Estes Park, Colorado

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Estes Park, Colorado
Estes park golfcourse.jpg
Estes Park Golf Course
Larimer County Colorado Incorporated and Unincorporated areas Estes Park Highlighted 0825115.svg
Location of Estes Park in Larimer County, Colorado.
Coordinates: 40°22′38″N105°31′32″W / 40.377117°N 105.525514°W / 40.377117; -105.525514 Coordinates: 40°22′38″N105°31′32″W / 40.377117°N 105.525514°W / 40.377117; -105.525514 [1]
Country United States
State Colorado
County [2] Larimer
Incorporated (town) April 17, 1917 [3]
  Type Statutory town [2]
  MayorWendy Koenig-Schuett
  Total6.89 sq mi (17.83 km2)
  Land6.81 sq mi (17.64 km2)
  Water0.07 sq mi (0.19 km2)  0.85%
7,522 ft (2,293 m)
(2019) [5]
  Density943.47/sq mi (364.29/km2)
Time zone UTC-7 (MST)
  Summer (DST) UTC-6 (MDT)
ZIP Codes [6]
Area code(s) 970 Exchanges: 577,586
FIPS code 08-25115
GNIS feature ID0204674

Estes Park /ˈɛstɪs/ is a statutory town in Larimer County, Colorado, United States. A popular summer resort and the location of the headquarters for Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park lies along the Big Thompson River. Estes Park had a population of 5,858 at the 2010 census. Landmarks include The Stanley Hotel and The Baldpate Inn. The town overlooks Lake Estes and Olympus Dam.


Early history

Before Europeans came to the Estes Park valley, the Arapaho Indians lived there in the summertime and called the valley "the Circle." When three elderly Arapahoes visited Estes Park in 1914, they pointed out sites they remembered from their younger days. A photograph at the Estes Park Museum identified the touring party as Shep Husted, guide; Gun Griswold, a 73-year-old judge; Sherman Sage, a 63-year-old chief of police; Tom Crispin, 38-year-old reservation resident and interpreter; Oliver W. Toll, recorder; and David Robert Hawkins, a Princeton student. [7]

In the 1850s, the Arapaho had spent summers camped around Mary's Lake, where their rock fireplaces, tipi sites, and dance rings were still visible. They also recalled building eagle traps atop Longs Peak to get the war feathers coveted by all tribes. They remembered their routes to and from the valley in detail, naming trails and landmarks. They pointed out the site of their buffalo trap, and described the use of dogs to pack meat out of the valley. Their recollections included a battle with Apaches in the 1850s, and fights with Utes who came to the area to hunt bighorn sheep, so all three of those tribes used the valley's resources. [8]

Whites probably came into the Estes Park valley before the 1850s as trappers, but did not stay long. The town is named after Missouri native Joel Estes, [9] who founded the community in 1859. [10] Estes moved his family there in 1863. One of Estes' early visitors was William Byers, a newspaper editor who wrote of his attempted ascent of Longs Peak in 1864, publicizing the area as a pristine wilderness. [11]

Griff Evans and his family came to Estes Park in 1867 to act as caretakers for the former Estes ranch. Recognizing the potential for tourism, he began building cabins to accommodate travelers. Soon it was known as the first dude ranch in Estes Park, with guides for hunting, fishing, and mountaineering. [12]

Lord Dunraven (1841-1926), the famous Irish nobleman, politician and journalist, in later life. His ancestral seat was Adare Manor in County Limerick. 4thEarlOfDunraven.jpg
Lord Dunraven (1841-1926), the famous Irish nobleman, politician and journalist, in later life. His ancestral seat was Adare Manor in County Limerick.
Albert Bierstadt was commissioned by The 4th Earl of Dunraven and Mount-Earl to make a painting of the Estes Park and Longs Peak area in 1876 for $15,000. The painting, originally displayed in Dunraven Castle in Glamorgan, is now in the collection of the Denver Art Museum. Albert Bierstadt, Estes Park and Longs Peak, circa 1876.jpg
Albert Bierstadt was commissioned by The 4th Earl of Dunraven and Mount-Earl to make a painting of the Estes Park and Longs Peak area in 1876 for $15,000. The painting, originally displayed in Dunraven Castle in Glamorgan, is now in the collection of the Denver Art Museum.

