When most people think of Colorado, they think of mountains. The Rocky Mountains are visible from Downtown Denver and provide a handy navigational guide (they’re west). Although Denver sits along the front range and its weather is dominated by the mountains, the city isn’t really in the mountains. Many Denver visitors enjoy a trip into the mountains.
There are numerous choices for a mountain day trip. One popular and fund mountain day trip from Denver is Estes Park. Estes Park is a small community located right near Rocky Mountain National Park. Many park visitors use Estes, as it is known locally, as their base of operations when visiting RMNP, but it is a fun destination all on its own.
Getting to Estes Park from Denver
Estes Park is about an hour and a half drive from Denver. Of course, if you aren’t used to driving the winding, twisting mountain roads, it can take a little longer.
There are basically two ways to drive to Estes. The most common, and shortest, route is to to drive north on I-25 to the Boulder Turnpike (U.S. 36) and then up to Boulder, Colorado. Plenty of visitors enjoy a visit to Boulder, and its a good place to grab a bite to eat if you are hungry on the way up, or on the way down. Stay on Highway 36 (U.S. 36) through town and up to the north. Eventually, you’ll come to a T intersection. Head left through the town of Lyons.
Beware the speed limit in Lyons. Even though this part of town is little more than a single block wide spot in the road, they drop the speed limit on the highway down to 25 MPH and they mean it. There is little for the police here to do other than ticket speeders, so slow down, grit your teeth and remember that Lyons isn’t very big. Head right (north) through town and follow the winding road all the way into Estes Park.
If you prefer a more interstate heavy route, take I-25 all the way north to Loveland and then head west on Highway 34.
What To Do in Estes Park
There isn’t any particular thing you do in Estes Park. Remember, you come here for the beauty of the mountain area. That being said, Estes is a charming little mountain town. While there is a whole residential area on the eastern part of the town, most visitors will want to stick with quaint walking area on the western part of town.
Drive into town on Elkhorn Ave. and find a parking space anywhere. The larger public lots are city owned and free, with no time limit. If you make it up early in the day on the weekend or anytime during the week, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a spot. On busy weekend afternoons, you might have to circle a lot or tow and wait for someone to pull out, but it usually works out well.
The main attraction of Estes park is the line of shops along Elkhorn Avenue. This part of Estes sits on a mountain so that as soon as it ends, your heading up the side. Walking up is west, down is east.
There are plenty of tourist traps in here, along with the requisite “funny” T-shirt shops, but there are plenty of quaint little shops and interesting stores as well. What makes the walk so worthwhile is the eclectic mixture of shops ranging from clothing and rustic furniture and decorations to a handful of Christmas shops (open year round) and other specialty stores. Take your time and duck into any of the shops that pique your interest. Look for the Golden Leaf on the eastern (lower) end of town for a selection of nesting dolls bigger than any you’ve seen not in a place called “Little Russia.”
On your walk down (East) be sure to turn up Riverside Drive at the stop light and head toward the old movie theater. Right before you get there, look for a path that follows the river down the mountain. There are plenty of nice shops back along this way and a nice view of the river and mountainside across it as you go down. Work your way back up (if necessary) on the main Elkhorn road.
Eating in Estes Park
The other reason people loving going up to Estes is the food, but not necessarily the restaurants. Rather, Estes has more than its share of mom and pop sweets stores. You’ll find fresh saltwater taffy, homemade ice cream, multiple kinds of fudge, and more. A personal favorite, called Grandma’s near the west edge of town sells cookies (and more) made into sandwiches with a huge frosting middle. Get the snicker-doodle cookie sandwich.
Staying in Estes Park
There are more hotels and motels in Estes Park than you might imagine. Remember that there aren’t a lot of lodging options in Rocky Mountain National Park and you’ll know why there are plenty of lodging options here.
The most famous (and most expensive) hotel in Estes is the Stanley Hotel. The Stanley is famous for being the place where the Shining movie was filmed, the original one with Jack Nicholson, not the crappy remake. Of course, the hotel was only used for the exterior shots. The inside was filmed at a movie studio lot.
If there isn’t a major event or it isn’t too crowded, you can drive right up to the hotel and park in a visitor lot. Otherwise, you’ll have to hike up. Either way, head inside to the bar and grab a drink to enjoy out on the huge front patio. You’ll get a nice drink, a great view, and wonderful ambiance.
Don’t forget the Denver Zoo has its annual Zoo Lights event in December. The zoo lights up a large portion of its park with Christmas lights of all kinds and an array of animal light sculptures. If you are looking for places to take kids to see Christmas lights in Denver, Zoo Lights should be at the top of your list. You can find more information about Denver Zoo Lights 2011 on the Undefeated Daddy blog along with other useful dad parenting tips.
More Christmas events and attractions coming soon!
The Denver Federal Reserve building is in downtown Denver on 16th Street between Curtis and Arapahoe. The free 16th Street mall shuttle bus passes directly in front of the Federal Reserve, a large gray stone building with a wrought iron fence surrounding it. Until recently, the only way members of the public could see inside the Federal Reserve in Denver was as part of an official tour group. Now, the downtown Denver Fed bank offers a new Denver tourist attraction called the Money Museum.
