I was really excited to break away from the city and spend some time in Estes Park. The drive in was beautiful and after setting up camp in our RV park near the west side of town we scouted out a place to grab a bite to eat. We were hoping to find something away from the hustle and bustle of the congested downtown area, which we were routed through on our drive in. We found Antonio’s Real New York Pizza, the perfect little spot for dinner right along the Fall River with views of the mountains.
Our RV park had a small, free mini-golf course that sat right on the river. Naturally, we had to play a round after dinner.
Our schedule only allowed us a few days in Estes Park and I knew there was a lot I wanted to see in Rocky Mountain National Park so I booked an all-day jeep tour. Though it was a bit of a splurge, the excursion in a green, open-frame jeeep turned out to be the perfect way to see and lean about the park with an experienced, local guide. The tour also gave Mitch and I both the opportunity to sit back and relax while someone else drove and fought for parking at crowded overlooks and trailheads. We began our journey in Estes Park, traveled into RMNP where we hiked a few short trails to view waterfalls and meadows with flowing streams.
We then headed up the seasonal, one-way Old Fall River Road reaching the Alpine Visitors Center at 11,796 feet elevation. Next our guide took us to the town of Grand Lake for another waterfall hike and lunch. Grand Lake was a cool little town with restaurants, and shops along long wooden boardwalks, and of course, there was a grand lake full of boaters and fishermen.
The ride home took us up to 12,183 feet elevation on the scenic Trail Ridge Road. We learned a lot about Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park from our guide, saw moose, elk, deer, marmots, and a coyote, and made friends with an Italian PhD student named Marco and his father Malbro.
We ventured back into the park one more time to catch a few more hikes. I was really impressed with the accessibility of Rocky Mountain National Park. There are multiple accessible trails, lots of accessible parking, and accessible restrooms. Some of the trails also had signs posted to alert visitors who use wheelchairs of steep grades.
We also spent a day exploring downtown Estes Park via the town’s free shuttle system. Between the five routes that travel throughout the town and a sixth that travels into Rocky Mountain National Park, you can pretty much get to wherever you need to go. The shuttles all have wheelchair lifts and accessible seating areas.
A shuttle stop was right outside the entrance to our RV park so we hopped on and rode to the visitors center where we took a connecting shuttle to the Stanley Hotel. The hotel was built by Freelan Oscar Stanley, inventor of the Stanley Steamer, in 1909. Stanley came to Estes Park after being diagnosed with tuberculosis in his 40’s and advised by doctors to treat the condition with fresh, dry air. Though he was told he wouldn’t live long, Stanley went on to see the ripe age of 91.
The Stanley Hotel is probably best known as the inspiration for the fictional Overlook Hotel from Stephen King’s horror novel, The Shining. The Hollywood production starring Jack Nicholson and directed by Stanley Kubrick was actually filmed at a hotel in Oregon. I learned King was not happy with the film’s location or the way Jack and Wendy were portrayed on the big screen. In an interview, King said “Wendy is really one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film, she’s basically just there to scream and be stupid and that’s not the woman that I wrote about.” He also disapproved of Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Jack as disturbed from the beginning, in contrast the the book where Jack’s descent to madness slowly unfolds. King hated the movie so much he bought back the rights, recast the roles, and shot a miniseries at the Stanley Hotel. I haven’t seen the miniseries yet but now it’s on my list.
The movie Dumb and Dumber was also filmed at the Stanley although the story takes place in Aspen, CO. For a closer look at the Stanely, visitors can take a historic tour during the day or ghost tour at night. Tour admission starts at $20 but visitors can also do as we did and grab a “redrum cherry latte” and stroll the lobby and grounds for free. I spotted accessible parking, elevators, and sidewalks during our visit.
Estes Park is also home to a cool little riverwalk that includes picnic tables, benches, and fun percussion instruments. The riverwalk and downtown area had accessible parking, restrooms, and pathways.
After our stay in Estes Park we traveled to I-70 and drove through the Eisenhower Tunnel, the highest vehicular tunnel in the world at over 11,000 feet in elevation. Some RVers have hyped up this route to be dangerous and deadly while others have reported the drive being one of the most scenic in the country. We drove through cautiously as we always do and thought the drive was pleasant and beautiful.
Also pleasant and beautiful was our quick stay at the Prospector Campground in the White River National Forest. This was our first campsite where we would have no hookups- this means no electricity, sewer, or fresh water. Luckily our home is equipped to handle such situations. We have solar power capable of charging our batteries and running our water pump, lights, and fan. We also have propane gas to run the stove, oven, heater, water heater, and refrigerator. We can carry 45 gallons of fresh water, 45 gallons of water waste, and 45 gallons of toilet waste in our holding tanks. We’ve gone two weeks on 45 gallons of water so we knew that wouldn’t be an issue and fortunately it was cool in the mountains so we didn’t need to run the ac. We ran into trouble with our refrigerator and couldn’t get it running on propane, possibly due to the high altitude. We didn’t have much in the fridge and everything was still cool in the morning. The campground was beautiful at sat high on top of a lake. We had a large campsite spaced far away from neighbors and enjoyed a gorgeous view of the colorful mountains.
The next morning we were headed west to the Colorado National Monument where we would camp overnight at the Saddlehorn Campground. Our campsite backed up to a canyon ledge and had panoramic views of the rock walls and valley below.
The area was beautiful but oh so hot. Too hot. The campsite we were in was also on a steep grade and very far from being level. Being level front to back and side to side is required or else we could damage our trailer. We struggled for 20 minutes trying to get level using two packs of leveling blocks. Just when we were ready to give up, a camping angel appeared and blessed us. A couple in an SUV drove up to the neighboring campsite and offered us their spot. The couple stated they had been camping all week in Utah and booked a nearby hotel because their kids were tried of being out in the heat. Their site had partial shade, was flat, and was much more level than ours. Sweltering in the 100 degree heat, I glad accepted with many “THANK YOUs.” Still, it was a rough night with the temperature cooling to a sticky low of 85 degrees around 2:00 a.m. We tossed and turned without much sleep, but at least we got the refrigerator to work in the lower altitude. When morning came we were ready to hop in the car and leave. On the way out I saw an awesome recycling station- somewhat of a rare sighting in RV parks and campgrounds.
Salt Lake City, here we come!