lucky, you might hear climbers shouting at each other or spot a red-tailed hawk gliding on the wind currents.
Snowshoeing is gaining in popularity for one simple reason—it’s easy. If you can walk you can snowshoe. Rent snowshoes at one of the many shops in Estes Park and try it for yourself. Popular trails are at Sprague Lake and Bear Lake. Many travel south on Highway 7 to Wild Basin where the snow is deeper and the landscape more wild.
The Park’s Hidden Valley is the ideal location to take the kids sledding or tubing. The former bunny slope of the closed ski area is roped off and provides plenty of thrills and spills for the whole family. A warming hut is open on weekends; heated restrooms are available the rest of the season. Rent your sled or tube at one of the many shops in Estes Park.
If you love downhill skiing, make Estes Park your base camp, avoid the traffic jams on I-70, and drive to the Eldora Mountain Resort near Nederland, only an hour away on the picturesque Peak to Peak Highway.
Ever want to show your kids how to ice fish but didn’t want to freeze your buns off? Stop by Trout Haven Pond and have them provide all the supplies, including bait and a guaranteed catch. They even offer fishing sheds so you can stay warm while you fish. No license needed. The pond is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
While the kids are fishing, rent some skates ($5) and try your ice skating moves on Trout Haven’s 60×30-foot rink. Afterwards warm up with coffee and hot chocolate. If you have your own skates it’s only $3.
Enjoy the Sport of Climbing – Inside
Do you want to introduce your children to the sport of climbing? Stop by the Estes Park Mountain Shop and try one of the finest small gyms in the country. It boasts more than 4,500 feet of climbing terrain that includes a 600 square foot bouldering wall. The routes are changed often so they are great for the beginner as well as the expert.
The shop’s climbing experts will do the belaying while you enjoy the climb. First timers get three climbs for $15. Don’t let the kids have all the fun. Kids as young as two and old as 75 climb their walls.
Restaurants for Every Taste
Estes Park restaurants offer everything from casual to elegant. Try the pizza at Poppy or the Antonio’s hand-tossed, wood-fired pizza in the New York style. If you’re in the mood for the upscale, dress up (in your fanciest jeans) and eat out at the Black Canyon (steak) or the Dunraven Inn (Italian).
Warm up from the Inside Out
After dinner, tuck the kids in with a movie at the lodge and try out the local watering holes. One of the hottest spots for locals and visitors alike is Rock Cut Brewery. Enjoy their Interference IPA—it’s delicious! Wine lovers will want to stop by Snowy Peaks Winery for their handcrafted wine made from Colorado-grown grapes.
If spirits are more to your taste, warm up from the inside out at the Whiskey Warmup March 11 from 1-4 p.m. at the George Hix Riverside Plaza. Sip on selections of Colorado whiskeys from a number of distilleries while you warm your hands at the nearby fire pits. The $50 ticket buys you unlimited samples, a souvenir glass, live entertainment and educational seminars that include food pairings.
Estes Park also boasts two local distilleries—Elkins Distilling Co. and Dancing Pines Distillery.
Ghosts at the Stanley Hotel
Kids love to get scared (just a little bit), so take them to the Stanley Hotel where Stephen King was inspired to write The Shining. Bask in the sun on the expansive front porch with a wonderful view of Longs Peak, or take a ghost tour (if you dare).
Shopping is a Delight
Shopping is a delight during winter in Estes Park. Often you will run into the shop owners at the registers where they have time for to talk about where to go and what to do in town. Take a break at Kind Coffee for a mid-morning coffee, or stop by Macdonald’s Book Shop and say hello to owner Paula Steige, a descendent of the Macdonalds who first opened the shop in 1929. Don’t miss the Taffy Shop where every piece of taffy is made onsite. If you’re lucky you will see owner Mark Igel run his Model K Kiss machine, which has been wrapping individual taffy pieces since 1947.
Estes Park welcomes families, so it is the perfect place for a spring break getaway without the traffic and the crowds. Need a place to stay in Estes Park. Check out our lodging search app on this website. It’s the most comprehensive search app available.
Written by Steve Mitchell