Things to do in Estes Park, Colorado

Best Things to Do In Estes Park, Colorado

What are Some Fun Things To Do In Estes Park?

Estes Park, Colorado, often referred to as the Gateway to the Rockies, is a quaint, yet delightful tourist town. It is ranked by US News Travel among the best mountain towns to visit in the USA. Most days from Memorial Day until Labor Day, the streets are bustling with tourists. Weekends are especially popular in this mountain town.

Estes Park Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park

The main street of Estes Park is lined with cute tourist shops if you are looking for the perfect Estes Park memento or dining experience. And if you have a sweet tooth for fudge, ice cream or salt water taffy, well, you won’t be disappointed.

Both the town of Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park are two of the top Colorado destinations for families, hikers, outdoor enthusiasts, and photographers alike. They pretty much go hand in hand. Estes is one of the fun places to visit in Colorado in summer.

The New York Times lists Estes Park as one of the 52 places around the world where you can be a part of the solution to climate change. As a winter destination with no ski lifts, it lowers the carbon footprint and encourages visitors to get out and enjoy the snow.

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How Do You Get to Estes Park?

Estes Park is approximately a 90-minute drive from Denver, Colorado.

Denvertoestes
Map from Google Maps

Travel by Car

If you have access to a car or are planning to rent a car for your visit, the above map shows the most direct route from Denver (and surrounding areas) to Estes Park. You will need to have a National Park Pass to enter Rocky Mountain National Park as well as a timed-entry reservation if you are visiting between May and October. (See below).

Travel by Bus

Ride the Bustang bus from Union Station in the heart of downtown Denver all the way to Estes Park (or on to Rocky Mountain National Park) on weekends and holidays from the end of May until the first of October.

Tickets to ride the Bustang bus are only $5.00 each way from Denver (also from Westminster and Boulder, and $3.00 each way from Lyons) and are about 2 1/2 hours each way.

PLEASE NOTE: Tickets must be reserved in advance to save your seat. Plan to pay with cash? Select the “Pay Cash on Board” option as your ticket type when you begin the reservation process.

If you choose, you can get off the bus in Estes Park, (located near the park’s east entrance) or ride the bus all the way to the park n’ ride in Rocky Mountain National Park. Here you will transfer to the free Bear Lake or Moraine Park shuttles to explore more of the park.

If you choose to get off in Estes Park first but still want to enter the park later, you can make a reservation on the park’s Hiker Shuttle.

Bonus! If you ride the bus, you will not need to purchase an additional Rocky Mountain National Park timed entry reservation for the 2022 season.

What is the Weather like in Estes Park, Colorado?

Lily Lake Loop hikes in Colorado

While Colorado boasts 300 days of sunshine every year, if you are visiting Estes Park, those sunshine days total approximately 238 days. On the other 118 days of the year, Estes receives some measurable precipitation in the form of rain, snow, sleet or hail.

Be sure to check Weather.com before you arrive to know how to best pack and plan for your stay in Estes Park.

Summers in Estes Park are beautiful with comfortable temperatures that average approximately 77°F. Winters are much colder with an average temperature of 12°F.

Shopping

With over 300 shops to choose from, shopping is always one of the fun things to do in Estes Park. Meander up and down Elkhorn Avenue looking for a new sweatshirt, exploring art shops, or discovering local artisans and crafters.

Festivals—Cool Things to Do In Estes Park All Year Round

Fall and Winter Festivals

  • Autumn Gold Festival
  • Pumpkins and Pilsners Festival
  • Longs Peak Scottish Irish Highland Festival
  • Elk Fest
  • Estes Epic
  • Rails in the Rockies
  • Catch the Glow Parade and Celebration
  • Estes Park Holiday Wine Fest
  • Winter Festival
  • Wine and Chocolate Festival

Spring and Summer Festivals

  • Whiskey Warm Up
  • Duck Race Festival
  • Memorial Day
  • Bigfoot Days
  • Jazz & Blues Festival
  • Scandinavian Midsummer Festival
  • Free Summer Concert Series
  • 4th of July
  • Estes Park Races
  • Wool Market
  • Rooftop Rodeo
  • Labor Day
  • Estes Park Wine Festival

Where to Eat in Estes Park, Colorado

Chris and I have enjoyed dining at a number of the restaurants in Estes Park:

  • Mama Rose’s at 338 W Elkhorn Ave, Estes Park, CO 80517
  • Poppy’s Pizza and Grill at 342 E Elkhorn Ave, Estes Park, CO 80517
  • Penelope’s Old Time Burgers at 229 W Elkhorn Ave, Estes Park, CO 80517
  • Antonio’s Real New York Pizza at 1560 Big Thompson Ave., Estes Park, CO 80517
  • Casa Grande Mexican Restaurant at 220 E. Elkhorn Avenue, Estes Park, Co, 80538
  • The Egg of Estes at 393 E Elkhorn Ave, Estes Park, CO 80517

If you plan to enter Rocky Mountain National Park, pack a picnic lunch or stop at the local Subway or Jimmy Johns for sandwiches.

