There are so many fun things to do in Estes Park, but for me the primary appeal of it is simply it’s being surrounded by such natural beauty.
Founded in 1859 by Missouri native Joel Estes, this is the place to visit when you want to relax, unwind and reconnect with nature. Surrounded on all sides by the breathtaking the Rocky Mountains, the town is a popular summer resort that boasts a wide range of outdoor activities such as wildlife viewing, fishing, horseback riding, white river rafting, and scenic drives.
This mountain village is comparable to European mountain resorts and is considered a type of basecamp for the Rocky Mountain National Park.
In this travel guide to Estes Park with less than 7,000 year-round residents you will learn why 4.5 million tourists visit this town annually, plus where to stay, eat and play.
Where is Estes Park Located?
Estes Park is located only 70 miles from Denver and lies along the Big Thompson River. The town sits 7522 feet above sea level on the front range of the Rocky Mountains and also borders the Roosevelt National Forest.
During the year, Estes Park enjoys a humid continental climate. During wintertime you can expect heavy snowfalls and on winter nights, the temperature will usually drop well below zero up here in these Colorado mountains. Keep that in mind when you pack your luggage for the trip.
Things to Do in Estes Park, Colorado
Estes Park is a dream come true for people who enjoy outdoor activities. The town is also renowned for its restaurants, spas, hotels, golf courses, and is also a popular destination for weddings and conferences.
If you are planning to visit, here are some of the must-see attractions.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Number one of your list should be the Rocky Mountain National Park – which I am sure you will agree is North America’s most spectacular National Park. The park boasts over 359 miles of hiking trails and spectacular views from the summit and is one of the best day trips from Estes Park.
In addition to this, you can enjoy wilderness areas, scenic drives, wildlife watching, fishing, horseback riding. There is also an informative visitor center for those who want additional ideas when you get there.
Lily Mountain Trail
For most adventurers, hiking in Colorado is a must.Lily Mountain Trail is a family and/or pet friendly hike that is relatively short (around 3.8 miles, round trip) and of an easy to moderate level of difficulty. It offers panoramic views and great photographic possibilties of Rocky Mountain National Park, Twin Sisters Peak and Longs Peak.
The hike begins at the Lily Mountain Trailhead, about 6 miles south of Estes Park. Parking is limited, so arriving early is suggested.
Yellow Wood Guiding
They offer Offers guided wildlife tours, Estes Park nature tours, and photo safari workshops — all of which are amazing. I personally think that wildlife photography is something that is best done in a guided atmosphere, or you will end up wasting loads of time without coming up with any quality photos.
They are also authorized by the National Park Service and the Department of Interior to conduct guided tours in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Open Air Adventure Park
The Open Air Adventure Park is one of a kind experience. At this park, you will have the opportunity to participate in more than 32 outdoor challenges which range from very easy to very difficult.
These challenges include tightrope walking, rope bridges, swings, and moving platforms. It is fun for the whole family and at only $35 for 90 minutes, it is also one of the most affordable attractions in Estes Park.
Sombrero Ranch and Jackson Stables — Horseback Riding
Anyone who loves horses will want to visit Sombrero Ranch. You get to choose from a wide variety of horseback riding tours plus trail rides, breakfast rides, steak dinner rides, sleigh rides, and even wagon rides. There are fishing and hunting trips available as well. If you are an experienced rider you can rent horses on a daily or monthly basis.
Another great place to rent horses to ride is Jackson Stables, which can rent you a horse for trail rides in Rocky Mountain National Park, pony rides for any kids in your group, and horse-drawn hayrides that the entire family will enjoy.
Rocky Mountain Rush
Here is one for the adrenalin junkies. Rocky Mountain Rush offers pulse-pounding off-road tours along the Trail Ridge Road, which is a designated national scenic byway and the highest continuous paved highway in America. You will love the thrill of roaring through rivers, over hills and down backcountry trails in their custom-built off-road vehicles. Tours include meals and sightseeing stops.
Rapid Transit Rafting
White river rafting is one of the best things to do in Estes Park. Rapid Transit Rafting gives you the opportunity to sign up for a half or full-day rafting trip and is one of my favorite day trips from town. The team has more than 30 years of experience on the Colorado River, and you can be assured of an adventure of a lifetime.
The Park Theatre
Park Theatre is one of the many historical landmarks you can find in the town of Estes Park. This theatre was constructed in 1913 and is one of the oldest motion picture theatres in the United States.
Despite the building being over 100 years old, Park theatre features state of the art digital projection and Dolby surround sound. At the Park Theatre, you can enjoy the latest releases, documentaries and independent films.
Apart from all this you can go on guided tours, visit museums, take cycling tours, tour breweries, and distilleries plus enjoy archery, camping, and yoga.
There is also the Estes Park Memorial Observatory and the Estes Park Aerial Tramway.
