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The small town of Estes Park is the headquarters and eastern gateway for Rocky Mountain National Park. Surrounded by soaring peaks while lying along the Big Thompson River, both the town and national park offer a long list of things to do, from a wealth of outdoor adventures to fantastic shopping and dining and cozy cabin rentals. With such an extensive array of options to choose from, if you only have a limited amount of time to spend, these are some of the musts for your itinerary.
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What Is It?: One of the most popular national parks in the country, Rocky Mountain National Park covers more than 400 square miles. It’s home to dramatic mountain scenery, alpine lakes, meandering streams that flow through lush meadows, cascading waterfalls, and abundant wildlife.
Why Do It?: It’s a hiker’s paradise with more than 300 miles of trails for hiking as well as being popular for fly fishing and horseback riding. One of the most scenic drives in the world is found here too – Trail Ridge Road traverses through the heart of the park and at the peak you’ll be winding through the vast tundra at 12,183 feet taking in jaw-dropping views.
Good to Know: Keep an eye out for wildlife with everything from elk and moose to bighorn sheep, deer, and marmots frequently spotted. There’s a visitor center at the peak of Trail Ridge Road that’s a must-visit with breathtaking views of the alpine tundra, various displays about the region, a snack bar, gift shop, and bookstore.
What Is It?: The Stanley Hotel is one of the most visited attractions in Estes Park as the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining, it’s not just a place for guests to stay.
Why Do It? Not only is it beautiful from the outside, but it’s also stunning inside and rumored to be haunted. It was opened in 1909 by the inventor of the Stanley Steamer automobiles, Oscar Stanley, with its early guests often arriving in the stylish Stanley-designed steam cars to experience this magnificent hotel in the wilderness. Unlike most, it had telephones, electric lights, and en-suite bathrooms along with a fleet of automobiles at its disposal. Today, the hotel hosts the Stanley Steamer Car Museum which features a unique collection of historically significant automobiles.
Good to Know: There is a fantastic restaurant on-site available to guests and non-guests alike, and ghosts tours are available too.
What Is It? The Estes Park Aerial Tramway has been bringing passengers up to a mountain peak for spectacular panoramic views of the mountain and Estes Park for over 60 years. It was the brainchild of ski lift designer Robert Herron who had studied the designs of European trams and the same Herron family continues to operate it today.
Who Do It? You’ll get the best view of the town and the Rockies around.
Good to Know: The ride is open between May and September.
What Is It? Fun City is a Family Amusement Park where kids and kids-at-heart can have a ton of fun for an afternoon or an entire day.
Why Do It? There are multiple rides, including the Giant Rainbow Slide, bumper cars, bumper boats, and go-karts. You can play miniature golf, feel what it’s like to walk, rock and roll on the water in a Water Walking Ball, play miniature golf, or even bungee jump.
Good to Know: A local tradition since 1969, Fun City is open at 10 a.m. daily throughout the summer.
What Is It? Located on the Big Thompson River, Lake Estes has a shoreline that’s about four miles long and covers 185 acres. It sits in the middle of Estes Park surrounded by the Rockies for incredible views.
Why Do It? There is a marina on the lake, Lake Estes Marina, where you can rent kayaks, canoes, pontoons, and paddle boats. Fishing supplies and licenses are available too. Enjoy a day of fun on the water while surrounded by dazzling scenery.
Good To Know: Boat rentals are available from around early May through October.
What Is It? Horseback riding is available in Estes Park through multiple outfitters.
Why Do It? It’s a great way to explore more of the area’s unspoiled beauty than you could on foot while getting to know some beautiful animals.
Good To Know: A variety of rides are available for nearly all ages and abilities with no experience necessary. Enjoy everything from short one-hour rides to trips that last for an entire day available. Some also throw in a chuckwagon Cowboy-style steak dinner.
What Is It? Open Air Adventure Park offers a unique outdoor experience, allowing guests to make their own adventures. There are 32 different challenges that are possible ranging in difficulty levels from easy to challenging.
Why Do It? It’s a great way to have fun while getting active with rope bridges to cross, tightrope walks, swings, moving platforms, and all sorts of obstacles to tackle.
