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Stefan Myers | 07.24.2019

Estes Park is one of the crown jewels for adventure in Colorado. This little mountain town of 6,500 becomes a flurry of activity during the months following Memorial Day until late fall. For a good portion of the year, vacationers and adventurers alike from all over the globe descend on Estes Park in search of inspiring views of wildlife, mountains, and endless miles of trails. The lines of vehicles and visitors can quickly fill downtown and spread out over the reaches of Rocky Mountain National Park.

With a little planning and inside information, there are a few adventures you can have while avoiding all the crowds during the peak season in Estes Park. Hint: The best getaways are just outside town.

 

Bikes are not allowed on trails in RMNP, but Hermit Park has plenty of singletrack. Stefan Myers.

Hermit Park Open Space

While the majority of visitors are in rush to get to Estes Park to start their RMNP adventure, there are several smaller places to visit that are overlooked by vacationers. Larimer County has several open space parks and hiking trails open to the public on the way to Estes as well. Just minutes outside town, Hermit Park Open Space is a 1,362-acre wilderness recently acquired by the county in 2008. It’s not only a fantastic stop for hiking, biking, and equestrian, but an amazing place to camp or rent cabins for your stay near Estes Park.

This off-the-radar park has over 8 miles of trails to explore and navigate as you set up base camp for your holiday in Estes. The Limber Pine and Moose Meadows trails provide excellent opportunities to familiarize yourself with sights and sounds of the foothills and surrounding the area. Prime for mountain biking, the flowing, root-filled, and rocky trails provide miles of fast-paced, ear-to-ear-grinning fun. Twist through the rugged landscape high above the meadows of Hermit Park for an incredibly engaging taste of Front Range riding.

 


The homesteads at Homestead Meadows are a relic to a lost time. Stefan Myers.

Homestead Meadows

The areas in and around Estes Park are steeped in the rich history of the first settlers to the area, some building their homesteads as early as 1862. These rugged and adventurous pioneers build their houses and ranches all over the hillsides and meadows of Larimer County. One such area steeped in the history of the land is Homestead Meadows, a fantastic hike that gives you a chance to explore several of these historic structures that still stand. In fact, there’s so much here to see even with an entire day you’d be hard-pressed to find all of the historic houses on the approximately 15-mile trek.

Start either at the south end of Hermit Park Open Space or at the Lion Gulch trailhead just outside of town. The historic ruins here offer a unique glimpse into the past through wildflower-filled meadows, bubbling mountain springs, and along gentle flowing creeks. Some of the cabins here are in complete ruin, while others are still standing, frozen like a time capsules into the past. The buildings at the Irvin Homestead are the most intact, and at least 6 different cabins are spread throughout the meadows here, some with all the household items still sitting on shelves just as they were generations ago. This excellent, out-of-the-way adventure sees little foot traffic, and almost any time of the year you’ll practically have this park to yourself.

 

 


The midnight view from Rainbow Curve is as stunning as it is solitary. Stefan Myers.

Rocky Mountain National Park

A trip to Estes Park wouldn’t be complete without visiting the world-famous Rocky Mountain National Park. There are a few helpful tips that can get you away from all the crowds, even in the peak season. Consider heading to the park at night for some breathtaking stargazing. Although not an official dark-sky destination, most of this park is tucked away deep in the mountains, far enough from civilization that you’ll be able to see the Milky Way with the naked eye and even get a chance to shoot some stunning astrophotography.

Rainbow Curve, one of the most popular overlooks of Estes Park, is often jampacked during all hours of the day, but you’ll have this place to yourself at night for some otherworldly snaps. Whether an amateur or professional photographer, by simply using the widest angle lens, a high ISO, and longer shutter speed, the cloaked landscape will reveal mountains aglow with the light from Estes and brilliant stars enveloping the night sky. Try using the same technique with other overlooks in the park; the results can provide some of the most enviable and unique views of RMNP.

Bonus tips to avoid crowds at RMNP:

  • Hike more than 5 miles down almost any trail. The crowds drop off dramatically the farther you travel.
  • Visiting on the weekdays any time of year will have considerably less traffic than weekends.
  • Travel in the shoulder seasons, i.e. early spring or late fall. Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park are much less busy overall, especially after Labor Day Weekend.
  • Consider driving Old Fall River Road in the peak season. This unique dirt road will take you on a less-traveled path through Rocky Mountain National Park for views most visitors don’t get to experience, and there are several excellent adventures that begin here, such as the CCY Route.

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Estes Park, Colorado is the base camp for amazing adventures in Rocky Mountain National Park and your favorite mountain getaway. Explore the Colorado Rockies. Encounter real wildlife. Whether you are planning a romantic weekend or the family vacation of a lifetime, Estes Park has the eventslodging and activities to create the perfect escape from the everyday. So, go ahead. Start planning today to experience Estes Park tomorrow.

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