Whether it’s your first visit or a long-standing family tradition, you immediately feel a change in the atmosphere when arriving at the YMCA of the Rockies, located near Estes Park, Colorado, and surrounded on three sides by Rocky Mountain National Park.


Our family of five has visited this special property five times since 2018. But this year, it was something different. Amid the pandemic, we placed our Austin home up for sale and, while it was on the market, called the YMCA of the Rockies to see if there were any last-minute options for a safe getaway. With a car full of disinfecting wipes, a gallon of sanitizer and all the food we needed for the two-day road trip, we set out for Estes Park.


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Even though the property’s popular day camps were closed, we quickly found many safe ways to have fun. Staff members wore masks 100% of the time, no matter whether they were guiding indoor or outdoor activities. While we got to do everything we wanted, the activities were limited in attendance, almost exclusively outdoors, and by reservation only. Horseshoes, science experiments, painting, Frisbee disc, mini-golf, tennis, basketball, disc golf, mountain bike riding, rock-wall climbing and hiking — we did it all.


My 10-year-old’s favorite activities were ax throwing and roller skating, where he practically had the disco-ball-adorned rink to himself. The horseback trail ride led by Jackson Stables, with its series of switchback turns along Glacier Basin into Rocky Mountain National Park, was a favorite of my 7-year-old, as was the dimly lit cabin that housed a witty Harry Potter-themed escape room. And my 3-year-old was perfectly content with her pony rides with Nibbles and Buttons, spotting wild turkeys, rabbits and chipmunks that hung out by the barn, and painting for hours on her ceramic Dory bank at the crafting center.


As the mama of this crew, my favorite part was seeing their eyes sparkle doing what they loved, sometimes for hours, and exploring new adventures that put some thrill in their hearts. Of course, I was always up for playing Frisbee in the perfect grass lawn by our fire pit and laughing as we avoided stepping in elk poop. We were out of the house, enjoying the most amazing weather, and reconnecting as a family despite the craziness and uncertainty of the world, in a place that felt safe both physically and emotionally.


Ultimately, the universe had other plans for our housing situation and we didn’t sell. We worked through the disappointment by playing in the big field, climbing boulders, looking for bears (none to be seen) and chasing ground squirrels. As I told my husband, being at the Y during this time was like being with a best friend when you get bad news. It was as close to a hug as we have had in a long while.


We drove back home feeling dusty and wind burned and probably smelling like a combination of campfire and horse pen, but with a new fullness of heart, appreciation for our health and appreciation for each other. The YMCA of the Rockies’ motto, "Your home away from home," has never meant so much.