19 Fun Things To Do in Estes Park, Colorado: The Ultimate Mountain Town Guide
Estes Park is no stranger to tourists and travelers. When the Estes Park Hotel opened in the late 1870s it helped spark the Colorado tourist boom and later laid the groundwork to establish Rocky Mountain National Park just a mile away. Today, the town continues its longstanding tourist trade by catering to the millions of visitors who visit the park each year.
If you are looking for fun things to do in Estes Park, dining options, hotel recommendations and suggestions for national park activities, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s get started with some background info on Estes Park and the surrounding area.
Table of Contents
Introduction to Estes Park: History and Location
Estes Park is named after Joel Estes, the first white inhabitant of the valley who ranched in the area with his family in the 1860s. Its close proximity to the rapidly developing Front Range mining camps and cities like Golden, Denver, and Boulder made it an immediate attraction for visitors- especially those coming from the east.
By the early 1900s, the valley was filling up with hotels, delude ranches, and other tourist attractions marketing to the steady stream of traffic flowing in from Denver. A group led by Enos Mills started calling for the establishment of a national park in the area to preserve public ownership and conserve the valley’s beauty. After a long campaign they finally succeeded in 1915 with the official creation of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Estes Park continues to prosper as the principal gateway community outside of RMNP. While most visitors come for the national park, there are lots of fun things to do in Estes Park, too in all four seasons.
Map of Estes Park
This map shows the layout of Estes Park, including major roadways into and out of the area. Use it while planning your trip to identify various things to do in Estes Park during your stay.
Estes Park Weather and Climate: What To Expect
Weather conditions in Estes Park vary dramatically, both day to day and across the year. Furthermore, the temperature varies by your altitude: it might be cold, windy, and snowy on the top of Longs Peak, with warm, sunny conditions down in Estes Park. Check the forecast below from the National Weather Service to ensure you plan ahead.
The climate in Estes Park includes warm summer days with highs in the 80s to bitterly cold summer nights where the temperature routinely falls below zero. Check out the charts below for average weather conditions in Estes Park for each month of the year so you know what to expect on your visit.
Help Protect This Special Place: Leave No Trace
Millions of people visit Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park every year. As numbers continue rising, the impact of these visitors also becomes more visible and detrimental to the environment. Following the seven principles of Leave No Trace is an easy yet powerful way to help protect this special place for future generations. Here are the principles and a few easy tips to keep in mind while exploring the area.
- Plan Ahead: Before your visit to Estes Park, research about the area, weather conditions, and local rules. For example, in some areas, you may need a permit for certain activities or camping.
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: Stick to established trails and campsites to minimize your impact on vegetation and wildlife habitats. In Estes Park, avoid creating new trails or expanding existing ones.
- Dispose of Waste Properly: Always carry a bag to collect your trash and dispose of it in designated waste bins in town. If you’re out in nature and there are no facilities, follow the “pack it in, pack it out” rule.
- Leave What You Find: Preserve the natural beauty of Estes Park by not picking flowers, removing rocks, or disturbing historical artifacts. If you see an interesting object, take a picture instead!
- Minimize Campfire Impact: Use a camp stove for cooking rather than making a fire. If you must have a fire, use designated fire rings, keep fires small, and burn only sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
- Respect Wildlife: Observe wildlife from a distance and never feed them. Remember, Estes Park is home to a variety of wildlife, including elk and bears, which should not be disturbed.
- Be Courteous to Others Outdoors: Respect other visitors by maintaining a low noise level and keeping pets under control. On trails, follow the rule of yielding to uphill traffic and stepping to the side when horses or other pack animals pass.
Things To Do In Estes Park During Spring
Spring is my favorite season to visit Estes Park as the crowds are still small as the snow is still melting. However, if you have a pair of snowshoes to bring, there’s no need to let that impact your visit. Here are some fun things to do in Estes Park during March, April, and May.
