Estes Park: A Colorado mountain getaway for all seasons
Colorado is home to a vast array of mountain towns that range from the rugged to the sophisticated, but few offer the variety of year-round adventures that you’ll find available in and around Estes Park. Just a 90-minute drive from Denver, you’ll find a charming downtown, outdoor activities and cozy lodges, all set at the base of Rocky Mountain National Park.
With nature experiences from mild to wild, there’s no shortage of things to do in Estes Park. Hiking, biking, fishing, skiing and even cliffside camping are all in easy reach here. If you want to step out of your comfort zone and try something new, you can also take a guide along on almost any type of excursion.
And while Colorado gets 300 glorious days of sunshine per year, it also experiences all four seasons to the fullest, so the time of year you plan to travel will greatly shape your trip. To help you plan your Rocky Mountain escape, we’ve compiled the highlights of Estes Park for each season—whether it’s magical holiday celebrations in winter, searching for Bigfoot in the spring, a sunrise hike in the summertime or taking in peak fall foliage views.
Fall: Foliage, festivals, and maybe even first flakes
Arrive in Estes Park during autumn when the air is crisp, the Aspen trees are beginning to turn yellow and wildlife viewing is at its peak. The annual elk rut happens in early September, when male bull elk fight for their harems (female elk). It’s an incredible sight that can often be seen in town near the park (but be sure to keep at least 75 feet between you and these wild animals). There’s even a yearly Estes Park Elk Festival in town to mark the mating season with live performances, food and bugling contests, and other fun events almost every weekend during the season.
Early fall is still a busy season for Rocky Mountain National Park, and timed-entry reservations are required through mid-October. But you don’t need to enter the park for a serene nature getaway. Stroll along the Estes Park downtown area to take in the sights set amid the soothing sound of the Fall River. The downtown area is home to craft breweries like Avant Garde Aleworks, tasty local restaurants including Poppy's and Bird & Jim, as well ample shops and art galleries prime for plucking a momento or two.
If you want to soak in as much nature time as possible, rent a Boulder Brook cabin set along the Fall River and surrounded by tall pine trees. Or, take your pick of the many other unique cabins and cottages available to rent.
Winter: Holidays, snow days & cozy comforts
Experience some holiday cheer in a cozy, enchanting mountain town this season. The festivities begin the day after Thanksgiving when Estes Park comes to light during the annual Catch the Glow parade. The annual Estes Park Holiday Wine Festival, where a ticket will get you unlimited tastings of Colorado wines, plus a commemorative wine glass and tote.
Warm up with a beverage from Kind Coffee and keep the spirit going with a stop into Simply Christmas, an aptly named year-round holiday gift shop.
Once the flakes start to fall, embrace the winter wonderland with activities like snowshoeing, backcountry skiing and even ice climbing. You can find equipment rentals in town at the Estes Park Mountain Shop for nearly any activity.
After a chilly day of adventuring, cozying up next to a fireplace is the perfect way to end the night. Estes Park Condos offers rentals with fireplaces and private hot tubs, ideal for a romantic winter escape.
Spring: The weather wildcard
It’s hard to predict what kind of weather you'll experience during spring in Estes Park. It could be warm and sunny—or, you could get caught in a snowstorm (in fact, March is their snowiest month).
If you find yourself in town during a warm spring weather day, take advantage with a leisurely bike ride around the Lakes Estes bike path. The nearly 4-mile loop is lined with stunning lake and mountain views, and connects with the downtown riverwalk. If you don't bring your own, you can rent mountain, road and electric bikes at the aforementioned Estes Park Mountain Shop or stop at Bandit’s Bikes, west of downtown.
Close to Lake Estes and downtown is The Ridgeline Hotel, which has a heated indoor pool and hot tub, perfect for the colder months. It also features big outdoor firepits lined with seating, where you can warm up and purchase S’mores to roast after an exciting Colorado mountain day.
No matter the weather, you can count on Estes Park to have unique spring events like their Whiskey Warm Up weekend in March, Bigfoot Days in April which celebrates “all things Squatchy,” and the Duck Race Festival in May, where thousands of yellow rubber ducks float down the river for a good cause (and are carefully scooped out post-race by volunteers). But perhaps the most unique is their Frozen Dead Guy Days festivities. You can expect activities like a polar plunge, coffin races and a frostbite fashion show at this festival that's been held in Colorado for over 20 years.
Summer: Mountain adventures from serene to extreme
The options seem limitless during a Colorado summer. But with the ideal weather conditions can also come the crowds. If you’re looking to hit the trails at Rocky Mountain National Park, make it a sunrise hike. You’ll see the incredible views at dawn, and when the trails are less congested. Timed entry permit reservations are required at the park from May-October. Another great alternative is Hermit Park, just 10 minutes from Estes Park, where you can go hiking, biking, horseback riding and camping.
If you’re feeling adventurous and want to try out a new activity, like hiking or climbing, there are a lot of guide services available to help you out. And for those feeling really adventurous, Kent Mountain Adventure Center offers a via ferrata experience and cliff camping. You read that right…but you almost have to see it to believe it.
Estes Park offers plenty of family-friendly activities for those enjoying their summer break in Colorado. Take a ride on an alpine roller coaster called Mustang Mountain Coaster, which offers thrills and views, or stop into the Creativity Cabin to flex your artistry muscles with a painting experience.
Soak in a bit of Estes Park history with a stay at the Seven Keys Lodge—formerly known as the The Baldpate Inn—which has been around since 1917. The rustic stay has beautiful views and is known as a great place to watch hummingbirds and enjoy live music in the warmer months.