Our journey today took us from Ft Collins down to Loveland and up the Big Thompson Canyon on Highway 34 to Estes Park. From Loveland to Estes Park it is just under 30 miles and most of it is through a curvy canyon road which follows the Big Thompson River. It takes about 40 minutes to drive this beautiful, scenic road in ideal conditions. The scenery is breathtaking with tall granite cliffs and a fast moving river along with fishermen, wildlife, stores, and small cabins and cottages tucked away in the trees. We had a perfect day for driving this but didn’t get a chance to stop at the Dam Store!
It wasn’t long before we entered Estes Park which is a small town of about 6,500 people and is the base for Rocky Mountain National Park. Our original plan, pre-COVID was to spend most of June in Colorado on our way north. We had reservations (made a long time ago) at a campground in Rocky Mountain National Park. When COVID lockdowns began then the parks closed and reservations were cancelled. We reorganized our trip, left later and headed north through Utah instead of Colorado. Then when the Canadian border was still closed we needed to reorganize our trip again and decided to head south through Colorado and frantically tried to get reservations. I could not get any reservations in Rocky Mountain National Park much less anywhere near Estes Park. I tried daily and finally, finally, one day the KOA in Estes Park showed up with one site available for about 5 nights. I grabbed it. Now I knew Rocky Mountain National Park day entrance was reservation only and impossible to get during this time but we thought we would just enjoy Estes Park for the week. More on Rocky Mountain National Park in the next post!
RV Park: KOA Estes Park
Location: Estes Park, Colorado
Site: 12 – back-in with a raised deck
Comments: Even though the park is a typical RV Park on a busy highway (during the day) we thoroughly enjoyed our stay here. We had not realized it but the site that we reserved, which was the only one available, had a deck in the back with a propane fire pit. We ended up spending a lot of time up on that deck. Plus our site was right next to the outdoor cafe and the office which we thought would be loud and disruptive but we actually found it quite enjoyable, especially after being locked down for more than 3 months. We found that we could sit out on the deck, away from other people, yet enjoy the people watching and all the fun everyone was having after being in lockdown mode! Fun! It suited us perfectly at the time as we had not seen that many humans in a long, long, long time!
COVID Awareness: 8 out of 10. I had to go into the office to register (even though we had paid for the online reservation). KOA insists that you come in to get your map, car passes, etc. The employees were wearing masks. There wasn’t any sign regarding number of people allowed in the building (many places say only one allowed at a time) but there were social distancing “circles”. Check-in was quick and easy and they were very polite. They did warn us of a bear that was in the RV Park the night before and had done some damage to customer’s BBQ and how he wasn’t wearing a mask (joke-the mask part). Another customer in the office at the time said the bear was up on his hind legs shaking his (the customer not the bear) car.
The deck was behind our campsite with a short staircase of about 8 or 9 steps. On the deck there were 2 Adirondack chairs and a propane fire pit. Perfect!
We would grab our coffee in the morning and head up to the deck and turn on the fire. We would enjoy happy hour up on the deck and we usually enjoyed our after dinner drinks by the fire and admired the dark skies. Estes Park sits at an elevation at just over 7,500′ so that made the mornings and evenings cool during August and perfect for us to enjoy the fire pit.
And, as is sadly usual for August, there were a number of forest fires in the area which made for some beautiful skies, some blue skies, and some sold grey skies with the sun blocked out. On the morning we left our car and RV were covered in ash. It is sad but it is a reality.
This RV Park had sites in all sizes. There were only 4 sites (a bit short for big rigs) with decks, a number of tight back-in sites real close together, quite a number of pull along sites that were short, a variety of tenting sites, and a number of rental cabins. I think we had one of the best sites there (even though we were close to the main entrance). I guess people spend most of their time at Rocky Mountain National Park so they aren’t at their campsite very much and don’t really care.
At the top of the hill by the rental cabins was a large Adirondack chair which can be used for a photo op! Of course we used it!
The outdoor restaurant was right across from our site and they offered a pancake breakfast every morning and train rides for the kiddies every evening (and any adults who wanted to partake). They were stringent about wiping down each train car between passengers. There was also a play area for kids with small plastic animals. We enjoyed watching all the activity every morning and evening. Again, humans…we haven’t seen them in a long time!!
We had heard about a pizza joint just down the street from the KOA called Antonio’s Pizza. We thought we would try it one night. Yes, it has been forever since we got a take out pizza and have only been out once in over 5 months due to the lock down. We read about their process for ordering and the no contact pickup method of service. So we ordered online and drove there. We waited for a text message and confirmed we were there at which point they text you back with the table the pizza will be on outside and you go grab it. It worked perfectly. AND it was the best pizza we have ever had!!! I am not sure how they are going to do this in the winter with all the snow!!!
The town of Estes Park was hopping in August with the downtown being full of people, a busy Farmer’s Market, and the riding stables next to our RV park seemed pretty busy. It doesn’t look like Estes Park is suffering now during the pandemic, at least not for the summer time.
Estes Lake is a reservoir which is across the street from the KOA and is dammed by the Olympus Dam. It has 4 miles of shoreline, trails, picnic tables, a small marina, and rental boats. It is an easy walk from the RV park and provides a great area to get out and walk around. Masks were in full force even those out boating and walking. Welcome to Colorado, busy, crowded, and masked up!
The Stanley Hotel sits prominently in Estes Park and is the most historic and luxurious hotel in the area. It is known for its old world charm and is named after the inventor Freelan Oscar Stanley who came to the area in 1903 being weak and underweight due to consumption. In just one season his health was back and he vowed to return here every summer for the rest of his life.
Mr. Stanley and his wife, Flora, were used to the high society from the east coast and they wanted Estes Park to have the same so he went and built the Stanley Hotel which opened in 1909 and the rest is history.
The Stanley Hotel is the inspiration for Stephen King’s novel “The Shining” and was also the location for the 1997 TV Mini Series of the same name. Mr. King stayed there in 1974 when the hotel was preparing to shut down for the winter. The experience, his imagination, and his nightmare framed the story for “The Shining”, one of his best selling novels. And, yes, there are some rumors and quite the reputation of paranormal activity occurring there to the point that the Stanley offers guided tours of spaces around the hotel which are especially active!
Next up …. Rocky Mountain National Park! Yes, we secured our reservations!