- Enjoy the spring bloom at the Estes Park Memorial Gardens: As winter thaws and spring takes over, the Memorial Gardens come alive with an array of colorful flowers and lush greenery. The well-maintained gardens offer a tranquil setting for a leisurely walk, perfect for capturing memorable photos or simply enjoying the beautiful blooms.
- Visit the Estes Park Museum to learn about the area’s history: Immerse yourself in the rich history and culture of Estes Park at the local museum. Explore exhibits that tell the story of the area, from its Native American roots and early settlers to its development as a beloved mountain resort town.
- Go fishing in Lake Estes: Spring is an excellent time for fishing in Lake Estes. The lake is regularly stocked with rainbow trout, and you might also catch brown trout or yellow perch. A fishing license is required, which you can easily obtain in town.
- Attend the Estes Park Duck Race Festival: Held annually in May, this unique local event is a fun experience for the whole family. Purchase a rubber duck to participate in the race down the Fall River, with proceeds benefiting local charities. The festival also features entertainment, food, and activities.
- Stroll through downtown Estes Park and explore its local shops and restaurants: Downtown Estes Park is full of charm with its variety of boutique shops, galleries, and eateries. Spring is an excellent time to wander through the streets, enjoy outdoor dining, and shop for unique gifts, local art, and Colorado-made products.
Things To Do In Estes Park During Summer
Summer is the busiest time of year in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. If you don’t like crowds, avoid this season – but if you don’t mind traffic, it is the best time of year in terms of weather conditions. Here are some summer ideas for things to do in Estes Park.
- Go horseback riding at Sombrero Ranch: Experience the beauty of Estes Park in a traditional way by horseback riding. At Sombrero Ranch, you can choose from various guided trail rides that cater to all skill levels. As you traverse the scenic paths, you’ll have a unique vantage point to enjoy the breathtaking mountain landscapes.
- Cool off with a kayak or stand-up paddleboard rental on Lake Estes: Lake Estes is a hotspot for water-based recreational activities. Rent a kayak or a stand-up paddleboard to explore the serene waters while enjoying panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. It’s a great way to enjoy a warm spring or summer day.
- Take a scenic drive along the Peak to Peak Highway: This beautiful byway offers some of the best mountain views in the state. As you drive along the highway, you’ll pass through lush forests, charming mountain towns, and past stunning views of the Continental Divide. There are several pull-offs along the route for picnics or just soaking in the scenery.
- Attend the Rooftop Rodeo, a premier rodeo event in July: Dubbed as the “Rodeo with Altitude,” this week-long event is a highlight of summer in Estes Park. You’ll witness professional cowboys and cowgirls compete in various events, including bull riding, barrel racing, and more. The rodeo also features parades, dance, and a dedicated night for kids.
- Enjoy an open-air concert at the Performance Park Outdoor Amphitheater: Situated by the river, this lovely venue hosts a variety of concerts during the warmer months. From local bands to renowned artists, the diverse lineup ensures there’s something for everyone. Bring a blanket or chair, sit back, and enjoy the live music with the stunning mountain backdrop.
Things To Do In Estes Park During Autumn
As the weather starts to cool, the crowds begin to thin out, making fall a great time of year for a more intimate Estes Park experience. This season is known primarily for its vivid colors as the aspen leaves change, as well as the Elk rut both in Estes Park and the national park.
- Watch the elk rut in Estes Valley: Each fall, the peaceful valley becomes a stage for a fascinating natural spectacle as male elk compete for mates. It’s a great opportunity to observe these majestic animals in their natural habitat, but remember to keep a safe distance and respect the wildlife.
- Check out the Fall colors along the Peak-to-Peak Scenic Highway: This scenic drive becomes even more stunning in the fall when the leaves change color. Witness the mountainsides transform into a vibrant display of reds, oranges, and yellows, creating an unforgettable backdrop for your journey.
