6 Lessons from Renting Out Our Cabin in Estes Park, Colorado

A while back I shared six lessons we learned from buying and selling property in Estes Park, Colorado. I wanted to follow-up with the lessons we’ve learned from renting out our cabin. I’m going into a lot of detail in this post, but I hope that it is helpful for anyone who is considering buying a property in Estes Park with the idea of renting it out to offset costs or earn income. There are many ways to rent out your property, and I’m not an expert, but I hope you find this helpful.

Scheduling our vacation time

We live out-of-state, so we wanted to take advantage of the time we are away from our cabin by earning rental income. Our property has on-site management that takes care of all the details for us from booking to cleaning. This means we don’t always know when our cabin is booked, so we must communicate with the management company to understand availability. There have been several times that we haven’t reserved our preferred weekend in advance and the cabin was booked. The summer and fall weekends can fill up quickly in Estes Park.

balancing income vs. personal use

We are still trying to figure out the best balance between using the cabin for ourselves and earning income on the property. Some years the rental income covered the cost of owning the property (homeowner association dues, cleaning fees, utilities, insurance, property taxes, and basic repairs). It wouldn’t cover the cost of a mortgage or larger maintenance projects in one year. However, we have been able to save income over a few years’ time and use that money to upgrade the flooring.

The issue of balancing income is something we expected based on the trade-off of having a significant percentage taken out of rental income with the turnkey on-site management, as well as our own personal use of the condo during peak season nights. Obviously, if you pay for the cabin in cash or pay off the mortgage, there is less ongoing costs to factor into this equation. Blending personal usage with your investment property can also have unique tax implications, so be sure to keep good records and consult with a tax professional to keep things straight.

Repairs and projects

We were a little concerned that renting out our property would result in extra expenses related to heavier usage. We are grateful that our guests have treated our cabin with care. We had to fix our fold-out couch which was covered under warranty. There were a few other minor issues like a shower door getting off track and a leg of a stool that needed repair. Overall, we’ve had good luck so far.

We invested in our property by staining the outside. The stain will help protect the wood from harsh winter conditions and keep the cabin looking beautiful. This cost was in addition to our normal HOA fees.

In 2021, we upgraded our flooring. We chose LVP which we hope will last longer and be more durable. Having work done in a mountain town can be more expensive and difficult to schedule. We were happy with the service and quality we received from a local company, Park Flooring.

New Flooring

The pandemic has had a positive impact on bookings as more people want to get outside and can work remotely. Based on this usage, we are anticipating additional repairs and budgeting for them.

Cleaning service (pros and cons)

As owners we pay a cleaning fee each time our property is rented. We feel like this is a better value for our guests, compared to other vacation rentals that tack on extra booking and cleaning fees. We also pay a cleaning fee for our own visits so that the property is always up to a rent-ready standard. It’s nice to be able to leave without worrying about washing and drying all the bed linens. At our first Estes Park condo, we often spent half a day cleaning before we left town.

Manage Financials

We have found it helpful to keep a spreadsheet of expenses and a separate bank account for this property for tracking purposes. It’s also important to understand the insurance/liability that comes with owning a rental property. Condo insurance can be complicated. We have separate coverage for ‘walls-in’ while the structure is covered by the HOA’s policy. With that much riding on the HOA, it’s important to understand the financial condition of the association to avoid any surprise expenses or assessments.

Pets and personal items

Many renters prefer pet-free units for allergy concerns. We are technically allowed to bring pets as owners, but the management company doesn’t allow renters to bring pets. Therefore, to make our cabin marketable we don’t bring our dog along with us on our trips. This adds a significant expense to our vacations. Dog boarding costs up to $40 a day. We are okay with this trade-off because the National Park doesn’t allow dogs on trails and that’s where we typically hike. However there are a lot of dog-friendly hikes in the area, and if you love to bring your dog on adventures, this is something to think through as you consider the rental process.

We also don’t put up a lot of personal items such as family photographs. If we didn’t rent out our cabin, I would love to add more personal touches. We have an owner’s closet and put away some personal items, but for the most part the cabin is furnished in a mountain theme with renters in mind.

the best fit

When we bought our first condo in Estes Park, we were able to go nearly once a month, sometimes on a whim. At that time, we didn’t put our property in the rental program. Now that our girls are in elementary school and we live further away, it makes sense to rent it out despite the trade-offs. We feel lucky to be a part of a solid management group that has a great reputation with guests that return year after year. We also have amazing guests who treat our property with care. I’m not sure what we will do in the future, but right now renting out our property in Estes Park has been a great decision for our family.

Top Posts of 2021

Outside my office window the snow is falling here in Arkansas. Between rising COVID cases and the weather, we are feeling a little stuck. I’m choosing to embrace staying at home by enjoying some chili and watching football with my husband this afternoon. And since it’s a long weekend, I hope to drink some tea by our fireplace and finish my book club book too.

I’m eager to get started with our adventures for 2022, but in the spirit of rest and reflection, today I’m excited to look back at the top 3 posts of 2021. We made such fun memories this year.

Top Post – staying at the lodge at golf shores state park

We typically write about hiking in Colorado and Northwest Arkansas, but this year I also included a review of our trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama. It turns out, we were not the only ones drawn to the ocean this year because Staying at The Lodge at Gulf State Park was our top post! Reading it again makes me want to go back right now.

