Breckenridge to Estes Park was another lovely day of driving. Exactly why we wanted to spend a month in Colorado, around every corner is another great view! Not to mention great hiking, hot springs, and of course, breweries. Once we reached I70, the traffic was heavy all the way to our turnoff, workers returning to Denver after spending the weekend in the mountains. Once we took the turnoff on Central City Parkway, the traffic died. Unfortunately, so did our sunny weather; by the time we reached Central City, it was raining – bad timing because it looked like a fun town to walk around for an hour or so. Slogging on, the rain cleared up and it was dry the whole way until we reached Estes Park when the skies opened up again. Our only conclusion was that it wasn’t the weather gods’ will that we stop in Central City.
Arrival In Estes Park
When we arrived at Estes Park, we encountered one big traffic jam (which we didn’t remember from our last trip to Estes Park), again Sunday afternoon everyone heading from Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) to Denver for work the next day. Being resourceful and intrepid travelers, see if you can guess what we did. Ding, ding, ding, absolutely right! We proceeded to Estes Park Brewing for lunch and a sampling a few of their ales. Leaving the brew pub, we again found ourselves without cell service in parts of the center of Estes Park, so we found a spot with service and pulled up directions. How did we forget to take our own advice and travel with a paper map? We found WorldMark Estes Park, our new temporary home for the next five days. The unit wasn’t ready, so off we went to stock up on groceries. Again the local Safeway was mobbed, everyone stocking up for the week before heading into work on Monday. New rule: since we are now living the life of leisure (whoops, a little foretelling), if we are in a touristy location, hole up on Sunday afternoon and avoid the crowds. When we finally got to our unit, we scored big again. While the unit was almost as small as our Pagosa Springs unit, we again had a great view, this time of the river. Who knew that rivers were so noisy? But it became our lullaby as we were dozing off to sleep.
Monday was Eclipse day. While Colorado wasn’t a totality site, it was supposed to be about 92% occluded. Unfortunately, clouds started building and the sun wasn’t visible during most of the eclipse. Luckily we had the Weather Channel, so we saw the eclipse from Oregon, Wyoming (Jackson Hole and Casper), Carbondale, Il, Clemson, SC, and on a cruise ship in the Atlantic Ocean. The rest of the afternoon it was raining (a regular occurrence in Colorado in August) so time for Ian to catch up on some last minute work.
Side note: We’re thinking we might just need to plan to be in a prime location for the eclipse in 2024.
With fun and games with celestial bodies over on Tuesday, it was time to get serious about hiking. No excuses anymore. We had survived 9600 ft. elevation, 7600 ft. elevation should be a piece of cake, right? Score 1 for Team Ian and Ann in the altitude battle! Up and out relatively early to tackle an easy/moderate hike in RMNP. We decided on Fern Lake Trail, partial shade and the trail follows a stream, 3.4 miles out and back, 247 ft. elevation gain, to the pool. When we reached the pool, the trail sign said 1.0 mile to the falls – sure, let’s do it! We began climbing and we didn’t stop for the entire mile (actually we did stop to catch our breath). After checking, we found out later it was an additional 400 ft. gain over the last .7 mile to the base of stunning (Yes, worth it!) Fern Lake Falls. BTW, the trailhead is at 8165 ft., and the complete trail all the way to the Fern Lake is 7.6 miles out and back with a total elevation gain of 1400 ft., rated strenuous, probably due to the 600 ft. gain in the last mile between the falls and the lake. At the falls, we met David from Brooklyn who was traveling with his son. Thanks Dave for taking the picture below.
Another day another hike. Wednesday, we hiked Cub Lake Trail, 4.8 miles out and back, starting at 8080 ft. with a 570 ft. elevation gain, rated moderate. It was very interesting that although the two trailheads are only a mile apart, the terrain is very different. Whereas the Fern Lake trail is pines and aspens the whole way, Cub Lake is aspens with wildflowers and open fields at the beginning and lush with ferns as you near the lake. The lake is about half covered with lily pads. Despite the evidence from the 2012 fire, another amazingly beautiful hike!
That evening we went to Smokin Dave’s BBQ and Tap House for dinner. Great food! We’d been there on our first trip to Estes Park. If you go, you will probably have to wait for a table at dinner, but well worth it. The Boulder Brewing Shake Chocolate Porter made a perfect pairing.
Thursday, our last full day in Estes Park, we revisited a drive that we did on our first trip to RMNP: Trail Ridge Road up to the high tundra. We took a short (seemed a lot longer due to the cold, wind, and elevation) half mile high from the highest point at 12183 ft. elevation and didn’t fall down gasping for breath. It was everything we remembered, stunning, and we got to see a marmot, just like on the first trip.
On Friday, we left Estes Park to visit friends who live in Boulder, where we stayed for a couple of days. We had some hours to kill before they were available so (bet you can guess) we stopped in at Avery Brewery for lunch – highly recommend it. We had a great conversation with Tyler, the bartender, who has done two eight month trips, one to South America and one to South East Asia, and he’s building a tiny house. Ian finished work on his last project except for bringing the engineer who is taking over up to speed. So he is on sabbatical now.
Saturday our friends were busy, so we paid a visit to Colorado Springs, a town we’ve been curious about since Forbes rated it as a top place to retire. A couple we met at Joyful Journey who lived there loved it. While Colorado Springs was nice, if we were picking a place in Colorado to spend the summer, Pagosa Springs would still be tops. If we wanted to live along the front range instead of the mountains, we’d pick Boulder (assuming price wasn’t a constraint). We spent some time hiking at Garden of the Gods. It was striking, but hot and very crowded – no real surprise as it was a Saturday in August. We had lunch at Colorado Mountain Brewery and topped it off with ice cream at Josh and John’s, a Colorado Springs tradition. If you are in town, you definitely need to check out Josh and John’s. Good thing we don’t live in Colorado Springs – we don’t think our waistlines could take the damage.
Estes Park Positives
- Farmers Market – A great farmers market on Thursday mornings. It was our last day in town, so we had to restrain ourselves a bit.
- Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. One of our favorite national parks, a special place.
- Nice and warm compared to Breckenridge (which really wasn’t all that cold).
Estes Park Negatives
- Very touristy – Lots of shops selling all manner of trinkets and sweets. The town was mobbed on Sunday; it was better on weekdays. If you visit, we would recommend doing what we did: arrive Sunday afternoon and leave on Friday to mostly avoid the crowds. (And often, accommodations are less expensive on weekdays.)
Our return to Estes Park was everything we remembered, but it was much busier in August than June when we had our last visit.
Next stop: A return to Steamboat Springs and then a new stop, Granby, to explore the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Ian & Ann