From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.
Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being closeby definitely has its benefits.
Located in northern Colorado is Estes Park, known as the hometown of the world-famous Rocky Mountain National Park. Originally, the region was home to the Arapaho Indians, who lived in the area in the summertime and referred to the valley as "the Circle." These days, it’s the perfect region for outdoor explorers, with attractions such as the Roosevelt National Forest, Estes Park Aerial Tramway, and Kent Mountain Adventure Park also on your very doorstep.
Even those who have lived in the city for a decade would agree they haven’t experienced all that Estes Park has to offer, while for those new to the region – well, they’ve got a lot to look forward to as well.
Ready to discover the best of Estes Park, Colorado? Let’s get started!
*Note: Some of the suggestions may not be doable due to coronavirus closures, but keep this list handy for when things start opening back up more! Be sure to check individual pages for specific operation details.
Estes Park isn’t all hustle and bustle! There are also plenty of state parks and national parks both within and surrounding the area, all of which provide a tranquil escape for those looking to surround themselves by nature.
Lory State Park is a day-use state park that offers loads of activities with a scenic backdrop of the Rocky Mountains - all not too far from town. It boasts extensive trails for biking, hiking, and even horseback riding. Other activities include picnicking at the covered picnic areas, complete with grills for your use, plus educational programs at the visitor’s center where kids can learn about the intriguing wildlife in the area.
Rocky Mountain National Park offers truly spectacular mountain views, including alpine and sub-alpine scenes straight from a storybook. Imagine pine trees and pristine lakes, with impressive local wildlife that include chipmunks, mule deers, and elks – just to name a few. You can visit the park’s vistas via car, horseback, or on foot. The most popular car route by far is Trail Ridge Road, which you shouldn’t miss, but locals also recommend a hike on foot to Adams Falls, as it offers a great view of the mountain meadow.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park is a perfect place to hike, especially during fall where you can really see the many Aspen trees in this park turn golden and display a plethora of fall colors. There are quite a few trails for all levels, but locals recommend the Blue Grouse Trail, about 1.5 miles from start to finish, as it is the easiest hike in the park with great nature views on show. Golden Gate Canyon also offers cabins, electric campsites, and one horse-friendly guest house if you’re looking for a longer stay.
Eldorado is another day-use state park that’s very popular among the hiking and climbing community, but it’s also worth a visit even if you’re just passing through. They offer great beginner trails with a panoramic view of the scenic Colorado mountains as well as picnic areas adjacent to crystal clear streams. Since the park offers plenty of rock-climbing opportunities, don’t be surprised to see quite a few cliff climbers on rock faces as you’re driving in. This is quite a popular spot, especially for picnicking, so we recommend you visit during weekdays. It can get quite busy on weekends, especially during lunch.
Still need to get your nature fix? If you’re craving seeing even more of the beautiful scenery that surrounds Estes Park, then there are also plenty of additional hiking and walking trails for you and your family to enjoy.
Lumpy Ridge Loop, also known as the Twin Owls Loop, is in Rocky Mountains National Park and shows off some of the best views that Estes Park has to offer. If you’re going to choose just one hiking trail for the trip, your best choice is Lumpy Ridge. You can actually hike the loop starting from either direction, but locals recommend a clockwise direction if you’re getting an early start so you can make the most out of the morning light, especially as it hits the peaks along the Continental Divide.
The Emerald Lake Trail starts at the Bear Lake Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park. This is one of the most popular trails in the area because of its beautiful mountain views, unique flora and fauna you’ll see along the way, and of course, the Alpine lake. This is a good trail for beginners too, as some sections of the trail have been paved. We would also recommend that you take advantage of the free shuttle to Bear Lake Trailhead because the foot traffic can get a bit crowded.
The Loch Lake trail is just as gorgeous, but a lot less busy than the Emerald Lake trail. The trail culminates at the beautiful sub-alpine lake that locals simply call the Loch. At the foot of the lake, you’ll get a great view of Taylor Peak and Taylor Glacier. Take note that it will get colder and windier the closer you get to the lake, so be sure to wear suitably warm clothing!
Estes Park is home to a bustling and trendy dining scene, so there’s sure to be a restaurant, café, or diner to satisfy your cravings. If you’ve worked up an appetite after a long hike, or simply feel like treating yourself to a delicacy, then you’re in luck. Here are our top restaurant recommendations!
Bird & Jim is highly recommended by locals with a farm to table menu that features strong Colorado roots. The ingredients are all sourced from local farms and businesses, and the dishes are seasonal, prepared for sustainable and healthy dining. Don’t miss the mouth-watering Caramel Apple Pie – we hear it’s a winner!
The Egg of Estes is an all-day breakfast restaurant that offers great go-to comfort food in generous portions. If you’re thinking of heading out for an early fishing trip or hike, you can grab an early breakfast at the Egg before or after, since the restaurant opens at 6am. Favorites include seasonal specials such as the pumpkin pecan waffle combo, as well as the garden frittata.
Also a great spot for breakfast, Notchtop is known for its large portions, so you’re sure to get your fill. This local favorite offers organic, farm to table fare, making it an excellent choice for healthy eaters. Note that this restaurant is quite popular for visitors and locals alike, so expect to wait at least 30 to 45 minutes before you’re seated. Don’t worry though, it’s well-worth the wait!
Oppa Asian Bistro is all about traditional and tantalizing food. Serving up authentic Korean selections like bibimbop and bulgogi, it’s the go-to Asian restaurant for miles. Despite its humble interior (it used to be a laundromat), the flavors of Oppa is spot-on and the food is always prepared fresh to order.