The 4th Earl of Dunraven and Mount-Earl, a young Anglo-Irish peer, arrived in late December 1872 under the guidance of Texas Jack Omohundro, subsequently made numerous visits, and decided to take over the valley for his own private hunting preserve. Lord Dunraven's 'land grab' didn't work, but he controlled 6,000 acres before he changed tactics and opened the area's first resort, the Estes Park Hotel, which was destroyed by fire in 1911. [13]

In 1873, Englishwoman Isabella Bird, the daughter of an Anglican minister, came to the United States. Landing at San Francisco, she came overland to Colorado, where she borrowed a horse and set out to explore the Rocky Mountains with a guide, the notorious James Nugent, aka 'Rocky Mountain Jim'. She wrote A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains , a memoir of their travels, including the breathtaking ascent of Longs Peak, where she was literally hauled up the steep pitches "like a bale of goods." [14]

On June 19, 1874, Rocky Mountain Jim and neighbor Griff Evans (see above) had an argument. Having had bitter history with each other, Nugent and Evans hated each other and were deep personal rivals when it came to tour guiding tourists. The argument escalated until Evans blasted Jim in the head with his rifle shotgun. Evans then traveled to Fort Collins to file an assault charge against Nugent, but he was arrested and tried for first degree murder when Jim Nugent died on September 9, 1874, of the bullet wound. Evans was put on trial, but the case was soon dismissed due to the lack of witnesses to the shooting. On August 9, 1875, the Loveland court-house acquitted Evans of any charges in the case.

William Henry Jackson photographed Estes Park in 1873. [15]

Alex and Clara (Heeney) MacGregor arrived soon after and homesteaded at the foot of Lumpy Ridge. The MacGregor Ranch has been preserved as a historic site. In 1874, MacGregor incorporated a company to build a new toll road from Lyons, Colorado, to Estes Park. The road became what is today U.S. Highway 36. Before that time, however, the "road" was only a trail fit for pack horses. The improved road brought more visitors into Estes Park; some of them became full-time residents and built new hotels to accommodate the growing number of travelers. [16]

In 1884, Enos Mills (1870-1922) left Kansas and came to Estes Park, where his relative Elkanah Lamb lived. That move proved significant for Estes Park because Mills became a naturalist and conservationist who devoted his life after 1909 to preserving nearly a thousand square miles of Colorado as Rocky Mountain National Park. He succeeded and the park was dedicated in 1915. [17]

Enos Mills' younger brother Joe Mills (1880-1935) came to Estes Park in 1889. He wrote a series of articles about his youthful experiences for Boys Life which were later published as a book. After some years as a college athletics coach, he and his wife returned to Estes Park and built a hotel called The Crags on the north side of Prospect Mountain, overlooking the village. They ran that business in the summer while he continued his coaching career in winters at University of Colorado in Boulder. [18]

Many early visitors came to Estes Park in search of better health. The Rocky Mountain West especially attracted those with pulmonary diseases, and in Estes Park some resorts catered to them, providing staff physicians for their care. [19]

Later history

Main Street, 1912 Estes Park CO 1912.jpg
Main Street, 1912

In 1903, a new road was opened from Loveland through the Big Thompson River canyon to Estes Park, increasing access to the valley. In 1907, three Loveland men established the first auto stage line from Loveland to Estes Park with three five-passenger touring Stanley Steamers. The following year, Mr. Stanley built nine-passenger steam busses and opened a bus line between Lyons and Estes Park. [20]

By 1912, Estes Park had its own seasonal newspaper, the Estes Park Trail, which provided advertising for the local hotels and other businesses. It was a year-round weekly by 1921. [21] In 1949, Olympus Dam was finished, creating Lake Estes, giving the town its main source of drinking water.

Today, Estes Park's outskirts include The Stanley Hotel, built in 1909. An example of Edwardian opulence, the building had Stephen King as a guest, inspiring him to change the locale for his novel The Shining from an amusement park to the Stanley's fictional stand-in, the Overlook Hotel. Olympus Dam, on the outskirts of the town, is the dam that creates Lake Estes, a lake which is the site for boating and swimming in Estes Park. There are some hotels on the shore, including the Estes Park Resort.

