Cirque Meadows by Adam Johnson

Estes Valley Plan

Planning Area 3 - Carriage Hills/Marys Lake


The Carriage Hills/Marys Lake Planning Area is geographically the largest planning area within the study area. It can generally be described as a low central valley with rolling topography surrounded on the west, south and east by rugged, steep hillsides. Fish Creek flows from south to north through the center of the planning area. As the creek flows north, the topography becomes more rolling, and groves of aspen give way to intermittent stands of pine and open meadow.

Marys Lake is the second largest body of water within the study area. The drainage below Marys Lake flows from west to east, draining into Fish Creek. This drainage forms the northern boundary of the study area.

There are open, rolling meadow areas around Marys Lake, interspersed with large rock formations, creating an unusual and spectacular landscape. The Crags and Twin Sisters are rugged rock outcroppings visible from most of the valley. On the eastern boundary of the planning area, The Finger is a very prominent rock outcrop. Kruger Rock is another prominent outcropping visible on the steep, heavily wooded mountainside to the east.

Wildlife is abundant within the entire planning area. The diverse topography and vegetation, combined with Fish Creek Drainage, create excellent wildlife habitat. Elk as well as deer can be found in the area on a year-round basis. During the summer months, the animals retreat to the higher elevations.

The entire planning area lies within one large viewshed. The large, open valley floor, surrounded to the west, south and east with high ridges, clearly defines the limits of the viewshed. The different vegetation types create a high quality visual setting. The valley floor, with its open, rolling topography, meadow areas, and interesting rock outcroppings, creates a wide diversity in the landscape which adds interest. Distant views to the major rock outcroppings and other points of visual interest further enhance the visual quality of the planning area.


The entire planning area lies outside the Town limits of Estes Park. All development regulations, zoning, and other regulatory requirements currently fall under the authority of Larimer County. RMNP recently acquired the area which forms the southwestern boundary of the planning area including Lily Lake. The southwestern and eastern boundary of the planning area is bordered by Forest Service property. The primary use within the planning area is single-family residential development.

Other uses include Marys Lake Lodge and a commercial campground adjacent to Marys Lake. Lily Lake and the new Lily Lake Visitors Center are part of RMNP. Cheley Camp is a nationally recognized summer camp for children and young adults, and has been in the Valley since the early 1900s.

A large percentage of the valley floor is currently undeveloped. Depending on specific design and uses, development within the open valley floor will have major impacts on the physical setting of the Valley.

Land Use Classification
Number of Parcels
Acres by Classification
Percentage of Total
Accommodations 8.00 402.95 8.66
Agriculture 11.00 510.24 10.97
Commercial Unimproved 5.00 51.86 1.11
Forest 1.00 59.95 1.29
Institutional 4.00 164.64 3.54
Multi-Family 1.00 2.28 0.05
Private Open Space 12.00 113.57 2.44
Public Open Space 16.00 823.87 17.71
Residential Unimproved 280.00 1138.10 24.47
ROW 8.00 132.44 2.85
Single Family Residential 609.00 1230.63 26.46
null 16.00 20.60 0.44


The Highway 7 corridor bisects the planning area. To the south, Highway 7 extends to Allenspark, and provides access to Lyons down the Middle St. Vrain Canyon. Highway 7 is part of the Peak-to-Peak Scenic By-way.

Fish Creek Road is the other main road within the planning area. Access control is a problem at the intersection of Fish Creek Road and US 36.

The Fish Creek corridor is a logical trail location as it connects Lake Estes to Marys Lake and Lily Lake. There is the potential to tie a trail from the Lily Lake Visitors Center down Aspen Brook, to Spur 66 and provide access to the RMNP. However, this proposed trail crosses several pieces of property in private ownership, so access must be secured.

Another potential trail link would connect Marys Lake to Fish Creek. The natural drainage that separates Planning Area 2 and Planning Area 3 could be a natural open space and trail link to create another looped trail segment.

Highway 7 at Lily Lake is a gateway into Estes Park, and an entry to RMNP. The National Park Service has built a visitors center there to relieve some of the congestion at the main visitors center.


Both the valley floor and hillsides are very sensitive. Due to the lack of vegetation on the valley floor, any development will have an impact on the visual quality of the area. There are few trees to screen development, and the multiple rock outcroppings found there are also visually sensitive to development. Development pressure will increase in the area around Marys Lake, including Marys Lake Lodge. The lodge has historic significance, as it was one of the early bus route stops which took visitors from Denver to Grand Lake, over Trail Ridge.

Key Issues.

