It’s Fun to Stay at the YMCA (of the Rockies in Colorado)
YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center isn’t exactly a hidden secret because it’s been nestled in the Rocky Mountains since 1908, but it’s a resort not widely known outside of the western U.S. I discovered this wonderful place a few years ago when we were looking for somewhere to vacation during yet another scorching Texas summer. It’s now one of our favorite places to visit.
The YMCA of the Rockies is actually two properties. Estes Park Center, near Estes Park, Colorado, and Snow Mountain Ranch, a bit higher up the mountain near the towns of Granby, Colorado and Winter Park, Colorado. My review of that (also wonderful) resort is here. Both locations offer lodging, group and individual activities, and on-site meals, all at a reasonable price in a gorgeous, natural setting.
Here’s what you need to know to plan your own fun trip to YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center.
YMCA of the Rockies is located approximately 40 miles from Boulder, Colorado, and 80 miles from Denver International Airport. Maps and driving instructions can be found here. We usually drive to the resort from our home in Austin, Texas, which is desirable for many reasons, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic when we’re not yet ready to fly. Our road trip takes 14-15 hours and we break it up by staying the night somewhere halfway, like Amarillo. I have friends who’ve powered through and done it in a day, however.
I was surprised to discover that the YMCA of the Rockies is a similar length drive (14-15 hours) from Minneapolis, Phoenix, Madison, WI, and Reno, Nevada. This is probably because I’m terrible at geography and don’t know where anything is, but it’s worth your time to do a quick driving-directions search on Google and see how long your drive would be. It might be less than you think.
LODGING AT ESTES PARK CENTER
Accommodations at both YMCA centers range from hotel-style lodge rooms or pet-friendly private cabins (with full kitchens) up to five bedrooms. (Their other property, Snow Mountain Ranch, also features yurts and campsites in the summer months.) Most lodge rooms and cabins do not have televisions, which we honestly didn’t miss. (It helps that the WiFi is great.) We stayed in a clean and comfortable three-bedroom cabin this summer that slept up to seven people. The boys each got their own room, which is a good thing for older kids. The kitchen had a dishwasher, refrigerator, and every utensil and dish we needed. It definitely made it easy to social distance, which is critical right now during the height of the pandemic in the U.S.
While there’s not a daily cleaning service, fresh towels and linens are available upon request and the staff is always happy to help you find anything you need. Note: Due to COVID, curbside check-ins are now provided for guest arrivals and self-check-outs are conducted via email.
Fair warning: Getting reservations for a lodge or cabin can sometimes be a bit tough due to demand. Check here for tips and tricks. Or here for some “booking secrets.”
ACTIVITIES AT ESTES PARK CENTER
I can’t guarantee that your kids won’t say “I’m bored!” at the YMCA, but they probably won’t because there are tons of year-round activities for all ages and interests. Many of them are free and included with a lodging reservation, but some activities have additional fees. You can sign up in advance online, which makes it easy for you planners out there. Again, due to COVID, there have been changes to their regular activity line-up.
Without leaving the properties, guests enjoy archery lessons, creating keepsake projects in the craft centers, playing miniature golf or tennis, roller skating, swimming, rock climbing with skilled instructors, and of course the Snow Mountain Ranch summer tubing hill. For the adventurous family members, there are also fly-fishing lessons, mountain biking trails, private guided hikes through Rocky Mountain National Park, and zip line adventures. Here’s what they have going on this summer and, in bold, what I think is a good social-distancing activity:
- Fire rings if less than 8 or 10 people. Reservation required.
- Basketball court
- Mini golf
- Camp-My-Way, a day camp experience
- Disc golf
- Fly Fishing
- Dog Park
- To-go Craft Kits
- Craft & Design Center
- Escape Room (this was GREAT)
- Axe Throwing
- Roller Skating (you can reserve the rink for a personal skate time experience)
- Bird Banding Program
- Bike Rentals
- Guided Hikes into Rocky Mountain National Park and custom, private guided hikes tailored to your interests
- Outdoor Climbing Wall and Indoor Climbing Wall
- Concierge-Style Family Programs including: Animal Detective, Little Explorers, Fire Quest, Bubbles, Bear Talk, Treasure Trek, Bingo, Trivia, Star Gazing, Geocaching, night hikes, Parachute Games, Survival, Creek Stomping, Treasure Trek, Knots, Wolves, Science Experiments Bugs. Class will be one immediate family per guide and advance reservations required.
