Fantastic Things to Do in Estes Park, Colorado

As a world-famous destination, every year millions of people enjoy the many things to do in Estes Park year-round. From ice skating in winter to dreamy mountain hikes, there are a lot of Estes Park activities to get excited about.

Estes Park, Colorado is home to the famous Rocky Mountain National Park – the 4th busiest national park in the US. Of course, Rocky is the highlight of virtually any weekend in Estes Park, but there are plenty of other incredible activities to enjoy in the area.

As a long-time Colorado local (over 13 years), I’ve been to Estes countless times. So if you’re looking to enjoy the best of Estes like a local, not a tourist, then you’re in the right place.

About this Guide of Things to Do in Estes Park

Inside this local’s guide to Estes Park activities you’ll find:

  • Local info about visiting Estes Park, Colorado including top attractions, free activities, and how long to visit.
  • The best time to visit Estes Park
  • How to beat the crowds
  • An in-depth list at the best things to do in Estes Park
  • Top things to do near Estes Park
  • What to do for free in Estes
  • Additional Colorado travel resources

What is Estes Park Known For?

Most people visit Estes in order to see the absolutely stunning Rocky Mountain National Park. As one of the most beautiful places in Colorado, Rocky is chock full of incredible mountain views, ample wildlife, and plenty of outdoor recreation activities for all abilities.

As a home base for exploring the park, Estes Park is host to a variety of incredible activities that exist beyond Rocky’s boundaries. It’s a truly quintessential top place to visit in Colorado and no Colorado road trip itinerary is complete without some time in Estes.

things to do near estes park

Is Estes Park Worth Visiting?

In a nutshell, yes, but (and this is a big but) Estes Park is exceptionally crowded in the summer and early fall. In fact, many people might not want to visit Estes in the summer if they are trying to avoid crowds.

However, the crowds are here for a reason. Estes is home to some of the best hikes in Colorado, amazing scenery, top camping in Colorado, and has a fun mountain town vibe. The key to having a great time in Estes is to plan ahead and know when the town gets super-busy.

Overall, Estes Park is certainly worth a visit, but just be aware that afternoon crowds on weekends are very real.

When is the Best Time to Visit Estes Park?

Estes Park is worth a visit year-round and each season offers something a little different.

Summer is known to have the mildest weather. Not to mention the wildflowers bloom from July through August. Just know that the snow doesn’t melt at the higher elevations until around mid-June and this is the most crowded time to visit.

Early fall is another gorgeous time to visit Estes. September (and occasionally early October) mark when the leaves change in Colorado and Estes puts on a full display. It’s another popular time, especially with locals on weekends, so be prepared for heavy traffic.

Late fall is quite nice if you’re looking to avoid the crowds. As is spring. Springs will be quite snowy and many of the best Estes Park hikes may still have dangerous avalanche risks.

Winter is the season of snow. Estes gets just a little sleepier this time of year, but with plenty of amazing things to do in Estes during the winter, you’ll still find ample winter fun.

How Many Days Should I Spend at Estes Park, Colorado?

How many days you choose to spend in Estes Park largely depends on how many days you want to spend exploring Rocky Mountain National Park. With just one day in Estes, you can totally get a feel for this lively mountain town, but you won’t be able to see too much.

A weekend to 4 days in Estes will allow you to enjoy the park and perhaps one or two extra activities outside of Rocky.

For extended stays, you can certainly get your fill with a week in Estes Park, but if you’re short on time and want to spend more time exploring other parts of Colorado, 2 days is enough.

Beating the Crowds at Estes Park

As one of the top national parks in the US, Rocky Mountain National Park draws over 4 million visitors a year – most of them being in summer.

If you’re visiting Estes in summer, you’ll want to do some planning to beat the crowds. Here are a few quick ways to avoid the biggest hustles.

Avoid free admission days at Rocky. No matter the time of year, Estes gets over-run during these times.

Don’t visit over holidays or weekends. Prices skyrocket and so do the crowds.

Plan to be up before the sun and eat meals at off-hours. This will help you manage the big lunch and dinner crushes downtown, and be able to find some solitude at some of the best things to do in Estes Park.

Local Tip: You have a better chance of spotting wildlife early in the morning, right around dawn.

Visit during the off-season. Late fall and spring are not as busy at Estes Park.

Do the most popular activities first thing in the morning. Playing in the mountains is all about getting up early. So plan popular activities before most people are even out of bed.

The Best Things to Do in Estes Park

Estes Park is an amazing weekend getaway from Denver, and you might even need more than a weekend to explore all the Estes Park activities that this mountain town has to offer.

Things to Do in Estes Park

When it comes to things to do in Estes Park, Colorado, the town itself has plenty on offer. All of these activities are accessed directly from town.

