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Colorado is filled with picturesque mountain towns like Aspen and Breckenridge but many of these once quaint communities have undergone substantial growth and, in the process, lost some of the charm that they once held. Fortunately, that is not the case for Estes Park, a beautiful little mountain town about an hour's drive from Boulder, home of the University of Colorado. Estes Park is just a 90-minute drive from the rapidly expanding capital of Denver. It’s primarily known for being the northeastern gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, but even if you never enter the park, there are plenty of great outdoor adventures and interesting shops to peruse right here in town when you rent an RV.
Undoubtedly the most popular outdoor attraction in the area is the 415-square-mile Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s one of the most visited parks in the national park system, attracting millions of visitors each year. That means the roads can get crowded during the summer months, particularly Trail Ridge Road, the route traversing the park’s northern peaks and the highest road in the national park system. However, the park is huge and if you choose to hike some of the trails on its western side, you might not see anyone for an hour or more.
The Big Thompson River, which runs through Estes Park and flows through a scenic canyon towards Loveland, is another popular outdoor recreation spot. You can rent kayaks in Estes Park and paddle through the canyon, with most of the trip suitable for beginner paddlers. However, when the dam opens at Lake Estes, a torrent of water is released to create expert-only conditions including Class V rapids.
For an adventure closer to town, take a stroll on the Riverwalk in Downtown Estes Park. It runs parallel to the main road, but hugs the Big Thompson River for a little less than a mile before the trail forks and spreads out along the shores of Lake Estes.
The national park’s popularity has led to a number of RV parks and campgrounds popping up close to Estes Park. If you’re looking for lots of amenities, consider a stay at Estes Park KOA; it has full hookups for your Estes Park RV rental, a dog park, and pancake breakfast available on request. There’s even a shuttle to take you around town so you won’t need to worry about finding a parking space for your Estes Park motorhome rental. There’s also the Spruce Lake RV Resort on the highway between town and the national park. They have full hookups for your Estes Park travel trailer rental, a heated pool, mini-golf course, and fly-fishing trips available with reservations.
Another option is to set up camp with your Estes Park RV trailer rental inside Rocky Mountain National Park at Moraine Park or Glacier Basin Campground. These sites are quite popular though, so be sure to reserve them a couple months in advance if you’ll be traveling during peak season. RV sites have electrical hookups and dump stations are available near the entrance of each of the campgrounds.
It should also be noted that the town has very few parking spaces, though there is parking available on the edge of town to reduce congestion. A trolley runs from the parking areas to many points in town and there’s a shuttle that goes into the park.
The first thing to do when you book an RV in Estes Park is to watch for wandering elk. There’s often a herd roaming around town and they have little fear of humans and their vehicles. Cars will stop suddenly for a photo-op, so pay extra attention while driving. Once you’re in town though, take a stroll down its main street, Elkhorn Avenue. There are so many boutique shops, art galleries, and souvenir sellers located here that you could easily spend an entire day going through them. To get a historical perspective of the area, visit the Estes Park Museum. It’s not very big, but packed inside is a wealth of artifacts and information pertaining to the Native American history, pioneer days, and more contemporary issues that the town has faced. There’s even a log cabin on the museum grounds.
Elkhorn Avenue is also full of delicious restaurants serving all types of cuisine, from Colorado beef to Vietnamese and Thai dishes. Also don’t forget to try some craft beer while you’re in Estes Park, as Colorado has one of the highest numbers of craft breweries per capita in the country.
For some truly amazing views, take a ride up on the Estes Park Aerial Tramway, which ascends Prospect Mountain to a height of almost 9,000 feet. If hiking is not your thing, but you still want a bird’s-eye view of the town, this is the way to do it.