Colorado | Estes Park & the Rocky Mountains

We made a trip to Estes Park, Colorado for Labor Day weekend and had the most amazing time there. We were there for 4 days and made sure we saw every sunrise and sunset. We even stayed up a little later in the night for some stargazing and it was the most incredible view we’ve ever experienced!

To get to Estes Park, you fly into Denver and then drive about an hour and a half up the mountains to Estes Park. The drive goes by quickly because the view is absolutely gorgeous. Before heading to Estes Park, we thought we could check out a restaurant in Denver first. We decided to visit a newly opened ramen shop called Osaka Ramen. I was a little disappointed with their ramen, but Ryan seemed to like it. Their other dishes like the chicken kara-age and dessert were delicious!

DAY 1 / STANLEY HOTEL

We decided to stay at the Stanley Hotel for all three nights because Ryan is a huge fan of 'The Shining' and this hotel was an inspiration to Steven King for the movie and also used for the TV mini series. The hotel is gorgeous with lots of history and also has tons of ghost stories if you’re interested in hauntings. The hotel offers ghost tours everyday and we definitely had to do a ghost tour, which I’ll get into later.

The Stanley Hotel

The Stanley Hotel

We arrived at The Stanley hotel around check-in time, which was 4pm. There was a gate guard before entering the premises and we immediately felt like we got special treatment as they knew which building we were in after I gave the guard my name. We stayed in a building next to the main building called The Lodge. At first, I was disappointed that we weren't staying in the main building where all the action was, but the receptionist told us that the reason why they have guests stay at The Lodge is because they want their guests to relax and not have to be bothered by the hundreds of tourists that roam around the main building. The guests staying at The Lodge can visit the main building, but guests staying at the main building cannot visit The Lodge. I don't know how we got this VIP lodge, but we felt very lucky after he told us that! The room we stayed in was super tiny; especially since we had to fit a roll-away bed in there with Ryan's sister staying with us, but it didn't bother us too much. We were barely in the room anyway.

After checking out our tiny room, we explored some of the hotel and stopped by the infamous Room 217 that is known to be haunted. Fun, spooky stuff.

The haunted Room 217 at the Stanley Hotel

The haunted Room 217 at the Stanley Hotel

We started getting hungry, so we ate dinner at a cute little burger joint called Baba’s Burgers & Gyros about 5 minutes away from the hotel. The service was wonderful there and the burgers were cheap and good. We were very satisfied. Once we were done with dinner, we went back to the hotel and checked out the infamous bar 'Dumb and Dumber' was shot at. Their drinks were very pricey, but it was fun tasting their specialty drinks like Redrum Punch and experiencing the bar atmosphere.

STANLEY HOTEL ENTRANCE

STANLEY HOTEL ENTRANCE

Finally, at 9pm, it was time for our ghost tour! Now, I don't usually believe in ghosts, but this tour kind of changed my perspective on it. During the tour, we stopped by a room at the concert hall and the guide told us there was a ghost named Lucy who stayed in the room and liked to interact with some guests. We each got a lollipop and were told to hold it in our hands flat across our palm with the stick facing out. Then he told us to call for Lucy and see if she would lift the lollipop. Nothing happened for a good 10 minutes and all of sudden we see a lady next to me staring at her lollipop being lifted at a 45 degree angle from her palm and wiggling. I couldn't believe what I was seeing! I was freaking out inside but trying to stay calm as everyone else acted like it was completely normal! So, after this experience, I now (partially) believe in ghosts. Everyone should do this ghost tour whether you believe in ghosts or not. The guides are entertaining and you get to hear a little history about the hotel. I've been on several cheesy ghost tours and this one was by far the best and not cheesy at all.

DAY 2 / ESTES PARK & ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

We started our morning eating our complimentary breakfast. This was the best part about staying at The Lodge. First of all, their dining area is adorable with rustic chairs, tables and couches. Second, they have a very attentive and friendly staff greeting everyone. And third, their fresh coffee, orange juice and homemade granola and pastries were delicious!! We couldn't believe all this was included in our stay. We made sure to eat their breakfast every morning because it was so amazing.

COMPLIMENTARY BREAKFAST AT THE LODGE

COMPLIMENTARY BREAKFAST AT THE LODGE

At 9am, we headed over to Estes Park Aerial Tramway. We wanted to get there right when they opened before it got too busy. The short ride up is pretty scary (if you’re scared of heights like me), but it goes by pretty fast and the view is incredible. We hiked all the way to the top, which is only about a mile, and on the way, a bunch of curious chipmunks follow you. They were the cutest things! We explored for a couple hours and then headed back down.

ESTES PARK AERIAL TRAMWAY

ESTES PARK AERIAL TRAMWAY

Curious chipmunks

Curious chipmunks

OVERLOOKING ESTES PARK

OVERLOOKING ESTES PARK

At around noon, we headed to Rocky Mountain National Park. We stopped by the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center first and got some information on which trails to visit. The park ranger suggested that we take the free shuttle to the trails since at this time, the crowds were at it’s peak and there was no parking available. We waited for about 20 minutes for the first bus and then we switched to another bus and waited another 10 minutes to get to Bear Lake. The total travel and wait time was probably about an hour. The bus system is great, but if you don’t want to waste time, I would get to these trails early and get a parking spot.

