Rocky Mountain National ParkWhere the deer...and elk play!The Stanley HotelIn the mountainsmountain river snaking all the way to boulderEstes ParkAspen near Gilpin County

Families will love:

  • Horseback riding, camping, and rock-climbing
  • Stunning scenery and a dry climate
  • Remnants of the Continental Divide trail

"America the Beautiful's," "Oh, purple mountains' majesty" makes complete sense while driving through the stunning twists and turns of Rocky Mountain National Park. At close to 12,000 feet above sea level, craggy rocks and treeless alpine meadows look lavender against snow-capped peaks.

America's tenth national park with an estimated three million visitors each year ... more
"America the Beautiful's," "Oh, purple mountains' majesty" makes complete sense while driving through the stunning twists and turns of Rocky Mountain National Park. At close to 12,000 feet above sea level, craggy rocks and treeless alpine meadows look lavender against snow-capped peaks.

America's tenth national park with an estimated three million visitors each year can leave you a little breathless, whether it's stunning scenery or the altitude and less oxygen. It's certainly not your typical summer vacation: Picture walls of snow spooling past your mini-van or Hidden Valley snowball fights in June. In late June and throughout July, brilliant wildflowers carpet the meadows. People come to hike and go horseback riding, camping, rock-climbing, bouldering and fly-fishing among mountain lakes and crystal-clear rivers. Keep eyes open for elk, antelope, Rocky Mountain sheep, deer, marmots and pikas.

The dry climate offers a perfect escape from humid summer heat with an average July high of 85 degrees. Evening temperatures can dip below 50 -- perfect for a cozy fire at area lodges or a campfire within the park. Let the kids' imagination wander and go back 10,000 years when the first visitors -- Ute and Arapaho Indian families -- came here for the summer to hunt. Remnants of the trail they used to cross the Continental Divide can still be seen. The so-called Mountain Men -- wanderers in search of beaver pelts and bearskins -- came about 200 years ago, followed by explorers, miners, ranchers and entrepreneurs who helped build the town of Estes Park on the national park's eastern boundary.

If you're not camping in the park, Estes Park is the biggest hub and best bet for accommodations. The town only has a year-round population of 11,000, but can accommodate an estimated 50,000 visitors a day with 125 places to stay, about 75 restaurants and more than 300 shops selling everything from art to T-shirts. A nicely landscaped riverwalk and eight miles of paved pathways are great for shopping and strollers, while museums and summer concerts offer nice diversions.

If you prefer a less-crowded destination and more water sports, Grand Lake sits on the park's western boundary. It has more of a Western village style and claims to have Colorado's deepest and largest natural lake at 500 acres.

It's a stunning 48 miles to get between Grand Lake and Estes Park following Rocky Mountain National Park's Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuously paved highway in North America.

Whether you camp in the park or base yourself in either town, you'll want a minimum of two days to explore -- more is better. Majestic views of purple mountains were meant to be savored rather than gulped.

Written by Lisa Meyers McClintick less

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Frequent Mountain travel, First trip to Rocky Mountains to celebrate 5th Anniversary
by sandrakouns
Reviewed Streamside on Fall River in EstesPark, CO. Trip was everything we had hoped for. The accomadations were close to town but far enough to ... read more
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