- Attend the Estes Park Autumn Gold Festival: This festival is a celebration of all things fall, featuring live music, delicious food, and local craft beers. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the local community, enjoy the autumn ambiance, and sample some of the best brews Estes Park has to offer.
- Visit the Stanley Hotel: Known for inspiring Stephen King’s “The Shining,” this historic hotel is a must-visit. Take a guided tour to learn about its history and possibly spot a ghost, or simply enjoy its beautiful architecture, stunning views, and luxurious amenities.
- Go wine tasting at the Snowy Peaks Winery: This family-owned winery in the heart of Estes Park offers a delightful selection of handcrafted wines. Visit their tasting room to sample a variety of reds and whites, all produced from Colorado-grown grapes. The friendly staff and cozy atmosphere make it a perfect stop for wine lovers.
Things To Do In Estes Park During Winter
Winter is a quiet season in Estes Park due to its location far from ski resorts. While some people visit the national park and surrounding areas for backcountry skiing, the town and park are usually pretty quiet – but that means more space for you!
- Enjoy cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in Hermit Park Open Space: This nearby natural area transforms into a winter wonderland, offering miles of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. It’s an invigorating way to explore the snowy landscapes while getting some exercise.
- Take a winter wildlife tour: Even in winter, Estes Park is teeming with wildlife. Embark on a guided tour to spot animals like elk, coyotes, and eagles in their natural habitat. Remember, wildlife is more vulnerable in the winter, so always observe from a distance.
- Visit the Estes Park Winter Festival: Typically held in January, this annual event is a celebration of winter in the mountains. Enjoy live music, delicious food, ice sculptures, and various activities for kids. It’s a fun-filled event for the whole family.
- Warm up with a locally brewed beer at the Rock Cut Brewing Company: After a day in the cold, there’s nothing quite like a refreshing pint of craft beer. The Rock Cut Brewing Company offers a diverse selection of brews in a cozy, welcoming setting. It’s the perfect spot to unwind and share stories from your day.
- Take a scenic drive to the nearby town of Lyons: Just a short drive from Estes Park, Lyons is known for its vibrant arts scene and outdoor activities. Spend a day exploring its charming downtown area, visit the Lyons Redstone Museum, or take a stroll along the St. Vrain River. Lyons also hosts various festivals and events throughout the year, so check the local calendar before your visit.
The Best Things To Do In Rocky Mountain National Park
Just beyond the city limits in Rocky Mountain National Park, adventure awaits. With more than 415 square miles of protected public land, including alpine tundra, ponderosa forests, rugged peaks, and gentle meadows, there are hundreds of things to do and see. Here are ten good ideas to get you started:
- Trail Ridge Road: Drive along this scenic route for stunning views of the Rockies.
- Alberta Falls: Hike to this spectacular waterfall, a moderate 1.7-mile round trip.
- Alluvial Fan: A short walk to a beautiful waterfall, great for kids and the elderly.
- Climbing Longs Peak: For experienced hikers, this challenging class three climb offers incredible views.
- Wildlife & Bird Watching: Bring binoculars and a guidebook to spot various species.
- Stargazing: Enjoy the clear night skies for viewing stars and constellations.
- Visitor Centers: Visit one of the park’s visitor centers to learn about its ecology and history.
- Deer Mountain: Stunning summit views – an excellent moderate hike for acclimatization.
- Emerald Lake Trail: Enjoy this popular hike offering views of several alpine lakes.
- Ranger-led Programs: Attend a program or guided tour led by a park ranger to learn more about the park.
Click here to read my Rocky Mountain National Park Visitor Guide
Tips to Stay Safe in Estes Park and RMNP
As with any location, it’s essential to prioritize safety while exploring the area. Keep in mind that the local terrain may present unique challenges, particularly for those unaccustomed to mountainous and wilderness settings. Here are some crucial safety tips to ensure your visit to Estes Park is enjoyable and safe:
- Altitude Awareness: Estes Park sits at an elevation of 7,522 feet, and areas within RMNP are even higher. Altitude sickness can affect anyone, regardless of fitness level. Symptoms include headache, nausea, and fatigue. To prevent this, drink plenty of water, limit alcohol and caffeine, and allow time to acclimate before engaging in strenuous activities.