Land was still being homesteaded in the area in 1914, when Katherine Garetson (1877-1963) filed on land near the base of Longs Peak. She built a cabin and started a business known as the Big Owl Tea Place. She proved up on her homestead claim in 1915, and left a memoir of her years there. [22]

In 1916 the Estes Valley Library was founded by the Estes Park Women's Club. It originally formed part of the old schoolhouse and contained only 262 printed works. [23]

Estes Park was also the site of the organization of the Credit Union National Association, an important milestone in the history of American credit unions. [24]

Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous highway in the United States, runs from Estes Park westward through Rocky Mountain National Park, reaching Grand Lake over the continental divide. [25]

The town suffered severe damage in July 1982 from flooding caused by the failure of Lawn Lake Dam. [26] The flood's alluvial fan can still be seen on Fall River Road. The downtown area was extensively renovated after the flood, and a river walk was added between the main street, Elkhorn Avenue, and the Big Thompson River.


Estes Park sits at an elevation of 7,522 feet (2,293 m) on the front range of the Rocky Mountains at the eastern entrance of the Rocky Mountain National Park. Its location is 40°22′22″N105°31′09″W / 40.372856°N 105.519136°W / 40.372856; -105.519136 . [27] Its north, south and east extremities border the Roosevelt National Forest. Lumpy Ridge lies immediately north of Estes Park.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 5.9 square miles (15 km2), of which 5.8 square miles (15 km2) is land and 0.1 square miles (0.26 km2) (0.85%) is water.


Estes Park has a humid continental climate (Koppen: Dfb). Summers days are typically warm, sometimes hot, while winter days are usually cold, with lows dropping into the teens and sometimes the single digits.

Climate data for Estes Park 3 SSE, Colorado, 1991-2020 normals, extremes 2001-present
Record high °F (°C)60
Average high °F (°C)37.1
Daily mean °F (°C)26.6
Average low °F (°C)16.1
Record low °F (°C)−19
Average precipitation inches (mm)0.82
Average snowfall inches (cm)9.8
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in)
Average snowy days (≥ 0.1 in)7.410.
Source: NOAA [28] [29]


Historical population
1930 417
1940 994138.4%
1950 1,61762.7%
1960 1,175−27.3%
1970 1,61637.5%
1980 2,70367.3%
1990 3,18417.8%
2000 5,41370.0%
2010 5,8588.2%
2019 (est.)6,426 [5] 9.7%
U.S. Decennial Census [30]
Estes Park entrance sign EstesPark.jpg
Estes Park entrance sign
Estes Park city center Estes Park City Centre.JPG
Estes Park city center
The historic Stanley Hotel, which opened in 1909. Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.jpg
The historic Stanley Hotel, which opened in 1909.
Estes Park, Colorado. Estes Park, Colorado.jpg
Estes Park, Colorado.

In August 1900, Estes Park [31] had a population of 218 in 63 households. Many (73) were born in Colorado. Eighteen were born in other countries: Canada (4), England (4), Germany (4), Finland (3), and one each from the Netherlands, Scotland, and Ireland. Eighty had been born in midwestern states, and thirty from states in the northeast. [32]

As of the census [33] of 2010, 5,858 people, 2,796 households, and 1,565 families resided in the town of Estes Park. The population density was 929.5 inhabitants per square mile (358.9/km2). There were 4,107 housing units at an average density of 570.6 per square mile (220.3/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 91.0% White, 0.3% African American, 0.5% Native American, 1.2% Asian, 2% Pacific Islander, 5.5% from other races, and 1.4% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 14% of the population.

There were 2,541 households, out of which 20.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.3% were married couples living together, 6.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 38.4% were non-families. 31.0% of all households were made up of individuals, and 9.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.11 and the average family size was 2.61.

In the town, the population was spread out, with 17.6% under the age of 18, 5.8% from 18 to 24, 26.6% from 25 to 44, 29.4% from 45 to 64, and 20.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 45 years. For every 100 females, there were 92.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.7 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $43,262, and the median income for a family was $55,667. Males had a median income of $31,573 versus $20,767 for females. The per capita income for the town was $30,499. About 3.2% of families and 4.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 4.6% of those under age 18 and 0.8% of those age 65 or over.

