Posted: September 01, 2013
Escape to Estes Park
The town offers alternatives to typical convention centersBy Tess Ford
Conference time. Please find your welcome packet and nametag at the door. Help yourself to a styrofoam cup of coffee brewed yesterday from a tin drum and let us plow through this.
For many business owners, planning and orchestrating a conference is an inevitable, annual chore. It’s not the sort of event that typically allows for the time, inspiration or budget required to book a less-than-obvious location. A mandatory two or three days of sedated keynote speakers, fiscal planning, professional development – strategery – it’s thrilling stuff.
As rough as business meetings can be, when it is time to slaughter a to-do list, it is best to have some measure of forced togetherness and seclusion. To effectively host a meeting of the minds necessitates a proper space complete with all the modern-day niceties business travelers have come to expect.
As luck would have it, these qualaties are available in a nearby Rocky Mountain setting. Without the distraction of the big(ish) city lights of Denver, being immersed, instead, in the tranquility of the clean wilderness of Rocky Mountain National Park, conference attendees can decompress while coolly slashing through agenda bullets.
The mountain town of Estes Park, founded in 1859, began its first boom when it dawned on founders that the “roll through” can be quite the cash-cow. Cabins and resorts sprang up to cater to travelers who may otherwise have just passed through.
It still proudly serves as the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, and so sees much tourism throughout the year. “People come for the national park, but stay for shopping along Elkhorn Avenue and enjoying the town itself,” says Janice Mason of Visit Estes Park.
The strip of shops, restaurants and galleries that stretch along the postcard-appropriate road following the Big Thompson River is a year-round draw for tourists. But business owners may overlook the town as a practical and accessible meeting and conference destination.
The trip from Denver is an “easy 90 minutes,” said Mason, “with no holdups on the highway. Not to knock I-70.” She says the draw to Estes Park is clear: “accessibility.”
The roads to Estes and Rocky Mountain National Park are open even during the worst winter weather, making this short trip possible when other destinations become inaccessible due to highway closures.
“And once you’re here, we are here for the guests,” said Mason, reiterating that Estes Park has and will always be a town that bends over backward to cater to visitors.
Here, where the air is clean and the aspens run amok along the riverbank, conferees have room, physically and mentally. If you are inclined to think past the typical city convention destinations, remember that we Coloradans are often at our best in the hills, on the trails, in the sunshine. To the mountains then!
For meeting organizers looking for a breath of fresh air, without the hassle of traveling too far from DIA, Estes Park offers a host of options:
Estes Park Center at YMCA of the Rockies
If it’s room to think you are looking for, the YMCA of the Rockies at Estes Park has it. This sprawling complex (so large, it has its own zip code) has several large conference spaces and hundreds of guest rooms to accommodate convention-sized crowds. Endless halls of conference space along with on-site lodging available for up to 2,500 make this a rare venue.
It is the YMCA, but that doesn’t mean a camp guide will chaperone guests.
“We host all kinds of groups, from large corporate groups to international businesspeople … religious groups too,” says Rene Goodman, representative at YMCA of the Rockies. “And you just can’t ask for a more beautiful scenery,” she says, nodding toward Longs Peak looming over the property.
In addition to hundreds of guest rooms, the Estes Park Center offers cabins that sleep as many as 75 and come equipped with catering kitchens and staff for meal preparation.
If a group is looking to engage in a little friendly competition by way of team-building exercises, or some fun to unwind, practically any activity a visitor could dream up is offered here: guided nature walks, hiking, zip-line tours, horseback riding, mini-golf, softball, to name a few. The 9,000-acre space borders Rocky Mountain National Park, with trailheads accessible from the property.
And while woodland seclusion is great for exercise and relaxation, it usually means little or no Wi-Fi availability. Not so at the Estes Park Center; here the Wi-Fi signal is strong throughout the complex.
Rocky Mountain Park Inn and the Estes Park Conference Center
If your group is hoping to enjoy the Rocky Mountain National Park area but stay within the town of Estes Park, the Rocky Mountain Park Inn is four miles from the park entrance and sits alongside Lake Estes.
One of the larger options in Estes Park, the conference center offers 2,000 square feet of meeting space, including a ballroom that can hold 1,000 guests.
This venue also has an option for groups looking to host environmentally conscious meetings. In-house chefs create menus from local, organic, sustainable ingredients that can be served al fresco, in an outdoor courtyard – providing a “green” theme, both authentic and literal.
Staff at the Rocky Mountain Park Inn assist guests in planning any type of meeting or team-building adventure requested and provide shuttle service from Denver International Airport.
The Stanley Hotel
No list of Estes Park destinations would be complete without mentioning the Stanley Hotel. Known as a tourist attraction and upscale hotel since 1909, the Stanley Hotel also provides for business meetings and conferences of up to 300 guests.
The well-established hotel has recently undergone renovations, revamping all guest rooms as well as the onsite restaurant. A new chef and menu may excite locals who have visited for brunch or a ghost tour before.
800 Moraine Ave. Event Center
For those looking to book a space for smaller groups, the recently renovated Moraine Ave. Event Center provides meeting space for as many as 120 people. Overnight guests can stay at the sister property located just next door at the Trout Haven Ranch Lodge.
The Event Center also has acres of well-maintained and practical outdoor space for groups looking to take advantage of some of the best mountain views available on the Front Range.