Estes Park Travel Guide

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Courtesy of Robert Morrissey / EyeEm/Images

Best Things To Do in Estes Park

Estes Park's position in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains makes the Colorado town a paradise for adventurers. Rocky Mountain National Park

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Estes Park's position in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains makes the Colorado town a paradise for adventurers. Rocky Mountain National Park stands out as the most popular outdoor attraction in the area, but visitors can also take in the scenery from the Estes Park Aerial Tramway. If you'd rather spend the day indoors, take a tour of the storied Stanley Hotel or peruse the Estes Park Museum. When it's time to pick up local souvenirs, shop along Elkhorn Avenue and Moraine Avenue. Warm-weather visitors should also consider renting a boat at the Lake Estes Marina or scheduling a whitewater rafting trip. Alternatively, consider planning an excursion with Kent Mountain Adventure Center. If you appreciate the wilderness, you'll find something memorable to do in Estes Park.

How we rank Things to Do

Updated September 24, 2020

  • #1
    Things to do in Estes Park
    View all Photos
    #1 in Estes Park
    Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Hiking, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    More than Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Hiking, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    More than Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Rocky Mountain National Park encompasses more than 250,000 acres and boasts 124 named mountain peaks. Subsequently, the massive park draws visitors interested in camping, biking, fishing and horseback riding, among other outdoor activities. If you're not an outdoorsy type, consider a scenic drive or a picnic to make the most of the outstanding views. Winter activities like cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and sledding keep a flow of travelers visiting the park during the chillier months. The park's wildlife, which includes elk, bighorn sheep and moose, roam the verdant forests and glittering lakes, guaranteeing that every trip to Rocky Mountain National Park will be memorable.

    One of the park's biggest draws is its collection of approximately 355 miles of trails. Avid hikers recommend the difficult Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge Trail, which runs about 10 miles and becomes more rewarding as you climb upward. For a more manageable hike, visitors suggest the roughly 3-mile Emerald Lake Trail. If you choose to tackle this trail, plan to arrive early in the day to beat the daily crowds that descend on the trail. For first-time hikers, travelers recommend the 2-mile Dream Lake Trail, a scenic out-and-back route that will prove manageable for most fitness levels.

  • #2
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    #2 in Estes Park
    Historic Homes/Mansions, Tours
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND
    Historic Homes/Mansions, Tours
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND

    Not only is the grand Stanley Hotel a member of the Historic Hotels of America, but it's also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The hotel opened in 1909 to provide a luxurious retreat for East Coast vacationers making a pilgrimage to Estes Park. Electric lights, telephones and automobiles all welcomed visitors, and the surrounding town developed rapidly in the Stanley Hotel's wake. Aside from its historic accolades, the property boasts another claim to fame: Fans of "The Shining" will recognize the hotel as the setting for the Stanley Kubrick movie adaption of Stephen King's horror novel. As if its association with the film weren't enough, the hotel also touts its own history of paranormal activity. To learn more, visitors can take one of two tours – a daytime tour that focuses more on pop culture and a night tour that concentrates on the property's ghost lore.

    Whether day or night, past travelers said the tour guides are fantastic storytellers and that they impart a bevy of interesting tidbits.

  • #3
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    #3 in Estes Park
    Natural Wonders, Hiking, Recreation, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Natural Wonders, Hiking, Recreation, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Designed and built by Robert Heron in 1955, the Estes Park Aerial Tramway whisks visitors to the peak of Prospect Mountain at an elevation of almost 9,000 feet. Heron also built the first double chair lift in the United States, and the Estes Park Aerial Tramway is still owned and operated by the Heron family today. Since its inaugural trip, the tramway has ferried more than 3 million people over the tree line and to the mountain's peak. 

    Past visitors suggested waiting until you reach the top to shop for gifts, as the coffee and gift shop at the peak offer better memorabilia than the shop in downtown Estes Park. They also recommended you stroll along the hiking trail at the summit after grabbing your dose of caffeine. Even travelers with a self-professed fear of heights appreciated the stunning views available from the aerial tram.

  • #4
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    #4 in Estes Park
    Free, Cafes, Neighborhood/Area, Shopping
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Cafes, Neighborhood/Area, Shopping
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    More than 200 storefronts line these two thoroughfares of downtown Estes Park. Following the Lawn Lake Dam's failure in 1982, much of downtown Estes Park was damaged by sudden flooding. Subsequently, the downtown area now showcases a mix of modern architecture alongside rustic, timber-framed buildings harkening back to the homesteading era. Many of the shopping, eating, and recreational businesses in Estes Park are independently owned, so you can happily shop knowing that every piece of candy, taste of ice cream or souvenir can't be found anywhere else. Art lovers will be particularly impressed by the galleries and studios that line Estes Park's streets.

