1. CLIMB LONGS PEAK
Ascending the park’s 14,259-foot crown is a rite of passage for scramblers. But you don’t have to join the conga line: Camp at the Boulderfield (the National Park System’s highest designated campsite) and beat the crowds with an early summit. For a more moderate adventure, take a day trip along the same trail to a midway point like Chasm Lake or the Boulderfield.
2. CATCH A TROUT
Anglers in the know flock to the Estes Park area for a chance to land one of four resident trout species—brown, brook, rainbow, and cutthroat. For excellent fly fishing with a side of solitude, hike to Thunder Lake from the national park’s Wild Basin area, or fish roadside on the Big Thompson River, just east of the village.
3. SAMPLE THE TOWN’S BEST PIE
Nothing caps off a day in the wild like a plate of sweet, fruity goodness. And nobody
does it better than Estes Park Pie Shop, which dishes up award-winning, overstuffed slices of triple berry, apple ginger peach, caramel apple pecan, and peanut butter (among many other flavors). youneedpie.blogspot.com
4. GET A GLIMPSE OF THE WILD
Estes Park and Rocky are known for their wildlife—large groups of elk are often seen sauntering right through town. From the village to the park you can also spot bighorn sheep, coyotes, bears, and, if you’re lucky, moose. Increase your chances by heading out in the early morning or cruising for wildlife in the evening hours.
5. BECOME A PARK EXPERT
Join the Rocky Mountain Conservancy’s special year of classes and events in 2015. There’s something for everyone: guided wildflower hikes, campfire history tales, photography workshops, survival skills seminars, and much more. Check the schedule: RMConservancy.org.
6. SLEEP UNDER THE STARS
Camping options range from the fairly civilized (try one of 14 developed campgrounds in Estes Park or Rocky) to the undeniably wild. For the ambitious: Try “The Big Loop,” a 3- to 5-day, 26-mile trek from Bear Lake to Grand Lake and back around. This incredible journey will take you through all three major ecological zones of the park: montane, subalpine, and alpine tundra.
7. TRY AN AUTHENTIC COLORADO CRAFT BEVERAGE
Colorado has a solid reputation for craft beer, but don’t stop there. Estes Park has three brewery tasting rooms for post-adventure suds, and also offers a local winery, a distillery tasting room, and the largest whiskey selection in Colorado, including many Colorado-made bottles, at the historic Stanley Hotel.
8. DINE WITH THE LOCALS
After a long day of playing in the mountains, Estes locals head one place to kick back: Ed’s Cantina. The lively restaurant serves up fresh Mexican plates (try the 14er, a huge burrito stuffed with steak, chorizo, and bacon) and robust margaritas. After a drink or two, you’ll fit right in.
9. GET INTO THE BACKCOUNTRY
Don’t have backcountry campsite reservations? Head to the Backcountry Office first thing in the morning to try your luck with available permits. Hikers can get a true wilderness experience, whether 2 or 12 miles in, by securing a site away from civilization.
10. WALK THE ALPINE TUNDRA
Our favorite route across this unique ecosystem: Park at Milner Pass and hike the 4.5-mile Mt. Ida Trail, which almost immediately emerges above treeline. Here, the trail gives way to more difficult terrain, so be mindful of the route. The trek offers excellent wildlife-spotting opportunities (look for elk, marmots, and golden eagles) on the way to the 12,889-foot summit, which treats hikers to huge vistas across the park.