The surrounding wilderness is just one perk of this drop-dead gorgeous Rockies base camp
Propped up in a 7,500-foot-high valley encompassed by rugged peaks, Estes Park landed a major gig in 1915, when the small community became the gateway to the newly created Rocky Mountain National Park. Nature is the star right now, as the weather turns brisk and the crowds begin to evaporate. Quaking aspens change to gold, and elk are known to stop traffic. Even in town—where welcoming eateries, fashion-forward shops, and groovy taprooms are popping up—the views are pretty jaw-dropping. Just don’t expect this place to turn into Aspen anytime soon. The locals are mighty protective of their dreamy, lo-fi wonderland, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
9 A.M. Get the lowdown on untapped trails (and pick up a Shinola notebook) at Inkwell & Brew (), a stationery shop and cafe where early risers congregate over cortados and flaky pastries.
10 A.M. For today, skip the national park lines in favor of Lily Mountain Trailhead () on State 7. The nearly 4-mile out-and-back jaunt is a moderate hike that rewards you with an epic panorama at almost 9,800 feet.
1 P.M. For lunch, find one of the food trucks that frequent Estes’ breweries. Rations () brings tricked-out grilled cheese and meaty sandwiches to Lumpy Ridge Brewing Co. () on many weekends. Most other days, you’ll find Crêpetopia (970/786-5912) and its savory crêpes at Rock Cut Brewing Company ().
2:30 P.M. Amid downtown’s taffy stores and gift shops, newer arrivals are raising the style game. Get the mountain look at Hyk () with Doughnut’s retro-cool day packs and Mammut’s bright trekking shoes. Then drop into The Grey House () for a hip mountain-themed tee to match.
3:30 P.M. Head five minutes uphill to The Stanley Hotel, where Stephen King got snowed in for a night and emerged with the plot for The Shining. On the 75-minute guided tour ($23; ) of this Georgian revival gem, you’ll hear about the property’s colorful founders and explore its secret tunnels.
6 P.M. Estes has a mighty craft beverage scene, for a town of fewer than 7,000. Get a taste at Elkins Distilling (), sipping whiskeys made from Colorado grains near a crackling fire.
7 P.M. Bird & Jim () breaks from the lineup of comfort-food joints to focus on what’s growing in the Front Range. Try the pan-seared Colorado trout with fresh greens, fingerling potatoes, and harissa.
8:30 P.M. During the Big Band era, The Rock Inn () echoed with jazz. These days, the timber-raftered hall leans toward acoustic sets from local strummers and fingerpickers. Welcome to the new (old) Estes Park.
PERFECT NIGHT Fresh off a 2017 renovation, The Ridgeline Hotel is family-friendly and right on trend: indoor pool, loaner bikes, bunk beds, and free s’mores kits for the fire pits. From $109; .