Colorado National Parks

3 Estes Park Locals Share their Favorite Spots

Three local entrepreneurs share their recommendations and why they love their town next to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Melissa Strong

Co-owner, Bird & Jim, Estes Park’s first farm-to-table restaurant

Melissa Strong, Co-owner, Bird & Jim, Estes Park’s first farm-to-table restaurant
Melissa StrongCourtesy Bird & Jim
Food at Bird and Jim Restaurant in Estes Park
Farm-to-table food prepared at Bird & JimCourtesy Bird & Jim

Realized Her Dream: Opened Bird & Jim in 2017 after working in the restaurant business and living in Estes Park since 1996.

Why She Loves Estes Park: The community. After being severely burned on her hands, this rock climber spent three months in the hospital recovering. “Without my doctors, my husband and the Estes Park community, I wouldn’t be where I am today.” Which is back on the rock and greeting guests in her restaurant.

Favorite Dish at Bird & Jim: Lamb Bolognese with lamb from SkyPilot Farm in Longmont, Colo.

Recommends: Hiking to Chasm Lake to watch rock climbers. Bring your binoculars to get a bird’s eye view of the Diamond, the legendary face of Longs Peak, the park’s highest mountain at 14,259 feet.

Favorite Place to Bring Out-of-Towners: Visit the Aspen and Evergreen Gallery and Earthwood Artisans to see pieces by local and national artists.

Volunteers: In Rocky Mountain National Park as a bouldering steward, joining park climbing rangers to educate people about Leave No Trace principles, access to climbs and so on. 

Belle Morris

Race director, Estes Park Marathon
President, Estes Park Running Club

Belle Morris, Race director, Estes Park Marathon, President, Estes Park Running Club
Belle MorrisCourtesy Belle Morris
Runners at the Estes Park Marathon
Runners at the Estes Park MarathonCourtesy Estes Park Marathon

Realized Her Dream: Has spent 12 years as race director for Estes Park Marathon, enabling people to challenge themselves and connect with nature while running a spectacular course.

Why She Loves Estes Park: “I’ve lived here off and on since I was nine-and-a-half. I love its smallness, its closeness to nature.”

Favorite Trail Run: A 14-mile run round-trip to Thunder Lake in the Wild Basin area of the park. The parking lot fills early, so get there before 9 a.m.

Recommends: Training now for the June 16, 2019, Estes Park Marathon, which also features half-marathon, 10K and 5K courses, plus a kids fun run.

Run with the Locals: On Tuesdays, meet at the Stanley Hotel at 5:45 p.m. for a stretching session before the group run starts at 6 p.m. On Thursdays meet at 5:30 p.m. at The Barrel, a brewery at 251 Moraine Ave., and get 10 percent off your pint that night. All are welcome.

Best Way to Avoid Park Traffic: Park in the new downtown parking structure near the Estes Park Visitor Center, 500 Big Thompson Ave. Then take one of the town’s free shuttles into the park. 

Amy Hamrick

Owner, Kind Coffee

Amy Hamrick, owner of Kind Coffee in Estes Park
Amy HamrickCourtesy Amy Hamrick
Hot holiday treat at Kind Coffee in Estes Park
Peppermint bark coffeeCourtesy Kind Coffee

Realized Her Dream: Started Kind Coffee 17 years ago, blending her love of the outdoors and her commitment to the environment by serving organic, fair-trade coffee, stocking “green” products like compostable cups and giving discounts for reusable mugs.

Why She Loves Estes Park: “The short answer is the mountains. I always say I want to live in the mountains, not look at them. But the answer after all these years is the community: both our year-long friends and the millions of people who visit Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park every year.”

Favorite Coffee Drink: Vanilla latte. Since 1994.

Recommends: Hiking to Gem Lake on Lumpy Ridge. “It’s the perfect place to see the Estes Valley and Continental Divide.”

Favorite Place to Bring Out-of-Towners: “From our back door, the Riverwalk extends in both directions.” To the west is the heart of downtown. The east leads you past the visitor center to Lake Estes.

Gives Back: Is a business member of the 1% for the Planet and founding member of the Estes Give Back Program, in which businesses give 1 percent of their sales to Estes Valley nonprofits through cash, in-kind services/merchandise and volunteer time.  

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Learn more at VisitEstesPark.com or stop by the Estes Park Visitor Center, 500 Big Thompson Ave.