For many women, getting away with “just the girls” means a visit to a spa, beachside resort or Caribbean cruise. But in Estes Park, Colorado, traveling with your closest girlfriends involves a different kind of fun. Think hiking to an alpine lake, refueling with delicious cuisine, relaxing in a classic mountain cabin – and even sampling Colorado wines.
Nestled high above the western plains, along Colorado’s majestic Front Range, the town of Estes Park serves as the base camp to Rocky Mountain National Park. Due to massive flooding this past spring, Estes Park was recently shut off to tourists and Colorado residents alike. With recovery efforts underway, the mountain village is open for business once again. Whether you’re a Colorado native or first-time visitor, this quaint alpine town is the perfect destination for weekend vacation in Colorado.
“Rocky Mountain National Park is the jewel of Colorado,” hiking guide Marlene Borneman tells our group of gals as we set off on our expedition to Gem Lake in the national park. Our hiking group usually rolls solo to conquer the trails, but this weekend we decided to switch things up by taking a guided-tour with Kirks Mountain Adventures. The benefit: gaining insight into the park’s flora and fauna that only someone who has summated all 126 peaks in the park could provide.
On this trip, Marlene led us 3.6 miles round trip across the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead. After climbing just over 900 feet and passing a rock formation that resembles Paul Bunyan’s boot, we reached the sandy shores of Gem Lake. Taking a trip with a guide from Kirk’s Mountain Adventures is handy for hikers at all ability levels. “This summer I had a group of women come out who thought they couldn’t hike,” says Marlene. “After customizing a hike based on their needs and pace, the group came back for more the next day.”
Ready for a homemade dinner and refuel, we then headed to the Twin Owls Steakhouse, situated just north of downtown. The property, built in 1929 as a family home, now offers the quintessential mountain dining experience, complete with a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace and open windows which showcase views of Black Canyon and the surrounding Rocky Mountain National Park.
The menu doesn’t skimp on any category. We chose from made-to-order cut steaks, game, poultry, pork, seafood and sandwiches, including their Colorado specialty, the Lumpy Ridge Elk Kabob’s ($13). Each entree also comes with a suggested wine pairing, just too tempting for our group of girls! It’s easy to see why this charming space is sought after for special events and weddings.
Trading in one fireplace for the next, we headed to our home away from home, the McGregor Mountain Lodge. After warming up with cookies and spiced cider, we were gifted a load of firewood, given directions on lighting a one-match fire (no need for the guys on this trip!) and movies from the well-stocked collection. After revving up the fire, we swapped stories in our PJ’s and settled into our new digs overlooking the Continental Divide and the Fall River.
At sunrise, we were stunned to look out our log cabin window to see an elk looking back at us! Lodge owner Chris Wood later told us the elk was a frequent visitor. Nicknamed Lefty, he bore a battle scar over his left eye, likely from a run in with a mountain lion. He was a very real, and large, reminder that we were truly a guest in his woods.
Chris began work at the McGregor Mountain lodge as a housekeeper. Eight years ago he made the lodge his own after purchasing it and bringing his natural hospitality on board. Chris moved to Estes Park after graduating college with the intent of spending one summer. A mere 18 years later, the spirit and community of Estes is still holding him captive. If you ask him what keeps him here the answer is simple: “It was the lifestyle. I mean look at this,” Chris says pointing to fresh snow on the mountains.
What would a girlfriend getaway be without sipping on some locally crafted wine? It’s even better when they are crafted with Colorado-grown grapes from Palisade and Burlington, Colorado. Erik and Candice Mohr, owners of Snowy Peaks Winery, invited our group in on a day when volunteers and family friends were busy filling, labeling and corking bottles for distribution. We even managed to top off a few bottles ourselves while getting a sneak peek into the assembly line.
The bottling and wine making takes place in the lower level of the winery, which is Erik’s territory. Candy has made the upstairs her own, creating a warm and homey tasting room where grape-loving travelers can sample some of their 20 varietals. Here, you can also find other Colorado-made products including cheeses, jams, chocolates and jellies; the perfect stop if you plan to pack a picnic up to the park.
Erik says he opened up the winery on a whim, which Candy wasn’t always keen on. “I was nervous but there wasn’t any quitting once we started.” she says. “We see people come back year after year. I never expected that.” Erik admits he didn’t have professional training of a winemaker, but with a background in biology he masterfully creates wines that woo thirsty travelers. “I’m still experimenting even after seven years,” says Erik. “It’s a lot of hard work but it’s paying off.”
More than just a weigh station for travelers to Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park is a destination in itself. The views are breathtaking, the wine is overflowing and the food is mouth-watering. Next time you are due for a retreat, grab your girlfriends and head up the winding canyon to Estes Park for an unforgettable weekend escape.
If You Go
Author Bio: Carri Wilbanks is a freelance writer with a focus to inform and inspire others to engage with the world around them. Trekking across Europe and South America unlocked her passion for travel. She now resides in Colorado between trips. Read more about her global adventures at catchcarri.com