Wildlife is everywhere

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When I was a kid, family vacation meant one place – the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado. This popular family resort, nestled in the pines near Rocky Mountain National Park, was a one-stop shop for everything a growing family needed.

It had mountain cabins and big lodges with gorgeous views and acres and acres of room to roam. Best of all, it had a full schedule of activities to entertain us.

It was a perfect solution for my parents and seven siblings. In the winter, there was ice skating, roller skating, archery, the craft center, library and much more.  

In the summer, we played putt-putt golf, went hiking, swimming and horseback riding. Many of my favorite childhood memories took place at the YMCA of the Rockies. We even had two huge family reunions at the YMCA.

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My favorite tradition was our annual trip to the YMCA over New Year’s Eve, something we looked forward to all year round. As we grew up and had families of our own, we continued the annual tradition with our extended family.

My parents would book a large cabin (usually a four or five-bedroom), and then we’d add smaller cabins or book rooms in the property’s lodges as needed. The cabins have full kitchens, so each family would take turns cooking and serving a meal at the main cabin.

A New Generation Family Vacation

Estes Park YMCA of the Rockies
Estes Park YMCA of the Rockies. Image courtesy of YMCA of the Rockies

My kids are now grown and my oldest even has a family of her own. While we stopped going to the YMCA for a while when they were in college, we went back again this last New Year’s Eve. The third generation of our family to vacation in this beautiful spot in Estes Park.

All our old favorite activities were still there, only better. The craft store is now a new multi-level facility. My girls and I spent an hour there making earrings.

We also tried archery – and I was still terrible at it – and roller skating. Our cabin was even nicer than I remembered. And those gorgeous views? They were still the same.  

Aerial Challenge Courses

Estes Park ariel course
Challenge yourself at the ariel course. Image courtesy of YMCA of the Rockies

The YMCA of the Rockies continues to grow and add more to its offerings. Guests can now challenge themselves on the brand-new Aerial Challenge Courses. The adventure courses, towering 35 feet above the ground amidst a Ponderosa Forest canopy, offer a thrilling suspended aerial experience with swaying bridges, tightropes, and more. The roughly 1.75-hour adventure includes 30 minutes of guided instruction and is perfect for groups of up to 15 people.

Rocky Mountain National Park

A statue of kids playing in Estes Park, Colorado
The YMCA of the Rockies is a year-round resort in Estes Park, Colorado. Photo by Janna Graber

Nearby Rocky Mountain National Park is still a huge draw. Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) is part of the National Park Service’s “pilot reservation system,” requiring timed entry permits for visitors. However, due to the YMCA of the Rockies’ prime location, guests at the Estes Park Center get exclusive access to dozens of hike-in, hike-out trails and guided hikes, all accessible with a park entrance pass.

Guide to YMCA of the Rockies

To help families who might be interested in planning a trip to the YMCA of the Rockies, we’ve put together a helpful guide.

YMCA of the Rockies Locations

beautiful views at Etes Park
Everwhere you look are beautiful views at Etes Park. Image courtesy of YMCA of the Rockies

There are two YMCA of the Rockies locations in Colorado: Estes Park Center and Snow Mountain Ranch. Both locations offer a wide range of exciting activities and facilities that welcome the rich diversity of people who visit or call this beautiful part of the world home.

In addition, Estes Park Center and Snow Mountain Ranch are committed to environmental stewardship and sustainability with a goal of maintaining the natural beauty of the region for future generations to enjoy. Their strategic plan engages both staff and visitors through education, activities and community engagement.

Despite their commonalities, each YMCA of the Rockies is unique in their offerings of local attractions, activities and accommodations. In this article we will be focusing on the fabulous Estes Park Center.

Where is the Estes Park Center at the YMCA of the Rockies?

Rooms with a breathtaking view
Rooms with a breathtaking view. Image courtesy of YMCA of the Rockies

Estes Park Center is surrounded by the breathtaking Rocky Mountain National Park. It is just 15 minutes from the town of Estes Park, Colorado and a 90-minute drive from Denver.

The closest airport is Denver International. You can rent a car and drive the 90 minutes to Estes Park Center. If you don’t want to drive yourself, there are also shuttles and buses running to the town of Estes Park. From there, you can take a taxi to the YMCA resort (about 15 minutes).

For more information on how to get to Estes Park go to https://www.mycoloradoparks.com/road-trips/airports/bus-to-rocky-mountain-national-park/

No matter how you choose to get to Estes Park Center, you’ll arrive at one of the best family resorts in the US. The resort is also a perfect basecamp for exploring everything this spectacular region offers.

The Beginnings of a Family-Friendly Resort in the Rockies

Views of the Rocky Mountains
Views of the Rocky Mountains at the YMCA of the Rockies. Photo by Janna Graber

The history of the YMCA in Estes Park goes back well over a century. At the 1907 Western Conference of the YMCA, a group of men set out from Grand Lake in search of a permanent site to set up their summer camps. They found what they were looking for at the Wind River Lodge.

In the summer of 1908, almost 100 men attended the summer camp at Wind River Lodge and the story of Estes Park Center began. The Wind River Lodge was purchased as a permanent home for the YMCA summer school and over the following 20 years it was expanded with additional lodging and family programs.

The end of WWII spurred a growth in tourism and the Estes Park YMCA quickly went from a summer school to a year-round conference and family center. In the 1960s the site grew exponentially with the addition of even more accommodations and programs.

Today the Estes Park Center YMCA is thriving as a destination for all ages and is especially loved by families who visit together for a time of fun, adventure and rejuvenation.

