I’ll never forget the first time I saw Estes Park. We were in Colorado for a house hunting trip and decided to check out this mountain town, knowing it would really be too far for Matt to commute to work every day.
As we turned the corner onto the final stretch of Hwy 36, those magificent, snow-capped Rocky Mountains came into view. I was in awe.
That was almost 2 years ago. Today, we live just about an hour from Estes Park and head over for a family-friendly mountain fix as often as we can.
Our most recent trip into Estes Park was extended to a full weekend of adventure.
Where to Stay in Estes Park
There a lot of options for places to stay the night in Estes Park. From cozy cabins (complete with hot tubs) to camping under the stars – you’ll find it in Estes Park.
Cabins and lodges line the stretch of Hwy 34 that leads to the Falls River entrance of the Rocky Mountain National Park. We’ve been by many times and frequently see “no vacancy” signs, so be sure to plan ahead to stay here.
There are also a handful of hotels and motels around town, for more traditional lodging.
During camping season, there are more options than a camper could ever ask for. Camping within the National Park, at the KOA located in town, or just a few miles outside of town at Hermit Park Open Space.
Then There’s The Stanley Hotel
With the grandparents in town and our anniversary quickly approaching we decided to make a weekend of it for just the two of us – and since the kids weren’t joining us on this trip, it was the perfect time to brave a night at the historic Stanley Hotel. If you aren’t familiar with this historic hotel and resort, you can read more about it here. The inspiration behind Stephen King’s The Shining, there are many accounts of hauntings in the hotel. (We should note that The Stanley IS a family-friendly lodging option, but the rooms in the main building seem a bit limited in space. For our first stay at the hotel, we didn’t want to miss staying where all the action is).
The hotel is old and the walls are thin, but it is full of character and rich with history. But as much as I love the history and character, I do not like scary. Yet I couldn’t miss the opportunity to stay at this beautiful hotel that we had visited so many times over the past few months.
The room was small, but had everything we needed – including a perfect view of the Rockies.
Our Favorite Restaurants in Estes Park
Bird & Jim
This newer restaurant popped up on our radar shortly before our weekend in Estes Park. When it was recommended while checking in at our hotel, we knew we had to try it.
Bird & Jim specializes in locally sourced food and a curated wine and cocktail list. They also have local craft beers on tap.
We went for happy hour, which gave us the opportunity to see the sunset over the Rocky Mountains over drinks and a light dinner.
Oh how I love Mexican food. We stopped here because we were starving and it was too early to get dinner. And a giant smothered burrito sounded like the perfect snack. Served with a side of rice and beans, the burritos here are easily enough for two.
The Egg & I
If you read our post on the sweet treats to find in Denver, you’ll know that I can sometime mistake smaller chains for local joints (am I the only one who has never heard of Rocket Fizz?). It turns out that The Egg & I has a location in the very city I live in.
Even on a weekday morning, this is a popular breakfast spot (and well worth the wait).
Wapiti Colorado Pub
Soups, salads, sandwiches, and plenty of other dishes are on the menu at Wapiti Colorado Pub, conveniently located among many other shops and restaurants on Elkhorn Ave.
You Need Pie
Pie. Coloradans love their pie. And You Need Pie is a great place to stop for a slice – and lunch. Mostly diner fare, this is a great place to grab lunch away from the crowds on the Elkhorn Ave.
Where to Play
Days in Estes Park are easily filled with outdoor adventures, with plenty to do all year round.
- Both within Rocky Mountain National Park and around Estes Park, there are many hikes with incredible views. Our favorites are the Gem Lake trail (located behind The Stanley) and the Kruger Rock Trail (part of Hermit Park Open Space).
- Play at Lake Estes. While they don’t allow swimming on the lake, you can bring your kayak or SUP for some fun in the water. Or rent a bike and ride around the lake.
- Catch perfect views from Prospect Mountain on the Estes Park Aerial Tramway. We haven’t done this one yet, but as rumor has it, this is very popular, so plan to arrive early.
Winter months brings fun in the snow! Stop by Estes Park Mountain Shop to rent any gear you need – from clothing to equipment. Head out for a day of snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or sledding in the Rocky Mountains.
- Stroll along Elkhorn Ave. There is a lot of activity on this main street of town, with plenty of shops and restaurants.
- Visit the Stanley for to learn about the rich history of the hotel, take a ghost tour, or just walk through the grounds of the hotel.
- Drive through Rocky Mountain National Park. In the summer months, drive along the highest paved road in the US, Trail Ridge Road.
Before You Head Home
If you are heading back on Hwy 36, don’t miss a stop at the Colorado Cherry Company on your left (yes, the same one you saw at The Stanley). We make a stop here nearly every time we visit Estes Park and pick up one of their incredible cherry pies to bring home.