Visit Claire’s Restaurant & Bar for good all-around American food, like potato, corn and bacon chowder soup, country fried steak, and lemon pancakes. You’ll get the complete experience of great food, huge portions, and beautiful mountain views. Speaking of which, the outdoor seating offers exceptional views of the mountains and is highly recommended – whether you’re a local or someone passing through the region.
After feasting and enjoying all that the hiking trails and state parks have to offer, you may be wondering: “what next?” Well, when it comes to Estes Park’s attractions and activities, you’re only just getting started. Here are some of the most fun things on offer in and around the city!
Looking to entertain some little ones? Or perhaps you’ve got some teenagers in-tow who are starting to get a little bored? Either way, these attractions will entertain both children, teens, and adults alike!
The ATV experience at Estes Park is something that should not be missed. There are guided tours, but the self-guided tours make for the best group and family adventures. Pack a lunch and stop for a picnic at the best spot you can find - it’s all up to you - and continue with your trip soon after. We highly recommend that you spend at least an afternoon, if not an entire day, adventuring in an ATV rental. It’s a great way to explore Estes Park up-close.
With mini golf courses and go karts, Fun City is a favorite among the kids and a lot of fun for the whole family. There’s a river that runs throughout the park, and a lot of locals simply pack a lunch to picnic beside it. Dip your toes in the water on hot summer days while you bite into your sandwiches, and of course, make use of those fun, family-friendly attractions!
What should you do in Estes Park once the sun goes down? We’re glad you asked! Here are our suggested night-time attractions.
Built in 1913, the Historic Park Theatre at Estes Park is one of the oldest operating cinemas in the country. To this day, it still shows classic movies, from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining to the more pop culture standout Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990). It’s the perfect destination for a post-dinner date, or even a Friday night family outing.
The Estes Park Memorial Observatory offers a great learning experience for astronomy, especially for kids. Be sure to check their programs and events before your visit, as they develop new and intriguing ones quite often. Don’t miss a chance to see the Andromeda galaxy through the large telescope for a breathtaking view of the stars.
What can you do in or around Estes Park that won’t cost anything more than a few dollars? The answer: plenty! Here are just two of our favorite attractions within the area that can be enjoyed on the cheap.
The Estes Park Aerial Tramway will give you the best views of Estes Park, as it takes you up, up, and away! The ride all the way to the top is nothing short of spectacular and the chubby chipmunks you’ll spot along the way are quite cute as well. A hot local’s tip is to bring peanuts for the chipmunks. The kids will love feeding them.
Open Air Adventure Park guarantees a fun day of physical activity that’ll make you feel like a ninja warrior. Think rope bridges, swinging logs, and aerial ropes. Don’t worry, the staff there are super helpful, and the courses range from easy to more advanced, so there’s something for everyone!
Looking to get the most out of your time spent within the city of Estes Park? Whether you want a fun way to waste away a Sunday afternoon or a date idea that won’t break the budget – here are our most recommended things to do in Estes Park that won’t cost you a cent.
The Estes Park Visitor Center has a lot of information about Estes Park, plus free wireless internet, brochures, and clean bathrooms. It’s located beside a scenic river that offers great views too, so we recommend taking advantage of the picnic tables and enjoying the scenery while you’re there.
The best place to find out more about the history of the town is the Estes Park Museum. Drop by to see the Garden Maze and to check out the Stanley hotel section of the museum, which will tell you more about the building where The Shining was filmed. It’s an insightful (and free!) day out for all.
Alright, by now you’ve probably been on your feet all day exploring the sights and delights that Estes Park has to offer. If you’re craving some rest and relaxation, or even a bit of pampering, these are two of the best spas in the region.
Visit Elements of Touch Spa & Resort after a rigorous day of hiking or ATV adventuring for some well-deserved pampering and to smooth out those muscles. There are plenty of packages to choose from, but we would recommend the Wind and Mountain package, which is a local favorite. If an afternoon of indulgence isn’t enough, you can also book an entire weekend with your partner or family.
Choose from a couple’s massage, hydrotherapy, or even a full body treatment to get you relaxed and ready for your next adventure. Estes Park Massage is a great choice for couples, since the couples room comes free with any purchase of two or more massage treatments.
If rejuvenation for you is less about deep relaxation and more about sweating it out, then you’re in luck. Estes Park is home to some of the highest-rated gyms and yoga studios within the region.
The Rocky Mountain Health Club has a reasonable drop-in rate if you’re only going to be in town for a few days. They have great programs to choose from and even offer coffee by a comfy fire before or after your workout in true Colorado style.
If yoga is your thing, you won’t regret visiting Estes Park Yoga, which offers unique outdoor yoga showcasing the local scenery and wildlife. Imagine breathing in that cool mountain air with the Alpine peaks behind you as you enjoy a calming yoga session. Is there anything better?
Looking to fulfill your wanderlust by heading outside of the region for a day? You could spend decades within Estes Park without barely scratching the surface of all there is to do in this city, but consider these day trips next time you fancy a new adventure.
Denver is about 70 miles away from Estes Park and is just a 90-minute drive. There are a few routes that you can take, but the most scenic and enjoyable is through Loveland. Denver is the closest metropolitan city to Estes Park and is a great place for finding restaurants, shops, and malls, among others. Recommended attractions include the Denver Botanic Gardens, Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater, and Denver Zoo.
Colorado Springs is just a 2.5-hour drive away from Estes Park. Visit Colorado Springs for scenic mountain views and trails. It’s also best known for Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods Park, The Broadmoor Seven Falls, and Cave of the Winds Mountain Park. It’s certainly worth the trip!
As a final reminder, some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in Estes Park that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in Estes Park? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.