By Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer | Photos courtesy of YMCA of the Rockies

 

Imagine logs softly crackling in the fireplace as snow gently falls on the Rocky Mountains outside. You’re curled up with a good book and your best fur friend when your significant other brings you a steaming hot cup of tea. Sound nice? This can be in your future when you stay at the YMCA of the Rockies this winter.

People come from all over the country to enjoy YMCA of the Rockies, but it’s right up the road from those of us who call Northern Colorado home and it makes a short and uncomplicated mountain getaway.

As I walked out of the YMCA of the Rockies’ administration building where we checked-in for the weekend, in every direction I turned there were snow-capped peaks in the distance. The view was postcard perfect and I immediately understood the power of this place.

The first YMCA summer camp was held here in 1908, and over the next 20 years, cabins were built and programs were started. Since then, generations of families have been coming here every year. YMCA of the Rockies is five minutes outside of Estes Park and five minutes from Rocky Mountain National Park.

In July 2019, the 860-acre YMCA of the Rockies announced their donation of 127 acres of land to the Estes Valley Land Trust to preserve open space. This will preserve land that borders Rocky Mountain National Park and allowed for the development of a new 5.2 mile dog-friendly hike that loops around the property.

We visited in late November with our new puppy in tow. To say that the YMCA of the Rockies is dog-friendly is an understatement. Guests will not want to leave Fido at home when they come here, especially if they are staying in one of the 206 cabins.

Dale View Cabin, our home for the weekend, has a high charm factor and not just because this two-bedroom has a fireplace and spectacular mountain views. The guest book from the ‘90s is here and it is highly entertaining reading material. Apparently, Harold the Mouse was a resident of Dale View Cabin then and there are quite a few anecdotes about spotting him or not spotting him.

The list of activities, even in the winter, will keep you, the kids and Fido busy.

Here’s an entry from October 1999 by a child from Littleton, Colo.: “It was so cool! We saw about 50 elk and the view was beautiful! I highly recommend having someone read to you while you blow up your marshmallows in the fire! Never saw Harold (mom says she’s thrilled).”

I am not sure this child was roasting his marshmallows correctly, but this story warmed my heart, nonetheless.

While YMCA of the Rockies is dog-friendly, it is also incredibly family-friendly. Entry after entry in the old guest book was made by children who thoroughly enjoyed their stay. I have little doubt that some of the children who made entries in the book are now bringing their own kids to the YMCA of the Rockies.

Don’t worry, Harold and his buddies are long gone from Dale View Cabin but this little guy sure did cause a stir when he was in residence.

Our stay included many trips to Murphy’s Mountain Dog Park, which is within easy walking distance of Dale View Cabin. On our first day, in the twilight of the evening, our puppy, Fritzi, ran around the park completely oblivious to a herd of deer just outside the fence.

There are several permanent agility stations at the park and Fritzi proved she isn’t afraid of going through tunnels or crossing over pyramids. The park also includes a covered area with seating and water fountains for both dogs and humans. The deep snow during our visit didn’t stop Fritzi from having the time of her life each time we stopped by. In fact, I think the snow enhanced her experience, and it can enhance yours.

While YMCA of the Rockies is a popular summer destination, do not underestimate the winter here. A calmness rolls in like fog on a serene winter morning and it settles over the entire property like a cozy blanket.

With a fully equipped kitchen in the cabin, eating in is easy, but occasionally you may want to head to the Aspen Dining Room for an all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’s an affordable way to feed the family and my personal favorite item was the biscuits and gravy at breakfast. Plus, there’s always dessert for anyone with a sweet tooth in the family.

Walking out of the dining hall affords breathtaking views, just be careful not to trip over a deer while you’re gawking at the mountains. The deer herds here are unafraid of humans and seem to consider YMCA of the Rockies to be home. Just remember to give them a wide berth and to never feed wildlife, even the cute squirrels that run around the cabin areas.

It is impossible to be bored at YMCA of the Rockies. The list of activities, even in the winter, will keep you, the kids and Fido busy. Whether the crew wants to swim or play ping pong or make a tie-dye shirt, it’s all available.
The Craft & Design Center is one of the most creative spaces on the property. From the colorful elk statue outside to the rows of shiny beads inside, this is where the imagination can run wild. Guests of the Craft & Design Center do not have to be staying at YMCA of the Rockies. This space can be utilized by anyone as a fun winter afternoon activity.

Open seven days a week, the center offers everything from ceramic painting to leather stamping, and this artsy spot isn’t just for kids. Adults can create, too, and this spring they are expanding the offerings to include silk painting, glass fusing and basket making.

Just a short car ride away, Estes Parks offers everything from the Riverwalk to shopping and restaurants. Although the town has its fair share of touristy stores selling Colorado t-shirts and ballcaps, there are art galleries and ten coffee shops. That’s right—if caffeine is your vice, Estes Park is the town for you.

I like the adorable tea shop along the Riverwalk called Rocky Mountain SereniTea, where I picked up some English Breakfast tea. It’s a cheery little corner store.

The paved Riverwalk trail along the Big Thompson/Fall River is picturesque at any time of year, but as the water flows below a reflective, icy surface, the stroll becomes magical. Take time to stop and take in the scene in one of several little riverfront parks along the trail. Or make some beautiful music at the Contra Chimes, an outdoor music installation near the pedestrian tunnel leading to the Estes Park Visitor Center.

There are a variety of lodging options to choose from at YMCA of the Rockies. They have hotel-style rooms in their lodges, cabins and vacation homes. New this year, there is now a hostel option for those who don’t mind sharing accommodations.

Another option for travelers is Snow Mountain Ranch, located in Grand County. It is the YMCA’s property in Granby, Colo. The ranch has many of the same features as the YMCA of the Rockies, plus two yurt villages. There is also a Nordic Center and the opportunity to go dog sledding.

Whether you travel with the extended family or just go with your spouse, a stay at YMCA of the Rockies is a chance to fully experience winter in the Colorado mountains, and believe me, your dog will love it.