There are few places in this world that bring our hearts more joy than the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado. Our family’s story begins there many years before my husband and I ever met. In his early 20s, my husband spent a summer as a camp counselor at the Y, and soon after we met, he began sharing wonderful stories of his time spent there. Little did I know that more than a decade later, we would be a family of four vacationing in that very place that had meant so much to him. There is something so special about this place and about the memories made here that we will absolutely treasure.
After driving through the mountain town of Estes Park, we were both thankful and relieved to see this sign after a two-day drive from Texas! It was a gorgeous day at the end of September when the aspen leaves were turning gold.
Immediately after parking our vehicle to check-in, we were greeted by the first of many herds of elk. The elk are a huge part of the experience. If you travel to Rocky Mountain National Park when the aspens are turning gold, you will also likely get the chance to hear the elk bugling at this same time of the year.
After checking in, we drove over to Longs Peak Lodge, which would be our home-away-from-home for several nights. We loved opening our windows to allow in the cool mountain breeze. At night, we star-gazed over the mountains. Our toddler was so mesmerized by all of the stars that she serenaded us with “Twinkle twinkle little star,” and our oldest was so excited to find the Big Dipper right outside our window.
Perhaps the greatest thing about this place is that you have the time and space to just breathe. Once you arrive, you can just slow down. There are no TVs in the rooms. You can get all of your meals onsite in the dining halls and the coffee shop. There are a million activities, but you can also find a rocking chair and just look at the mountains.
Onsite dining was a huge convenience, as it was just a short walk from our lodge and we didn’t have to worry about cooking or selecting restaurants. Dinner always had options for kids. Our very picky toddler was delighted to have bananas, sliced cheddar, and milk cartons at every meal. After dinner, the girls loved walking over to the playground. This place reminds you of life’s simple pleasures, and the scenery is among the finest in the world.
While perfect for a small family like ours, the YMCA of the Rockies also accommodates larger family reunions. Lots of families take advantage of the onsite photography services of Photos by Dill. With the mountains as a spectacular backdrop, they will capture the moment for that perfect keepsake.
The #1 thing our daughter was looking forward to? For whatever reason, archery was at the top of her list! I think Merida from Disney’s Brave was the inspiration for this, but I’ll never really know for sure. Either way, big sister and daddy thoroughly enjoyed their archery lesson, and someone has since requested a bow and arrow of her very own. The archery lesson did not disappoint. The instructor was so patient and encouraging, and that really meant a lot to us.
She was ecstatic to hit the target! Whether or not this was her target or someone else’s is beside the point. She was grinning from ear to ear!
She took her lesson very seriously.
What was big sister’s second favorite part of the Y? The craft and design center, of course!
So many projects…
Tie-dying is a popular option!
I had a couple of hours to spend with my oldest, and she chose to paint a Christmas ornament as well as create her very own mosaic. She had so much fun perusing all of her options, and she finally settled on a princess crown with turquoise, blue, and green glass, in addition to a moose ornament to paint!
The possibilities here are endless… you could spend days here and never do it all!
While we love doing crafty projects at home, we had never attempted a mosaic, and it was such a fun experience for both of us!
The ladies here were so helpful and patient as they helped us through the process!
We had so much fun making memories here! Can’t wait for our youngest daughter to be old enough to enjoy this with us!
The Y offers so many activities, you can’t possibly do it all. From horseback riding, swimming, and mini-golf to zip-lining, skating, and rock climbing, there is something for everyone!
Probably one of the biggest benefits of staying at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park is the access to Rocky Mountain National Park. My husband and I vacationed to RMNP many times before having children, and we even lived in Northern Colorado for a couple of years when our oldest was really young. Rocky Mountain National Park is one of our favorite places to visit, especially in the fall!
Hiking around Sprague Lake is an easy, flat hike for flat-landers and for those who might want to adjust to the altitude. The views here are absolutely breathtaking.
Beautiful views of the golden aspens… before long, there will be snow!
The trails around Sprague Lake are safe for small kids to stretch their legs without dangerous drop-offs like you might find on more moderate trails.
My husband is always anxious to check for trout, as he learned to fly fish in Sprague Lake many years ago!
I can’t get enough of the beautiful aspens changing colors with a bright blue sky as the backdrop. It’s so, so good for the soul.
The weather in late September and early October averages in the 60s… just perfect! Not only will you see lots of elk, we also saw several deer and a few big-horned sheep. On prior trips, we have seen a coyote, a bear, and a moose in the park!
When you vacation to the YMCA of the Rockies, you’ll need at least one full day to explore and hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, if not more! You’ll receive a park map when you enter the park, and you can locate hikes based on trailhead locations and mileage. One of our favorites is the Bear Lake trailhead, which is popular for several lakes and relatively short hikes.
One of the great joys of the Rocky Mountains is watching the weather and the four distinct seasons in the mountains.
One of our other favorite places in Rocky Mountain National Park is the Alluvial Fan. During the summer months, this beautiful waterfall flows rapidly. This time of year, it is more of a trickle. Either way, it’s a great place to hike and enjoy gorgeous views.
We have used a child carrier for hiking with both girls, and it really allows you to be more active as a family even if you’ve got a little one in tow.
This was our view while hiking back down the Alluvial Fan.
Since the waterfall was fairly dry this time of year, our hike included some scrambling over rocks, which the kids all seem to love!
When you’re driving around Rocky Mountain National Park and the Estes Park area, this beautiful church is a special place of interest, great for photos. We had driven past it many times in the past, but we actually stopped this time around. They invited us in and allowed us to pull the chain to ring the church bell, which was a special treat for the kids!
It’s hard to go wrong when driving through Rocky Mountain National Park. The scenery is simply stunning everywhere you look!
At the Y, you can take advantage of the programs and activities (and onsite museum) and have a jam-packed day, or you can relax on the porch and do nothing at all. Being so far away from home and traveling with a toddler, we took advantage of the onsite laundry facility, which was a lifesaver. It should also be noted that the Y is a short drive into downtown Estes Park, which offers a nice grocery store, shops, and restaurants overlooking the river.
This was our first big vacation as a family of four, and we made so many lasting memories. A big part of that was due to the amazing staff and volunteers at the Y. The staff and volunteers, from all over the world, were so nice and helpful throughout our trip, going above and beyond the call of duty. This vacation to the YMCA of the Rockies and Rocky Mountain National Park is a vacation we will never forget!
Disclosure: We received a complimentary stay at the YMCA of the Rockies, but as always, all experiences and opinions are our own.