You’d be forgiven for wanting to let your inner hippy fly free when you visit America’s awe-inspiring Rocky Mountains.

Like the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas, this towering backdrop inspires something deep within the soul, not least because of the natural beauty you’ll encounter in the national park, created to preserve the meadows, tundra, wilderness, lakes and peaks which provide sanctuary to the resident wildlife.

Keeping a keen eye peeled for moose, black bear and coyote, I spent my time in the Rocky Mountain National Parkwishing I’d brought some lip balm. The air is dry, like all mountainous areas, and the harsh environment saps your skins of all its natural oils. Nonetheless, the reward of the beautiful vistas of Bear Lake and the odd wild turkey made the trip more than worthwhile.

Everywhere you look it’s green. Valleys and hills are clad with green Aspens, Lodge Pole Pines (so named because they make lodges out of them) and Willow trees. At higher altitudes, some of the trees have been stripped bare by the Japanese bark beetle, which I’m told is the result of climate change having made winters more mild. Thus, these little predators have been left to flourish when they would have ordinarily died due to the cold temperatures.

In addition to these pesky little bugs, the park is littered with day camp sites for picnics and overnight sites for campers. The locals confirm you need to book well in advance, at least six months ahead, if you want to stay within the park during the summer months.

Incidentally, if you’re a keen fisherman, summer is not the best time to visit the park. Although the Rocky Mountain National Park is renowned for its catch and release fishing, the rivers are largely unfishable due to the higher water in summer caused by the melting snow from the surrounding peaks. Fishermen also need to acquire licences and are not allowed to use live bait. No fishing is allowed where the endangered Green-back trout swim.

Leaving the park behind, you’ll likely spend a little time in the unassuming town of Estes Park, the gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park and so named for a settler called Joel Estes who settled here to farm, but didn’t get very far.

This charming little mountain town is dotted with music stores selling vinyl records, craft-beer breweries, and trading posts selling everything from taffy (soft chewable candy) and precious gems to American Indian mementoes. My favourite spot for a little retail therapy is the Sterling Pony, which sells all manner of Rocky Mountain souvenirs, jewellery and colourful T-shirts.

Predictably, as with any town or city in the world, there’s an Irish pub. I forego it, choosing instead to frequent one of the town’s characteristically American diners, Seasoned, which proudly proclaims decades of family operation and ownership and I highly recommend. It looks like the kind of place where everyone knows your name, and your business.

There’s no better way to explore the town than on the Estes Park Trolley tour, taking passengers around the Estes Valley to provide insights into what it’s like to live in a small mountain town. The two-hour tour runs from March to October and is accompanied by a local guide.

 After a hectic morning of sightseeing, it’s time to sample the local craft beer scene and I head to Rock Cut Brewing Company, located at the base of Prospect Mountain in downtown Estes Park. Founded in 2015 in the garage of one of the owners, Rock Cut has developed into one of Northern Colorado’s favourite craft breweries, and puts a firm focus on high-quality ingredients, authentic techniques and recipes. Don’t leave Estes Park without popping in for their Loch Gneiss Scottish Ale and Interference IPA, again, some of the best beer I tasted in Colorado.

What better way to end your day perched in its vantage point overlooking the town, sipping on a cocktail (Americans do make good cocktails)at the The Stanley Hotel, or if you dare, stay overnight – it is what inspired Stephen King to write his 1977 bestseller, The Shining? is a Colonial Revival Hotel, located near the entrance to rocky Mountain National Park and offers panoramic views of Lake Estes, the Rockies and Long’s Peak.

It’s unclear what part of this pristine natural setting drove the award-winning horror author to create his award-winning haunted tale, but it’s certain that the Rocky Mountain delivers inspiration in abundance and so it should feature on any visit to America’s Wild West.

I stayed at the Ridgeline Hotel Estes Park. Convenient on a number of levels, not least of which location, price and comfort. It’s probably comes in at around a 3.5 Star hotel in South Africa, it has the 4 star amenities, but then doesn’t offer breakfast, it’s a grab and go (there is a reason, you are in nature and should be up early). However, its showpiece is the bar, by far the best bar in Estes Park, Latitude 105 (yes, it’s not a mistake – ask them why – and if they can tell you, let us know) has the full array of beer and cocktails you could want, a super bar menu and the most efficient bar persons I have seen.

All in all, this is a super town to base your Rocky Mountain expedition from, it’s located well 990 minutes from Denver International), it’s got great culture, food and beer, and will get into your soul – definitely one for outdoors people, and even those who aren’t.

Are you thinking about visiting the USA, Colorado and/or the Rocky Mountains?  Estes Park anytime soon? United Europe is one of South Africa’s established Travel Companies that specialises in travel to North America – we know what we are doing.

Please do not hesitate to contact us and we can assist you with options and travel itineraries to help you plan for the occasion!

October 2018

Mark Buck is the Managing Director of United Europe Travel Services (Pty) Ltd, an online and offline travel services company based in South Africa

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