- Museum Tours, and Guided History Walking Tours, one guide per family
- Horseback riding
- Trails on property for hiking and biking – Trail Map
- Library Book Check-Out & limited open library hours
- Playgrounds, not sanitized – use at your own discretion
- Swimming Pool, pool capacity limited to 20 people. Advance reservations required.
Here is what we did and what I recommend, keeping in mind that I was with my sons who are 16 and 18-years-old:
Personal guided hike for $25: We went on a 3.5 mile loop into the Rocky Mountain National Park that abuts the Y’s property. Our guide Pat told us about the flowers and wildlife, and the area’s history, which really added to our enjoyment. (We all wore masks.) There are tons of hike options that can be tailored to your ability, time, and desire to see waterfalls.
There are also free guided hikes that may be with other people. However, there’s a 9:1 ratio limit for on-trail hikes and a 5:1 ratio limit for off-trail hikes. Check the Boone Family Mountain Center hiking information area for maps and recommendations of trails in the surrounding area.
Horseback Riding: If you’re interested in doing this but want to be socially distanced, I recommend a private ride. We had 18 people on our two-hour ride and nobody wore a mask but us. The horses are spaced about six feet apart, of course, but keep this in mind. Also, if you’re an oldie like me, be prepared for the joy of trotting.
Archery and Axe-Throwing: These activities can be up to three families per session. We weren’t told that masks are required, but luckily, all of our fellow arrow-shooters and axe-throwers had them on.
Escape Room: This a one-family-at-a-time activity, and really well-done. They’ve turned an entire cabin into a Harry Potter-themed escape room.
Activity Room: You can reserve this huge room in the Sweet Memorial Building for free for an hour. It has sanitized ping pong tables, pool tables, cornhole, and shuffle board.
Mini Golf: This 18-hole golf course is free and doesn’t require reservations, and it’s often empty enough that you won’t need to worry about social distancing.
Finally, per the YMCA: “All activities will be operated in a safe and healthy manner in alignment with public health ordinances from county and state officials. For more information about YMCA of the Rockies’ practices and procedures, please visit here https://blog.ymcarockies.org/covid-19-preparations/.”
GOING INTO ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
As mentioned, the YMCA Estes Park Center abuts the gorgeous and huge Rocky Mountain National Park. You can walk into it from the property (ask the staff for the best entrance points) or drive into it from the entrance in Estes Park just about two miles away. The park is open, but with restrictions. Please read information on the park website to be prepared for your visit to the park. An advance reservation must be made and they fill up quickly. (If you’re hiking into RMNP from the YMCA, an entry fee to RMNP must be obtained, but a timed-reservation is not needed.) It’s well worth your time to spend an hour or two just driving through the park because the scenery is unbelievable. We also saw a lot of wildlife this time, including a moose, a herd of elk, and a marmot. (And about 20,000 chipmunks.)
Pre-registered activities through YMCA of the Rockies including YMCA guided hikes, YMCA guided fly fishing trips, and YMCA horseback rides are included in the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.
MEALS AT ESTES PARK CENTER
We usually stop at the Safeway in Estes Park for groceries and supplies for the week before arriving at the lodge. There are a few stores in town that are easy to access in case you forget anything. The cafeteria-style Spruce Dining Hall is currently closed due to COVID, but the YMCA has a variety of other dining options available to guests, such as grocery delivery to cabins, take out family pick-up meal options, and to-go items from on-site dining facilities and local restaurants. We did all of these and loved it.
- Easy Grocery Ordering & Pick-up by request
- Take out Family Pick-Up Meal Options
- In- restaurant dining, take out and to-go items from The Rustic Cafe
- In-restaurant dining, take out and to-go items from The Pine Room Restaurant
- Take out pizza from Y’s Guys Pizza
- Restaurants in the town of Estes Park are open to guests for in-restaurant dining and many are offering take-out options. Learn more.
FIRST TIME VISITORS AND DEALS
I’ve covered everything I think you need to know for your stay, but here’s the YMCA’s First Time Visitors Guide for any additional questions. I also recommend calling the Y to get any additional info you need.
Lastly, to support healthcare professionals and first responders, YMCA of the Rockies is offering the Rest + Renew package featuring a 50% discount on current lodging fees for healthcare workers and emergency first responders up to four nights and valid through November 30, 2020.
And, as mentioned, they have excellent WiFi at the YMCA of Estes Park, so if your kids’ school will be online for this fall, maybe head on up to the mountains for the best classroom view ever.
For part of my family’s stay at Estes Park Center, we were guests of the YMCA for promotional purposes. We decided to stay a couple of extra days because we enjoyed it so much.