- Weather Preparedness: Mountain weather can change rapidly, and thunderstorms are common in the afternoons during summer. Always check the forecast before heading out and carry appropriate gear, including rain protection and layers for sudden temperature drops.
- Wildlife Safety: While it’s exciting to spot wildlife, remember these are wild animals. Maintain a safe distance, do not feed them, and store food securely to avoid attracting them to populated areas.
- Trail Safety: Whether hiking in the town’s outskirts or within RMNP, stick to marked trails to avoid damaging vegetation and reducing erosion. Also, it ensures you don’t get lost. Always let someone know your plans before heading out.
- Sun Protection: The sun is more intense at higher altitudes, and it’s easy to get sunburned. Apply sunscreen regularly, wear sunglasses for eye protection, and consider wearing a hat.
- Water Safety: Never drink from streams or lakes without treating the water first, even if it looks clean. Bacteria and parasites can be present. If you’re engaging in water activities, always wear a life jacket.
Dining in Estes Park: My Suggestions
Estes Park’s dining scene is underrated, in my opinion. With many different styles and traditions to choose from, it’s hard to find something to complain about among the restaurants I visited. Here is a mix of dining options to check out while visiting Estes Park.
- Bird & Jim: This modern mountain dining restaurant serves locally sourced, seasonally driven cuisine. They offer a range of options from upscale dishes to more casual, budget-friendly choices. Their menu changes regularly based on the availability of local ingredients. Having eaten here several times, I can attest that it is the best spot in town overall.
- Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ & Brew: For a more casual and budget-friendly option, Smokin’ Dave’s offers delicious, slow-smoked BBQ. Their hearty portions and flavorful sauces have made it a favorite among locals and tourists alike.
- Dunraven: If you’re looking for Italian food, Dunraven is a highly-rated choice. Known for its charming atmosphere and excellent service, Dunraven offers a variety of pasta dishes, seafood, and steaks.
- Twin Owls Steakhouse: For a special occasion or upscale dining experience, Twin Owls Steakhouse is a top-rated choice. Located in a historic log cabin, it specializes in steak but also offers a variety of seafood, poultry, and vegetarian dishes.
- Nepal’s Cafe: For those who love ethnic food, Nepal’s Cafe offers delicious Himalayan cuisine at a reasonable price. They serve a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.
Estes Park Hotels and Accommodations
Estes Park, as the gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park, offers a diverse range of accommodations that cater to different budgets and traveler types. Whether you’re seeking a luxury experience, a family-friendly environment, or a tranquil retreat, there’s a place for you. Here are six top-rated options that not only provide comfort and convenience but also add a unique charm to your stay in this beautiful mountain town. Enjoy your visit and make yourself at home in Estes Park.
- The Stanley Hotel: This historic hotel, famous for inspiring Stephen King’s “The Shining,” offers luxurious accommodations with stunning mountain views. It’s an excellent choice for those seeking a unique and upscale stay.
- YMCA of the Rockies: A popular choice for families, the YMCA of the Rockies offers a range of accommodation options from lodge rooms to cabins. With many on-site activities like hiking, mini golf, and archery, it’s a great place for an active vacation.
- Estes Park Condos: Offering one, two, or three-bedroom condos, this option is great for groups or families who want a bit more space and the convenience of a kitchen. Each condo features a personal deck with a hot tub, and the property is conveniently located near the town center.
- The Ridgeline Hotel: A modern hotel with both standard rooms and suites, The Ridgeline offers amenities like an indoor heated pool and on-site restaurant. It’s a comfortable mid-range option located within walking distance to downtown Estes Park.
