Estes Park is a town of about 6,500 residents that’s located in north-central Colorado’s Larimer County.
A few hours northwest of Denver, it is set amidst some of the state’s most rugged and majestic landscapes. It’s surrounded by state and national parks and some of North America’s most popular ski resorts.
The town has an abundance of historical attractions as well, and plenty of choices for dining, lodging, and outdoor recreation activities, including golf, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, and mountain biking.
Below are 14 things to do in and around Estes Park that warrant a closer look when in the area.
1. Glacier Gorge
It’s hard to stand out in a state so full of fantastic geography, but previous visitors agree that Glacier Gorge does precisely that.
The gorge is located in an idyllic valley in Rocky Mountain National Park and offers guests a unique insight into how the landscape was formed by massive glacial movements that gouged their way into the rocky earth over millennia.
A number of hiking trails of varying degrees of difficulty wind their way around the gorge. For nature lovers, there are rivers, lakes, and streams that are home to lots of wildlife and gamefish.
2. Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain State Park is one of Colorado’s most popular and often-visited natural attractions. It offers visitors some of the most breathtaking mountain vistas that they’re ever likely to see.
The park stretches for more than 400 square miles, and much of it is more than 10,000 feet above sea level.
The Trail Ridge Road is perfect for those who’d rather take it all in from the comfort of a car. For those who’d prefer to head out into the wild, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, camping, and back-country backpacking are ever-popular ways to spend a day.
3. Estes Park Golf Course
For many visiting golfers, hitting the links is one of the most pleasant ways to experience the great outdoors, and Estes Park is home to several prominent golf courses.
The 18-Hole Estes Park Golf Course is more than a century old and was designed by two well-known golf course designers, who managed to incorporate the natural environment into the 6,300-yard course.
In addition to well-manicured fairways, ample hazards, and stunning mountain views, it’s common to see wildlife during a round, including elk, deer, and foxes.
The course has been ranked as one of the country’s top ten most scenic courses, and greens fees are surprisingly affordable.
4. MacGregor Ranch and Museum
For more than two centuries, ranches have been integral parts of Colorado’s landscape and economy. For many first-time visitors to the Rocky Mountain State, they’re iconic attractions that are well worth checking out.
MacGregor Ranch dates back more than 150 years to a time when the area was even more wild, rugged and rural than it is today. It’s been preserved to near-original condition to give guests unique insights to the lives of those who settled in the area ages ago.
Guided tours of the museum and grounds are offered during the summer season, and guests are welcome to explore the farm buildings, homestead, and fields on their own as well.
5. The Stanley Hotel
The Stanley Hotel is one of Estes Park’s most historic and visited attractions. In addition to its impressive architecture, rumors abound that it’s haunted.
Before Estes Park was the tourist attraction that it is today, the hotel attracted well-to-do guests interested in staying in posh digs while exploring the mountains, and the on-site Stanley Steamer Car Museum is now one of the hotel’s most popular draws.
The museum features a unique collection of historically significant automobiles and fire trucks, and a historic concert hall. Both hotel and evening ghost tours are available at multiple times daily.
6. Estes Park Aerial Tramway
There’s no more dramatic and exhilarating way to take in Colorado’s awe-inspiring scenery than by elevated tramway, and adventurous visitors to Estes Park have the chance to do just that.
The Estes Park Aerial Tramway dates back more than six decades and was the brainchild of a local lift designer and engineer who was blown away by what he saw at mountain resorts in Europe.
The tramway is a family-owned and operated business that takes huge numbers of visitors to the top of Prospect Mountain annually. The season generally runs from May through September. Tickets are dirt-cheap, and children younger than five ride free.
7. Park Theater
The Park Theater is another of Estes Park’s most iconic historic attractions. It was constructed in the early 20th century when impressive architecture was the order of the day.
Previous guests have described the theater as stunning, quaint, and charming, and according to some, it’s one of the oldest movie houses in the country.
Though tickets aren’t as cheap as they once were, they’re still affordable, and the renovated and upgraded theater now shows both first-run and independent films, as well as documentaries and live performances.
