Rocky Mountain day trip: Estes Park, CO

Hike through Rocky Mountain park then head into the historic town for a ghostly tour and good eats

Mills Lake in Estes Park, CO.

There are more than 350 miles of hiking trails in Rocky Mountain park, but one of the prettiest is to Mills Lake, framed by pine trees and snowcapped peaks. $20 entry fee per vehicle; Mills Lake is 2.8 miles from the trailhead at Glacier Gorge parking lot; nps.gov/rom

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Elk in Estes Park, Colorado

It’s elk rutting season, which means that 1,000-pound bulls are heading down into the meadows to claim their harems. Watch the bulls challenge each other at dusk and listen to their eerie, high-pitched bugles. nps.gov/rom

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Barrels of candy in Estes Park, Colorado

You can't drive through Estes Park without encountering a candy shop. Estes Park Times & Old Fashion Candy is one of the best, with hard candies, saltwater taffy, licorice, and more in big wooden barrels and apothecary jars. Closed Fri after Oct 1; 102 W. Elkhorn Ave.; 970/586-3623.

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An antique car located in the Stanley Hotel

The 100-year-old Stanley Hotel, where Stephen King wrote his horror novel The Shining, is known as one of the country’s most haunted hotels. Take the Ghosts & History Tour ($13; call 970/577-4110 for schedule), or stay in room 217, where The Shining was written. From $199; 333 Wonderview Ave.; stanleyhotel.com

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Why go in fall: Rocky Mountain National Park crowds have cleared out, and you can get your fix of fall color and wildlife.

Claim to fame: The town is the park’s eastern gateway.

In the news: President Obama signed legislation in March designating most of the Rocky Mountain park as wilderness.

Elevation: From the Estes Park gateway at 7,522 feet to the tip of Longs Peak at 14,259 feet, Rocky Mountain is well elevated.

Number of lakes in Rocky Mountain park: 147 Bring your binocs: Look for foraging wildlife like elk herds and bighorn sheep.

History lesson: Farmer Joel Estes is believed to have hosted the first tourists in 1859; as the spectacular scenery attracted more visitors, Rocky Mountain National Park was established in 1915.

Dress code: Hiking boots and a parka, and carry extra layers; the weather can change in a moment at high elevation. 

More fall trips in the Rockies

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