Of course, you want to see the Rocky Mountains and the gorgeous National Park. But you also don’t want to miss out on some of the other local attractions that make Estes Park fun
So in this guide, I’ve listed the best things to see and do when you visit Estes Park. Are you ready to head to the mountains? 😉
10 Fun Things to Do in Estes Park Colorado
I love mountain towns. The air is fresh. The towering natural beauty surrounds the town. Yet, the local attractions, shops, and restaurants give the town a character all its own.
Estes Park has all of these things, plus it’s teeming with wildlife that can be seen in and around the town at any time. The town is a total win for outdoor enthusiasts and National Park lovers, who also happen to enjoy some local fun and good food and drink after a day outside.
Let’s get planning your trip to Estes Park!
1. Visit Rocky Mountain National Park.
Rocky Mountain National Park is the biggest draw for Estes Park visitors and for good reason! The National Park sits in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, with wildlife appearing around every turn, hundreds of miles of hiking trails, the highest paved road in the U.S. offering stunning mountain panoramas, and even a National Historic Landmark Visitor Center designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most popular parks in the NPS highlighted by the 48-mile Trail Ridge Road. This famous stretch of U.S highway runs through the entire park connecting Grand Lake, CO to Estes Park, CO and takes you up above the treeline to over 12,000 feet!
Whether you’re planning a day in Rocky Mountain National Park or more, this is a can’t miss in Estes Park!
2. Ride the Estes Park Aerial Tramway.
From East Riverside Drive, the family-owned Estes Park Tram travels up about 9,000 feet to the top of Prospect Mountain. It may be a little touristy but I’m a sucker for amazing views, especially over the mountains!
The passenger car fits up to 10 people and reaches the top in just 5 minutes. But, it’s 5 minutes filled with amazing views. The Estes Park Gondola typically runs Monday-Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from late May to early September, and then through September on weekends only.
For the best views from inside the passenger car and shortest lines, go first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon. In summer, weekdays have fewer people than weekends.
Up at the top, walk around to photograph the awesome views from every angle!
3. Get Spooked at the Stanley Hotel.
The famous Stanley Hotel opened on July 4th, 1909. It was built by Freelan Oscar Stanley who happens to be the same guy who invented the steam-powered automobile (not vacuum), the Stanley Steamer.
But the Stanley Hotel’s claim to fame is its role in the Stanley Kubrick horror movie classic, “The Shining.” It played the scary Overlook Hotel where Jack Nicholson famously went bonkers and terrorized his family in the hotel.
Even with the sweeping views of Lake Estes and the Rocky Mountains, the Stanley Hotel still has a spooky reputation. The hotel’s builder and owner died in 1940, yet he and his wife have reportedly been seen in the Billiards Room and near the piano in the Concert Hall. A former housekeeper seems to have never left room 217. And sightings and sounds coming from children, as well as dog and cat ghosts, have been reported by staff.
If you’re brave enough, visit the hotel after a day at Rocky Mountain National Park (just 5 miles away). Or take the Historic Stanley Night Tour to learn more about the Stanley’s eerie past.
4. Stroll Around Downtown Estes Park.
Surrounded by majestic natural beauty, Downtown Estes Park is the perfect complement to a day spent outdoors. Estes Park is a classic mountain town lined with local, one-of-a-kind shops and eateries.
There are hundreds of shops with handmade artisan items, outdoor gear and equipment, craft beer, and of course, delicious food. Summer is Estes Park’s peak season so downtown gets crowded, even more so when a weekend coincides with an outdoor festival or event.
Stroll through downtown and don’t forget to taste some of the famous salt-water taffy!
5. Unwind on the Riverwalk Around Estes Park.
While you’re strolling through downtown, tuck just behind the shops to Estes Park Riverwalk. The Big Thompson and Fall Rivers flow through downtown and you can flow alongside them to enjoy the river views, eateries, and peaceful vibe.
The Riverwalk is just under 5 miles and no advanced hiking skills are needed here. The path is dog friendly but keep them on a leash. Wild animals don’t know the boundaries of the National Park. Elk, deer, ducks and other animals have been spotted along the trail.