Good to Know: This is a high-value experience for families with safety gear always used and staff on hand to assist.
What Is It? Fly fishing is not only available inside the national park, the Big Thompson River is outstanding for any enthusiast.
Why Do It? The river flows through Big Thompson Canyon, offering some of the best fly fishing in the state with over 20 miles of river that stretches between Loveland and Estes Park. Brook, brown, and rainbow trout are the main catches along the river, with a higher population of browns as you move downstream.
Good to Know: A catch-and-release paradise can be found on the approximately 10-mile stretch from the Olympus Dam to the Waltonia Bridge.
What Is It? The more than century-old Estes Park Golf Course offers 18 holes of unforgettable golf, incorporated within the natural environment.
Why Do It? You’ll enjoy some unique play here as there are almost always elk hanging around right on the course, not to mention the awe-inspiring Rockies scenery that will surround you.
Good to Know: There are plenty of hazards here along with well-manicured fairways. Despite it often being ranked among the top 10 most scenic courses to play in the country, the fees are surprisingly affordable.
What Is It? Dating back nearly 150 years, MacGregor Ranch was established in 1873 by Alexander and Clara MacGregor, with three generations of the family operating it for almost a century. Since 1973, it’s served as a living history museum restored to its 1900 appearance.
Why Do It? Ranches have long been a part of the economy and landscape of Colorado, and this one provides a glimpse of the past when the area was quite a bit more rugged and wild than it is today. MacGregor has been preserved to its near-original condition, providing a unique insight into individuals who settled here so many decades ago.
Good to Know: Guided tours of the grounds and museum are available throughout the summer. Self-guided tours of the homestead and farm buildings can be enjoyed too.
What Is It? River rafting is one of the most popular outdoor adventures to enjoy in Estes Park, with experiences available in varying lengths and levels of difficulty.
Why Do It? This is an adventure suitable for nearly everyone with the only requirement that you must be at least seven years of age and weigh 50 or more pounds. You’ll see the scenery from a different perspective while enjoying a heart-pounding thrill with both half-and full-day trips available through Rapid Transity Rafting.
Good to Know: With over 30 years of experience rafting the states’ rivers, Rapid Transit Rafting ensures a fun, memorable trip. The company is fully licensed, providing a safe adventure for all. Keep in mind that spots can fill quickly as this is such a popular activity so you’ll want to book as far as possible in advance, especially if you’re planning a trip in July.
Explore on Two Wheels with a Cycling Tour
What Is It? Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park can be toured on two wheels through New Venture Cycling, with its headquarters located right in town. It offers downhill bike tours ranging in difficulty levels from easy to moderate, with three- to eight-hour excursions available.
Why Do It? It’s a great active way to enjoy the dazzling scenery and capture fantastic photos. Plus the outfitter provides your bicycle, helmet, snacks, and water.
Good to Know: No matter what the season, be sure to bring a jacket, sunglasses, and sunscreen. You’ll definitely want to bring your camera for this one as well. Advance reservations must be made online or by phone, so don’t wait until the last minute.
What Is It? For a small town with a population of less than 6,400, Estes Park offers quite a bit when it comes to art, shopping, and dining, making for the perfect mix of wilderness adventures and city attractions.
Why Do It? There are many restaurants, from casual to fine dining, with the Stanley Hotel’s highly acclaimed Cascades Restaurant one of the top picks. The traditional steakhouse frequently hosts piano music and there’s a piano that Mrs. Stanley might still be playing too, often heard when no one is around.
Good to Know: In the more than 300 shops downtown you can find everything from outdoor gear to handmade local items. Pus it’s a destination for foodies, craft brew enthusiasts, art lovers, and more.
What is It? Estes Park offers multiple spots to indulge in a massage to soothe those sore muscles, refresh and revitalize after a day of play, like the Affinity Massage and Wellness Center.
Why Do It? Experience blissful stress and pain relief with a wide range of options, including hot stone and raindrop treatments, Swedish massage, deep tissue, and more.
Good to Know: Affinity Massage and Wellness Center is located downtown, right along the Riverwalk