While struggling to renovate their mountain cabin in the dead of winter, Kristian and Kimberly Naslund caught sight of the snow-covered pines outside their window, swaying in time to music softly playing in the background. Today, the husband-and-wife team has immortalized this shared placid moment through the very name of their craft distillery, bringing along Kristian's father Chris into the business as the trio fashions small-batch whiskeys, rums, liqueurs, and gins of the highest caliber. Since the distillery is a working production facility, visitors and tourists are likely to witness workers filling, labeling, and numbering each bottle by hand in the bottling area or berobed and bearded alchemists turning mash into spirits over the artisanal copper-pot still. Each powerful sip of bourbon and sweet mouthful of liqueur is culled from all-natural ingredients, free from artificial extracts, flavorings, or coloring agents.
The mountain-savvy staff at Apex Ex equip people of all skill levels with the knowledge, gear, and plans necessary to explore the wilderness all year round. Seasoned guides and instructors, many of whom are trained by organizations such as the National Outdoor Leadership School and the American Mountain Guides Association, lead classes that teach students important lessons ranging from backcountry snow basics to avalanche rescue. In summer months, the experts lead guided climbing and backpacking trips and teach riders to careen down rocky paths of every sort during mountain-biking lessons.
At five Chipper's Lanes FUN Center locations, colorful balls sail down glossy lanes, overseen during weekends and birthday parties by the center's mascot, Chipper the Chipmunk. During special events, guests can go to Chipper for a warm hug and supplement bowling fun with occasional live music performances and cosmic bowling at select locations. Between frames, players restore energy with burgers or pizza at the full-service, onsite restaurant.
Tender Grass Carriages’ coachmen take passengers on a rollicking one-hour wagon ride across the town of Estes Park and adjacent areas. A team of gentle clydesdale horses powers the old-fashioned wagons, drawing upon their origins as Scottish farm workers for strength and their built-in GPS systems for directions. Parties of up to 12 guests can traverse the spectacular scenery of Estes Park, where views of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains and abundant wildlife evoke sentiments of goodwill and bouts of nature-appreciative poetry.
Cody Walker muses that within the stillness of Rocky Mountain National Park, "You get a sense that it's the way it should be." His father, Rex, grew up on a steady diet of cowboy films, eventually following his dream to Colorado where he met his wife, Queeda. Queeda was born into a family of homesteaders who caught and broke wild steeds. In 1959, they channeled their passion for the old-west lifestyle into Sombrero Ranches, the parent company of Hi-Country Stables, in Rocky Mountain National Park. The stables eschew souvenir-shop gimmicks for horseback expeditions that, much like avalanches of super glue, bond visitors with their steeds and natural surroundings.
Today, Cody carries on his parents' legacy with a staff of ranch hands from nearby homesteads and college students participating in equine science programs all across the country. After training in a vigorous program that's evolved during more than 50 years, his employees launch short rides or lengthy adventures. Cody distinguishes the Continental Divide ride as one of the most awe-inspiring; it begins at Bear Lake at 6 a.m., wending across the Continental Divide and to Grand Lake during a nine-hour stretch.
In the off season, Hi-Country Stables lets its horses roam free in the wild to, as Cody puts it, "Get the horse back into them." When the time comes to round them back up, a select few make the 60-mile journey from the mountaintops down to the ranch. Those who endure the entire voyage earn a buckle, a rare trophy that engenders the utmost respect among fellow horsemen and professional collectors of belt buckles.
In 1874, a few cowboys were presumably struck by the view of what is now Estes Park, so they decided to settle there to raise their barn and breed their horses. Over time, the lodge became known as Ranahan Ranch, named after the many elite cowboys who worked it. More than 100 years later, JT Adams, a former Marine looking for a quiet, beautiful piece of the world, bought the lodge and accompanying horse business.
JT and his staff preserve a lot of the lodge's old traditions, such as raising horses, training folks to ride Western-style, and leading horseback tours on the surrounding trails. Although the trail rides provide spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains, they do more than just take riders to picturesque vistas. The guides peel back the veil of history and discuss the important events that shaped the park, mountain range, and surrounding communities. At the end of each tour, JT invites visitors to the ranch's yard or the Hayloft, the barn's built-in venue with a bar and dance floor. There, he strums his guitar and sings some of his original country songs before sending visitors home with sore thighs and new memories of the sights and sounds of the mountains.