5. Scenic Overlook
With the new road comes a change in scenery, including verdant valleys, wooded ravines, willow thickets, and meandering creeks. Three miles past the junction, a scenic overlook faces north to Mt. Meeker and the Wild Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park. The largest national park in Colorado, this 265,000-acre preserve boasts an abundance of natural skyscrapers—114 named peaks that soar above 10,000 feet, 78 of them topping 12,000.
About four miles north of Allenspark, the 14,255-foot-tall profile of Longs Peak comes into view to the west. Its flat-topped summit, visible to half of Colorado’s population, long served as a landmark to westward-bound pioneers.
6. Longs Peak Trailhead
To reach Longs Peak, continue another mile and follow a spur road west to the Longs Peak Trailhead. The 15-hour round-trip hike to the summit is strictly for the hardy but well worth the effort, offering a grand vista of the Central Rockies.
Back on Rte. 7, continue north another half-mile to the Enos Mills monument, built to honor the founding father of Rocky Mountain National Park. Mills’s one-room cabin, filled with books, photographs, climbing equipment, and other memorabilia, is nestled among nearby pines. Behind the cabin loom the craggy silhouettes of Twin Sisters Peaks. In mid-September, when the aspens turn yellow, look for the so-called butterfly burn, a stand of trees that sprouted on a previously burned slope and resembles a giant butterfly.
7. Lily Lake
The lilies are long gone from Lily Lake—early homesteaders periodically drained its waters, causing the flowers to die—but they live on in its name. Full once again, the lake lures a steady stream of ring-necked ducks, mallards, and migrating Canada geese. Exhibits at the visitor center recall the days when the lake was a shimmering pool of yellow blooms.
8. Estes Park
Winter comes early to the Rockies, with snow dusting the hills, then deepens as the days grow shorter. In early fall elk wander down from the high country for their annual mating ritual, which you can see—and hear—from the highway. The road coils around Prospect Mountain before plunging to Estes Park, the eastern gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park and a popular year-round recreational center. (The town’s name reflects the western custom of referring to any open, grassy valley as a park.)
During ski season a maze of Nordic trails shoelace up the snow-draped mountains that hover over this storybook town. (In summer an aerial tram whisks visitors to the summit of Prospect Mountain for panoramic views.) The historic Stanley Hotel, a sugar-white grand dame with a red roof, is a popular warming spot for visitors.
By late April, winter loosens its grip on the valleys and hillsides as distant thunder signals the return of spring. Rivers swell with snowmelt while luminescent wildflowers—alpine buttercups, shooting stars, and forget-me-nots—bloom through early May, transforming the low country into a land of Oz.