Lake Estes Marina
At Lake Estes Marina you can rent fishing boats, kayaks, canoes, paddle boats, bikes, pedal carts, and stand-up paddle boards as well as rods and reels to try your hand at fishing on Lake Estes. It is one of the best places for outdoor activities in town, at least during the warm months.
From the marina, you can take a walk along the Lake Estes Trail or stick around inside the marina and play a game or fish along the shore. The Lake Estes Pavilion also has regularly scheduled events like concerts and such as well.
Special events in Estes Park Colorado
As you can expect with a holiday destination like Estes Park, CO there are dozens of special events and festivals throughout the year.
Any good travel guide to Estes park should list these festivals. But if you are looking for somewhere to get started here is our picks.
The Handmade in Colorado Expo
Held at the end of August, this festival is a must for lovers of arts and crafts. Come spend the weekend browsing the wares of local Colorado artists selling their crafts in Bond Park.
Probably the most well-known festival in Estes Park, this event celebrates the annual elk rut. Festival events include bugling contests, educational exhibits, elk seminars, Native American music, dance, and storytelling. At the end of the day, bus tours leave for the best elk viewing spots. All in all, it is a great way to experience the natural beauty of Estes Valley up close.
Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival
According to travel guides to Estes Park, this town is the Celtic capital of America. Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival is held in early September, this festival celebrates all things Celtic. Highlights include Irish and Highland dancers, bagpipes, jousting and a parade down Elkhorn Avenue. We had a blast when we attended the festival and kids are welcome to attend.
What to Pack When Staying in Estes Park
What should you include on your packing list when visiting Estes Colorado?
This depends on what you plan on doing. If you plan on going fishing, bring your fishing rod, if you are going camping bring tents. Other useful items can include trail mix, a compass, headlamp, first aid kit, whistle, water bottles, hiking boots, rain jacket sun protection, and download offline maps.
Also, note that during winter the chance of snow can be high. Snow accumulation and the wind chill can often be below 0 degrees Fahrenheit so warm clothing is a must.
Estes Park Hotels
There is a large number of hotel variety in Estes Park. Whether you are planning a romantic weekend or family vacation, you are sure to find something that will fit your mood and budget.
When visiting Estes Park you can choose from the following hotels and accomodations.
The Stanley Hotel
This historic four-star turn of the century hotel is a prominent Estes Park Landmark. It was made famous by and served as the inspiration for Stephen King’s bestselling novel, The Shining, and was also used as a filming location for the TV miniseries. The Stanley Hotel provides spectacular views of Lake Estes plus the Rocky Mountain Range and comes with a wide range of amenities.
Della Terra Mountain Chateau
Della Terra Mountain Chateau is perfect for love birds. If you are getting married in Estes Park then this romantic mountain Chateau is a great place to spend your honeymoon. Translated into English Della Terra means, “Of the earth.”
This hotel offers luxurious suites which are meant to capture the old-world charm and European luxury. Its amenities include spa treatments, a loft bar, dry heat sauna, private movie theatre, couples massages, hot tubs, and fireplaces.
Only 4 miles from Estes Park, Colorado, this hotel gives you the opportunity to enjoy the area’s most scenic drives. One of the more affordable hotels in Estes Park is luxurious nonetheless.
Wildwood Inn amenities include a day spa, private decks, hot tubs, steam baths, fireplaces and more. You’ll especially enjoy the outdoor hot tubs. There is something special about soaking in your private hot tub while all around you the mountains and forests are blanketed in snow.
McGregor Mountain Lodge
First opened in the 1950s, McGregor Mountain lodge offers some of the best views of any hotel in Estes Park. Located on the perimeter of the rocky mountain national park, it is great for wildlife watching. You can see a wide variety of wildlife including elk, black bears, and wild turkeys plus smaller animals like foxes, bobcats, and marmots.
Choose from cottages, suites, and rooms and enjoy amenities like dog-friendly cabins, picnic areas, fireplaces, spa tubs and much, much more.
Fall River Village Resort
Rated by top travel guides as one of the best inns Estes Park, Fall River Village Resort features sixty luxury river condos. Each condo comes with a full kitchen, dining area, smart HDTVs, washer, dryer, and private deck.
Guests can enjoy the year-round heated outdoor pool, plus outdoor hot tubs, communal fire pits, and grill areas. It also houses Skyview, Estes Park’s newest wedding and event venue. You can exchange vows and celebrate with family and friends against the panoramic backdrop of Longs Peak.
Additional Estes Park Lodging — Cabin Stays
Families have been visiting Estes Park cabins for hundreds of years. And if you are looking for something more rustic why not try these cabin rentals.
Idlewilde by the River
Considered the ultimate mountain getaway by many. Idlewilde by the River resort is situated directly on the banks of the Big Thompson River. All 13 cabins provide luxurious solitude with hot tubs to relax in and basic necessities including stoves, refrigerators, and microwaves.
Tiny Town Cabins
These cozy and charming cabins are the perfect place to go for a family getaway. Smack dab in the middle of the Big Thompson River, this resort comes with stunning views of the Rocky Mountains.