These are only a sampling of cafes and restaurants available in Estes Park. There is sure to be something for everyone.

Estes Park Lodging

You won’t find a lot of big name hotels in Estes Park, but there are plenty of bed and breakfasts, lodges, cottages, cabins, vacation rentals or apartments to rent. Check Booking.com for your next trip to Estes Park.

Booking.com

Estes Park Camping and RV Parks

Hermit Park meadow
Hermit Park Open Space

Camping is definitely one of the things to do in Estes Park and is an adventure you should try if you have never camped before. Camping options include:

  • Paradise on the River
  • Elk Meadow Lodge/RV Park
  • Hermit Park Open Space
  • Spruce Lake RV Park
  • Estes Park KOA
  • Estes Park Campground at Mary’s Inn
  • River Forks Inn
  • Manor RV Park at Trout Haven Resorts
  • Estes Park Campground at East Portal
  • Estes Valley Recreation and Parks District

There is also camping available within Rocky Mountain National Park:

  • Aspenglen Campground – reservation required
  • Glacier Basin Campground – reservation required
  • Moraine Park Campground – reservation required (available first-come first-served in winter)
  • Timber Creek Campground – reservation required
  • Longs Peak Campground – available first-come first-served

Estes Park Grocery Stores

If you plan to stay in Estes Park for a few days and are coming from out of town, you will be happy to know that there is a Safeway grocery store in Estes Park along with a few smaller local markets. You can find all of your camping, cooking, and barbecuing food needs here. If you decide to go for a picnic at the last minute, you’ll definitely find what you need.

Fun Things to Do In Estes Park

Tour the Stanley Hotel

The Stanley Hotel, built in 1909 by Freelan Stanley (of the Stanley Steemer fame), sits on a hill overlooking the town of Estes Park, nestled in the Rocky Mountains. It is a grand hotel with modern amenities while also emanating an old-world charm.

If you have ever watched the movie, “Somewhere in Time“, you might just see some similarities with the stately white-pillared architecture and red roof of the Stanley. It feels as though you could step back in time as you walk through the front door of this landmark hotel.

Whether you visit as a guest of the hotel, enjoy the grounds, dine with family and friends, or take a guided tour through underground tunnels you’ll quickly see why this hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Ride the Rainbow Slide at Fun City

Our girls have always loved stopping at Fun City to ride the iconic rainbow slides. In fact, there might have been a little bribery related to the rainbow slides! “If you will hike with us without complaining, we will stop at the slides when we are done.” (Feel free to borrow that little bit of parenting wisdom.)

If you love a little adventure and aren’t afraid of heights, this could be your kind of fun. At only $2 per person per ride, it is a budget-friendly activity.

Fun Center Slide in Estes Park

You can also ride the bumper boats and cars, strap into the bungee trampoline, try a little miniature golf, challenge your friends to go-kart racing, or try out the water walking balls.

If you choose the bumper boats, prepare to get wet. The boats have a central steering column that also sports a water gun. Let the fun begin. 

Meander Along the Riverwalk

The Big Thompson River and Fall River converge along the Riverwalk in Estes Park. Enjoy the serenity of the river as you wind your way through downtown Estes Park.

Riverwalk in Estes Park

Spot Wildlife

No doubt a trip to Estes Park isn’t complete without animal sightings. Elk are a common sight even within the town of Estes. You may also spot mule deer, big horn sheep, bears, a variety of large cats, otters, squirrels, chipmunks, and over 250 species of birds around Estes Park and within Rocky Mountain National Park.

Bird in Rocky Mountain National Park

While they are awesome and often majestic to look at, it is illegal to feed the animals.

And don’t be like the crazy people we see who get out of their vehicles to get a closer look at elk, bears, and moose!

Bear sign in Rocky Mountain National Park

Ride the Estes Park Aerial Tramway

The Estes Park Aerial Tramway, designed by Robert Heron, carries passengers to the summit of Prospect Mountain.

…Mr. Heron traveled to Europe to study the tramways and became more fascinated with their design and capabilities. Because of the steep terrain, many trams in Europe do not require any towers to support the wire ropes. The entire length is a free span between the bottom and the top stations. The Estes Park Aerial Tramway utilizes this design. A free span is fairly uncommon in the United States and this type of design affords a very smooth ride.

Estes Park Aerial Tramway

Is Estes Park Worth Visiting in the Fall?

Fall Foliage in Rocky Mountain National Park

Yes!

One of the distinctive features of the Colorado Rockies in the Fall is the brilliant butter yellow color of the turning aspens. You’ll find milder temperatures, still lots of sunshine, and a crisp feel to the air.

Whether you are on horseback, hiking, riding a mountain bike, or driving the scenic byways, Colorado doesn’t disappoint when it comes to Fall color!

Searching for things to do in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park on a Fall afternoon is the perfect way to spend the day.

