First time visitors to Estes Park, Colorado beware! This beautiful and scenic town nestled right next to the Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) takes your breathe away! The iconic landscape and the free flowing river right through downtown entrances tourists. As you drive through Estes Park, pay attention; because everyone else is looking at the scenery too. Better yet, take the town’s complimentary shuttle and then you can look all you want. However you do it, you’ll want to spend some time to explore Estes Park with the family.
This summer, our family took a 30 day road trip across 8 states to visit state and national Parks.
Rocky Mountain National Park was our first national park on our list. We worked with Visit Estes Park to see the best of the area. During the 6 days and 5 nights we were there, we found several family adventures to tell you about.
Day 1 – Setting Up Camp
In Estes Park, there are plenty of camping, hotel, and vacation rental options. We ended up camping for 2 nights in a private campground just outside of the Beaver Meadows entrance to the park.
Then we moved into a 2 bedroom vacation rental with a full kitchen. Wherever you decide to stay in Estes Park, I recommend you get a good night’s rest to begin your adventure. Here are the highlights and places I’d gladly visit again and again in RMNP and Estes Park.
Day 2 – Horseback Riding and Pizza
Starting our adventure on horseback proved extremely relaxing. Meeting up outside the Moraine Park Camp grounds at the Moraine Park Stables, we got an introduction to our gear and our horses. Our trail guide Chris, settled us in and took us out into the Park.
All I can say is thank God those horses knew where to go! I spent so much time taking pictures and looking out across the landscape, that I would never have been able to direct that horse. Chris taught us about the significance of the glaciers, the trees, and the wildlife in the park. He was a huge benefit for us. His knowledge and easy demeanor made our experience fantastic. Once the trail ride concluded, we were famished and needed a place to refuel.
Poppy’s Pizza & Grill satisfied our hunger needs. Located on the main street, this family owned establishment sits along the river. A great place to relax, enjoy the town and walk along the river afterwards.
Day 3 – Alpine Visitor’s Center and Open Air Adventure park
The next day, we broke down camp and headed to the Alpine Visitor’s Center to meet with one our contributors, Tonya Gioya. The drive up through the park is breath taking!
Along the road the views are phenomenal. Waterfalls from natural springs come right out of the side of the mountain. I must say that if you plan to visit the Alpine Visitor’s Center, go early in the morning. As the day goes on, trying to park at the Alpine Visitor’s Center can be a challenge. But once you’re there, you instantly recognize why this visitor’s center is so eagerly sought out.
The mountain top views are amazing! Well, you can’t go the visitor’s center without walking up the path of Huffer’s Peak. This short quarter mile jaunt will take your breathe away, literally! Lucky for us, the visitor’s center has a very nice cafe. A great place to rest, catch your breathe, and have a cup of coffee.
After catching our breath and heading back down the mountain, we went out the Fall River Visitor Center park entrance to the other side of Estes Park in order to stay at the Timber Creek Chalets.
We stayed at one of their offsite units next to Nicky’s Restaurant. What a beautiful place to stay! A creek ran right through the back of the property.
Opening the windows, you could hear the water flowing over the rocks. The kids were excited and needed to burn off some more energy.
The Open Air Adventure Park is the perfect place for children to burn off energy! For a small fee, the kids were able to suit up and rope walk for 2 hours. Obstacles included rope ladders, suspended chairs, and a tight rope. Paige tuckered out first and was quickly followed by Brody. Later that evening back at our lodge, we concluded our day by enjoying a well cooked meal outside overlooking the flowing creek.
Tip: Preserve your favorite family travel moments by converting pictures to cheap canvas prints.
Day 4 – YMCA Hiking and Biking
The third day started off with archery at the YMCA Compound. The YMCA has a huge resort facility at the base of the Rocky Mountain National Park. In addition to Archery, you can fish, hike, ride horses, etc… The archery range is located on the west side of the facility. After a full briefing on the safety regulations of the range, our instructor showed each of the kids the proper way to hold the bow and nock an arrow. We all had a great time practicing our archery skills. Luckily for us, the archery range sat right next a great hiking trail.
That scenic trail led us directly along another creek and into Rocky Mountain National Park!
Resting up after a full morning of archery and hiking, we decided to ride the bikes along the bike path leading into town. Estes Park has done a superb job of creating sidewalk and bike paths for visitors to enjoy the town and it’s majestic beauty.
Day 5 – Breakfast at Notchtop Bakery and Cafe; Stanley Hotel; Pika Hunting Downtown
Our last full day in Estes Park started off with breakfast at the Top Notch Bakery and Cafe.
This local restaurant can’t be beat for a hearty breakfast! After filling up, we stopped by the Stanley Hotel. Although we didn’t take the tour, there is plenty to see and do at this historic hotel. The downstairs hallway showcases the great movie moments filmed at this establishment.
Who can forget Jack Nicholson in the Shining? Or Jeff Bridges and Jim Carey in Dumb and Dumber? Outside, the grandeur of the landscape and bronze statues create wonderful photographic moments.
That afternoon, Nicky and I were anxious to spend more time touring the downtown section of Estes Park, so we hopped on the shuttle and headed into town. Estes Park has a fantastic shuttle service that can get you all over town. The shuttle stopped at the town’s Visitor Center where we disembarked and set out. If we wanted, we could take a second shuttle to the National Park. But we decided to walk along the creek heading to downtown. Under the bridge, we received a subtle surprise. The tunnel underneath has laser lighting! Several spots are beautifully lit up with amazing little laser designs on the sidewalk and top of the tunnel.
While you’re walking along the creek, keep an eye out for the small bronze statues of the illusive Pika. These fascinating statues are just as amazing as there real life counterparts. Estes Park has 12 Pika statues hidden along the waterway. See how many you can hunt up. We grabbed a guide at the visitor center to help us discover “Pikas in the Park”. It’s a fun activity to keep the family occupied while your in the downtown area.
Day 6 – Heading Out
The last day in town began with packing up for the next leg of our journey. As I look back at what I wrote about Estes Park, it seems as if we didn’t do that much. Please remember, above is just the highlights. And I almost forgot, the key reason for taking it easy in Estes Park and enjoying the sights at a leisurely pace is to allow your body to acclimate to the altitude. Horseback riding, hiking, biking and seeing the town is more of a challenge for families like us from lower elevation. Take it easy in he Rocky Mountain National Park. Enjoy the trails, the activities, the people, the atmosphere, and most importantly the town of Estes Park. We liked it so much, we plan to return very soon.
Thank you to Visit Estes Park for hosting me and my family on this recent trip to Estes Park, Colorado. All opinions are my own and are based on my most recent adventures.