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Winter in the Rocky Mountains doesn’t have to come with a huge price tag, and it doesn’t have to mean skiing either. In this unbiased review of the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, you’ll get an inside look at what it’s like to stay on the property in the winter. Let’s dive into the details.
This is a guest post written by Ryan Sitzman, father of two boys living in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Before we start, let me first apologize.
By the time you get to the third paragraph of this article, there’s at least a 90% chance that you’ll have the song “Y.M.C.A.” by the Village People playing in your head.
Even though I actually like that song, you may not. So I’m sorry if I unintentionally hijacked your inner soundtrack. But that’s just one (positive, maybe?) side effect of staying at any YMCA. I suggest you just come to terms with it or even embrace it, and then you can move on. Ready? OK.
We recently had the opportunity to spend a fun, relaxing family weekend at the YMCA of the Rockies just outside of Estes Park, Colorado. It was the perfect place for a multi-generational weekend getaway, and it has tons of activities for all ages and interests.
Getting to the YMCA of the Rockies
Our stay began with a lovely drive up from Fort Collins. We planned to stop in Estes Park on the way up; it’s a quaint town just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park and just minutes from the YMCA. However, as is often the case when traveling with young kids, our planned departure time of 2:00 got delayed until about 5:00. So we decided we’d hit up Estes Park sometime during our stay.
As it turns out, though, there were more than enough things to keep us busy at “The Y,” and we actually ended up staying on the YMCA Estes Park grounds the whole weekend long! The same was true when we did a Fall Colors trip to YMCA of the Rockies in Winter Park this past October- so much to do!
We arrived and went through the quick, efficient check-in process in the main lodge. It’s a beautiful building that’s over 100 years old, and the welcoming fireplaces and sofas in the reception area are a great way to ease yourself into that “Mountain Retreat” vibe. The friendly receptionist gave us a map and the keys to our cabin.
We discovered that the map was indispensable because the YMCA is HUGE. There are several large lodges in a central area, as well as countless cabins of different sizes, spread all throughout the hills. We got turned around a few times during our stay, especially after dark, so we were glad we had the map!
Each lodge and cabin has its own name, and we stayed in the “Golden Eagle” family cabin at the far end of one of the roads. We were very happy in our tranquil, cozy cabin, which was perfect for spending some quality family time together.
Dining Options at the YMCA Estes Park
We arrived after most of the day’s activities were finished, but we did get there in time to have dinner at the Aspen dining hall. There are a couple of large, cafeteria-style dining areas that serve buffet-style meals.
Our stay included meal tickets but if your reservation doesn’t include them, you can also pay separately for any meals you want to eat in the halls.
The prices for adults are $10.50, $12.50, and $15.50 for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, respectively, and the kids’ prices are $7.00, $8.50, and $10.50. That seems reasonable, though if you feel like a change of pace, Estes Park and its selection of restaurants are just a few minute’s drive away.
Now, I’ll admit that I went into our dining experience with low expectations. Something about the idea of eating at a cafeteria in the mountains must have recalled the sub-par ski lodge cafeterias of my youth, and I was pretty skeptical.
However, everyone in our group was pleasantly surprised about the food! I wouldn’t hold my breath for them to get a Michelin star or anything, but the food was actually pretty good.
The hearty main courses always included a vegan and/or vegetarian option, and there were plenty of tasty options in the salad bar. Our two boys enjoyed the food too, which is a huge bonus!
A note about the dining halls: the YMCA runs a tight ship when it comes to dining times. We saw that dinner went from 5:00-7:30. I should note, though, that the staff at the dining hall – as well as everywhere else at the YMCA of the Rockies – were exceptionally friendly, and we didn’t feel pressured to leave. Which was good, because our slow-eating boys took their sweet, sweet time to finish their food.
Family Cabin Accommodations at YMCA of the Rockies
We were tired from our drive so we went to bed early, but not until we’d checked out our cabin. I’d describe it as “rustic comfy,” which is probably what they were going for. It sleeps up to 10 people so it was more than large enough for the five of us.
In fact, we only went to the separate downstairs area to have a look and take some pictures. We stayed upstairs on the main floor where there were three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room, a fully-equipped kitchen, and a large table. There was also a porch that wrapped around half of cabin, giving us beautiful views to start our day on Saturday morning.
Although we had planned on using the kitchen to cook at least one meal during our stay, the convenience of eating in the dining hall won out and we didn’t actually use the kitchen. But it’s good to know that we could have, and I can imagine that it would be an excellent place for a family getaway or a mountain trip with friends.
We turned on the awesome gas fireplace in our living room and settled in for the evening. My mom read our boys a few bedtime stories and we went to bed warm and contented.
