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Many people think of Estes Park, a small town about an hour’s drive north of Boulder, as the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. But Estes Park, Colorado, is worth a visit in its own right, with everything from rugged hiking and water sports to charming boutiques and local breweries.
Whether you’re looking for a quiet retreat or some family fun, here’s an itinerary for a perfect weekend in Estes Park.
When to Visit Estes Park
I’ve been to Estes Park in every season, and I can tell you there’s no wrong time to go. Here are some tips to help you decide when to plan your weekend in Estes Park, depending on the kind of trip you’re looking for.
Pro tip: Don’t label yourself a tourist by calling it “Est-EEZ” Park. Locals pronounce it “Ess-tess.”
Summer is the most popular time to go and the best for outdoor activities. You’ll have your choice of hiking trails (no spikes or snowshoes needed), you can enjoy water sports on Lake Estes, or you can try more adventurous sports like rock climbing and mountain biking.
Summer weather in Estes Park is usually dry, sunny, and cooperative for outdoor activities. The days can get pretty hot, but at this elevation, it cools off nicely at night. However, keep in mind summer is the most crowded season, and hotel prices are at their peak.
Winter is the perfect time to visit Estes Park for a creative retreat or romantic getaway. You can still enjoy the outdoors as long as you pack enough layers, and you can try winter sports like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. But you may prefer to spend more time relaxing in your hotel’s hot tub.
Estes Park is nice and quiet during the winter, and you can get hotels for a bargain. But because this is a tourist town, keep in mind that some attractions are closed for the season, and many shops close early.
Spring & Fall
The shoulder seasons of spring and fall are arguably the best time to visit Estes Park. Prices are lower, and crowds are thinner than in summer, but the weather is still ideal for exploring the outdoors. You can also go leaf-peeping in the fall or hike through wildflowers in the spring.
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Transportation in Estes Park
If you stay near downtown Estes Park, you’ll be able to walk to most of the shopping and dining the town offers. If you stay closer to the edge of town, you’ll have at most a 10-minute drive to downtown, and you can park for free in one of the downtown lots.
If you’d rather explore the town on two wheels, Estes Park is very bike-friendly. Bring your bike, or rent one from Estes Park Mountain Shop.
No matter where you stay in Estes Park, you’ll be within 15 minutes of Rocky Mountain National Park. Estes Park also offers a free shuttle service in the summer, with stops throughout the town and inside RMNP.
How to See Estes Park in Two Days
Start your Estes Park weekend itinerary off with a relaxing day in town. You’ll visit a favorite local diner for brunch, try some of Estes Park’s best family-friendly activities, and explore the history and ghost lore of the iconic Stanley Hotel.
Eat Brunch at the Egg of Estes
Nothing makes me feel like I’m on vacation like eating breakfast I didn’t have to cook (or at least pop in the toaster) myself. Start your weekend in Estes Park off right with a visit to the Egg of Estes, the town’s favorite spot for breakfast, lunch, and everything in between.
Whether it’s steel-cut oatmeal, avocado toast, a stack of pancakes, or one of their hearty breakfast skillets, they pride themselves on fueling your Rocky Mountain adventure—starting with the most important meal of the day.
Take a River Walk
No weekend in Estes Park would be complete without a stroll down the Riverwalk, a paved path that winds through shops and restaurants alongside the combined Fall and Big Thompson rivers.
Hit the Green (or Astroturf)
Estes Park has its own 18-hole course, where golfers can test their skills against the beautiful backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.
If, like me, you don’t know a driver from a putter, head over to Meadow Mini Golf instead. Their course has been entertaining families with obstacles like a windmill, water hazards, and a giant alligator maw for over 60 years.
Fun City offers mini golf, too, as well as other kid-friendly activities like bumper boats, gemstone panning, and a bungee trampoline.
Visit a Haunted Hotel
The inspiration for the book and movie The Shining, the Stanley Hotel is a must-see for ghost hunters, Stephen King fans, and film buffs. Even if you’re not any of the above, a visit to the Stanley is worth the few dollars they charge for parking.
It has lovely grounds, including a waterfall and hedge maze, a restaurant and bar onsite, and fascinating information on the hotel’s history. It also holds events throughout the year like concerts, whiskey tastings, and a New Year’s ball.
See a Magic Show
Hidden beneath the Stanley Hotel is a secret door inside a bookcase, and through it is a subterranean theater called the Underground. In the evenings on weekends, this one-of-a-kind locale plays host to professional magicians, illusionists, and apparitionists. (No, I don’t know the difference, but they all sound cool, don’t they?)
If you’re anything like me, the “magic shows” here aren’t what you’re imagining. There’s no “abracadabra,” no rabbits popping out of hats, and no one (to my disappointment) getting sawed in half. These magic shows are much more sophisticated.
You’ll hear unsettling tales about tragedy and treachery, and see strange relics make unbelievably accurate predictions before your eyes. The Underground also hosts seances—a perfect option for the ghost hunters out there.
