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Best route from Denver to Estes Park

Kansas City, Kansas
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Best route from Denver to Estes Park

I've read reviews that suggest different routes for incredible scenery from Denver to Estes Park. I'd like to hear what you all have to say. I'll have my 11 and 12 year old's with me and want them to really experience an awesome summer Colorado vacation! We're staying at Streamside on Fall River and in Denver the first night... Thanks for your help!

Windsor, Colorado
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for Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park
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1. Re: Best route from Denver to Estes Park

This route is Golden Gate Canyon Road to the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway avoiding the casino towns of Central City and Black Hawk.

http://mapq.st/1cav06u

While you are in Estes Park, drive the Big Thompson Canyon, Dam Store, Glen Haven loop.

Travel the Big Thompson Canyon east on U.S. Hwy. 34 from Estes Park. Between mile marker 72 and 73 (closer to 73), look to your upper left for the grumpy old man profile. Look for big horn sheep in the canyon especially near Drake. About 16 miles from Estes, you’ll enter “The Narrows,” a dramatic gorge. At the Dam Store, return west along the same route. Four miles up from the Dam Store, look for Viestenz-Smith Mountain Park on your right across from Round Mountain. There are great views of the river from the paved walkways and bridge. At Drake, turn right onto CR43/Devils Gulch Road and continue through Glen Haven. At the top of the switchbacks is Overlook Point which is aptly named. Devils Gulch Road becomes MacGregor Avenue and returns to Estes Park. In route, you will see on your right the turnoff for the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead. Drive to the trailhead for up close views of these massive rock formations and note the balanced rocks above the trailhead signs from the parking lot. Allow about 2 hours driving time.

Link for this route-

http://goo.gl/maps/YxtNs

About the Estes/Big Thompson Canyon/Glen Haven loop, my 12 year old great niece and her best friend visited this past week. They spent hours wading in the Big Thompson River at Viestenz Smith Park and along the North Fork of the Big Thompson forest service picnic areas. Along the Gem Lake trail at Lumpy Ridge, they climbed and explored many rock formations.

Edited: 27 July 2013, 08:26
Flower Mound, Texas
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2. Re: Best route from Denver to Estes Park

A little history: My grandparents lived in Estes when I was growing up so each year we would drive to visit them from Chicago. The route we used was through the Big Thompson Canyon from Loveland so, for sentimental reasons, I like that route.

That said, I've visited twice with my family as a adult, driving in from Denver. We did the BTC route once and did the Route 36 route from Lyons the other time. The family clearly preferred the BTC route. My boys were 11 and 13 the first time we went and had never been to the mountains. Throughout the drive in the canyon all I heard was "Whoa", "Wow", "Check it out", etc. It is spectacular to say the least. I think that there is something about driving on the planes, then through Loveland, then through the foothills and then into the bottom of the canyon with tons of jagged rocks, all within about 30 minutes, that really knocks one for a loop.

The Peak to Peak Scenic Byway is great as well, no question. It is a little longer than the others so keep that in mind.

maryland
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3. Re: Best route from Denver to Estes Park

Good morning. We're going to rake the route suggested above through Golden and Nederland. Any suggestions on lunch stop along the route or should we wait till we get to EP? Thanks

Windsor, Colorado
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4. Re: Best route from Denver to Estes Park

You can have lunch in Nederland. There are several options like Sundance Cafe and the Deli at 8236.

http://thedeliat8236.com/

sundance-lodge.com/www/index.php…

WI
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for Wisconsin, Colorado Springs
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5. Re: Best route from Denver to Estes Park

I'm sure there are many pretty routes, the Big Thompson route fv suggested was a real hit, gorgeous scenery and wildlife abounding.

Windsor, Colorado
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6. Re: Best route from Denver to Estes Park

I probably drive up Big Thompson Canyon from my home to Estes Park about 30 times a year. It never gets old. Since it is so very easy to see Big Thompson Canyon from Estes Park as part of the short scenic Glen Haven loop trip I described in reply #1, I would choose one of the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway routes either by way of Golden Gate Canyon Road or through Boulder and Boulder Canyon as the route from DIA or Denver. To drive a loop including the Peak to Peak from Estes is a longer trip so it makes more sense to drive the Peak to Peak from Denver and also drive Big Thompson Canyon as a loop from Estes.

Kansas
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7. Re: Best route from Denver to Estes Park

fv1989: Curious if that route would need to be adjusted for Thanksgiving holiday travel. Thank you!

maryland
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8. Re: Best route from Denver to Estes Park

Thank you FV1989! We at lunch in Nederland at the Wild Mountain. We also enjoyed the suggested route from DIA. The only part of the trip that made a few uneasy was when we were almost to Estes Park and descending the curves w/o a rail in a few spots. We are thinking of taking the Glen Haven Loop, but saw the mention of switchbacks, It's a balancing act of not wanting to miss any of the incredible scenery, but at the same time we have a few who do not do well with mountain driving. Is this route ok for the timid mountain drivers?

Windsor, Colorado
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9. Re: Best route from Denver to Estes Park

hickory727, the Estes/Dam Store/Glen Haven loop is very mild from a mountain driving standpoint. There are two consecutive very short but sharp and steep switchbacks just before Overlook Point. There is no dropoff at these switchbacks. They are carved into the side of the canyon/mountain. There is nothing along the route that resembles the drop into the Estes Valley like the one along highway 7 of the Peak to Peak.

Do make sure you travel the loop as described - down Big Thompson Canyon (west to east) and up the North Fork through Glen Haven (east to west). The views along the North Fork traveling from Drake through Glen Haven to Estes Park are much better in that direction. There are picnic tables located along the North Fork of Big Thompson near Glen Haven, beautiful settings so stop for a look even if you do not plan a picnic.

Here is a secret. Along this route, there is an unmarked pulloff on the left hand side of the road that is one of the most beautiful spots you will see. After you turn at Drake, along CR43 further up the road, you will see on the right 2 houses close to the road and close to each other. If I recall, one is pale yellow with a green roof, the other is brown. There is a large curve just past these houses. About 1 1/2 miles further, the river widens and makes a big bend on the left. The curve on the right is cut into gray and white stone. The pulloff is on the left and is a semicircle down by the river, below street level. There is a large boulder and tree right beside the river. I have to stop here each time I go this way to Estes Park. You will see why and people who know about this spot will now disown me for telling folks about it. This is on forest service land.

Windsor, Colorado
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10. Re: Best route from Denver to Estes Park

KansasMamabear, all the various routes to Estes Park are plowed in winter. If it is actively snowing, taking highway 36 from Denver through Boulder and on to Estes Park or I-25 to Loveland and highway 34 through Big Thompson Canyon is a better option.

You can always check road conditions at www.cotrip.org and even view live cameras along the Peak to Peak (at Ward and Lily Lake) and in Big Thompson Canyon.

Another route I usually suggest from DIA (avoid E-470 toll road) is to take highway 36 to Boulder, 119 through Boulder Canyon to Nederland to join the Peak to Peak. There can be heavy traffic around Boulder depending on time of day and the time of the year. Many people want to see Boulder and the Flatirons.