Three million tourists visit Rocky Mountain National Park each year; most use Estes Park as their base. [34]

Historic ski areas

Estes Park was home to a number of now defunct ski areas: [35]

Estes Park vicinity was also the home of other resorts and tourist attractions. [35]

Major flooding events

Flood of 1982

The town flooded in 1982 and suffered extensive damage due to the failure, "after years of disrepair and neglect", of an earthen dam several miles upstream. [26]

Flood of 2013

Both U.S. Highway 36 and U.S. Highway 34, the major routes into town, were severely damaged. Hundreds of Estes Park residents were also isolated by the destruction of sections of Fish Creek Road and all nine crossings across Fish Creek. Damaged sewer lines dumped raw sewage down the creek and into the Big Thompson River. [40]


Public transportation

The main airport serving Estes Park is Denver International Airport, located 75 miles southeast. Service between the airport and Estes Park is provided by local carriers. [41]

The town of Estes Park operated Estes Transit, a free shuttle during the summer months. [42]


Sister city

Estes Park's official sister city is Monteverde, Costa Rica.

Notable people

See also

Related Research Articles

Larimer County, Colorado County in Colorado, United States

Larimer County is a county located in the U.S. state of Colorado. As of the 2010 census, the population was 299,630. The county seat and most populous city is Fort Collins. The county was named for William Larimer, Jr., the founder of Denver.

Grand Lake, Colorado Statutory Town in Colorado, United States

Grand Lake is a statutory town in Grand County, Colorado, United States. The population was 471 at the 2010 census.

Montezuma, Colorado Statutory Town in State of Colorado, United States

The Town of Montezuma is a statutory town located in eastern Summit County, Colorado, United States. The town population was 65 at 2010 United States Census. The town is a former mining camp that sits at an elevation of 10,200 feet (3,110 m), just west of the Continental Divide, nestled among mountains that reach an elevation of 12,000-13,000 feet around it. It is situated in the upper valley of the Snake River above the ski resort of Keystone in the Rocky Mountains.

Longs Peak Mountain in Colorado, United States

Longs Peak is a high and prominent mountain in the northern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains of North America. The 14,259-foot (4346 m) fourteener is located in the Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness, 9.6 miles (15.5 km) southwest by south of the Town of Estes Park, Colorado, United States. Longs Peak is the northernmost fourteener in the Rocky Mountains and the highest point in Boulder County and Rocky Mountain National Park. The mountain was named in honor of explorer Stephen Harriman Long and is featured on the Colorado state quarter.

Rocky Mountain National Park National park in Colorado, United States

Rocky Mountain National Park is an American national park located approximately 76 mi (122 km) northwest of Denver International Airport in north-central Colorado, within the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The park is situated between the towns of Estes Park to the east and Grand Lake to the west. The eastern and western slopes of the Continental Divide run directly through the center of the park with the headwaters of the Colorado River located in the park's northwestern region. The main features of the park include mountains, alpine lakes and a wide variety of wildlife within various climates and environments, from wooded forests to mountain tundra.

Trail Ridge Road Highway in Colorado within Rocky Mountain National Park

Trail Ridge Road is the name for a stretch of U.S. Highway 34 that traverses Rocky Mountain National Park from Estes Park, Colorado in the east to Grand Lake, Colorado in the west. The road is also known as Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow National Scenic Byway.

The Stanley Hotel 142-room Colonial Revival hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, USA

The Stanley Hotel is a 142-room Colonial Revival hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, United States, about five miles from the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. It was built by Freelan Oscar Stanley of Stanley Steamer fame and opened on July 4, 1909, as a resort for upper-class Easterners and a health retreat for sufferers of pulmonary tuberculosis. The hotel and its surrounding structures are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the hotel includes a restaurant, spa, and bed-and-breakfast; with panoramic views of Lake Estes, the Rockies, and Long's Peak.

Keystone Resort

Keystone Resort is a ski resort located in Keystone, Colorado, United States. Since 1997 the resort has been owned and operated by Vail Resorts. It consists of three mountains – Dercum Mountain, North Peak, the Outback – and five Bowls offering skiing at all levels. The three mountains are connected by a series of ski lifts and gondolas. Keystone offers night skiing on Dercum Mountain during the Thanksgiving holiday and mid-December through March.

Mummy Range

The Mummy Range is a mountain range in the Rocky Mountains of northern Colorado in the United States. The range is a short subrange of the Front Range located in southwestern Larimer County northwest of the town of Estes Park. It is located largely within Rocky Mountain National Park, extending north from Trail Ridge Road approximately 15 miles (24 km). The Arapaho name is "nooku-bee3ei-no," which translates to "White Owls."

