When you’re looking for a brief winter respite from the hustle of Denver city life, but don’t want to deal with the ski-traffic of I-70, there’s always a relaxing, picturesque alternative: Estes Park. Just an hour and a half drive northwest, Estes is a favorite getaway spot for many Denverites. If you’re new to town, or simply haven’t made the trip yet, we’ve got plenty of tips for you to make your Estes Park weekend getaway a breeze.
How To Get Around
Estes Park is not a big city, so don’t expect to get around on an Uber or Lyft or even a frequent bus line. While you might be able to get away with utilizing the free shuttles here in the summers, you’re definitely going to want to rent a car in the winter (preferably one with 4-wheel drive).
Where To Stay
There’s plenty of comfortable and affordable lodging all around Estes Park. The most famous, of course, is the Stanley Hotel. Built in 1909, it’s best known as the place where writer Stephen King wrote The Shining (specifically in Room 217). Standard rooms range from about $199-$259 a night, with additional discounts for Colorado residents. If you stay at the Stanley (or even if you don’t), we recommend taking one of their hotel tours.
For a budget-friendly getaway, there’s also places like Murphy’s Resort, perfect for families looking to stretch a dollar but still enjoy the beauty of Estes. Murphy’s features on-site fire pits, barbecue grills, a playground, a beer and wine lodge, sip-n-paint nights, and a small library of DVDs and board games you can check out while you’re there. Book a standard room for just under $100 in the winter months (pro tip: call for the best rates).
What To Do
The biggest draw at Estes Park is undoubtedly Rocky Mountain National Park. You can opt to drive in ($20 for a day pass per vehicle or $30 for a full week), or save a few bucks by walking or biking. Check the weather conditions ahead of time to see how far you’ll be able to drive in during the winter months, and make sure to pick up some gear at the nearby Estes Park Mountain Shop. You and your crew can pick up everything here for cheap, including snowshoes ($5), snowboards and boots ($20), and ski packages ($35). Enjoy sledding at Hidden Valley, go on a guided snowshoe walk (from January through March), or simply enjoy the scenery and spot some wildlife. Summer is high season for RMNP, so brave the cold over the next few months and enjoy its natural splendor without the traffic.
Another great way to take in the splendor of Estes is by horseback. Stop by the Estes Park Stable of Sombrero Ranches for a one to three-hour ride atop one of their gorgeous horses. Don’t forget to return in the summer months to try one of their breakfast or steak dinner ride experiences, as well.
Some folks prefer the comfort and knowledge of having a guide, which is why Green Jeep Tours is another great option for anyone visiting Estes Park. This company offers a number of unique excursions, from a Waterfall Hiking Tour, to a photo safari (at dusk or dawn for the best natural lighting), to a guided tour that will take you from the shops at Downtown Estes all the way up to breathtaking views at 12,000 feet.
And speaking of shops, if you prefer to stay closer to town, there’s plenty to see and do right in the heart of historic Downtown Estes. Stroll along Moraine and Elkhorn avenues and you’ll find dozens of locally-owned businesses, from art galleries to souvenir shops to ice cream parlors and more. Pick up some new reads at the independent Macdonald Bookshop, take in the art at Wild Spirits Gallery, or purchase some fine jewelry or pottery at Earthwood Galleries.
Where To Eat
If you’re traveling with family, Poppy’s Pizza and Grill is an excellent choice for dinner. They’ve got just about everything from pizza (made with 4 different kinds of sauce) to burgers, to soups and salads, plus beer and a number of delightful desserts. Those in search of a unique date night experience might want to try Nepal’s Cafe, where fresh baked naan and inexpensive glasses of wine pair well with curries and samosas. Or try Claire’s On The Park, a delightful little restaurant where local and seasonal flavors shine. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, they serve a variety of dishes from grilled swordfish and muffaletta sandwiches to bistro steaks. Finally, don’t forget to grab a few cinnamon rolls at Cinnamon’s Bakery either while in town or just before you head back to the Mile High City. Well worth the trip.
Like much of Colorado, the weather can be temperamental in Estes Park. Make sure to pack plenty of layers, including some snow gear (even when it seems like a bright sunny day in Denver). And for the best rates, remember to book your rooms ahead of time (and inquire about discounts for locals).