Unlike tours of the Denver Mint or the main Federal Reserve building, no reservations are required for the Money Museum in the Denver Federal Reserve Bank. (Tours of the Federal Reserve building require reservations made at least two weeks in advance.) The Money Museum hours are open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for banking holidays.
Admission to the Money Museum is free. People older than 18 have to provide a photo ID for admission.
Highlights of the Money Museum include a display of $30 million in cash, displays of historical U.S. currency, various interactive exhibits and a station where you can design your own money. Visitors to the Money Museum also receive a bag of actual U.S. dollar bills that has been shredded by the bank because it is no longer fit for circulation.
With its location right downtown, the Denver Money Museum makes a great stop not only for travelers sightseeing in Denver, but also for people attending events at the Denver Convention Center, or just for people who work downtown on their lunch hour. There is no public parking for the Money Museum, so you’ll need to grab a parking meter or park in a parking lot or parking garage downtown.
If you are looking for information about the Denver Federal Reserve Bank online, you’ll find it under the Kansas City Fed’s website. The Denver bank is a branch of the Kansas City Federal Reserve.
Although, it also has to do with money, the Denver Mint is a different organization and not directly connected with the Federal Reserve. You can find information about touring the Denver Mint at the the United States Mint website. Note that tours of the Denver Mint do require tickets which can be purchased in advanced. Standby tickets can be picked up starting at 7:30 a.m. at the mint. Tours there are free as well, but you generally cannot just show up and walk in because the tours sell out in advance.
Be sure to hop on the free 16th Street Shuttle bus and have lunch or dinner at one of the many great restaurants in the downtown Denver.
Colorado is world famous for its natural beauty, and there are TONS of fun things to do in Denver that are artistic, scenic, or historic, but sometimes, what you’re really looking for is a big ball of man-made fun.
Boondocks in the northern Denver Metro area is a family amusement park with go carts, bumper boats, video games, and miniature golf all in one location. Unlike Denver’s indoor amusement park, Funtastic Fun, most of the good stuff at Boondocks is outside, but with 300 days of sunshine per year, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
There are some really great things to like about Boondocks, especially for families with children looking for a way to have a good time for the whole family, including Mom and Dad, and not just by watching the kiddos have fun either.
The first thing about Boondocks that makes it a fun place to go in the Denver area for families is that it has go-carts. Of course, lots of place have go karts. What makes Boondocks fun for family groups is that it has different types of go carts. There are little kiddie go carts that the kids can drive on their own. They go slower around a small track, but that is no downside to a four-year old who gets to drive their own go cart all by themselves!
Of course, slow moving go carts are only so much fun for children and their parents. What would be really fun would be if parents and kids could go on a go cart together around the regular full-speed track.
Can I get an amen?
Boondocks has two-seater go carts for adults and kids to ride together. They go out on the regular track with the regular go carts, so if you have one child who is old enough to drive a full-sized go cart by themselves, but another kid who isn’t big enough to steer a go kart on their own, they can still go out and race together with Mom or Dad in the driver’s seat.
If Go Carts aren’t your thing, there is other fun stuff to do at Boondocks. During the warmer summer months, they have two-person boats, perfect for parent with child, that not only motor around the little water lagoon, they also have water guns on the front that you can use to squirt other riders with.
Unfortunately, there is not a no-squirt zone, so you just have to get over it and get a little wet, or skip this ride.
One important boat ride squirt tip: Don’t just pick your favorite color boat. Watch the other riders and note which boats have a squirter that fires on a low trajectory. Nothing is worse that being squeezed up against another boat getting soaked while your water jet fires harmlessly over their head!
The miniature golf course at Boondocks gets a mixed review. While the two full-length 18-hole putt-putt golf courses give you plenty of play and plenty of length, they actually get pretty boring after a while. Its seems that Boondocks decided that windmills and waterfalls and all the things that make mini-golf great are best looked at instead of played on.
The windmill that you see from the I-25 highway is indeed part of the mini-golf course, but it doesn’t have anything to do with it. You don’t hit a ball past the spinning blades, or even bank a shot off of its sides. In fact, there are no tricks to Boondocks putt-putt course. It’s just AstroTurf with a spot to put your ball down and then a hole. Sometimes there is a curve or a little hill, sometimes not, but there isn’t ever anything unique or interactive.
If you remember the days of jumping your ball over water ramps, or a swinging cowboy arm going back and forth in front of the hole, save your money for a different miniature golf course. If you just want to putt the ball without any challenges or distractions, Boondocks mini-golf is for you.
Inside Boondocks is a decent collection of video games. They aren’t cheap and the cavernous room is really loud with the games turned up so you can hear them and the music turned open so you can hear it over the games. Don’t expect Grandma or Grandpa to hang out here and Mom and Dad probably won’t be huge fans either unless they find a fun game to play.
In all, Boondocks gets recommended for what it has outside.