Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- 1. Take in Rocky Mountain National Park
- 2. Explore Hiking Trails
- 3. Wildlife Watching
- 4. Climb a Via Ferrata
- 5. Take the Estes Park Aerial Tramway
- 6. Shop, Enjoy Cubbyholes to Chat or Simply Gaze
- 7. Fine, and Fun, Dining
- 8. Lake Estes Marina
- 9. Take a Jeep Tour
- More Things to Do in Estes Park
- Where to Stay Near Estes Park, Colorado
From the haunted wonders of the Stanley Hotel to the breath-taking scenery, Estes Park Colorado is a year-round destination that really shines in the summer. Mountain adventures abound. As do mountain views. Here are our favorite TravelingMom approved things to do in Estes Park with kids and without.
About an hour and a half northwest of Denver, Estes Park sits at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. It is also home to the Peak to Peak scenic byway, one of the most beautiful road trips in Colorado. This byway begins in Estes Park, passes Twin Sisters, then Nederland near Boulder) through historic Blackhawk and Central City, then into Clear Creek Canyon and I-70.
1. Take in Rocky Mountain National Park
Likely this is why you’ve travelled to this corner of Colorado. Rocky Mountain National Park is the most popular of Colorado’s four national parks. From driving the scenic Trail Ridge Road over to the Grand Lake side of the park, to exploring the hiking trails and biking trails, Rocky Mountain Park is an outdoorsy family’s dream getaway.
It is also a wonderful place for those who prefer relaxing and taking in beautiful scenery. From wildlife spotting to capturing photos of some of Colorado’s most stunning views, everyone can find something they love at this national park.
2. Explore Hiking Trails
TravelingMoms advise heading out along Old Fall River Road to discover a waterfall hike, then visit the family-friendly Alluvial Fan. There’s a wide variety of great hikes for families around the park. Use All Trails to find hikes appropriate for your family’s skill level.
TravelingMom Tip: Be sure to arrive early to get parking to be able to explore the waterfall hike in the Bear Lake area
But don’t stop there! There are more outdoor adventures to be had. Also try your hand at rock climbing, horseback riding, driving ATVs and more. Or, sleep under the stars at one of the areas campgrounds.
While the area is most popular in the summer, winter is beautiful as well. Snowshoeing puts those hiking trails to good use in the winter. And, of course outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy backcountry skiing here. The more adventurous may want to try ice climbing. Whatever your choice, views of snowy peaks are plentiful.
TravelingMom Tip: We have a Colorado packing list to make sure you bring what you need no matter the season.
3. Wildlife Watching
One TravelingMom says, “As you’re driving through the park, have your kids keep watch for wildlife. Our goal was to see bighorn sheep, but unfortunately they decided not to make an appearance that day. We did however see many ground squirrels, two skittish marmots, as well as a large herd of elk playing in the snow near the Alpine Visitor’s Center.”
The Elk may be the most photographed wildlife in the park. They are most certainly the most abundant wildlife in RMNP. Moose are not as abundant but can be spotted on the west side of the park.
TravelingMom Tip: Here’s what you need to know before visiting Colorado.
4. Climb a Via Ferrata
Colorado is home to a growing number of via ferratas. Via ferratas were created during World War I to enable soldiers without much climbing experience to more safely navigate mountain terrain. These are climbing routes that are secured with steel into the side of a cliff.
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These routes enable a reasonably fit person with no rock climbing experience to scale mountain cliffs and safely experience what professional rock climbers do. It gives you a whole different view of the landscape around you.
The Estes Park area is home to one via ferrata route, Peregrine Arete, guided by Kent Mountain Adventure Center. If you have adventurous kids, this may be just the activity for them.
5. Take the Estes Park Aerial Tramway
The Estes Park Aerial Tramway is an old-school tram that takes you up to the top of Prospect Mountain. It is a fantastic way to take in the scenery, particularly for those who don’t want to scale cliffs. At the top you can explore the hiking trails or go to the viewing deck to take pictures of the incredible mountain views.