Lawn Lake Dam

Lawn Lake Dam was an earthen dam in Rocky Mountain National Park, United States that failed on July 15, 1982, at about 6 a.m., in an event known as the flood of 1982. The sudden release of 30 million cubic feet of water resulted in a flash flood that killed three people camping in the park and caused $31 million in damage to the town of Estes Park, Colorado and other downstream areas.

Indian Peaks Wilderness

The Indian Peaks Wilderness is a wilderness area in north central Colorado managed jointly by the United States Forest Service and the National Park Service within the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and small parts of the southern section of Rocky Mountain National Park. It borders the James Peak Wilderness to the south, and straddles the Continental Divide. The area receives high visitation due to its proximity to the Denver metropolitan area.

U.S. Route 34 (US 34) is a part of the U.S. Highway System that travels from Granby, Colorado, to Berwyn, Illinois. In the U.S. state of Colorado, US 34 is a 260-mile-long (420 km) road that spans across northern Colorado. It begins at US 40 in Granby and ends at the Nebraska border, where it continues as US 34, east of Laird.

Mount Sniktau

Mount Sniktau is a high mountain summit in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains of North America. The 13,240-foot (4,036 m) thirteener is located in Arapaho National Forest, 1.6 miles (2.5 km) northeast of Loveland Pass in Clear Creek County, Colorado, United States.

Grizzly Peak (Summit County, Colorado) Mountain in Colorado, USA

Grizzly Peak is a high mountain summit in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains of North America. Also known as Grizzly Peak D, the 13,433-foot (4,094 m) thirteener is located in Arapaho National Forest, 2.1 miles (3.4 km) southeast by east of Loveland Pass, Colorado, United States, on the Continental Divide between Clear Creek and Summit counties. Its proximate parent peak is Torreys Peak.

Bierstadt Lake Lake in Colorado, United States

Bierstadt Lake is located in Larimer County, Colorado and within the Rocky Mountain National Park. Near McHenrys Peak and Longs Peak, there are "spectacular views" of the Continental Divide at the lake. The Bierstadt Lake Trailhead is located about 6.5 miles (10.5 km) from the turn-off at U.S. Route 36 into the Rocky Mountain National Park. During the summer, shuttle buses provide transportation to the trailhead.

History of Rocky Mountain National Park began when Paleo-Indians traveled along what is now Trail Ridge Road to hunt and forage for food. Ute and Arapaho people subsequently hunted and camped in the area. In 1820, the Long Expedition, led by Stephen H. Long for whom Longs Peak was named, approached the Rockies via the Platte River. Settlers began arriving in the mid-1800s, displacing the Native Americans who mostly left the area voluntarily by 1860, while others were removed to reservations by 1878.

Horseshoe Park

Horseshoe Park is a flat at 8,524 feet (2,598 m) in elevation in Larimer County, Colorado. It is within the Rocky Mountain National Park, which lies between Estes Park to the east and Grand Lake, Colorado on the west. Horseshoe Park is home to bighorn sheep, elk and other wildlife, and it is a wetland sanctuary for wide variety of birds. Recreational activities include picnicking, hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Roaring River, Lawn Lake and Crystal Lake are located here.

Cameron Peak Fire

The Cameron Peak fire was a wildfire that started near Chambers Lake, Colorado, 25 miles (40.2km) east of Walden and 15 miles (24.1km) southwest of Red Feather Lakes near Cameron Pass on August 13, 2020 and was declared 100% contained on December 2, 2020. The fire burnt 208,663 acres through the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests in Larimer and Jackson Counties and Rocky Mountain National Park. At its peak, the fire forced the evacuation of over 20,000 residents in Estes Park, Chambers Lake, Rustic, Glacier View Meadows, Red Feather Lakes, Masonville, Glen Haven, Spring Canyon, various small communities along Highway 14, Stove Prairie Landing Road, as well as the Colorado State University Mountain Campus and had over 1,000 personnel fighting the fire. 469 structures were destroyed by the fire, including 220 outbuildings and 42 primary residences. The fire became the largest wildfire in Colorado history, surpassing the Pine Gulch Fire, which had set the same mark just seven weeks prior.


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