Prestigious Smithsonian.com selects its top 20.
Estes Park, the eastern gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, is less than an hour from our door. Predictably, we visit frequently — to hike, to snowshoe, to show off to visitors. We love it for lots of reasons, but we take it a bit for granted because it is so close. In assembling its list of “The Best 20 Small Towns to Visit in 2015,” Smithsonian.com selected Estes Park as its top town. Here’s why:
“Nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Estes Park has beckoned visitors since the 1860s, when an inspired Welshman named Griff Evans established a local dude ranch. Today the town serves as base camp for Rocky Mountain National Park, which marks 100 years of existence in 2015. A year of wilderness-themed art exhibits, classes, films and concerts celebrates the park’s highlights—which include some of the tallest mountains in the continental United States and more than 300 miles of hiking trails. The park’s sights and sounds are particularly stunning in the fall, when the leaves blaze with color and bull elks fill the air with haunting mating calls.
“While the town of Estes Park itself is relaxed (elk have been known to wander downtown streets), there are marked touches of class—notably the historic Stanley Hotel, which inspired Stephen King’s book The Shining. This April, the hotel is adding a giant hedge maze, the result of an international design competition to create one honoring the maze in the film adaptation by Stanley Kubrick, who actually filmed external shots at a lodge in Oregon and used a soundstage for internal shots. (Neither hotel ever had a maze until the Estes Park addition, confusing some horror fans). Visitors can also enjoy several new breweries and a new distillery, or just meander the scenic riverwalk alongside the Big Thompson River—but watch out for the elk.”
Actually, Estes Park is hardly in “the heart of the Rocky Mountains.” It is on the far eastern edge of the northern Colorado portion of the range. But it is still a neat little town. I overlook the tourist kitsch and instead enjoy the summer festivals in Bond Park and elsewhere in town and the great community spirit. If I had written this post, I might have noted that the Stanley Hotel is going to put in a maze on its broad, south-facing lawn