The husband and I just celebrated our 8th Wedding Anniversary. We did so with a socially distanced hike to Lake Isabelle (masks on trail!) and a night at the historic (but not at all luxurious) Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, CO.
The aforementioned Lake Isabelle, Brainard Lakes Recreation Area
We’re not far from Estes, so it’s a good place for us to take a short trip. As the home of Rocky Mountain National Park, it’s also a legit tourist destination. The park is stunning, creating a ring of peaks surrounding the valley, including the distinctive and imposing Long’s Peak. The park entrance is close to the downtown area, but due to COVID-19 reservations are currently required and some areas are closed. Plan ahead.
That’s me at the visitor’s center past Rainbow Curve on Trail Ridge Road.
If you can get into the park, it is very much worth it. I consider it to be one of the jewels of the national park system. If you are going to hike, plan ahead for sudden weather changes, drink lots of water, and get below tree line if you see a storm rolling in. If you aren’t used to the altitude, know that it will wear you out. Hiking in the Rockies is a world away from most of the rest of the U.S. Sunscreen is essential. Also be aware that the road through the park, Trail Ridge Road, is only open seasonally.
The view from The Stanley is lovely.
Given the cost of rooms at the Stanley, it’s easy to assume that it is a luxury hotel. It is not. When they say historic, they mean it. What they mean by historic, is old. There’s still no air conditioning in the main building. The other options are The Lodge, which is the pet-friendly option, and The Aspire, which is for extended stays. Of the three, only that last option has air conditioning. Do not be fooled by their advertisements of “cool mountain air.” In the summer, it can get quite hot, so be prepared for some discomfort. Also, be prepared for small rooms, over-priced food, late breakfast and check-in, lackluster cleaning efforts, and a hilarious “hedge maze” (note: they are uneven shrubs).
The primary historic building complete with “hedge maze.”
If you are interested in the supposed paranormal aspects of the hotel, plan ahead if you wish to book the “high paranormal activity” rooms as they are in high demand. The hotel definitely plays this up, so I suspect you will pay accordingly. You can also just take a tour, which is probably best. Be aware that masks are required to enter any of the buildings at this time.
Fourth floor hallway in the primary historic building of The Stanley
I’ve stayed at far better Airbnb’s in town. Honestly, I recommend that option, or a cheaper hotel. The Stanley just is not worth the money.
This Comfort Inn came complete with elk.
The downtown strip features many shops and restaurants including a large number of ice cream, candy, and somewhat inexplicably given the location, salt water taffy shops (what salt water?). It’s fun to walk around and some of the food is quite good, though some is just expensive. I’m fond of Indian and Nepalese food, so I enjoyed Himalayan Curry & Kabob. They have nice lunch specials, tasty food, and are slightly off the beaten path.
Old theater complete with fun old film.
If you visit in late summer, the Estes Park Scottish-Irish festival can be a lot of fun, and at this time it is currently going ahead as planned despite the virus. I’m personally avoiding it due to crowds, but it is at least a primarily outdoor event. I hope it survives to future non-pandemic times.
One thing to consider in Estes is internet. Despite being a wealthy town, the internet service can be poor. I have T-Mobile and my phone does not work at all in most places, forcing me to repeatedly seek out wifi passwords. Other providers may be better, but take this into consideration and look for accommodations with free wifi. Note: The Stanley does actually offer this, which is one positive thing.
Estes Park is a beautiful town, within easy reach of Loveland and Boulder, and not too far from Denver. The crowds can be a bit worrisome due to the pandemic, but there’s a mask requirement, not just in the town, but also in the state. The natural beauty of the area is a fine excuse to choose the safer outdoor alternative. We visit here pretty often and recommend you do so, too.