Light snacks and drinks are available on-site, and tickets often go quickly to popular shows, so plan accordingly.
8. Open Air Adventure Park
Located on Prospect Village Drive in Estes Park, Open Air Adventure Park is a great way to get active, burn excess calories, and experience the great outdoors without leaving town limits.
The park features dozens of individual activities, and they’ve been designed with visitors of nearly all ages and levels of physical abilities in mind.
Climbing areas, rope bridges, and obstacle courses are in abundance, and the park is staffed with experienced and safety-conscious employees that make sure everyone has a fun day and goes home in one piece.
Though it’s a bit on the pricy side, it’s conveniently located, and is often one of the most memorable experiences of many visitors’ trips.
9. Notchtop Bakery & Café
Notchtop Bakery & Café has been open for more than two decades and is a must-visit attraction for those looking to fill their empty stomachs without spending an arm and a leg in the process.
The bakery and café are located on East Wonder View Street in town and are open daily from 7 AM until 3 PM.
Topnotch is particularly well-known for its hearty breakfast fare that includes Tex-Mex inspired dishes, steak and eggs, eggs benedict, and scramble platters. For those with dietary restrictions, they have gluten-free options as well.
Lunch items include burgers, gyros, soups, and salads, and their fresh baked goods include donuts, bread, and banana cream pie.
10. New Venture Cycling Tours
New Venture Cycling Tours offers fit and outdoorsy visitors a unique and invigorating way to experience Colorado, and they’re headquartered in downtown Estes Park.
For those traveling without their own cycling gear, New Venture has you covered; bikes and helmets are included, as are drinks, snacks, and some of the most amazing scenery you’re ever going to see.
Tour options range from easy and family-friendly excursions that last just a few hours to full-day epic treks into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
Previous guests suggested packing additional snacks, a hat, sunglasses, and cool weather and rain gear just to be on the safe side.
11. Rapid Transit Rafting
Rapid Transit Rafting is one of Estes Park’s premier outdoor adventure providers. They’re fully licensed with the state’s parks and wildlife department, which means their primary goals are providing safe, well-managed, and utterly unforgettable experiences.
They’ve been in business for more than three decades and provide a variety of rafting options on the Colorado and Cache La Poudre Rivers.
Experiences are offered in a variety of lengths and varying degrees of difficulty, so there’s probably a suitable option regardless of who you’re traveling with.
During peak season, spots can fill quickly, so consider booking in advance so you don’t miss out on a truly majestic experience.
12. Ed’s Cantina
Ed’s Cantina in Estes Park has been around since the mid-‘80s; since then, it’s been a family operated restaurant that prides itself on providing great Mexican food with a Rocky Mountain twist to hungry locals and visitors alike.
Ed’s is open every day and features authentic Mexican decorations, a relaxed environment, and helpful and attentive staff.
Most of what’s on the menu is made fresh on-site daily, and a few of their favorites include fajitas, chimichangas, tacos, and carnitas.
Rumor has it that their margaritas are to die for, their prices are reasonable, and their portion sizes hefty.
13. Estes Park Memorial Observatory
Due to its vast tracts of mountains and overall rural nature, Colorado’s skies are naturally much darker than many states; that means that the stargazing is top-notch for bother amateur and experienced astronomy aficionados.
The Estes Park Memorial Observatory is a great community resource that’s often overlooked by harried travelers, but for those interested in getting a guided tour of the cosmos, it’s the perfect place to do it.
The observatory’s staff host a variety of engaging and educational programs that were designed with all ages in mind. Admission is totally free, although most guests choose to leave a few bucks per person.
14. Kind Coffee
Kind Coffee on East Elkhorn Avenue in Estes Park is open every day from 6:30 AM until 6 PM. They’re locally famous for offering only organic and fair trade beans from all over the world.
Their hot and cold coffee drinks are their big draws, especially with the caffeine-craving morning and afternoon crowds, but they also offer a variety of non-coffee drinks like teas, smoothies, juices, and shakes.
Many new customers are so impressed with their coffee that they pick up a bag of whole beans to take home with them. For those who show up with an empty stomach, they offer fresh pastries and baked goods.