Get Spooky at the Stanley Hotel

As the infamous inspiration of the creepy movie “The Shining,” the Stanley Hotel is known as a place full of paranormal activity. The hotel offers guided tours of its history – you can take the daytime tour if you’re afraid of ghosts or go on the night tour to seek out the spirits roaming the halls.

  • Time: 1 hour
  • Cost: $24-28 for a guided tour
things to do in estes park

Get a Bird’s-eye View From the Aerial Tramway

For a unique thing to do in Colorado, enjoy a ride on the Estes Park Aerial Tramway and get a panoramic view from the top of Prospect Mountain.

The tramway was opened in 1955 and designed with a free span for a smooth 5-minute ride uphill. At the top, you can take a short hike or visit the gift shop and snack bar before heading back down.

  • Time: 1 hour
  • Cost: $16/person

Hike to the Peak of Prospect Mountain

You can also get to the peak of Prospect Mountain under your own power by hiking up the trail.

This trail used to be on private property, but the town of Estes Park purchased the land to create the Thumb Open Space and maintain the trail. Rock climbers can also enjoy several small crags with a variety of routes.

  • Time: 1-2 hours
  • Cost: Free

Cheers with a Local Beer

Check out one of the breweries in Estes Park for a pint or flight of local beers. Estes Park Brewery, Rock Cut Brewery, and Lumpy Ridge Brewery all offer brews sure to please any beer connoisseur.

If you’re hungry, Estes Park Brewery also offers great pub grub.

  • Time: A few hours
  • Cost: Varies

Go on a Shopping Spree

Downtown Estes Park is a great Colorado mountain town if you love to shop. Get a unique gift or souvenir at Earthwood Artisans or upgrade your outdoor adventure gear at Estes Park Mountain Shop.

Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find it in one of the hundreds of shops in downtown Estes Park.

  • Time: A few hours
  • Cost: Varies, but window shopping is free

Watch a Glass Blowing Demonstration

If you’re intrigued by the art of glass blowing, you can watch artists in action at the Mountain Blown Glass gallery in Estes Park.

Demonstrations are not on a set schedule, but if you visit the gallery at the right time, you’ll get to see some molten glass magic.

  • Time: 30 min-1 hour
  • Cost: Free
things to do in estes park for free

Float on a Boat in the Marina

Estes Park Marina is the place to be for water lovers in the summer. You can rent kayaks, canoes, paddleboats, or even a pontoon boat, or just splash around and the wading beach.

The marina is also a mecca for fishing if you want to bait your hook and see what you can catch.

  • Time: Half day to full day
  • Cost: Varies

See Stars at the Observatory

If trying to pick out constellations while sitting around a campfire isn’t enough for you, head to the Estes Park Observatory.

Here you can stargaze to your heart’s content through the powerful, state-of-the-art telescope.

Note: Viewings are currently on a limited schedule due to Covid, but you can request a private group viewing on certain available days.

  • Time: A couple hours
  • Cost: Free

Things to Do Near Estes Park

When you’ve had your fill of town, it’s time to scope out the real reason you visited Estes Park – all of that epic mountain scenery.

Explore Rocky Mountain National Park

As the crown jewel of nearby Estes, Rocky Mountain National Park is a must-see on your list. In fact, many of the things to do near Estes Park can be found within the park’s boundaries.

You can easily spend a day in Rocky Mountain National Park and just scratch the surface.

A few days will let you really dive deep into the park’s top hiking areas, camping, scenic drives, and more.

Local Tip: You’ll need a timed entry permit to visit the park. These permits fill up almost immediately when they are released, especially on weekends. The Bear Lake Corridor requires a special permit or you’ll have to take the shuttle.

  • Time: Full day or more
  • Cost: $25 park entrance fee (or National Parks Pass) Plus a $2 reservation fee for advanced timed entry (required May through October)
estes park attractions

See Stunning Alpine Lakes

One of the top Estes Park attractions is to hike to an alpine lake. In fact, many of the top lake hikes in Colorado can be found near Estes Park.

We’ll dive into a few specific lakes in just a second, but you don’t want to miss these dreamy alpine landscapes.

Almost all lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park require a hike to get to, but a few you can check out almost directly from your car include:

  • Bear Lake
  • Sprague Lake

A few notable lakes in Rocky Mountain include:

  • Gem Lake
  • Chasm Lake
  • Dream and Emerald Lake
  • Sky Pond
  • Black Lake
  • The Loch

Local Tip: Beat the crowds by planning a sunrise hike.

  • Time: Half day to full day
  • Cost: $25 park entrance fee (or National Parks Pass)

Get Off-Road in a 4×4

Adventure off the beaten path on a 4X4 tour of Estes Park or Rocky Mountain National Park. Wildside 4×4 Tours offers lots of year-round opportunities for off-road rides and scenic photo tours, including one that ends with roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over a roaring campfire.