Best things to do in Estes Park, Colorado

Things to Do In Estes Park, Colorado in Winter

Don’t just limit yourself to visiting Estes Park in the summer time, there is plenty of things to do in Estes Park in winter too!

As the Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, you should come to Estes Park for a few days of winter fun with your family. You’ll find everything from winter hiking, snowshoeing, sledding and tubing at Hidden Valley, snowmobiling, and horseback riding.

Winter in Rocky Mountain National park

When you’re finished for the day, return to Estes Park for some good food and maybe a dip in the hot tub at your cabin.

Are There Fun Things to Do in Estes Park for Christmas?

IMG 4628

Every year on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, the Estes Park “Catch the Glow” Christmas Parade takes place. Find a spot along Elkhorn Avenue for the 5:30 pm start time. You’ll find all of your standard parade features with marching bands, hand-crafted floats, and fire trucks… ending with a surprise guest.

Be sure to bundle up with puffy jackets, snow pants, gloves and a hat. Hand warmers would be helpful too. Estes Park is in the heart of the Rocky Mountains and temperatures will be chilly.

If you plan to spend a few days in Estes Park, check Booking.com for a cozy cabin to rent.

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Best things to do in Estes Park, Colorado

Final Thoughts on Fun Things to Do in Estes Park, Colorado

Whether you are a first-timer to Estes Park or you live close by and like to visit on the weekends, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Estes Park that will be fun for adventurers, couples, families, and friends.

Plan your next vacation to Colorado and don’t forget to include these Top Five Things to do In Estes Park:

  1. Take the Stanley Hotel “Spooky” Night Tour
  2. Ride the Rainbow Slide at Fun City
  3. Browse the Tourist Shops
  4. Enjoy homemade ice cream, fudge and toffee
  5. Ride the Aerial Tramway

You may also enjoy these posts about Colorado…

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37 Comments
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Marga
1 month ago

This looks amazing! I’ll add the park to my wishlist for when I visit Colorado!

Leah Tierney
1 month ago

I would LOVE to visit Colorado one day! If I do I will definitely add Estes Park to my itinerary – looks like you had an amazing time!

Jeanine
1 month ago

This looks an amazing place to visit with and without the kids

Chantelle
Chantelle
1 month ago

Such great timing! I am planning a trip to Estes Park for September! Thanks for all the great tips!

SHEILA
SHEILA
1 month ago

Looks like an amazing destination to explore when I make the trip to the U.S. I’ve saved this page, thanks for this detailed guide

Shannon
1 month ago

The more and more I see about the gorgeous nature in the US, the more I think I need to plan a road trip there!

Nikki
Nikki
1 month ago

Love this area of Colorado. You’ve laid out plenty of things to do for visitors, too. 🙂

Travel A-Broads
1 month ago

The whole time I was reading through, I was thinking I hadn’t heard of Estes Park, then I got to the part about the Stanley Hotel – I’ve been there! I visited about 7 years ago; thanks for reminding me about that fun trip 😊. I would love to go back in the fall and experience some of those festivals, though! Xx Sara

kmf
kmf
1 month ago

I’ve got Estes Park on my list! So much to do! Especially want to tour the Stanley Hotel and go hiking here.

Kelly
Kelly
1 month ago

I’m really hoping I’m able to visit this part of the US one day. I love being outdoors in the winter and I’m happy to hear that Estes Park is doing its part in combatting climate change.

Chelsea Messina
1 month ago

I love Estes Park! It’s such a cute town and a great location for entry to the RMNP. Great post!

JJ Jordan
1 month ago

Looks like there is a lot to do in estes park! I think I would most enjoy the river walk and spotting some wildlife 🙂

Jenn | By Land and Sea
Jenn | By Land and Sea
1 month ago

Estes is one of the best mountain towns around! Thanks for sharing all the great stuff to do here!

Linda (LD Holland)
1 month ago

We really do need to plan a visit to Colorado. And as the “best mountain town” we would certainly want to visit Estes Park. Love the variety of festivals. Great to plan around one of them.

Emma
1 month ago

I’ll be heading to the Denver area hopefully in a couple months so I will definitely put Estes Park on my list. Would love to explore the Stanley Hotel, and of course all the fun outdoor activities

The Thorough Tripper
1 month ago

My brother has a cabin in Grand Lake, on the other side of Rocky Mountain National Park, so that’s the side I have always visited. I know that Estes Park is bigger though and clearly there is a lot to do. I’ll have to check out that side sometime

Paul (Paul Passing Through)

I didn’t realize Estes Park was so close to Rocky Mountain NP and the home of the Stanley Hotel. Being a fan of The Shining, I’d definitely have to do the tour of the hotel.

Peggy Zipperer
23 days ago

I love Estes Park and just realized that I haven’t been at all this year – my favorite time of year is the fall so I will be sure to get up there soon! Great post!

Tanya T
18 days ago

I really enjoyed reading this article. It’s so family-friendly and the photos look like everyone is having a blast!