    Though the competition between candy stores is intense, past travelers insisted that you grab fudge or a candy apple from Laura's Fine Candies, which is located on Elkhorn Avenue. Mountain Blown Glass also proves a must-visit storefront, according to past visitors, thanks to its gallery of beautiful pieces and impressive live demonstrations, which are free to watch.

  • #5
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    #5 in Estes Park
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    History enthusiasts of every ilk will find something of interest at this museum. The Estes Park Museum works to catalog the surprising expansive historical records of Estes Park. The museum houses about 30,000 objects, including historic photographs and postcards, as well as furniture, tools and more. The impressive collection also features a real 1909 model EX Stanley Steamer Runabout, a steam-powered car. Historic structures preserved by the museum include a cabin from 1908 and the National Park Headquarters Building, which served as the center of affairs for Rocky Mountain National Park from 1915 to 1923.

    To start your visit, you'll view a historical video that provides an overview of Estes Park – a highlight for recent visitors. Past travelers appreciated the informative and interesting displays, which highlight specific aspects of the area's history. The museum also houses a gift shop, which past travelers described as somewhat small, for anyone looking for a keepsake from their vacation.

  • #6
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    #6 in Estes Park
    Sports, Hiking, Recreation, Swimming/Pools
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sports, Hiking, Recreation, Swimming/Pools
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Whether you want to sunbathe on a pontoon or cast a line from a small boat or the shoreline, the Lake Estes Marina offers something for everyone. Those who'd prefer to stay on dry land can take advantage of bike rentals for $9 an hour or pedal cars for $23 an hour to traverse the paved, 3.75-mile loop around the lake, named the Lake Estes Trail.

    Past visitors enjoyed cruising around the lake on their rented pontoon boats, which provide shade on particularly sunny days. The also appreciated that the marina sells fishing licenses and rents fishing equipment for $2 an hour or $10 a day. The most common disappointment amongst past travelers is the lake's size, which they say doesn't compare to the massive lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

  • #7
    View all Photos
    #7 in Estes Park
    Sports, Recreation, Swimming/Pools, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sports, Recreation, Swimming/Pools, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    During Colorado's warm months, whitewater rafting opportunities abound as the state's rivers swell with snowmelt. Travelers have their choice of rafting companies in nearby Fort Collins; though, only Rapid Transit Rafting is actually located in Estes Park. In addition to a selection of companies, rafting difficulty varies by river and launch point, meaning that whitewater rafting near Estes Park remains exciting regardless of your level of experience.

    Rapid Transit Rafting earns excellent reviews from past visitors, and some even go as far as to declare the experience the highlight of their trip to Colorado. Past travelers praised all the employees, from the guides to the bus drivers. Others were also impressed with the scenery, which can occasionally include soaring bald eagles. One recurring tip from recent travelers: Pack a change of clothes, as whatever you wear rafting is sure to get soaked.

  • #8
    View all Photos
    #8 in Estes Park
    Natural Wonders, Sports, Hiking, Recreation, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Natural Wonders, Sports, Hiking, Recreation, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Everyone from outdoors-loving children to experienced mountaineers will appreciate the programs offered by Kent Mountain Adventure Center. The adventure center specializes in rock climbing and offers six different trips that vary in length and difficulty, one combination of rock scrambling and climbing trip, and two two-day courses. They also offer cliff camping trips, or cliff picnic trips if you don't think you could sleep while dangling off a rock wall. For the vertically averse, Kent Mountain Adventure Center also offers a handful of guided hikes. Meanwhile, kids can take advantage of the variety of youth camps provided by the adventure center. Winter ushers in a whole new set of outdoor options, which include cross-country skiing, ice climbing and more. All of the adventure center's programs operate in or around Rocky Mountain National Park.                                                                                

    Past travelers were impressed by the selection of rock climbing options, which make it easy to tailor the excursion to any group's or individual's comfort. Recent climbers also praised the adventure center's guides, saying that they felt safe and secure climbing with them. Thrill-seekers recommended the "cliffnic" option, where climbers can enjoy a picnic on a small platform on the side of a cliff.

  • View all Photos
    Wineries/Breweries
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Wineries/Breweries
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

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  • View all Photos
    Free, Shopping
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Shopping
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND

    Read More »

  • View all Photos
    Sightseeing
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Read More »

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