  • Time: Half day
  • Cost: $80

Splash Around on a White Water Raft

Did you know that some of the top white water rafting in Colorado can be found right near Estes? Both the Poudre and Colorado Rivers give you the ultimate access to some of the best rapids in the state.

Tours cater to all abilities, from mellow floats to bumpy class 3 rapid adventures. The season for white water rafting in Colorado typically runs from late May until July, so plan accordingly.

  • Time: Half day to full day depending on the excursion
  • Cost: varies

Hike to Emerald Lake for Sunrise

Arguably one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park (and one of the most beautiful hikes in the US), a sunrise hike to Emerald Lake needs to be on your Estes Park activitiy list.

This relatively gentle, 3.5-mile out-and-back hike passes by 4 total lakes – including the coveted Dream Lake

Wander through tranquil pine forests as you pass by Bear, Nymph, and Dream Lakes. Just remember, this is one of the most popular hikes in the country, so start well before dawn if you want solitude.

Local Tip: To really avoid the crowds, hike all the way to Emerald Lake, watch the sunrise, then stop at the other lakes on the way back.

  • Time: 1.5 – 2 hours
  • Cost: $25 park entrance fee (or National Parks Pass)
things to see near estes park colorado

Navigate an Aerial Obstacle Course

Choose your own adventure in the sky at the Open Air Adventure Course. Make your way through the ropes course at 11-21 feet in the air and tackle the fun obstacles that test your balance and strength.

From some of the top Colorado via Ferrata routes to high-flying zip lines, there’s plenty for daredevils of all ages.

  • Time: 1-2 hours
  • Cost: $39/person

Hike a Waterfall to the Epic Sky Pond

One of the top things to do in Estes Park for avid hikers is to visit the dramatic Sky Pond. Starting from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, make your way up through the mountains, past famous landmarks like the Loch until you reach the Sky Pond Trail.

From here, the going gets steep as you navigate a slippery waterfall to the Lake of Glass. Watch your footing and be prepared to use your hands along this challenging hike.

Keep going until you reach a dramatic mountain basin featuring rocky fingers that pierce the sky.

  • Time: 5 hours
  • Cost: $25 park entrance fee (or National Parks Pass)

Stand on the Summit of Longs Peak

Alright, so this is a serious endeavor that only avid mountain hikers with scrambling experience should attempt. Longs Peak is the only Colorado 14er found near Estes Park.

Located in its own area of Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak is one of the most sought-after Colorado 14ers near Denver.

The easiest way to the top is a grueling 15-mile hike with over 5,000 feet of elevation gain that requires rock scrambling skills, a helmet, and some serious mountain knowledge. It’s an all-day affair that isn’t for the faint of heart.

Newbie alpine trad climbers should check out the Cables Route on Longs Peak. This simple 2-pitch rock climb delivers breathtaking views and shaves a few miles off of the tedious journey to the summit.

Local Tip: 14ers are dangerous, so be prepared to climb a 14er. Start by 12 am in order to get a parking spot and avoid pesky afternoon thunderstorms.

Time: Full day
Cost: $25 park entrance fee (or National Parks Pass). Yes, you need a timed entry permit for this area.

Climb Some Epic Rocks

Estes Park is a mecca for Colorado rock climbing with epic climbs abounding in Rocky Mountain National Park and Lumpy Ridge.

In particular, trad and alpine climbers will want to rope up on routes like Kor’s Flake on Sundance Buttress, the South Face of the Petit Grepon, and the Casual Route on Longs Peak.

  • Time: Full day
  • Cost: $25 park entrance fee (or National Parks Pass)
estes park activities

Take the Scenic Route on Trail Ridge Road

Slow down and take your time driving through the majestic landscape of Rocky Mountain National Park on one of the best scenic drives near Denver, Trail Ridge Road.

This drive traverses the park from Estes Park to Grand Lake, with many pullouts and overlooks along the way.

Note: Trail Ridge Road closes in the winter, so check the conditions before you go.

  • Time: 1.5 hours to half day
  • Cost: $25 park entrance fee (or National Parks Pass)

Tour the Front Range Foothills on the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway

Another one of the awesome things to do near Estes Park is taking a tour of the Front Range on the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway.

This scenic drive winds from Estes Park all the way down through Clear Creek Canyon near Golden west of Denver. Along the way, you’ll see lots of aspens, making a perfect Colorado fall drive for leaf peepers.

  • Time: 3 hours
  • Cost: Free

Keep An Eye Out for Elk

Many elk make Estes Park their home, and if you’re lucky and patient, you might get a glimpse of these majestic creatures.