Accommodations at Estes Park YMCA of the Rockies

Wildlife is right outside your window. Image courtesy of YMCA of the Rockies

Estes Park Center has a range of comfortable accommodations on its 860 acres of breathtaking Rocky Mountain land. Groups of any size can make themselves at home in a variety of cozy cabins and hotel-style lodges surrounded by the natural wonders that make the Rockies so appealing.

Please note that this is mountain-style lodging with no frills. You won’t find luxurious furnishings, but you’ll be comfortable and have million-dollar views. 

Estes Park Center Cabins

Family cabin. Image courtesy of YMCA of the Rockies

The cozy cabins range from 2 to 5 bedrooms that can sleep up to 12 people with a variety of bed configurations. All the cabins, even the most basic, have separate bedrooms, a living and dining area, a bathroom, a kitchen and free Wi-Fi.

A fireplace is an addition to the next level of cabins that are available with 2, 3, 4 or 5 bedrooms. Additional bathrooms are also added to the larger cabins and the 5-bedroom fireplace cabin has a dishwasher in the kitchen.

The 3- and 4-bedroom Cabin Plus category includes everything above plus a TV perfect for a fun family movie night.

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For those looking for an even more peaceful experience, Estes Park Center has the Summit area with 2-, 3- and 4-bedroom cabins. The Summit is on a hillside just a short drive from the main campus and the cabins are outfitted with the same amenities as the other cabin categories.

Animal lovers will be thrilled to know that all the cabins are pet-friendly so your four-legged friend can enjoy the wonders of the Rockies with you. There’s even a dog park on site.

Estes Park Center Lodges

Estes Park YMCA of the Rockies
One of the lodges at Estes Park. Image courtesy of YMCA of the Rockies

The 9 different lodges, at Estes Park Center (7 of which are open year-round) provide the amenities you expect to find at a hotel, with the exception of a TV. But don’t worry, you won’t miss it with all the activities available and the constant entertainment of wildlife and nature right outside your door. Plus, if you need to stay connected there is free Wi-Fi.

Longs Peak, Emerald Mountain and Ram’s Horn are the three year-round Central Lodges each with 202 rooms outfitted with 2 queen beds, a single floor pad and a full private bathroom.

The 4 Eastside Lodges (Eagle Cliff, Deer Ridge, Rainbow and Twin Sisters) are also open year-round, and each has 203 rooms with a queen bed, 2 sets of bunk beds and a private ¾ bathroom.

Wind River Lodge and Alpine Inn Lodge are open through the summer season. Wind River has 100 rooms with 1 queen bed and 2 sets of bunk beds. The pet-friendly Alpine Inn has 48 rooms with 2 queen beds and 1 queen sofa bed.

What to Do at the YMCA of the Rockies

Playground at Estes Park
Playtime at Estes Park. Image courtesy of YMCA of the Rockies

This is the real strength of the YMCA of the Rockies. There are more family-friendly activities than you’ll ever be able to do in one visit. YMCA members and guests have access to all the fun things going on, many of which are free. Some of these activities are seasonal but most are year-round.

All-Season Activities at Estes Park Center

Hiking year-round with epic views
Hiking year-round with epic views. Image courtesy of YMCA of the Rockies

Whatever the weather, families can play together with plenty of year-round activities and amenities. These include archery, indoor and outdoor climbing walls, disc golf, miniature golf, hiking, an indoor swimming pool, playgrounds and a roller-skating rink.

For the not so active there is a game room, historical sites, a library, a museum and even a chance to get a relaxing massage. Plus, for the crafty visitor, there is the impressive Mootz Family Craft and Design Center. The large craft space offers a different activity every day from jewelry making to ceramics, tie dye, sand art and much more. It’s fun for all ages and the cost is very reasonable.

Spring, Summer and Fall Activities

Archery at Estes Park
Archery at Estes Park. Image courtesy of YMCA of the Rockies

Throughout the milder months, there are even more fun options to choose from. Visitors can challenge themselves on the aerial course, try their hand at axe throwing, learn to fly fish with a professional guide, go horseback riding or have a game of sand volleyball.

Winter Activities

craft center
The Craft Center at YMCA of the Rockies is a family favorite. Photo by Janna Graber

The Rockies are spectacular in the winter and Estes Park Center is a perfect place to enjoy the snowy landscape. In addition to the array of all-season activities guests and visitors can go snowshoeing, ice skating and sledding. On Hot Cocoa Sundays, you can glaze a mug at the craft center and snuggle up with a free cup of cocoa.

Staue of kids with sunset behind
Evenings are magical. Image courtesy of YMCA of the Rockies

Dining Options

If you’re staying in a cabin, you can make your own meals in the well-equipped kitchen. Lodge guests, or those who prefer not to cook for themselves, have a few options for dining.

The Aspen Dining Room is open year-round for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Meals are served buffet style and include a salad bar, hot and cold entrees, dessert and drinks. The variety is large and includes vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options. There is set all-you-can-eat pricing for kids and adults and children 5 and under eat for free. One note – there are very few options for vegans.

For a light meal or snack, there’s the Rustic Café which is open all year for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

In the summer season the lodge-style Pine Room Restaurant is open and serves Colorado BBQ and other comfort food like mac & cheese, burgers and sandwiches. At dinnertime, there is also the popular prime rib buffet.

At the YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center food and drink options are budget-conscious and varied, providing something for everyone. There are also group Lodge rates that include 3 buffet meals per day in the dining hall.

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Janna Graber

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