The Bear Lake trail is the most popular trail and has several lakes you can visit: Bear Lake, Nymph Lake, Dream Lake and Emerald Lake. Bear Lake is the easiest to get to, which is right by the trailhead with great views of Hallett Peak.

BEAR LAKE

BEAR LAKE

To get to Nymph Lake, it’s half a mile uphill to a beautiful area full of water lilies. It’s only a half mile, but the climb up is pretty steep and with the high elevation kicking in, I started having a harder time breathing.

NYMPH LAKE

NYMPH LAKE

We climbed up another half mile up to Dream Lake, which was another gorgeous view with mountains, peaceful lake and quiet fishing. We would have gone up to Emerald Lake, but it was almost 4pm and we didn’t want to miss the sunset at the summit, so we started heading back down.

DREAM LAKE

DREAM LAKE

We took the shuttle back to Beaver Meadows Visitor Center and drove up Trail Ridge Road to get to Rock Cut Overlook. The park ranger told us that this was the best spot to view the sunset. The drive up the mountains is a bit scary, but spectacular! Be prepared to dress warm because the temperatures drop 30 degrees with gusty winds when you get to the top. I could barely stand out there with my light sweater and jacket. It was hard to catch my breathe as well since we were at 12,000 feet.

SUNSET AT ROCKCUT OVERLOOK

SUNSET AT ROCKCUT OVERLOOK

After we watched the beautiful sunset, we started heading back down and on the way, saw a herd of elk roaming around Forest Canyon Overlook. These wild animals are so beautiful!

HERD OF ELK AT FOREST CANYON OVERLOOK

HERD OF ELK AT FOREST CANYON OVERLOOK

BIG DADDY ELK

BIG DADDY ELK

That same night, we decided to do some stargazing since the sky was pretty clear and the moon wasn’t that bright. We drove up to Upper Beaver Meadows (another great recommendation by the park ranger) and as soon as we got out of our car, we were overwhelmed with all the stars and saw the Milky Way with our naked eye! It has got to be one of the coolest things we’ve seen in our lives!

STARGAZING AT UPPER BEAVER MEADOWS

STARGAZING AT UPPER BEAVER MEADOWS

DAY 3 / SPRAGUE LAKE & ESTES PARK

The next morning, we woke up at 5:30 to view the sunset at Sprague Lake. We read that there were some elk there, but did not see any. There really wasn’t much wildlife at this lake, but the view was gorgeous. The lake reflects the mountains and the area is very peaceful; especially if you go first thing in the morning.

SUNRISE AT SPRAGUE LAKE

SUNRISE AT SPRAGUE LAKE

Our plan was to do more hikes this day, but since the “easy” hike the day before tired me out quite a bit, I was a little scared to go on the strenuous hikes we were planning. So instead, we spent our time exploring more of Sprague Lake and heading back to Estes Park to have a relaxing lunch at the hotel and then explore the downtown area.

EXPLORING THE DOWNTOWN ARTS & CRAFTS FESTIVAL

EXPLORING THE DOWNTOWN ARTS & CRAFTS FESTIVAL

The downtown area of Estes Park is super cute with charming little shops and gorgeous mountains in the background. It reminded of the town in 'Wayward Pines', just not as terrifying. The downtown area is right below the Stanley Hotel, so we were able to walk and not have to worry about driving, which was a huge bonus because the town was having an Arts and Crafts Festival bringing in thousands of people with lots of traffic. We enjoyed our time walking around and exploring the shops.

Around 5pm, we headed back up to Rock Cut Overlook to view the sunset one last time in Colorado. It was still cold and gorgeous as ever. The herd of elk were still roaming around Forest Canyon Overlook as well, so we were able to see them one last time.

ROCK CUT OVERLOOK SUNSET

ROCK CUT OVERLOOK SUNSET

HERD OF ELK GOING DOWN THE MOUNTAINS

HERD OF ELK GOING DOWN THE MOUNTAINS

DAY 4 / LILY LAKE & FORT COLLINS

Our flight did not leave until 5:30pm, so we were able to view the sunrise at another location before we left Estes Park. We decided on Lily Lake since it was close by. Lily Lake was pretty, but not as gorgeous as Sprague Lake. Nonetheless, we were able to view the colorful sunrise once again. We read online that there were moose spotted by some people, but unfortunately, we did not see any. There was still plenty of wildlife around the lake and my favorite thing to see were the beavers swimming everywhere building their little homes.

SUNRISE AT LILY LAKE

SUNRISE AT LILY LAKE

LILY LAKE

LILY LAKE

After eating the wonderful breakfast at The Lodge one last time, we checked out and headed back down the mountains to stop by Fort Collins and drop off Ryan’s sister, who had just started grad school at Colorado State University. We walked around the charming downtown area and found a great restaurant called Mainline to eat some lunch. We sat up on the rooftop since the weather was gorgeous at 75 degrees and we talked about our great adventures in the mountains as we ate our delicious food.

Finally, it was time to head back to Denver to catch our flight. It was a short trip, but again, we managed to fit in as much as we could and we did everything planned except for that strenuous hike that was scaring me. Maybe after I get my body into shape more, I can try the more challenging hikes next time.