Accessed from Loveland by Highway 34, Estes Park is considered a gateway for the Rocky Mountains and most notably the Rocky Mountain National Park. Located in Larimer County, the Town of Estes Park is a statutory town that is a popular summer resort and vacation hot spot. The town lies along the Big Thompson River and boasts a population just over 5,800 inhabitants (2010 census). The famous landmarks are the Stanley Hote, Baldpate Inn, Lake Este, and Olympus Dam.
Before the Europeans settled here, local tribes camped here – most notably the Arapaho Indians who lived here summers and called the valley “The Circle”. In the 1850s the Arapaho spent many summers camped around Mary’s Lake where their rock fire places, tipi rings, and dance rings can still be seen. They built eagle traps atop Long’s Peak in order to get war feathers. They established a buffalo trap here and used dogs to pack meat out of the valley. They also fought with the Apache here in the 1850’s and fought with the Ute when they hunted bighorn sheep here.
Whites and Euro-Americans first came to the area in the 1850’s as trappers, then the gold/silver prospectors arrived. The town is named after Missouri native Joel Estes who founded the community here i 1859. He moved his family here in 1863. Griff Evans and his family settled here in 1867 and acted as caretakers for the former Estes ranch. They initiated the tourism trade, building cabins for travelers and built the first dude ranch acting as guides for fishing, hunting, and moutaineering. The famous Irish nobleman, politician, and journalist Lord Dunraven settled here as well in the 1920’s. Albert Bierstadt was commissioned by the Earl of Dunraven to make a painting of the Estes Park and Long Peak area in 1876 and was displayed in Dunraven Castle. The young Anglo-Irish peer the 4th Earl of Dunraven and Mount Earl came in 1872 with Texas Jack Omohundro and decided to take over the valley for his own private hunting preserve. His land grab didn’t work, but he controlled 6,000 acres before he changed tactics and opened the area’s first resort – the Estes Park Hotel which was destroyed in 1911 by a fire. In 1873 English woman Isabella Bird explored the area with Rocky Mountain Jim (James Nugent) and wrote a memoir of their travels, featuring the area including their breathtaking ascent of Long’s Peak. In 1974 Rocky Mountain Jim and his neighbor Griff Evans argued and became rivals fighting over doing tours for tourists of the area. The arguments escalated until Evans blasted Jim in the head with his rifle shot gun. Evans traveled to Fort Collins to file an assault charge against Nugent but was arrested for first degree murder, put on trial, but was dismissed due to lack of witnesses of the shooting. He was acquitted.
ALex and Clara MacGregor arrived and homesteaded at the foot of Lumpy Ridge, building a ranch that is now a historic site. In 1874 they incorporated a company to build a toll froad from Lyons to Estes Park, which is now Highway 36 and was at the time the only road fit for pack horses. They used it to ring more visitors into Estes Park, some of which became residents building hotels and promoting tourism. Enos Mills in 1884 left Kansas and relocated to join family in Estes Park, and was integral to helping preserve nearly a 1000 square miles as Rocky Mountain National Park. This was successful in 1915. His brother, Joe Mills came in 1889 writing a series of articles about his experiences for Boys Life which were later published as a book. He and his wife returned to Estes Park to build a hotel called the Crags on the north side of Prospect Mountain. As the Rocky Mountains was deemed a healthy place to live with those suffering from pulmonary diseases, many came here and were catered to by the tourism industry and hotels, providing staff physicians for their care.
By 1903 a road was opened from Loveland through the Big Thompson River Canyon to Estes Park increasing access and bypassing the toll road. A auto stage route was established by 1907. Stanley Steamers were incorporated having Mr Stanley build 9 passenger steam busses opening a bus line from Lyons to Estes Park. In 1949 Olympus Dam was built providing local drinking water resources. In 1909 the Stanley Hotel was built styled in Edwardian opulence and became infamous when writer Stephen King stayed there gaining inspiration for “The Shining”.
in 1982 the town was severely destroyed by the failure of Lawn Lake Dam flooding the area. It was eventually renovated and improved, adding a river walk.