The 19 rustic cabins feature a perfect blend of amenities and architecture. What also sets Tiny Town cabins apart from other resorts is their year-round fly fishing pond and a mini-golf course. Amenities include fireplaces, cable TV, free WIFI, a fully equipped kitchen with a refrigerator. Dog-friendly cabins are also available for pet owners.
The Evergreens on Fall River
Evergreens on Fall River offers secluded riverfront cabins. Located only 1.5. miles from the Rocky Mountain National Park, there is an abundance of wildlife roaming around in nature. You might actually feel like you are on an African Safari, but of course, there are different species of animals you will see. Also, this cabin is only 3 miles from downtown Estes Park so it gives you easy access to all that the city has to offer.
YMCA of the Rockies
YMCA of the Rockies is a family-focused resort offering 250 cabins and 9 lodge buildings. Surrounded on 3 sides by the Rocky Mountain National Park this is the place to go if you are looking for adventure and tranquillity.
This resort is also perfect if you have children. These are a wide variety of on-site activities from adventure ropes to zip lines, volleyball, horseback riding, swimming, and arts and crafts; more than enough to keep the kids busy and out of your hair.
Lazy R Cottages
Nestled below Colorado’s mountaintops, the Lazy R Cottages offers stunning views of the continental divide. Scenic hiking trails and fishing grounds are just minutes away.
The cabin is open all year round and you have your choice of one, two or three-bedroom cabins – some of which come with personal hot tubs. Some of the amenities include kitchens, fireplaces, and deck with mountain views. Pets are accepted in various units.
Estes Park Restaurants
Estes Park has dozens of world-class restaurants with a kaleidoscope of cuisine from Asian to Italian, Mexican and more. Some of the best restaurants include:
Bird and Jim
Founded in 2017 by restaurateur Melissa Strong, Bird and Jim specialize in authentic mountain dining and Colorado cuisine. All ingredients are organic and sourced from local farms. This philosophy carries over to their wine menu. A sommelier is on hand to help you choose from the extensive wine list and there is a wide variety of delicious cocktails on tap.
Peppers Mexican Grill
Peppers Mexican Grill is a fast-casual Mexican Grill in Estes Park. Their menu offers a wide variety of Mexican cuisines such as burritos, enchiladas, and tacos with gluten-free and vegetarian options. Enjoy a cold beer in the dining room or on their rooftop deck while you listen to the in house Mariachi band.
Locally owned and operated, this charming neighborhood restaurant has operated for more than 40 years at this same site. When you walk into the restaurant, the first thing you will notice is that the walls are covered in dollar bills. This tradition began in the 70s when a customer at the bar wrote good luck to the owner on a bill and hung it on the wall. The tradition continues to this day and the walls are now entirely covered in dollar bills.
Dunraven Inn offers a wide variety of Italian cuisine. An impressive fact about this restaurant is that you will get the pleasure of enjoying recipes and traditions which have been passed on for more than four decades.
Latitude 105 Alehouse
Latitude 105 is the Ridgeline hotels in house restaurant. It is known for its scrumptious burgers. They take a traditional hamburger to new heights by combining classic recipes with new and innovative twists.
They also have a wide range of customization options. You can enjoy elk, bison, chicken or even vegan patties. There is also the option to substitute your fries for sweet potato fries, tater tots or parmesan truffle fries.
Hunters Chop House is a family-owned, casual steakhouse that has been in business since 2002.
This restaurant features aged hand-cut steaks as well as many unique wild game dishes such as elk. Along with this, you have your choice of seafood, salads, burgers, pasta, and a special kids menu. At Hunters Chophouse you’ll be able to relax and take in the stunning views of the Rocky Mountains while you enjoy your food along with some of the valley’s finest wines. And there’s free parking!
If you are planning a vacation any time soon, then you cannot go wrong with Estes Park. There is enough to keep you busy for weeks or even months with dozens of world-class resorts, hotels, and restaurants and frankly no shortage of great things to do in Estes Park, come rain or shine.
In fact, this entire area is filled with incredible tourist destinations that would be good day trips from Estes Park or other places to stay. A good example is the nearby towns of Idaho Springs and Grand Lake or the Aspen Winds resort. There is also the Silver Moon and Maxwell Inn, both located in Estes Park area. And if you are looking for Estes Park ATV rentals, be sure to check out Backbone Adventures.
Before visiting be sure to check the internet for special hotels offers. Also, note that vacation rentals can fill up fast – especially during the summer and winter peak seasons – so do not hesitate when making your booking.
We hope you enjoyed this travel guide to Estes Park. If you are looking for more destination inspiration be sure to read our Travel Guides to African Wanderlust Destinations, African National Parks, Kalahari Desert, Tourist Attractions in Africa, and more!
Lydia and Louisa are travel bloggers behind Africa Wanderlust, a destination resource for travelers to explore Africa. We provide the best insights on where to go, stay, things to see and do, and how to travel safely to create lasting vacation memories.