For the second day of your Estes Park weekend itinerary, you’ll venture into the rugged Rocky Mountains to immerse yourself in Colorado’s natural beauty. Unwind afterward by exploring Estes Park’s most unique shops, taking an art class, and sipping some local beer or wine.
Explore the Outdoors
Given the town’s location at the base of the Rocky Mountains, no weekend in Estes Park is complete without some beautiful alpine scenery. RMNP is an obvious choice, just a 15-minute drive west of town, with miles of hiking trails and scenic drives to choose from.
Remember that you’ll need a timed-entry permit in the summer.
If you brought canine companions (who aren’t allowed on RMNP trails), head 10 minutes east to Hermit Park instead. Hermit Park offers several intermediate-level hikes ranging from four to eight miles long.
Another dog-friendly option is the Lake Estes trail, an easy four-mile loop that you can walk to from downtown Estes Park. The lake nestled at the foot of the Rocky Mountains makes for some spectacular photo ops.
If you’re into water sports, you can rent pontoon boats, kayaks, and other equipment at the Lake Estes Marina. Or, if you’re looking for more adrenaline and/or palm sweat, Estes Park Rock Climbing offers guided outdoor climbing excursions.
Go Treasure Hunting
After a morning in the great outdoors, head to downtown Estes Park to pick up a memento of your trip.
Elizabeth Guild Thrift Shop and Fall River Antiques are great places for bargain hunting or to find a unique souvenir. Patterson Glassworks, Mountain Blown Glass, and Inspired Artisans Market sell a variety of locally made arts and crafts.
Take an Art Class
Estes Park is home to two art studios that teach classes.
Inspired Artisans is both a marketplace for local artists to sell their wares and a studio for visitors to flex their creative muscles. They offer a variety of affordable classes, such as painting, beading, tie-dyeing, and wood pyrography. Workshops cost $20-40 dollars per person and take 1-2 hours.
There’s also a pottery painting studio called Creativity Cabin. You choose a pre-made ceramic item, like a mug or plate, and they provide all the glazes and tools for you to decorate it to your heart’s content. When you’re done, they’ll fire it for you.
Unwind with a Pint (or Glass)
Round out your weekend in Estes Park with a trip to a local brewery or winery.
Rock Cut Brewing Co. serves up their own handcrafted brews, from pilsners and porters to stouts and IPAs. Kids are welcome in the taproom, which offers plenty of nonalcoholic options, and dogs are welcome on the outdoor patio.
Snowy Peaks Winery sells wines crafted from Colorado-grown grapes, as well as locally made gourmet snacks such as cheeses, chocolates, and jams. You can take a tour of the winery, then relax in the tasting room with stunning views of the Rocky Mountains. Kiddos can hang out in the playroom, or sample a flight of juices and sodas.
Where to Stay in Estes Park
Estes Park has a range of lodging options, from luxurious five-star hotels to affordable family-friendly inns, plus camping in the warmer months. Here are a few options for every budget.
Luxury: Historic Crags Lodge
This rustic lodge is situated in the lush forest of Prospect Mountain, just high enough that you can look down on Estes Park from your room. It’s still conveniently close to the action—just a couple minutes’ drive from the heart of downtown—but far enough removed to provide a peaceful getaway.
Besides the charm of the ancient building, amenities include in-room kitchenettes and a shared outdoor pool and hot tub. There’s also an onsite restaurant, though (like many places in Estes Park) it’s open seasonally. Rooms here will set you back over $350 per night in summer and $190 in winter.
Mid-Range: Streamside on Fall River
These cabins and suites are situated on Fall River Road, on the western edge of Estes Park—only a five-minute drive from downtown. You can take a stroll through the beautiful grounds or go fishing in the river right outside your door. Each room has its own kitchen, fireplace, and spa tub. Shared amenities include a hot tub, horseshoe pit, and complimentary books and board games.
For all this, Streamside is surprisingly affordable, with rates starting from $150 per night in winter to $240 in summer. They also offer a 10% discount on stays over 7 nights.
Budget-Friendly: Murphy’s River Lodge
Murphy’s is ideally situated just a seven-minute drive to RMNP and a five-minute walk to downtown Estes Park. It’s a great place to stay for families, with amenities like an indoor pool, coin-operated laundry, and a huge selection of DVDs and board games to borrow during your stay. It also offers free continental breakfast.
Despite its excellent location, Murphy’s is a very affordable place to spend two days in Estes Park. Basic rooms start at $110 per night in the low season and $210 in the summer. For an upgrade, you can get a river view, full kitchen, balcony, or soaking tub. Some rooms are also pet-friendly.
As you can see, there’s more to do in Estes Park than just driving through it on your way to RMNP. You can tailor this two-day Estes Park itinerary to suit your needs.
Maybe you want a relaxing girls’ weekend or creative retreat filled with art, wine, and shopping. Maybe you’d rather spend your weekend hiking or testing your adrenaline on adventure sports.
Whatever you’re looking for, use these tips to plan your ideal weekend in Estes Park.
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