- Romantic RiverSong Bed and Breakfast: Perfect for couples, this charming B&B offers cozy rooms, most with private hot tubs, and is nestled in 26 acres of mountain woodland. A gourmet breakfast is included, and it’s only a short drive from downtown.
- River Spruce Cabins: For a unique experience, consider these charming cabins located along the Big Thompson River. They offer the comfort of home in a tranquil, picturesque setting. Each cabin is distinct, with options ranging from one to two bedrooms. It’s an ideal spot for those seeking a peaceful retreat.
Disclaimer: Please note that as an affiliate of Booking.com, I earn a commission on bookings made through my links. This is at no additional cost to you. It’s just a way for us to keep this site running and continue to provide you with valuable resources and information. Every booking you make using our links supports our educational and content creation efforts, and we greatly appreciate your support.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
A: Absolutely! Estes Park is renowned for its stunning mountain scenery, abundant wildlife, and charming downtown area. It offers a range of outdoor activities and is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.
A: Start your day with a stroll downtown, visiting the unique shops and grabbing a coffee. Then, explore the surrounding nature – take a hike, go fishing, or just enjoy the views. End your day with a nice dinner at one of the town’s top-rated restaurants.
Toggle A: Estes Park is best known as the eastern gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s also famous for its abundant wildlife, particularly its elk population, and its scenic beauty. The historic Stanley Hotel, which inspired Stephen King’s “The Shining,” is another well-known landmark.
A: Estes Park is a town located at the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). While Estes Park has its own attractions, including shopping, dining, and events, RMNP is a protected natural area known for its hiking trails, wildlife, and mountain vistas.
A: Yes, Uber and other rideshare services are available in Estes Park, although service can sometimes be limited due to the town’s remote location. Be careful about using it to reach wilderness areas, as you may not have a cell signal to request a ride home later.
A: A: Estes Park is named after Joel Estes, who founded the community as its first permanent settler with the rest of his family in 1860. For many years, his family ranch was the only establishment within the borders of modern Estes Park.
A: There are many great options depending on your preferences, from charming bed and breakfasts to luxury resorts. The Stanley Hotel is a historic and popular choice, while YMCA of the Rockies offers cabins and lodges for families and large groups.
A: Both have their advantages. Estes Park has more lodging options, restaurants, and shops, and it’s closer to Denver. Grand Lake is quieter and closer to the western areas of Rocky Mountain National Park, offering a different kind of experience.
A: The best time to visit depends on your interests. Summer (June to September) offers warm weather and abundant outdoor activities. Fall brings beautiful autumn colors and the elk rut, a must-see event. Winter offers snow-based activities like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
A: Weekends, particularly Saturdays, during the summer season are typically the busiest times in Estes Park due to the influx of tourists.
A: July is usually the busiest month in Estes Park, as it’s the peak of the summer travel season. If you’re looking for fewer crowds, consider visiting in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall.
Fun Things To Do In Estes Park: The Last Word
In conclusion, Estes Park, a charming haven nestled in the heart of Colorado, is a treasure trove of diverse attractions and activities. From the breathtaking trails and wildlife of Rocky Mountain National Park to the delightful downtown area with its unique shops, restaurants, and art galleries, there’s no shortage of fun. Thrill-seekers can immerse in kayaking, horseback riding, or rock climbing, while those seeking tranquility can picnic by Lake Estes, indulge in a spa day, or sample local Colorado wines at Snowy Peaks Winery.
This picturesque mountain town caters to every interest, from nature lovers and foodies to adventurers and history buffs. The 19 fun activities highlighted in this blog merely scratch the surface of what Estes Park has to offer, inviting you to create unique memories against its stunning natural backdrop. Until your next visit, Estes Park awaits, its mountains, wildlife, and warm hospitality ready to welcome you to another unforgettable adventure.
Looking for more information to plan your visit? Here are some other websites and guides to explore.
Alex is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.
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