6. Join an Estes Park Tour.
Estes Park tours led by local guides can help you maximize your experience and not worry about all the planning. Whether you just want to enjoy the spectacular Rocky Mountain scenery without needing to drive or you want to visit all the top places to spot wildlife, there are different tours depending on what your interests are and the season of your visit.
You can even rent your own Jeep or UTV for a self-guided off-roading experience!
7. Drive the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway.
Not to be confused with the other scenic drive in Rocky Mountain National Park, the Peak to Peak Byway is a separate stretch of beauty from Trail Ridge Road. The Peak to Peak Scenic Byway was established in 1918, making it Colorado’s oldest scenic road.
Easily accessible from Estes Park, the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway is the perfect mountain drive in any season, but especially in Fall. The bursting golden yellow from the Aspen trees is hard to match!
On the north end of the Byway on CO-7 sits Estes Park. The drive becomes CO-72 and CO-119 as it travels south through Blackhawk and to I-70.
The Byway is 55 miles long and can take 2-3 hours to do complete the drive. If you’re doing a Colorado road trip, it can be the route you take to or from Estes Park.
Whether you drive some or all of the Byway, enjoy the fabulous views through the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests. Along the way, stop and visit one of the former gold mines and pretend you’re on a gold rush adventure.
8. Enjoy Lake Estes.
In the mood for a relaxed lakeside stroll surrounded by the awesome Rocky Mountains? Lake Estes is the answer! The loop around the lake is just under 4 miles on a paved family-friendly, dog-friendly trail.
It’s also the perfect spot for a morning jog. Whether you’re walking or jogging, keep an eye out for elk herds that graze through the area. Especially during the Fall rutting season, competing males spar for females. On my visit to Estes Park, I was lucky to watch quite the elk herd drama early one morning. A large herd came through and the guy in charge had to charge a few younger males to remind them who was the boss.
You’re also not limited to the loop path around the lake. You can kayak, trout fish, canoe, and even paddleboard on the lake. The local marina is available for rentals.
9. Discover One of the Many Estes Park Hikes.
Rocky Mountain National Park steals the show with more than 300 miles of hiking trails. However, there are other Estes Park trails outside the National Park that still provide an incredible outdoor adventure.
Whether you’re camping or lodging, there are tons of day hikes that you can set out on away from the National Park crowds. Lace your hiking boots, check you have the important hiking essentials, and know what to wear depending on the season.
Lilly Mountain trail is one of the most popular choices in nearby Roosevelt National Forest. It’s a 3 1/2 mile moderate hike just a few miles south of Estes Park. It does climb upwards on rocky terrain but the views at the end are worth it. Better yet, dogs on a leash are welcome to join!
10. Taste Local Brews at Rock Cut Brewing Company.
You’ve done a lot of driving, walking, hiking, and spent hours upon hours outdoors. What’s the best way to cap off an amazing day of adventures?? Enjoy the local brews, of course! Colorado is known for many things, including its craft beer scene!
Rock Cut Brewing Company, which opened in 2015, is just the answer with a full beer menu of ales, IPAs, lagers, and more. The brewery is just near downtown Estes Park and the rivers flowing through town. Visitors are welcome to bring in outside food or enjoy some bites from a local food truck that parks just outside the brewery.
Estes Park Planning Tips
How far is Estes Park from Denver?
The distance from Denver to Estes Park is about 65 miles. The 1 1/2 hour drive is straightforward and can even be done on a day trip from Denver.
How far is it from Colorado Springs to Estes Park?
Colorado Springs is 130 miles from Estes Park. The majority of the 2 1/2 hour drive is heading north along major highway I-25.
Where to Stay in Estes Park
I recommend the Best Western Plus Silver Saddle Inn along the main road in town. The hotel comes with breakfast, which makes it convenient to fuel up before a day of hiking and outdoor adventures. The hotel is close to everything in Estes Park, as well as about 3 miles from the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park.
What things to do in Estes Park are on your itinerary?
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