In wintertime, Estes Park is at the end of the road: The only route out of town and through adjacent Rocky Mountain National Park is closed by snow. During these months, the town slumbers in its mountain valley.
But the end of the road is just the beginning of winter fun. Some visitors make the town their base for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing; more contemplative types like to meander past the shops of sleepy Elkhorn Avenue or walk in tranquil woods.
One way to get the lay of the land is through Tubbs Snowshoe Guided Tours (10 and 3 Sat-Sun through Mar 17; free if you wear Tubbs snowshoes; 800/443-7837); tours depart from the local visitor center. Wearing a pair of "big feet," it's easy to tromp around in the snow, get the feel of snowshoeing, and see some of the Estes Park area.
Rangers lead walks in the nearby national park--with snowshoes or without. Beginner's snowshoe tours ($15 park entrance fee; 970/586-1223) start at Bear Lake and walk 1/2 mile to Nymph Lake, with wonderful views of Flattop Mountain and Hallett Peak. The tours cover the rudiments of snowshoeing technique but really focus on winter ecology.
Happily, you don't have to snowshoe to see some wildlife. Herds of elk and deer brazenly come right into town. Look for them on the golf course or the lawn of the Stanley Hotel.
When you're ready to head indoors, you can nurture your cultural side at the historic Stanley Hotel (from $99; 333 Wonderview Ave.; 800/976-1377 or 970/586-3371) with Sunday afternoon concerts ($2). The landmark Stanley, the inspiration for Stephen King's The Shining, is very traditional and elegant. For something more rustic, Historic Crags Lodge (from $75; 300 Riverside Dr.; 970/586-6066) overlooks the town and mountains and has an outstanding restaurant.
A good time to visit is during the free Fourth Annual Winter Trails Weekend (Feb 16-17; 800/443-7837), when you can try out the latest in snowshoeing gear or join a guided walk into the park. Spend a winter day here and you'll realize that Estes Park isn't that quiet after all.
WHERE: Estes Park is at the junction of U.S. 36 and U.S. 34, 63 miles from Denver.
CONTACT: Estes Park Visitors Center: (800) 443-7837.