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This Might Be the Best Kept Family Vacation Secret in the United States

You might think we've found a fancy resort that costs a fortune. You'd be wrong.

rockies

A hidden gem

OK, we know what you’re thinking (because we thought it ourselves first, too): The YMCA is not a vacation spot. And it’s true, the workout room at your local Y is not where you want to spend a family vacation. But Colorado’s YMCA of the Rockies is different—a hidden gem on 86 private acres right in the shadow of the Rockies. Here’s another reason to make the trip: The Rockies and Estes Park are one of our 30 must see places around the U.S. before your kids fly the coop.

mountainsCourtesy YMCA of the Rockies

The best location in Rocky Mountain National Park

This location is unique for many reasons: First, the YMCA discovered this spot 110 years ago, even before the Rocky Mountains were given national park status in 1915. The result is that there is no other property in Estes Park (known as “The Gateway to the Rockies“) that has a location as expansive and scenic or as close to the majestic National Park as the Y does. Get in the mood with these spectacular photos of national parks.

mountainsCourtesy YMCA of the Rockies

Home suite cabin

The first YMCA of the Rockies visitors pitched tents, but today you can stay in super affordable lodge rooms, comfortable cabins—all with porches, many with fireplaces—set in the woods and around meadows, and in extra-spacious vacation homes, including one with eight bedrooms and eight bathrooms, big enough for a family reunion. (Family reunions and group get togethers are so popular here that the Y has services available to print group T-shirts and have family portraits taken.)

volleyballCourtesy YMCA of the Rockies

Free activities all day

Since this is still the YMCA, the focus on family comes first, so one thing you won’t find in the lodge rooms and cabins are television sets. Your kids won’t miss them (and neither will you, we promise). There are activities here that could fill 10 family vacations. Complimentary options include expert lead hikes into the national park and the YMCA of the Rockies grounds, miniature golf, tennis, naturalist-led wildlife and mountain ecology classes, yoga, an indoor pool, and baseball, basketball, and volleyball, not to mention ice-skating and snow shoeing if you visit in the winter. Rainy day? Be sure to check out the two-floor Art & Design building where art projects include jewelry crafting, creating tile mosaics, weaving baskets, fusing glass, and tie dye just to name a few. (There is a fee for materials.) We also love these national parks that are off the beaten path.

ziplineCourtesy YMCA of the Rockies

Amazing outdoor adventures

The best family vacations have every member of the family trying a new activity, and the Rockies are the perfect place to bring on the adventure. At they Y you can also experience outdoor activities (for a fee) such as horseback riding, archery, bike riding, a ropes course, zip line, white water rafting, and fly-fishing—all of which can be booked right on property, with many of the adventures taking off right from the Y grounds. Check out these breathtaking photos of our national parks covered in snow.

mooseCourtesy YMCA of the Rockies

Keep your eyes peeled for elk

Of course, the setting is key here, and sitting in a rocking chair of the wooden porch at the main lodge building, or on the deck of your cabin, the family may spot bugling elk, coyote, black bear, hummingbirds, eagles, hawks, and other local wildlife inhabitants. No animals around? Then just take some time to soak in the mountain air at this affordable family vacation gem.

ymcaCourtesy YMCA of the Rockies

All the must-know details

Ready to pack your bags? Us to! Lodge rooms start at $99 and cabins start at $104 during “super value season,” which runs roughly from October through May. During peak season (June to August) rooms are $179 a night and four bedroom cabins top out at $399 during peak regular season. Vacation homes run a bit more—a two bedroom starts at $169 during super value season and tops out for a four bedroom during peak season at $474. Cabins do fill up fast during the prime summer months (booking for the summer starts the first weekend in April); to get a better chance of getting first choice dates, you can join the YMCA of the Rockies. Member get $15 off a night on lodging and advance reservations priority. Large reunion groups can book up to two years out. Make reservations at ymcarockies.org/lodging.

Melissa Klurman
Melissa Klurman is a freelance travel writer and editor with more than 27 years experience who reports on travel trends around the planet for Reader's Digest. Winner of a Lowell Thomas Gold Award for excellence in travel writing, she started her career as an editor at both Frommer’s and Fodor’s travel guides, then went on to write about travel for many publications including Family Traveller, Parents, and Working Mother magazines. More recently she has been a contributing editor at Saveur, Islands, and Caribbean Travel and Life and a senior contributor at Travelocity. A New Jersey native, ice cream addict, and a lifelong Bruce Springsteen fan, Klurman lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with her husband, son, and rescue dog.