We went straight from our drive through Rocky Mountain National Park to our bed and breakfast, Romantic Riversong, which was located (duh) by a river at the end of a rocky road. We were treated to coffee and cookies in the main house while we checked in, and then the innkeeper showed us to our suite, Cowboy’s Delight:
The suite was, obviously, cowboy-themed. It was very spacious and had a deep jacuzzi, a wood-burning stove, and a giant deck out front. We took a little stroll around the property and went down to the river, which was indeed romantic.
For dinner that night we tried to go to Smokin’ Dave’s, a local BBQ joint, but there was a 40 minute wait (at 6pm!) and we were starving so we ended up going to The Rock Inn Mountain Tavern, eating at the bar, and making friends with a local.
The next morning we got up and had breakfast in the dining room of the main house at our inn and chatted with the other guests. I must admit, I had forgotten that part of staying at B&Bs is that you typically eat breakfast with the other guests, so I wasn’t really prepared for that much socializing first thing in the morning. I don’t often feel very talkative in the morning, even though I do consider myself to be a morning person. It wasn’t unpleasant per se, but this introvert would have preferred to avoid kicking off her day with a bunch of small talk.
From breakfast we headed to the nearby RMNP visitor center and asked a ranger for advice on where to hike that day. When we went out to our car in the parking lot, I saw this on the passenger side door:
We went back in to the visitor center and showed the rangers the pic, and they said it was probably a bear checking out our car for food. We hadn’t left any food in the car, but we remembered that there were sugar packets in the console from the last people who had rented the car, so maybe a bear smelled those? We figured the print must have happened overnight at the B&B, because we hadn’t noticed it before. The likelihood that a bear would have left a print either in Rock Springs or in downtown Steamboat Springs was very slim. And surely we would have noticed the print if it had appeared while we were in Jackson Hole.
After disposing of the sugar packets, we took the ranger’s advice and drove down to the Wild Basin trailhead, which she said would be less populated but still easy enough for me (I’m not the most fit person, but I held my own quite well on the trip!). We hiked the 1.8 mile trail (gaining 700 feet in elevation!) along a river, on up to Calypso Cascades and then back. Here’s a dorky pic of me posing in all of my hiking gear:
And here I am on a broad rock that I climbed up on for a photo op….look how blue the sky is!!
After the hike we came back to our room and rested, then went to dinner at Dunraven Inn, an Italian restaurant that’s said to be one of the best in town. That night while relaxing in our room after dinner, we heard a whole lot of elk bugling. “What the hell is elk bugling?” you are probably asking. We happened to be vacationing during rutting season—basically, breeding season. Bulls (male elk) bugle to attract cows (female elk) and intimidate other bulls. Bugling is a very distinct noise that doesn’t sound like it would come out of a male elk. Take a listen to some examples. If you didn’t know what it was, the sound would be a little unnerving! We also heard some coyotes that night. Lots of active wildlife in Estes Park!
The next morning, John went into RMNP at dawn to see some of the elk rut in action. From our room I heard more bugling, and saw a few elk cross the road just outside our B&B property. We had breakfast in the dining room again and sat at our own two-top table this time, then realized the folks from the day before were probably offended by the fact that we chose not to sit with them at the big table. We should have just sat on our own from day one! We chilled in the room that morning, and then drove into downtown Estes Park to explore. There are a ton of shops, restaurants, and bars in that area so we went in and out of stores, browsed, and bought some gifts. I bought myself a gift from The Ore Cart Rock Shop—this gorgeous chunk of labradorite, my favorite stone!
Late that afternoon we hiked up the short trail on our B&B property and took in the views of Estes Park and the Rockies:
That evening we drove back downtown and had dinner at Nepal’s Cafe, an Indian/Himalayan hole-in-the-wall with incredible food that was recommended by our innkeeper and the local whom we met at Rock Inn. Definitely eat there if you ever find yourself in Estes Park!
We decided to get an early start on a hike the next morning to beat the crowds—we had chosen a hike that started at the Bear Lake trailhead, which is one of the most popular destinations in RMNP due to its vistas and its easy 0.5 mile trail loop, and we really did not want to deal with a shitshow. We had to check out of the B&B that day but needed to get started on our hike before they served breakfast, so we ate Nepal’s Cafe leftovers in our room and avoided the small talk situation. 😛
We hiked the 1.8 mile trail to Emerald Lake, passing Nymph Lake and Dream Lake along the way. The trail wasn’t all that easy, however, because we gained more than 600 feet in elevation, from 9,475 feet to 10,110 feet! I definitely had to stop and catch my breath a few times. The weather was absolutely perfect for a hike! The lakes along the way were gorgeous, as was the view of Flattop Mountain from Emerald Lake:
Here’s a stunning view of the scenery from our hike back down—lots of people were stopped here to take photos:
John among the brilliant golden aspens on the way back down:
The trail itself was beautiful:
We couldn’t believe our luck, weather-wise—for most of our hikes, the temperature started off chilly but then turned very pleasant and comfortable. And we definitely made the right call to start the Emerald Lake hike off early in the day; when we first arrived at the Bear Lake parking lot there were still plenty of spaces available, but by the time we left it was full and shuttles were bringing people over from a nearby park & ride lot. There were a lot more people coming up the trail as we came down, too.
