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Visiting Estes Park in Colorado. What You Should Know.
This is one of the best places we've ever had the opportunity to visit.
One of the most incredible and memorable experiences we've had since traveling full-time has been visiting Estes Park in Colorado. In fact, there is so much to share about this lovely town, that it's going to take several posts to do so. Plus we have over 1,000 photos to back up just how much we loved our time there!
Our Six Week Adventure of a Lifetime in Estes Park 2022
Donetta and I had our first opportunity to check out Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park in August of 2020. Back then we had a tight travel agenda so we didn't get to spend much time there, causing us to miss out on a lot of what this place has to offer. So we really wanted to go back and enjoy it to the fullest.
Since we are Hilton Vacation Club members (formerly DRI), we're able to book resorts for deep discounts but the challenge can be finding availability at popular destinations. Somehow by the grace of God we were able to lock in six weeks of stay at the Historic Crags Lodge, which is almost always booked up for months in advance. And we were able to do it during the perfect time because of the weather and the Elk rut and mating season. More on that later.
So we spent over three weeks in Estes Park in the middle of September then returned for another three weeks in October. It was absolutely perfect.
What We Experienced
Visiting Estes Park was like living in one of those cheesy Hallmark Christmas shows, but a million times better in my opinion. This quaint and comfortable town is filled with it's share of touristy shops and restaurants due to RMNP, but it's so much more than that.
The locals we met and visited with were super-friendly with a welcoming smile. This can be difficult to do when you are invaded by millions of tourists each year, but the people we really got to know became family in a short time. It felt like home and I truly miss seeing our new friends.
The outdoor lifestyle is refreshing, invigorating, and peaceful. Taking your time to walk around Lake Estes does so much to energize your soul! It's a happy place where you can spot the Bald Eagles, watch herds of Elk during the rut, gaze at the beautiful mountains, ride your mountain bikes, or just simply sit in solitude with a zen-like feeling.
The hiking trails are endless joys of wonder. No matter if you're a beginner or an expert, Estes Park in Colorado provides you with unlimited options for hiking -- even without going into the national park. We loved our time at Lily Lake, but reaching the summit of Twin Sisters Peak was epic!!!
The wildlife you get to see is unlike any place I've been. Besides the gobs of wild turkey, rabbits, chipmunks, and mule deer, we spent hours watching large herds of Elk do their thing. Listening to the bulls bugle is so cool, plus they walk everywhere and anywhere in town. We also saw bighorn sheep and moose. But still no bear.
The local shops offer a variety of gifts and food. If shopping is something you enjoy doing, you will discover all kinds of candy, food, apparel, art, and other gifts along main street. Our two favorite places were Brownfields, who sells awesome stuff for great prices, and Kind Coffee for sugar-free lattes and a relaxing vibe. If you want craft beer and live music, I recommend hanging out at The Slab.
The traffic can be overwhelming at certain times. Of course there are negatives to every popular destination spot and visiting Estes Park is no different. The weekends are always busy with visitors and traffic so you have to be patient -- or know the secret routes and perfect time to get out and have fun. We learned how to avoid most of this. :)
The Halloween event was fantastic. It wouldn't be right not to mention the Halloween night event because it was just that awesome. They town shut down all the traffic on main street to allow children to trick or treat all the stores. It was a festive time where just as many adults were dressed up in costumes as the kids were. I'd call it a Hallmark movie moment.
Some of Our Recommendations
If you only have a short time to check out Estes Park, making decisions on what to see or experience can be overwhelming. There is so much to explore! In order to help you out, we'll provide a short list on what we thought are things you don't want to miss out on.
Rocky Mountain National Park: Obviously this is the biggest draw for good reason. There is nothing quite like visiting this place and we spent a lot of time exploring here. I hate to share this secret but the best time to go is at 6 am in the morning. There's less waiting and more wildlife.
Once inside RMNP we recommend checking out the entire drive on Bear Lake Road, even if you have to take the free shuttle. Walking around Sprague Lake is a must as is stopping by Sheep Lake on the other side of the park. Regardless of what you do you can't go wrong here.
Lake Estes and the Visitor Center: As already stated, this is a great area to walk around and enjoy nature. If you take the river walk access by the visitor center, you can easily stop in the art galleries, coffee shops, and restaurants along the path.
Lily Lake Loop: If possible, take the drive on this breathtaking route up into the mountains. Once you arrive at the trailhead there's an easy path that goes around this small lake. It's truly worth it.
Lumpy Ridge Trailhead and Gem Lake: This hike is more moderate but it has stunning views and rock formations. Even if you don't walk it, the drive to the area is beautiful.
Brownfields: Buying hiking gear or travel momentos can be expensive in any touristy town, but this place has reasonable prices and excellent gifts for everyone.
Inkwell and Brew: As an artist and writer, this is a cool place to find fountain pens, ink, fine paper & other writing supplies with craft coffee drinks.
Smokin' Daves BBQ: One of the best and most reasonable places to eat when visiting Estes Park. The food was amazing and they have a great selection of craft beers. Plus the vibe is fun and relaxed.
Sinclair Gas Station: We're not recommended this for fuel but for the burger place located inside. Their burgers kick ass and at only $6-$7, a way better meal and deal than on main street.
Of course there are so many other places around town to visit and it all depends on what you like to do. if you really want to take in as much as possible plan on spending 7-10 days there.
Final Thoughts on Visiting Estes Park
We have several more specific posts coming about our epic time in Estes Park but I can say this, if we had to choose a home or place to stay when we're done traveling, this region of Colorado would be it. Though I doubt we could ever afford any property!
I'll also admit that of all places we've been and left behind, Maui and San Diego included, this was the hardest to say goodbye to. It just felt like home, one filled with so much joy and happiness. I hope you are able to experience the same if you ever visit Estes Park.