In this "secret season," the crowds fade from the Estes Park vacation rentals, the air picks up a crisp freshness and the mountains come alive with vibrant and unique sights, sounds and spirits. Ask about availability about my Colorado vacation rental.
The mountain village of Estes Park, Colorado, is a very busy place in the summer. And no wonder. This gateway to the famous Rocky Mountain National Park and home my Estes Park vacation rental gets the majority of its annual 3 million visitors during the warmest months of the year. But just as the summer-fun seekers are returning home from their outdoor adventures, you should be packing your bags to arrive in time for one of Estes Parks most enchanting times fall. Shh! Don't tell anyone!
One of Estes Park's most anticipated events this time of year is known as the Aspen Gold Rush when the area's magnificent groves of quaking aspen trees transform the hills into shimmering gold.
The change in the leaves usually begins in the highest elevations in early September and works its way downhill as the season progresses, the final leaf changing in mid- to late-October.
There are many ways to take in the fall color. One of the most popular is to drive Rocky Mountain National Park's exceptional byways. Some of the best destinations inside the park to see changing aspens are at Bear Lake and around Hidden Valley and Wild Basin. Or outside the park, try cruising either the Peak-to-Peak National Scenic Byway, which is the road south of Estes Park, or Cache La Poudre National Scenic Byway, which is northeast of town (a bit of a longer drive away).
Most visitors first take in the park with a drive along the Trail Ridge Road, famous for being the highest road in any U.S. National Park. Early designers took special care to create a roadway that allowed explorers to see the park from its most magnificent views, with meandering routes and specially crafted turnouts. It's not only a good way to see patches of fall color, but also to get oriented in the park itself and to see some of its most awe-inspiring alpine features and wildlife.
The road does partially close mid-October; check with the rangers at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center (two miles from my Estes Park vacation rental along Park Entrance Road) before you get started to learn about road conditions and where the leaves are most colorful.
If you are interested in capturing all of this autumn splendor on film, you might opt for a Photo Safari. During a safari, a guide will take shutterbugs straight to where the leaves are at their most stunning and to the most colorful vistas.
Guides also know where the animals tend to hang out this time of year, increasing your chances of landing a photo of a mule deer, moose or headbutting bighorn sheep. Many even have professional photography equipment that you can borrow (or rent) and will help you use it. Several operators offer photo tours, among them: Yellow Wood Guiding and Photos by Sandi.
Talk about a perfect place for a fall Colorado vacation a cozy timber-trimmed room all your own, many with a two-sided fireplace to comfortably hole up in front of with a good book. And then there's the Big Thompson River that tumbles by just outside the Estes Park vacation rental. Step onto your deck to enjoy a view of the Rockies and see massive elk and other wildlife saunter by.
If you've ever dreamed about having a cabin in the mountains, the lodge-style units at my Estes Park vacation rental will satisfy your most rustic yearnings. And this little piece of Rocky Mountain heaven is your ideal base camp to start exploring the area's autumn treasures.
Or take the slow road and go "cowboy" a guided horseback tour that will canter you into the heart of the changing landscapes so you can absorb the sights and sounds. Most horseback tour operators will take you inside either Rocky Mountain National Park or Roosevelt National Park, where you can experience a number of different landscapes and terrains. Some age and weight restrictions apply, plus some trail options are limited in the late fall, so call ahead. Two nearby stables are Sombrero Ranch and National Park Gateway Stables, but also check at the vacation rental's front desk for recommendations.
The locals celebrate the coming of the fall color with the Autumn Gold Festival. The 2011 festival will be held the weekend of Sept. 24-25 in Bond Park, which is a comfortable 1.5-mile walk from my Estes Park vacation rental (at the intersection of Elkhorn and MacGregor avenues). Join in by buying a hot bratwurst and a cold beer (or hot cider) and get a chance to listen to local bands with styles ranging from bluegrass and folk to western and rock.
Another sign that fall is under way is the start of the yearly elk "rut." This mating time, which runs from mid-September through October, begins as the male elk gather "harems" of females around them. And then the show really begins.
To display their considerable 1,000-pound prowess, the males will "bugle," or call to the females, and the longer and louder the call, the more powerful the elk (or at least that's the idea). The bugles start low and then rise to a high-pitched squeal and finish with a series of grunts, intended to steal females away from other bull elk harems.
The best places in the park to see the elk in action are in Moraine Park, Upper Beaver Meadows, and Horseshoe Park. But you can really just stay in town and see plenty, especially near Estes Park's two golf courses, Lake Estes Executive Golf Course and Estes Park Golf Course, and near any waterway.
You might want to time your stay at my Estes Park vacation rental to coincide with Estes Park's annual Elk Fest -- Ask about availability. Running the weekend of Oct. 1-2, 2011, the festival is the ideal way to immerse yourself in the world of the wapiti, or American elk. Take guided tours to see the elk and learn all about their rituals and habitat, or join the elk bugling contest, hear Native American storytelling, check out wares from local artists and indulge in the abundance of food.
There's even something called the Mountain Man Rendezvous, where mountain men from camps all over the country gather to demonstrate their mountain skills.
The air chills, the days shorten and Halloween nears autumn brings a spookier feel to the village. And in Estes Park, one of the best places for a supernatural encounter is The Stanley Hotel (on Wonderview Avenue, just two miles from the resort). It was while staying at The Stanley in 1973 that Stephen King was inspired to write his classic horror novel "The Shining." In fact, he stayed at the hotel for five months working on the novel, using it as inspiration for the novel's terrifying setting.
Modern-day ghost hunters can take the Stanley Hotel Historic Ghost & History Tour. A guide takes you to the most haunted nooks and crannies during the 90-minute tour, including the fourth floor, where it is said children can be heard talking, and the music room, where the ghost of Flora Stanley can sometimes be seen playing the piano. You'll also get a look inside room No. 217, where Stephen King stayed, imagined, and wrote.
For the true spook-seekers, there is also a late-night "ghost hunt" at the hotel. Younger kids will enjoy a night of ghost stories told by a local historian. Tours are very popular at The Stanley, so make a reservation to secure your spot.
For spirits of another kind, make a point of spending an evening or two in the charming and walkable village of Estes Park. There are more than 300 shops, galleries, restaurants and bars here, and you'll have fun exploring The Riverwalk, which ambles alongside the Big Thompson River through the heart of town. And on Halloween the town's main drag, Elkhorn Avenue, closes to traffic, and kids and adults alike flood in for trick-or-treating at the shops.
This article on Estes Park vacation rentals appeared in my timeshare rental magazine for owners.
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