  1. Maintaining the visual quality along Highway 7 will become an important issue as development pressure increases within the area.
  2. The upper reach of Fish Creek drains the eastern portion of the planning area. There are many potential homesites along the drainage. Consideration must be given to both on-site and downstream impacts of altering the Fish Creek riparian system.
  3. Numerous meadow areas and drainageways create habitats that should be preserved for wildlife.
  4. The planning area is enclosed on three sides by steep slopes. The character of this area is, to a great degree, defined by its openness and views of undeveloped mountainsides. Future development within this area should preserve the visual integrity of the hillsides.
  5. Significant rock outcrops exist within the planning area, including The Finger, as well as Twin Sisters on the southern boundary. These outcrops are important scenic elements within the community.
  6. Open meadow areas make up an important visual element, especially around Marys Lake Lodge and the meadow along the lower portion of Cheley Camp. Preservation of these and other meadow areas will help to maintain the character of the area.
  7. The opportunity exists to connect the Lily Lake Visitors Center to the Fish Creek area and the Spur 66 area, via trail links
  8. Marys Lake Lodge is an historic building. Development within the immediate area should acknowledge the historic importance of the building
  9. The opportunity exists to work closely with the National Park Service in development of the Lily Lake Visitors Center as well as in creation of trail links into the National Park from the east.
Development Guidelines


The neighborhood guidelines listed below are unique to the Marys Lake/Carriage Hills sub-area and are intended to address the various issues of the Marys Lake area which were identified throughout the future land use process.

ML 1. Lighting should be kept to a minimum, and use cut-off fixtures.

ML 2. Develop comprehensive wildlife preservation standards.

ML 3. Identify site within the Marys Lake/Carriage Hills area as affordable housing for future development.

  • Marys Lake Lodge is suitable for employee/affordable housing development.
ML 4. Protect natural resource areas within the Marys Lake/Carriage Hills area which may be adversely affected or endangered by future development.
  • The drainageway from Marys Lake to Fish Creek is an important wildlife habitat and should be protected.
  • The open meadows and wetlands between Fish Creek Road and Cheley Camp should be protected.
  • Require a minimum percentage of natural open space in all developments.
  • Encourage private and public efforts to promote conservation easements.
  • Review density limits with incentives offered for open space.

This planning area provides a transition between the core commercial and residential portions of the community and rural development within the County. It includes a variety of steeper slopes and key visual resources.

There are a number of water resources including Lily Lake, Marys Lake and associated drainageways. Development within the area should be sensitive to these resources and maintain the drainage corridors.

Also found in this area are key recreation and visitor facilities, such as the Lily Lake Visitor Center for RMNP, and a number of potential trail connections to the community and the Park.

The majority of this area is above the current water service elevation. As a result, there are only limited opportunities for small lot, affordable housing or accommodation uses. Marys Lake Lodge represents an innovative and affordable housing opportunity.

This planning area is adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park, Forest Service lands, and Bureau of Reclamation property. This combination of property ownership and the range of unique environmental and scenic resources help to support the use of this area as a transition from the more intensively developed portions of the Valley.

Land Use Classification
Number of Parcels
Acres by Classification
Percentage of Total
Accommodations - A 9 66.23 1.41
Accommodations: Low Density - A-1 7 44.15 0.94
Estate: 1/2 acre min. - E 360 174.70 3.72
Estate: 1 acre min. - E-1 183 197.77 4.21
Public/Semi-public - INS 8 169.27 3.60
Parks/Recreation/Open Space - PR 28 937.44 19.96
Residential - PUD-R 43 49.81 1.06
Rural Estate: 2 1/2 acre min - RE 296 1847.90 39.34
Rural Estate: 10 acre min. - RE-1 31 1077.90 22.95
null 8 132.44 2.82

Land Use Classification
Number of Improved Parcels
Improved Acres by Classification
Percentage of Total
Accommodations - A 3 13.15 0.66
Accommodations: Low Density - A-1 2 13.51 0.68
Estate: 1/2 acre min. - E 285 137.75 6.91
Estate: 1 acre min. - E-1 148 160.38 8.05
Public/Semi-public - INS 8 169.27 8.49
Residential - PUD-R 27 32.88 1.65
Rural Estate: 2 1/2 acre min - RE 149 704.02 35.32
Rural Estate: 10 acre min. - RE-1 17 629.94 31.60
null 8 132.44 6.64

Land Use Classification
Number of Vacant Parcels
Vacant Acres by Classification
Percentage of Total
Accommodations - A 6 53.08 1.96
Accommodations: Low Density - A-1 5 30.64 1.13
Estate: 1/2 acre min. - E 75 36.95 1.37
Estate: 1 acre min. - E-1 35 37.39 1.38
Parks/Recreation/Open Space - PR 28 937.44 34.67
Residential - PUD-R 16 16.93 0.63
Rural Estate: 2 1/2 acre min - RE 147 1143.88 42.30
Rural Estate: 10 acre min. - RE-1 14 447.96 16.56

Next chapter - Chapter 6-4 - Spur 66

Background Image: Cirque Meadows by Adam Johnson. All rights reserved.