Monday, June 17, 2013

Staycation -- Estes Park Favorites

A few weeks ago we had a family reunion in the Outer Banks in North Carolina. The whole week we were there I kept thinking to myself what an idyllic spot it was and wondered if people who called Corolla their "home" realized how lucky they were! Sometimes we don't fully appreciate what's in our own back yard. Last weekend I had a taste of that when my husband and I went up to Estes Park, Colorado. We've lived at the base of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains for 27 years and several times a year we take advantage of what's in our own backyard and make the 30 minute drive to Estes Park -- the Gateway to the Rockies.

If you've never been, Estes Park is nestled in a beautiful valley at the base of Rocky Mountain National Park. It's a popular summer resort, so in the summer months the town swells from its population of less than 6,000 to many more. My favorite time of the year to visit Estes is in the fall  -- there's less of a chance of inclement weather, the aspen trees are a resplendent golden color, and the crowds are non-existent.

As a family we've enjoyed many of the attractions Estes Park has to offer. Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park is a must if you're visiting the area. A drive on Trail Ridge Road -- the highway that traverses the tundra on the continental divide through Rocky Mountain National Park from Estes Park to Grand Lake -- is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but more often than not we simply drive up to Estes Park for lunch, a bit of shopping, and an occasional round of mini-golf at Cascade Creek.

Saturday we did just that. It was remarkably quiet in Estes that day, which is surprising during the summer. Remember to bring long pants and a jacket even during the middle of the summer. It was only 76 degrees that day and a sweater would have felt good, but it was delightful to get out of the heat that we've experienced the last couple of weeks on the Front Range.

I'm sure there are any number of good restaurants in Estes Park, but the one we go back to time and time again is Poppy's.  

Poppy's is situated on the Riverwalk in Barlow Plaza on Elkhorn Avenue. It has inside and outside dining. The outside dining has this beautiful view...

Although I see many people choose other items from their menu, don't bother. Their pizza is the best! You can build your own, which is what I always do {Basil Pesto Sauce, Chicken, Artichoke, and Spinach}, or choose from one of their traditional pizzas. Either way you won't be disappointed. The individual pizza is a more than generous serving, and our tab was $21 for two individual pizzas and two drinks.

After pizza you might feel like taking a walk to visit the gift shops that line Elkhorn Avenue, the main thoroughfare through town.  When we first moved to Colorado almost 30 years ago the shops in Estes Park were nothing to brag about, but in the last few years they've upgraded and there are some really fun, unique shops there now. You'll find the typical tourist boutiques, but interspersed among them are some gems. "Thirty Below Leather" is one of those shops. They have all types of items made from leather -- purses, backpacks, gloves, wallets, slippers, etc. -- all for under $30.

When you're done shopping, you'll need to make one last stop at Laura's for some of the best homemade ice cream and waffle cone you've ever eaten.

There are at least ten other ice cream shops along the route, but we save ourselves for Laura. While you're there you might want to tuck some fudge or toffee in your purse for later. Here's a photo of my cone from the other day. I'd already delved into it by the time I took this picture.Yum...

I'm an ice cream lover, but I'll tell you right now, I don't know which is better the ice cream or the cone. For those more health conscious, ;o) their variations of candied apples are wonderful too...

We took a short drive {5 minutes} past Lumpy Ridge Trailhead, as we headed out of town.  Here's a shot of the view along that route that I took with my iPhone...gorgeous!

We had a fabulous time in the Outer Banks for our family reunion, but we're thinking next time we might want to have a mountain retreat instead of a trip to the beach. Both are wonderful. Our children are familiar with Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, but their spouses and children haven't been there much. We want to remind our children what they're missing by living in a state other than Colorado -- maybe some of them will choose to move back here. There's a method to our madness. ;o)