Have you ever taken a vacation where you literally felt like you stepped back into a different time? Our visit to the YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center took us back into a different era, one centered on family, kids, and nature while simultaneously bringing all three together. Then my cell phone rang and I realized it wasn’t a time warp, we had simply uncovered a hidden gem right outside of Rocky Mountain National Park.
YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center is truly a unique mountain resort-like center only three miles from downtown Estes Park in Colorado. It sits right at the doorstep of Rocky Mountain National Park. With 860 acres, 216 cabins, five lodges and large vacation homes, the Estes Park Center is bigger than I ever imagined and encompasses adventure, tranquility, and everything in-between.
YMCA of the Rockies has three locations – the Estes Park Center in Estes Park, Snow Mountain Ranch in Winter Park, and Camp Chief Ouray, an overnight camp for kids ages 7-17.
Things to do at the YMCA of the Rockies
There will be no complaining about “being bored” at the YMCA of the Rockies. It’s easy to fill both the days and nights with activities. With day camps, nature walks, an amazing art center, miniature golfing, horseback riding, and family festivals held throughout the year there are activities for every type of family.
Free Activities: I was really impressed with the number of free activities the Estes Park Center offered including a 27-hole miniature golf course, roller skating, tennis, wildlife classes, hiking, access to an onsite museum, and library. This list isn’t even all of them!
Fee-Based Activities: There are other fee-based programs as well including ziplining ($20 pp), horseback riding ($15-$37 pp), mountain biking, white water rafting, and a to-die-for arts and crafts center. (You pay a small materials fee for art projects.) I found the pricing for these activities to be much lower than outside programs.
Scheduled Activities: There are a variety of short, scheduled activities at the Estes Park Center and Snow Mountain Ranch locations for kids from preschool on up. Some program offerings included: archery, knot tying, nature art, and survival classes. Programs do change throughout the season, so take advantage of the ability to review the available programs for your visit and register your kids online. I had my girls (ages four and six) do an hour-long Little Explorers program. The program was a survival class focused on hiking essentials and reinforced the key points with an outdoor treasure hunt. Both girls came back excited and ready for this summer’s hiking and camping expeditions. Pricing for these programs were anywhere from $3 to $7 per child.
Day Camps: For parents who cannot wait for their kids to go away for summer camp, but who have kids who are either too young or won’t do well with it yet – listen up. Traditional day camps at the YMCA of the Rockies are $26 and last from 8:15am until 3:15 pm. Kids basically do all the things they would do at overnight camp during the day – hiking, horseback riding, crafts, swimming, wilderness exploration, and more. Another option for day camps are specialty camps. These programs are unique in that they offer campers more time – two hours a day – to focus on a specific activity. For instance, if you children are really into horses, they’ll spend two hours learning and riding at the livery and then enjoy traditional camp activities.
While the kids are in camp, adults can go explore Estes Park, do a hike through Rocky Mountain National Park, or just read a book in a lounge chair outside the cabin. It’s almost like going to camp with the kids, but better because everyone can participate at his/her own pace.
*Tip: Participation in YMCA of the Rockies activities is not predicated on staying at the property.
Dining at YMCA of the Rockies
There are three dining options at the YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center. The most popular being The Aspen Dining Room where, unlike many all-you-can-eat buffet-style restaurants, there are more healthy options than not including a huge salad bar, fresh fruit, soups, and steamed veggies. During our stay there was always a vegetarian and vegan option. Meals are available on a pay-as-you-go basis or as part of a meal plan; children five years old and under eat free.
Heading out for a hike or a picnic? Call ahead and the kitchen will package meals for you. Food is also available to go in the Rustic Café. The one dining option we weren’t able to try was the Pine Room Restaurant, dubbed a fine dining restaurant. It’s only open Memorial Day through Labor Day. Let us know if you have tried it, we’d love to hear your thoughts.
TIP: The Aspen Dining Room serves dinner from 5-7pm. We arrived at 5:15pm and it was mobbed, mainly by tweens and teens who were attending an outdoor education program. Go after 5:30 for a calmer experience. There is no need to worry about the food running out as kitchen is great at refilling items.
There are a variety of options at the YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center from a two to four bedroom cabin to a more deluxe four-bedroom vacation home that sleeps 10. Around 60 of the 216 cabins have been newly built or remodeled since 2000 with others having been updated in the ‘90s. The cabins and the vacation homes are all pet-friendly and have free WiFi. (The Estes Park Center does not have campgrounds but the Snow Mountain Ranch location does.)
During our visit we stayed in a two-bedroom cabin at the Estes Park Center. I think one of the biggest highlights for my kids were the bunk beds while I loved seeing wildlife right outside my window. The cabin we stayed in was recently remodeled and the furniture was pretty basic and fit well in a cabin setting. All cabins (and vacation homes) are equipped with full kitchens – including pots, pans, and utensils – making staying in and cooking an easy option. But don’t count on watching a movie or TV, televisions are not in any of the lodging options except for the vacation homes.
For more of a hotel feel, try one of the lodge rooms. The rooms also have free WiFi and include complimentary breakfast for two. Unlike the cabins and vacation homes, they are not pet-friendly and do not have kitchens.
Lodging at YMCA of the Rockies books up pretty quickly during the summer months so make sure to book soon.
Read more kid-friendly reviews of YMCA of the Rockies
Ready to visit? Find Great Rates & Deals: Free Breakfast with lodge stay OR Free Day Pass (or $15 off lodging) with Y Membership
Have you ever visited a YMCA destination location? What about YMCA of the Rockies? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.
Check out Elaine’s travel adventures & tips at CarpeTravel.com.
Disclosure: The author received a complimentary stay at the YMCA of the Rockies for the purpose of this review. She was not required to state any particular view; all opinions are her own.