Lodge at Gulf State Park

Runner up: mount magazine cabins: staying at the highest point in arkansas

Our second most-read post was Mount Magazine Cabins: Stay at the Highest Point in Arkansas. Mount Magazine is just two hours south of our home in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The cabin we rented had a wraparound deck where we could take in the amazing views of the Petit Jean River Valley. Plus, a hot tub!

Mount Magazine Arkansas cabin

third place: a winter hike on long’s peak trail

Our third most popular post from last year was written by my husband about an amazing winter hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. The pictures from his post, A Winter Hike on the Long’s Peak Trail are beautiful. We attempted to repeat this hike in December, which I wrote about here Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park.

These pages and posts have been on our site for a while but continue to be popular.

Happy Birthday to Our Little Mountain Tot

Finally, I want to wish a happy birthday to our youngest daughter who will be turning 5-years-old this month. It’s hard to believe, but when I started writing about our hiking adventures on this blog she wasn’t even born yet.

If you ask Evy, she will say that she prefers ocean to mountains, but when she is in Colorado her favorite activity is to play in the snow. Her favorite hike is Lily Lake and her favorite thing about our cabin is ‘it’s beautiful’.

The Pool: Evy’s First Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park

My husband and I just got back from a romantic getaway in Estes Park, Colorado. We stayed at our cabin at Solitude Cabins where we enjoyed the warm fireplace, views of Longs Peak, and cozy kitchen where we cooked several of our meals.

restaurants in estes park

Besides eating at the cabin, we also enjoyed several meals at local restaurants. Himalayan Curry & Kebob’s spicy cuisine warmed us up as we looked out the window at falling snow. We also enjoyed a warm bowl of soup at Claire’s on the Park for a post-hike lunch.

We selected Bird & Jim’s for our anniversary dinner. Described as, ‘Modern mountain dining from an ingredient-driven kitchen’, dining at this restaurant has been on our Estes Park bucket-list for a long time. We opted to sit in the bar area where we sat on a blue velvety coach. The lounge furniture paired well with our smoked whiskey drinks and hummus appetizer. We enjoyed our meals of roast chicken and steak. The whole experience was perfect!

Estes Park Winter

Our evening walk in downtown Estes Park felt like strolling through a scene in a classic Christmas movie with festive holiday lights and fresh snow.

Estes Park Winter

To warm up from the frosty weather, we enjoyed sampling wine at Snowy Peaks Winery and drinking seasonal pints at our favorite Estes Park brewery, Rock Cut. We sipped Kind Coffee as we strolled down the Estes Park Riverwalk.

Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park

Estes Park is located near the East entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park. In the summer, this is a hikers dream-spot. In the winter months you can hike with traction, or snowshoe depending on trail conditions. When we arrived, the area had just received fresh snow, so we rented snowshoes from Estes Park Mountain Shop along with poles with snow baskets on them.

Snowshoe Rental Estes Park colorado

Winter is considered off-peak season in Rocky Mountain National Park, so there are no timed-entry permits to worry about. Finding a parking spot is quite a lot easier, although we were surprised to see a long line at the entrance around noon (holiday week).

Winter Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park

Winter Hike to The Loch

We went on two snowshoeing excursions during our trip. The first day we attempted to make it to The Loch. We parked at the Glacier Gorge trailhead which is in the Bear Lake corridor. As we stepped out of the car, we were hit with brutal winds. The winds calmed down significantly once we got deeper into the woods. However, my gloves were no match for the 10-degree temperatures, so I was fairly miserable. I was proud of myself for making it past Alberta Falls to the North Longs Peak Trail junction before giving up when a blast of icy wind blew away our snowshoe tracks and scared me to go beyond that point. We gained about 800 feet of elevation and hiked 3.7 roundtrip.

Romantic vacation Estes Park

There is a winter trail that we missed that skips Alberta Falls but offers a more direct route to The Loch.

shopping in downtown estes park

That afternoon, we enjoyed shopping in downtown Estes Park. We bought adorable Smokey the Bear beanies at Trendz boutique for our little girls. We also bought nice ski gloves for me at Hyk.

Winter Hike to Chasm Lake junction

Wind conditions Rocky Mountain National Park

Bolstered by my new glove purchase, we decided to attempt snowshoeing again the next morning. This time, we headed to the Longs Peak trailhead in hopes of hiking to the Chasm Lake trail junction. My husband enjoyed this hike last January which he wrote about here.

snowshoeing rocky mountain natinoal park

The winds were much more tolerable. I had moments where I felt warm as we gained 1,800 feet of elevation. This hike was beautiful in the snow. Some spots were challenging where the snow was deep.

winter gear hiking

Once we approached the tree line, a gush of what felt like hurricane-force wind came down the mountain and we immediately turned around. It was intense!

I enjoyed the hike back down because it was much easier than the way up and went pretty fast. Our total hike was 4.5 miles. I tried to take in the beauty of the forest in the snow while also looking forward to our awaiting seat-warmers.

Layer upon layer – What I Wore hiking in cold weather

pants: Under Armour cold-weather tights and hiking pants

shirt: base layer turtleneck, fleece, winter coat

feet: wool socks, waterproof hiking boots, snowshoes and poles with snow baskets

extras: sunscreen, sunglasses, beanie, neck gaiter, ski gloves, hiking backpack. *our pack’s straw froze, so pack a separate water bottle

COTREX – location tracker and digital topo maps that don’t require cell signal. Keep in mind that cell phones can freeze up in extremely cold temperatures. I found this article about how to prevent loss of use.