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Discover Charming Towns Around Rocky Mountain National Park

Nestled in the grandeur of the Colorado Rockies, Rocky Mountain National Park offers breathtaking landscapes and wildlife sightings, making it a premier destination for nature enthusiasts. But a visit to this natural treasure can be enriched by exploring the picturesque towns surrounding the park. Each provides a unique gateway with local accommodations, restaurants, and mountain culture, ensuring you have a memorable visit. Let's explore these quaint towns and their culinary delights, which are as integral to the high country experience as the park itself.

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Written byJessy Chan
Published onDecember 23, 2023

Discover Charming Towns Around Rocky Mountain National Park

Nestled in the grandeur of the Colorado Rockies, Rocky Mountain National Park offers breathtaking landscapes and wildlife sightings, making it a premier destination for nature enthusiasts. But a visit to this natural treasure can be enriched by exploring the picturesque towns surrounding the park. Each provides a unique gateway with local accommodations, restaurants, and mountain culture, ensuring you have a memorable visit. Let's explore these quaint towns and their culinary delights, which are as integral to the high country experience as the park itself.

Estes Park: The Eastern Gateway

Just minutes from the park’s eastern entrances lies Estes Park, the most popular and convenient base camp for park visitors. Known for its charming downtown area, this friendly town is lined with a variety of shops, art galleries, and local eateries. Lodging options range from cozy cabins along the Big Thompson River to upscale resorts like the historic Stanley Hotel, known for being the inspiration for Stephen King’s "The Shining."

When dining in Estes Park, don't miss out on Colorado-inspired cuisine. Try the locally sourced game meat, such as bison or elk burgers, which provide a hearty meal for the mountain setting. The Rock Inn Mountain Tavern offers a rustic ambiance with a menu featuring these local specialties.

Grand Lake: The Western Portal

Over on the park's western side is Grand Lake, a laid-back town that boasts the state’s largest and deepest natural lake. This town exudes a quieter charm compared to Estes Park and is perfect for those looking to unwind by the water after a day of hiking or wildlife spotting. Grand Lake has a range of accommodations, including inns, lodges, and cabins.

Discover the regional dish known as the Rocky Mountain Rainbow Trout, often served grilled or smoked. The Historic Rapids Lodge & Restaurant is a top spot to relish this dish while enjoying views of the rushing Tonahutu River.

Lyons: The St. Vrain Valley's Gem

A short drive from Estes Park down the St. Vrain Canyon, Lyons is known as the "Double Gateway to the Rockies," serving as a hub for those coming from Boulder and Longmont. This small town offers scenic beauty, plenty of outdoor activities, and a blossoming arts scene. While smaller in terms of lodging, the town has charming bed and breakfasts providing personalized and intimate stays.

Lyons is also becoming recognized for its burgeoning food scene. On your visit, experience the local favorite—Colorado's green chili. It is a versatile staple that you can enjoy on its own or as a topping on various dishes. Oskar Blues Grill & Brew provides a taste of this savory delight along with a selection of craft beers.

Nederland: A Unique High-Altitude Experience

If you're venturing from Boulder, the quirky town of Nederland is along the way to the park and worth a detour. Nestled at 8,233 feet above sea level, this eclectic mountain town has its unique flavor, from the small indie shops to the thriving music scene. Accommodation includes cozy lodges and inns, making for a comfortable stopover or day trip location.

Nederland has a particular culinary curiosity to offer—the Frozen Dead Guy Days festival inspires dishes that are as unique as the event itself. While not for everyone, it’s a perfect example of the town's character. For a more conventional option, the savory pies at New Moon Bakery & Café are must-try items.

Planning Your Visit

When planning your visit, research the accommodations and book your stay early, especially in peak seasons. Many of these towns are small, and rooms can fill up fast due to their popularity among travelers heading to the park.

For dining, be adventurous and try local specialties. Farm-to-table and game meat dishes reflect the region's culinary offerings, providing a taste of the mountains unmatched by any other experience.

Lastly, here are a few helpful websites to assist you in your planning:

  • Visit Estes Park - Information on accommodations, dining, and activities in Estes Park.
  • Grand Lake Chamber – Travel resources for those visiting the Grand Lake area.
  • Town of Lyons - Official government website providing local insights into Lyons.
  • Nederland Colorado - Visitor information for the unique town of Nederland.

Exploring the charming towns around Rocky Mountain National Park can turn a trip into an unforgettable excursion filled with natural beauty, local culture, and delectable mountain cuisine. Don't just limit the adventure to the park's boundaries—expand your horizons and experience everything these communities have to offer.

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