Meadows like Moraine Park or Upper Beaver Meadows are where you’re most likely to encounter the elk, and rutting (or mating) season in the fall is the best time to see elk – and hear them bugle.

Note: Elk are large, potentially dangerous animals, and you never want to get too close. Always stay at least 75 feet away. If the elk notice you, that means you’re too close!

  • Time: A few hours
  • Cost: Free or $25 entrance fee for RMNP
Top things to do in estes park colordao

Find the Wildflowers in Bloom

One of the most wonderful things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park in the summer is to wander through the wildflowers.

Gem Lake and Dream/Emerald Lake are a couple of the best wildflower hikes in Colorado where you can marvel at the rainbows of colorful blooms. Or drive the Trail Ridge Road for color displays right from your car.

  • Time: A few hours to a full day
  • Cost: $25 park entrance fee (or National Parks Pass)

Cast a Line Fly Fishing

Fly fishing is a long-time Colorado pastime and just outside of Estes Park, you can learn the basics. Opt to go for a guided day out, or bring your own gear and cast a line (just be sure to get your Colorado fishing license).

Most places in the area are catch and release, but there are a few spots where you can keep your catch and cook up some amazing rainbow trout for dinner.

  • Time: half to full day
  • Cost: Varies depending on the tour

Saddle Up for a Horseback Ride

As one of the classic things to do in Colorado, seeing the mountains on horseback is a must-do. All ages and experiences are welcome to enjoy the many horse-friendly trails near Estes.

Leading into gorgeous mountain valleys with dramatic vistas, this is the way to experience the mountains.

  • Time: half day to full day
  • Cost: Varies depending on tour

Spend the Night in a Tent

Camping near Estes Park offers you a chance to sleep under the stars in this stunning landscape. You can opt to stay in private campgrounds right near Estes Park or reserve one of the coveted campsites in Rocky Mountain National Park.

  • Time: As long as you would like
  • Cost: varies depending on style of campsite

Snap a Gem at the Perfect Photography Hot Spots Near Estes Park

The Rockys are famous for their jaw-dropping scenery and one of the best things to do in Estes Park is bust out your camera. Several amazing places exist to snap iconic photos a few favorites include:

  • Dream Lake
  • Lumpy Ridge
  • Chasm Lake
  • Trail Ridge Road
  • Many Parks Curve Overlook
  • Peak to Peak Scenic Byway
  • Time: varies
  • Cost: free unless you’re in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Things to Do in Estes Park in Winter

When it comes to Colorado in winter, a trip to Estes is always a treat. This list of the top things to do in Estes Park in winter highlights some must-see attractions.

Play in the Snow on Snowshoes

Just because it starts snowing doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the many hiking trails in Estes Park. Snowshoeing is a great winter activity in Colorado besides skiing, and one of the very best things to do in Estes Park in winter is strap on a pair of snowshoes and explore.

Rocky Mountain National Park is an awesome place to snowshoe in Colorado. The trail to Dream and Emerald Lake is a great little snowshoe adventure, and Loch Vale is a good trail for more of a challenge.

You can rent snowshoes in town at Estes Park Mountain Shop or even go on a guided snowshoe tour.

Local Tip: Psst, some of the best winter hikes in Colorado can be found near Estes, just be sure to avoid trails that have avalanche risks.

Time: A few hours to a full day
Cost: Varies

things to do in estes park in winter

Slide Down a Sledding Hill

Kids and kids-at-heart will have a blast at the Hidden Valley Snow Park. One of the coolest things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter is to play on this popular sledding hill.

You can bring your own sled or rent a sled or tube from one of the outdoor outfitters in Estes Park.

  • Time: A few hours to a half-day
  • Cost: $25 park entrance fee (or National Parks Pass)

Glide Around on Ice Skates

Skaters will find a couple of Colorado ice skating options in Estes Park. You can enjoy a few laps around Dorsey Lake at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, or, if the conditions are right, you can bring your skates into RMNP to try to skate on an alpine lake.

  • Time: A few hours to a half-day
  • Cost: Varies

What is There to Do in Estes Park for Free?

Alright, so I’ll admit it, Estes Park isn’t the cheapest place in Colorado. But if you’re looking for budget-friendly Colorado activities – Estes Park can deliver. A few free activities include:

  • Hikes outside of Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Window shopping in Estes Park
  • Enjoying a picnic near Lake Estes
  • Going for a scenic drive
  • Attending Elk Fest in the fall (free)

Additional Local Colorado Travel Resources

Looking to explore Colorado like a local, not a tourist? Then I’ve got you covered with these local resources:

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Meg aka Fox is a 30-something who's born to explore. Her mission is to get you out on your greatest adventure. She'd rather be dirty than done up.