Taking a four year old to Estes Park area this summer. Recommendations for activities, places to stay?
I was just looking at photos from a few years back when we took 2 grandkids to Estes Park. We stayed in a cabin. The most fun the kids had, I think, was sitting by the cabin playing under the pine trees in the dirt with pine cones, pine needles, twigs, rocks, and a couple of sets of plastic cowboys & animals we bought for a few dollars at a gift shop.
Get the book "Who Pooped in the Park" and a book of animal tracks and take walks looking for signs of animals. Get up really early, pack a picnic breakfast, and take a drive into Rocky Mtn Natl Park for wildlife spotting. YMCA of the Rockies has lots of family activities. Take a "hike" around Lake Estes or another of the scenic walks in town. Rent a paddle boat at Lake Estes Marina.
Since hiking with a 4 year old will most likely be very limited, you might want to consider staying closer to the west side of RMNP in the less crowded town of Grand Lake.
Take a boat tour of Grand Lake with Headwaters Marina.
An easy daytrip from Grand County is the Georgetown Loop Railroad and Everett Mine Tour.
Four year olds can even enjoy a rafting (more of a scenic float) trip on the Upper Colorado River out of Kremmling.
Assuming you are up for the ride with the 4 year old, the Winter Park Resort Alpine Slide is great fun. A scenic chairlift ride is part of the Alpine Slide adventure.
There are plenty of activities to enjoy in the Grand County area and you will not have to deal with the traffic and crowds in Estes Park or on the east side of RMNP.
We did Estes Park & RMNP last summer with our 4 yr old, so here's what I would suggest based on what he enjoyed most. The Alluvial Fan - climbing huge rocks and wading in cold water, a picnic anywhere, driving the park or town at dusk and looking for wildlife - particularly elk around Horseshoe Park, hiking - he made it to Emerald Lake (& loved it), BUT it was a challenge... Dream is probably more reasonable, Sprague Lake (we saw a moose), Jr. Ranger Program at Hidden Valley, Horseback Riding - Sombrero Stables in EP will take 4 yr olds., Aerial Tram, driving through Big Thompson Canyon & look for Wildlife - Big Horn Sheep, candy & ice cream stores downtown, Antonio's Pizza, Cinnamon Rolls at Notchtop, Rock Store near Coffee on the Rocks!! Have FUN!!!
If you are going to stick with your plan of visiting the more busy and crowded east side of RMNP and Estes Park, know that the crowds are already there. Rangers have been posting about the crowds on Twitter commenting that RMNP has been very busy between 9 am and 3 pm. They have had to close both Wild Basin Road and Bear Lake Road to vehicle traffic several times because traffic exceeded road capacity. Heed the advice of rangers about adjusting your plans to help with the crowds.
If this is your first trip to RMNP, you must hit the east side. I've been going to Estes/Rocky in the summer for over 20 years and crowds have NEVER been an issue for me. They really are nothing to be concerned about as long as you hike EARLY.
That means you need to hit the trailhead by 7am. That may sound early, but it really isn't. Especially if you're coming from the east, with the time change and higher altitude you're gonna be up and at'em early in the morning. Hiking earlier avoids crowds, ensures adequate parking, avoids the sun and heat later in the day (it can get into the 80s in peak summer and the sun can quickly give you a nasty sunburn at altitude), and also gets you off the trail before the frequent afternoon thunderstorms. This also allows you take your time on the trail, which is very important for your little one. Be sure to keep your child hydrated and wearing a hat!
I would appreciate you returning to update this thread on whether you found the crowds to be an issue - I highly doubt you will.
Best "hikes" for the little one: scrambling around the Alluvial Fan, circling around Bear Lake and maybe hiking as far as Dream Lake (gorgeous) from the Bear Lake TH, hiking to Alberta Falls from Glacier Gorge TH, taking an easy stroll around Sprague or Lily Lakes. And if you're feeling a bit more adventurous, head 30 minutes south of Estes to the Wild Basin entrance, where you will LOVE the hike to Calypso Cascades. The drive south also takes you past a stunning view of Longs Peak and the Church on the Rock.
When I have family visit me and we go to Estes Park and RMNP, the crowds are a problem. While I don't mind getting up and into RMNP by 7 am or before, some of my family members consider getting up and out by 7 am as not their idea of a vacation. Apparently, there are plenty of people who feel the same way as my family members which is why RMNP is crowded and busy between the hours of 9 am and 3 pm.
Especially the last few years, I encourage my family and friends to visit other less crowded areas of Colorado during the peak summer season and I join them.Edited: 05 June 2018, 03:19
If you don’t want to get up early then, as you mentioned, go in the late afternoon / early evening. Either way, you will avoid the crowds and have a great time.
I typically do both, but I love to hike!