A Saturday Full of Activities at “The Y”
Our fun-filled Saturday at YMCA of the Rockies started with a quick breakfast at the dining hall, followed by a yoga class for me, my wife, and our four-year-old boy. My mom stayed with our one-year-old and they enjoyed a bit of time together in the main lodge.
We got to the yoga class about 20 minutes late. I’m embarrassed to admit it but even though I had my map, I still got turned around. The small group of six or seven people still welcomed us to join them. My wife and I enjoyed the class as a peaceful, calming way to get our day going right. The instructor, Laura, was also very sweet with our boy, who had never done (or even seen) yoga before. He got a kick out of it, but I’m not sure if he got much of a spiritual awakening.
We walked back to meet the rest of our group at the lodge, where we drank some coffee and relaxed on the swings on the enormous porch outside. From there, we went to the library, which is definitely worth a visit, especially if you have kids. The whole downstairs area is full of puzzles, games, and — of course — books, so we had some quality time with our boys’ favorite big red dog.
By the way, I know that it might sound lame to sit inside with a book when just outside the door, the hills were alive with the sound of music and all that. But let me note that it was extremely cold during our visit, with temperatures in the single digits. Also, we had just moved from Costa Rica a few weeks earlier, and we’re still not too hot on cold weather. There are lots of included outdoor activities at the YMCA Estes Park though- including snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice skating, and roller skating.
However, as we soon learned, even if you don’t want to spend more than two minutes outside of a heated environment, you can still have a great time at the YMCA!
Getting “Back to Nature”
After our library visit and a leisurely lunch, our boys needed a nap, so we went back to the cabin so they could rest. I took the opportunity to take some more pictures and to get outside by myself.
sometimes go running when I can’t think of any more excuses not to go running like to go running, so I tied up my running shoes and headed out for a mountain adventure. It was a great five-kilometer trail jog through the ice and snow, which was a fun way to reconnect with nature. I should mention, though, that I was careful to stay on trails and to stay within sight of cabins or roads. You should definitely find a running buddy if you feel like heading out off-trail.
My kids were still sleeping when I got back so I connected to Instagram and uploaded some pictures from my run. I know, I know: it’s great to disconnect and everything, but I was only online for a few minutes, and it wasn’t work-related or anything.
In fact, I’d say that the YMCA has just the right amount of technology. We had a TV that apparently worked, even though we never actually used it. There was also WiFi throughout most of the property, even in our remote cabin, which was surprising. I have to say, though, that they dropped the ball by calling it “YMCA Guest WiFi” or something dull like that, when they could have called it “Y-Fi.” Oh well.
By the time I’d showered, everyone was awake again so we set out to see what we could see. We would have loved a dip in the indoor pool but unfortunately, it was closed for renovations during our visit. That was just bad timing. We saw that we could go use the public pool in town for free, but we decided to just stay on the YMCA grounds.
Instead, we headed for the Sweet Memorial Building, which is ground zero for a lot of the activities. It was just before Valentine’s Day so there were some crafts and treats to mark the occasion. Our older boy enjoyed making valentines and a special Valentine’s Day mask (I guess?), as well as decorating some heart-shaped cookies. Our younger boy enjoyed looking at the animal displays and eating those same heart-shaped cookies.
Finishing Up an Excellent Weekend with YMCA of the Rockies
Sunday was our last day at the Y. Checkout time was supposedly 10:00 but they said we could leave at 12:00 because nobody would be checking in to our cabin later that same day. That was great since it gave us time to do more activities.
I went with my older boy to an “Animal Detectives” class. It was an interactive half-hour class with an instructor who talked about different animals that live nearby. Our boy enjoyed touching the antlers and horns and talking about his own favorite animals. There were also some ping pong tables in the basement, where my mom taught her grandson all her killer table tennis moves.
On our way out we stopped at the Boone Family Mountain Center, a cool new building that has a gear shop, an awesome climbing wall, and some exhibits about local nature and wildlife. There weren’t any takers for the climbing wall in our group, but the people who were using it looked like they were having a blast.
As we headed back home (with an obligatory stop for ice cream in Estes Park, of course, even though the temperature was still below freezing), we reflected on the lovely weekend that we’d spent as a family at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park.
We were especially grateful that three generations of us were able to travel together. Everything went smoothly, and we’d definitely like to go back soon. It’s the perfect place to start off a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, but it’s also an excellent destination in and of itself. There’s loads of fun activities for all ages, and the accommodations are extremely cozy.
Be sure to check out the YMCA of the Rockies’ website to find out more information about their accommodations and rates. You can also see what seasonal activities they have coming up. You’ll be glad you stayed at the Y!
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Welcome! I’m Christa, a former high school teacher married to a handsome Costa Rican and mother of two bilingual daughters. I love all things Spanish and bi-cultural, (especially travel and food!) and you’ll find my observations on life here. Thanks for stopping by