Inspired Travel: Cliffside Camping & More in Colorado

by  Christine Wei | May 20, 2014
Estes Park, CO
Estes Park, CO / lightphoto/iStock

Talk about elevated views. We thought Canada’s Glacier Walk was exhilarating, but a new program in Colorado is taking daredevil adventures to new heights. Kent Mountain Adventure Center is helping visitors camp out up to 500 feet off – not on – the side of a cliff near Estes Park.

Here’s how it works: Groups of one to three can choose from three elevations of 100, 300, or 500 feet. You’ll learn beginner-friendly climbing basics for getting there, then help your guide set up a "portaledge" to hang over the side of the cliff, overlooking the mountains of the Roosevelt National Forest. Stay for a few hours and enjoy lunch, or even stay overnight. While the platform doesn't have a railing, not to worry – you’ll be tethered the entire time, and your guide will be nearby in case you need help. Lunch and overnight rates are, respectively: $500 and $1,000 for one; $400 and $800 per person for two; and $300 and $600 per person for three.

Of course, you don’t have to be a fearless thrill-seaker to enjoy the great outdoors in Estes Park. Just a 90-minute drive from Denver, the region offers endless outdoor activities. Here’s what else you can do in Estes Park this summer:

Get Active
Rocky Mountain National Park boasts more than 350 miles of hiking trails along 114 peaks, while Roosevelt National Forest lures visitors with a 1.5 million-acre expanse that extends to the border of Wyoming. There’s also Old Man Mountain, which offers 665-foot views over the area’s valleys.

Of special note: Rocky Mountain National Park is celebrating its centennial this year with a bash in September as well as smaller events throughout the year. But animal lovers will have plenty of opportunities to spot elk, mule deer, moose, eagles, hawks, and other wildlife here any time. Try a photography class with Yellow Wood Guiding ($95 for 3.5 hours in winter; $180 for 4 hours in summer) or the Rocky Mountain Nature Association ($250 for three days). If you're feeling more active, Roosevelt National Park is great for mountain biking, four-wheel driving, and horseback riding.

During the summer, locals and visitors alike flock to the Lake Estes marina for kayaking and pontoon boating. It’s a great jumping off point for fishing, fly fishing, or just a lazy afternoon picnic and sail. For rentals, check out Estes Park Adventures/Rapid Transit Rafting, A Wanderlust Adventure, A1 Wildwater, Mountain Whitewater Descents, and Kirk’s Fly Shop.

Get Quirky
To literally get off the beaten path, opt for off-roading and jeep tours that let you traverse trickier terrain. Estes Park ATV Rentals offers one- and two-person ATVs that allow you to either follow the trails of gold-hunters along Bunce School Road, or explore the site of a 1965 T-33A jet crash (from $125 for three hours). Other operators include Rocky Mountain Rush, which combines photo class and 4x4 adventure, and Green Jeep Tours, which offers a variety of Rockies, Grand Lake, and ranch experiences (from $69.99 for 3 hours and $65 for 2-3 hours respectively).

Finally, for something a little different, the Warming House offers an “inn-to-inn” backpacking experience comprising four- to five-day itineraries in which travelers hike from town to town while the company takes care of the hardest part: transporting your luggage. For $790 per person (based on double occupancy), you’ll also get gear, breakfast, lunch, and GPS waypoints.

Get Cultured
Need a little intellectual stimulation to go with the stunning views? Catch a film at Park Theatre, the oldest operating movie theater west of the Mississippi River, or learn about the cattle ranch life at MacGregor Ranch built in 1973. There’s always the free Estes Park Museum, which provides a glimpse into the local history – but we also love the funky Baldpate Inn Key Museum, home to the world's largest key collection with more than 20,000 keys around the world, from the Pentagon to Westminster Abbey to Mozart's wine cellar.

When to Go
Throughout the year, Estes Park is home to a host of festivals. In the summer, there’s a Wool Market boasting one of the country’s largest celebrations of fiber and homespun wares (June 7-8), as well as a Rooftop Rodeo with classic Western activities like bronco riding, barrel racing, and plenty of food (July 8-13). The area’s 2,400 American elk are the stars of the the fall season, with elk tours, a bugling contest, Native American music and dancing, and more during ElkFest (October 4-5). See the Visit Estes Park website for more special events.

Where to Stay
The area’s hotels, inns, and cabins cater to a wide range of budgets and travel styles. There are a few offering deals right now:

The Stanley Hotel is the historic property that inspired Stephen King’s The Shining. If you can brave rumors of paranormal activity, and know that it'll be a bit campy going in, you’ll be rewarded with a fun, historic experience just a few miles from Rocky Mountain Park. Through May, stay two nights or longer and save 20 percent – from around $175.

If you’re traveling with a group, Solitude Cabins in Estes Park boasts 1,200-square-foot abodes that sleep up to six people. From $290 during the summer and $240 during the spring, you’ll enjoy jetted tubs, a patio with a gas grill and a gas fireplace. Through September 30, get an additional night free when you stay five nights - or get two additional nights free when you stay six nights.

Looking for a romantic escape? Mountain Shadows Resort offers themed "couples cabins" that feature private indoor hot tubs, plush four-poster beds, balconies or porches, and, of course, dramatic views of the mountains. The grounds are a convenient five-minute drive from the shops and restaurants of downtown but provide a quiet, intimate space to retreat to. Summer rates are $185, typically with a two-night minimum, but always include breakfast and coffee. Through October 31, stay three nights and get the fourth night free.

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