Estes Park began earning its reputation as one of the finest resort and vacation destinations in Colorado more than 10,000 years ago. That’s when historians say Ute and Arapaho native Americans began spending their summers in the area.
Located 60 miles northwest of Denver, thousands of vacationers descend upon Estes Park each summer to bask in its beautiful, dry alpine climate. With entrances to Rocky Mountain National Park just 10 minutes to the west and featuring over 300 shops and restaurants in bustling downtown Estes Park, the area entices visitors from across Colorado and the U.S.
The village, situated at an elevation of 7,522 feet above sea level, takes its name from Kentucky-born adventurer Joel Estes, who reportedly moved to the Estes Valley from California in 1859. Legend has it that William Byers, the editor and owner of the Rocky Mountain News, named the village Estes Park in 1864 in honor of his host. Since that time, an assortment of ranchers, businessmen, entrepreneurs and colorful characters have dotted Estes Park’s history.
One of those influential former residents was F.O. Stanley, who guided the construction of the world famous Stanley Hotel. Built in 1909 at a cost of $500,000 by Stanley, co-inventor of the Stanley Steamer automobile, who came to the area from Massachusetts seeking a cure for tuberculosis in the clear mountain air, the hotel is one of the most famous luxury lodgings in the world.
After staying at the Stanley, novelist Stephen King was so inspired by its neo-Georgian styling that he wrote the horror classic “The Shining.” But contrary to legend, the 1980 movie directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Jack Nicholson was not filmed at the Stanley, although parts of the 1997 mini-series version of “The Shining” were filmed at the famed hotel.
The list of “things to do” in this area boasting a 12-month population of 11,000 residents (it swells to an estimated daily count of 50,000 visitors in the summer) is virtually endless (see the “Activities” page).
Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, the crown jewel of the region, should be near the top of any Estes Park vacationer’s to do list. Established as the nation’s 10th national park in 1915, the park covers over 265,000 acres and features Longs Peak, a 14,259-foot mountain that’s a popular destination for mountain climbers. More than three million people visit the park each year, many traversing the famous Trail Ridge Road; the 45-mile route that is the highest, continuous paved road in the U.S., reaching a peak of over 12,000 feet.
Whether it’s hiking, fishing, photographing the abundant wildlife, shopping in downtown Estes Park, staying in a cozy mountain cabin, visiting the Estes Park or MacGregor Ranch Museums, or dining at one of the more than 70 restaurants, this legendary area has something to offer everyone. Shuttle services from Denver International Airport and in and around Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park are available.