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Get Inspired by Mountain Hospitality

Estes Park is a four-season destination surrounded by miles and miles of open space

By Beth Buehler

Estes Park
An aerial view of snow-covered Estes Park || Photo by John Berry

When meeting in Estes Park, get ready to be surrounded by beautiful vistas, catch glimpses of the resident elk population, see reflections in the clear waters of Lake Estes and Big Thompson River, and marvel at longtime attractions like Rocky Mountain National Park and The Stanley Hotel.

Planners should make sure to leave time on agendas for attendees to stroll the downtown—where saltwater taffy has been stretched in the window of The Taffy Shop for decades—and to sample beer, wine, and spirits made by local producers. These and many other reasons are why the following three groups and many more have chosen to gather in this long-popular Colorado destination.

Estes Park Agendas

The International Conference on Laser Spectroscopy (ICOLS), hosted by the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA) at the University of Colorado Boulder, was held last June at The Stanley Hotel, which opened in 1909 and is a member of Historic Hotels of America—and, of course, served as inspiration for the hotel in “The Shining.” Some 190 professors, graduate students, and postdoctoral students were in attendance, with educational talks, poster sessions, several meals, and a banquet held in the Pavilion, which has 7,000 square feet of function space and a 300-seat amphitheater with movable glass walls. ICOLS also made use of the lodge library for a breakfast meeting.

“I was not part of choosing the location, but I know the two scientific organizers were blown away by the beauty of The Stanley and its location tucked into the mountain,” says Krista Beck, who organized the conference for JILA. “We knew the attendees would love going into Rocky Mountain National Park and making use of the hiking trails. I organized bus tours through Ace Express, and they did a great job.”

Only one evening meal was included, giving attendees the opportunity to check out the community’s broader culinary scene. “Estes has some nice restaurants, so that was also a plus. We received so many positive comments about the area and The Stanley. Folks really loved this location,” shares Beck, who also reserved a block of hotel rooms at The Ridgeline Hotel Estes Park.

Estes Park - Ridgeline
Happy hour with s’mores at The Ridgeline Hotel Estes Park || Photo by John Berry

Tiffany Carson, CMP, serves as continuing professional education operations manager for the Colorado Society of Certified Public Accountants and organized a small continuing education event last July at The Ridgeline, which has a wide variety of indoor and outdoor function space and is attached to the Estes Park Conference Center. “We chose Estes Park for several reasons. It is affordable in the middle of the summer, easy for attendees and speakers to get to, and a recognizable destination for many,” she says.

Organized activities were not part of the agenda, but a list of possibilities was provided. “Many of our attendees brought their families and enjoyed the s’mores offered by the hotel, horseback riding, dinners out, The Whiskey Bar at The Stanley, and Jeep tours,” Carson says.

The Career Leadership Collective based in Fort Collins annually hosts two professional development meetings for about 30 people each at YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center. Not only is it convenient for organizers to be located only an hour away from the office, but attendees from colleges and universities all over the U.S. are also big fans of the destination.

“Many have never been to the Rocky Mountains, so the opportunity to stay in and explore this area while developing relationships with colleagues from around the country and gaining an advanced leadership skill set make for a very special experience away from their everyday campus environment,” notes Events Lead Wendy Podany. “Occasionally, we have hosted our company staff in Estes Park, sometimes staying a day longer at the YMCA for team-building retreats.”

The business uses guest rooms, meeting space in the lodges, the Aspen Dining Room, and the Overlook (an inspirational location on the property) for gatherings, and attendees and their families take advantage of the YMCA’s wide range of activities. One of the groups has a free evening to explore the shops and restaurants in the downtown area while the other is transported to dinner at The Post Chicken & Beer, located at The Stanley Hotel.

Venues Options Galore

Among the largest facilities for groups in town is the Estes Park Events Complex, which sits on 42 acres. The facility includes the 33,000-square-foot Estes Park Event Center, 19,100-square-foot Pavilion, covered grandstands with seating for 2,000, arenas, barns, and nearly 400 horse stalls. The center’s multipurpose event hall is almost 26,000 square feet, making it an ideal place for larger events, and the upper level is devoted to smaller meeting spaces.

“We are welcoming USA Gymnastics in November. USA Gymnastics was the first event [hosted] when the Event Center opened its doors in 2015,” says Sales and Marketing Manager Karen Shea. “We also have national-level dog shows, which sounds odd but it’s a thing in our town.”

Estes Park - Event Center
Estes Park Events Complex || Courtesy of Estes Park Events Complex

Della Terra Mountain Chateau, located on 14 acres at the Fall River entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, is ideal for smaller groups with 14 suites, four cabins, and places to meet, while The Estes Park Resort is a larger venue with various lodging options and a ballroom, meeting room, and covered Lakeside Pavilion.

Things to Do

Estes Park is a year-round destination where outdoor options shift naturally with the seasons. Founded in 1985, KMAC Guides has long offered rock climbing and mountaineering instruction. The company also facilitates group experiences on the Estes Park Via Ferrata, ice climbing, snowshoeing, cross-country and backcountry skiing, and more. Meanwhile, Full Potential Wilderness customizes hiking, driving, geological, and Bigfoot tours, and Wildside 4X4 Tours offers backroad excursions and Rocky Mountain
National Park photo tours.

For teams that enjoy lending a helping hand, Rocky Mountain Conservancy provides volunteer stewardship opportunities tailored specifically to a group’s size, interests, and ages. This is just a sampling of all the options for when it’s time to both get down to business and  have fun in this northern Colorado gem.