This is a popular activity, so be sure to arrive early. Tickets are reasonably priced and there’s a gift shop at the top with snacks available, and restrooms.
6. Shop, Enjoy Cubbyholes to Chat or Simply Gaze
TravelingMom Christine Tibbets recommends shopping and meandering the Riverwalk and downtown Estes Park. It is one of Colorado’s quintessential mountain towns.
She says Estes Park meanders along the convergence of the Fall and Big Thompson Rivers, and downtown eateries, cafes, shops and park benches follow the flow. This area of Elkhorn Ave. offers shade from trees and the sounds of flowing water.
That creates tiny outdoor patios to enjoy a bite to eat like the poppy seeded almond bread. She chose one early morning at Inkwell and Brew. Maybe eight people could loll about among the flowers, loving the early sun sparkling on the river.
There is a stationery store inside: exquisite paper textures and colors indicating somebody still writes letters. Take the kids inside because owner Kevin Reed gets the proportions right in the section with tables, chairs, crayons and papers for children to relish.
Individual, owner passion fuels every shop she explored. No cookie-cutter designs. No big box chains.
She recommends Estes Park even if you don’t think of yourself as a shopper but if you do—this mercantile path of easy twists and turns might seem as heavenly as the National Park.
7. Fine, and Fun, Dining
When lunch is exquisite and you learn the proprietor’s wife owns the restaurant across the courtyard, could be a safe bet to plan dinner there, says TravelingMom Christine Tibbetts.
Poppy’s Pizza and Grill enticed me first with the view: river, aspen trees, flowers and then the descriptions: pestos of sundried tomato or basil or garlic and olive oil. Egg and dairy free crust. Gluten-free pizzas. Here she ordered her first-ever smoked trout pizza.
Ask to meet owner Rob Pieper, congenial, easy chatter and a certified beer taster. Ask too for his small bites desserts so you can taste at least three.
Julie Pieper is in charge at Mama Rose’s where she’s the certified wine taster but Tibbets strayed to the outskirts at night and didn’t experience her style.
Colorado is also known for its craft breweries and distilleries. So, be sure to make a stop at one of these while in Estes Park.
8. Lake Estes Marina
This conveniently located marina offers kayak and boat rentals as well as beautiful lake views. Spending time in a Colorado alpine lake is on of our family’s favorite things to do. We typically bring our own paddleboard and duckie (inflatable kayak). But rentals at the marina are affordable.
In addition to pontoon boats, kayaks and paddle boards, the marina also rents bikes and pedal carts. Bring a picnic and cruise around the lake on two wheels.
This is also a great spot to spot wildlife, and to take the kids fishing.
9. Take a Jeep Tour
TravelingMom Christine Tibbets says, this bouncy, open-air ride got her into the backcountry with insider commentary by Pete Lasho of Green Jeep Tours and answers to all the questions teeming within her. Take the kids because this makes sense of their classroom history lessons about homesteading in the west.
Green Jeeps will also take you to Rocky Mountain National Park but she chose their lower-level tour, only 7,500 – 8,500 elevation!
Hat or visor advised; the Colorado sun can be bright. A bottle of water and granola bars are provided for the 2-3 hour jaunt. Take a jacket because every 100 feet of altitude, the temperature can drop five to 10 degrees.
More Things to Do in Estes Park
- Take a guided tour of the Stanley Hotel, famous for inspiring Stephen King’s novel, The Shining.
- There’s an Open Air Adventure Park offering a ropes course, ziplines and axe throwing as an add on. Or check out one of a few mini-golf courses. One of these is a complete family entertainment center with go-karts, bumper boats and bungee trampolines.
- And, a new alpine coaster offers the fun of a roller coaster but in a beautiful alpine environment.
Need more ideas of fun things to do in Estes Park? Be sure to stop at the Estes Park Visitor Center for more advice.