Estes Park – Eastern Gateway to RMNP

So, we’re heading into Estes Park for dinner. On the way in we were discussing that 1. We thought Jellystone was much closer to town and 2. much flatter based on the pictures. We were wrong on both counts, but it was still a nice park.

If you have never been to Estes Park then you don’t know that it sits at an elevation of 7, 522 feet. If you had been then you would know that because it is plastered all over everything. They are very proud of their elevation there. Jellystone sits at 7, 800 feet, so the drive in was downhill past a beautiful overlook at which we never stopped. We could have stopped, I suppose, but it was always overcrowded with people and from a picture taking standpoint, not very good because you wouldn’t be able to see the actual town in the picture, only the giant rock sign.

We came down the side of a mountain and crossed over Lake Estes, immediately noting several facts – They have a beautiful lake and part of it is bordered by a large dog park, and it is a literal tourist trap. There is one major road that leads through the downtown area. The downtown area is obviously very tightly controlled. Eating choices at this point were quite limited – Subway, McDonald’s, Taco Bell/KFC, or a couple of local restaurants that we knew nothing about. We chose Taco Bell/KFC. Actually I think the kids did, but nobody was complaining at the prospect of a fast, hot meal.

We ate our dinner and then decided that it might be prudent to visit the visitor center across the street. We were originally going to just walk over, but the traffic was pretty heavy, so driving seemed the way to go. When we got in the first thing I heard was, “I havta go to the bathroom!” I was just pleased that we were somewhere that offered a bathroom and not out on some trail in the middle of nowhere, so we went off to locate the bathrooms. Imagine my surprise when we found them and there was a line for the Men’s room! This never happens folks. I was shocked! I was wondering if the lovely town of Estes Park had truly taken the idea of Potty Parity to the extreme and decided to make it so men would have to wait, too. Alas, that was not the case. In fact, a tour group from Japan had stopped in and the very kind leader had cleared out the Men’s Room and stood guard at the door while the ladies used the facilities.  There was a short line in the Ladies room, but I shudder to think how long that line might have been. It worked wonderfully and the guys got in after a short wait. We did too, and when we came back out Mom and Dad went to talk to the lady at the counter.

Obviously, she was very knowledgeable about the area and about the Rock Mountain National Park area closest to Estes. She gave us a map highlighted with places to see and her personally recommended hikes for the kids. We took the info and merrily headed on our way. Noticing that there was a Safeway across the street we thought it a good idea to go and get some supplies, mainly food. We ended up with lots of snacky type stuff since we had no cooler and the fridge on the camper would take 1-1/2 to 2 days to cool down. The prices were fairly high, but I guess when you are the lone grocery store around you can charge what you want, right?

Then it was on to the main entrance of RMNP with a detour at the park visitor center. This was when we had our first taste of life in Estes Park, the Elk jam. Yes folks, when there are elk along the road people stop their cars in the road to gawk and take pictures. Being that it was our first time we kind of did too. This was also the first time that we noticed that the elk prefer to turn their hindquarters toward anyone holding a camera.

After passing through the elk jam we came to the visitor center at the park only to be greeted by a cheery sign announcing that their hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It was 5:15. Lucky us. We headed on into the park, first paying our $20 entrance fee. The great thing about this is that it was for the carload and granted us entrance for 7 days. A real bargain in my opinion!

Here’s Dad outside the visitor center.

We drove around the park eventually finding our way to Bear Lake Road and starting down it. It dead ends into one of my must-hike-this hikes so we wanted to check it out. We got about halfway before deciding that it was taking too long and heading back out of the park via the south entrance at Beaver Meadows. We thought it would be a good idea to get back to the camper and get settled and maybe get an early bedtime since the previous night was not for sleeping and we were all pretty exhausted.

Here’s the camper.

We all settled in for the night at around 9:30 (quiet hours are from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.) and waited for the camp noise to die down. It finally did at 10 when I heard the JS staff going around hushing everyone. We all were asleep shortly after that. Until the rain came through. I was at first convinced that the trees were dropping giant pinecones on the camper, only to later realize that the trees were too far away for that. I then noticed that every movement made on one side of the camper resulted in the entire vehicle bouncing. That was fun. We also discovered that the camper was in fact not level, because we all slid to one side of the mattress, nearly squishing the person at the bottom. One more thing that helps a mother sleep at night – there was no way to lock the door and prevent a certain small boy from just walking out. Goody.

Sunday morning came early….

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