After the hike we treated ourselves to Starbucks downtown, wandered around the farmer’s market, and headed to The Stanley Hotel to check in. If you aren’t familiar with The Stanley, it’s the hotel where Stephen King stayed when he was inspired to write The Shining. The Kubrick film didn’t use it as a filming location, but the 1990s TV miniseries remake actually did some filming there. It’s a beautiful, historic hotel that has become a tourist destination, and you can go on hotel tours and ghost tours even if you’re not staying there.
We were starving after our morning hike, so we grabbed seats at the Whiskey Bar for some lunch. Hello, burrata salad!
We rested in our room that afternoon and went on a ghost tour that evening—I had booked our spots weeks in advance because I saw online that they often sell out! The tour lasted 90 minutes and was not quite what I expected. I had thought we would walk around the hotel and hear stories of ghost encounters. Instead, we were taken to the concert hall on the property, which is apparently one of the most haunted buildings there, and mostly just took photos around different rooms of the building to see if anything paranormal popped up in our photos, like orbs or full-on spirits. We did hear a variety of stories about spirits that supposedly haunt the concert hall—in the main room, the electrician’s booth, the basement, etc.—but I didn’t expect to spend an hour and a half taking tons of photographs and inspecting them for paranormal phenomena.
We did end up at the main hotel building, taking photos of the front porch, inside one of the ballrooms, and then down in the basement. And in the basement, I actually seem to have captured orbs back in a corner where the tour guide said a former chef’s ghost has been known to hang out. The tour guide had told us to take bursts of photos so that we could compare them to one another for paranormal imagery. When I showed the two photos below to our tour guide, she said “yep, those are orbs” for the second photo. She said that dust shows up as see-thru in photos, while orbs are solid in appearance. This first photo below is the “control” image with no orbs:
Two of the orbs in the second photo are a little hard to see unless you zoom in on the original photo, but one is blue and one is red. They almost look like a pair of mismatched eyes glowing out from the dark basement corner.
I’m not fully sold on the existence of spirits, because these orbs could 100% be dust, but the bright yellow and then smaller, more subtle blue and red dots in the second photo are…suspicious. I say that because you can clearly see regular dust motes captured in both photos (for example, there’s a big one just above and to the left of the yellow orb in photo #2), and the colored ones do have a different feel to them. Was the ghost tour worth it? It was fun, but honestly I think I might have preferred taking the hotel tour so that we could have walked around the main hotel more and learned about its history.
I also want to point out that The Stanley’s tour office has a miniature of Robert the Doll, a cursed object that we actually saw in person while on a ghost tour of Key West!
After our ghost tour we returned to the Whiskey Bar and ate a delicious dinner while chatting with other hotel guests.
The next day, John went on a 10 mile hike by himself from Bear Lake to The Loch and Sky Pond. I had learned that five miles was my absolute limit, so there was no way that I was going to join him for that hike. I lazed around the room and discovered that The Stanley has a channel dedicated to playing The Shining on a loop. The hotel has a small museum in the basement with photos and props related to The Shining, so I went down there to check it out. Did you know that Dumb & Dumber filmed some scenes at The Stanley?! That’s one of my favorite comedies, so I was excited to learn that they shot there.
I also went down the hall from our room to peek at room 217, the room Stephen King stayed in when The Shining idea struck him.
That night, we went over to the cabin of the local guy we met at Rock Inn—John had exchanged numbers with him so that we could hang out again while we were in town—and had drinks on his patio by the river. Then we walked over to the Dunraven Inn and had another tasty dinner there. It’s always fun to make friends with local and other travelers when you’re in different parts of the country (or world)!
The next day was our last full day of vacation (sad!) so we checked out of the Stanley and got on the road to Denver via Boulder. The drive was the shortest leg of our trip—only about an hour and a half—and on the way we stopped outside Denver to have breakfast at a restaurant called Early Bird, which was so good! We headed to our hotel, the Courtyard Denver Stapleton, and rested in the room all afternoon, trying to come to terms with having to return to Real Life.
That evening we drove downtown for dinner at D’Corazon, a really good, affordable Mexican restaurant (probably our cheapest dinner of the trip!) near Larimer Square. After dinner we strolled around downtown, then headed back to the hotel and because it was October 1, we watched the first horror movie of my 31 Days of Horror challenge, The Houses October Built.
Our flight home went smoothly the next day, and while we were sad that our vacation had ended, it was really nice to come home to our cats and our own bed. We had such a wonderful time and at least we have all these lovely photos and my recaps to look back on. 🙂
One last thing I’d like to note is that this trip brought us to our third national park visit this year (we went to Joshua Tree National Park in March). That’s probably more national parks in one year than I’ve visited in my whole life, and it’s exciting that we made this happen in the national parks’ centennial year!
I’ll close out this post with a photo collage of just some of the wildlife we spotted on our hikes…
That’s it! If you’ve made it through all three of these posts, you get a cookie. Thanks for reading!