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Road Trip to Estes Park, Colorado

Stone sign at the entrance to the town of Estes Park in Colorado

The mountain village of Estes Park is located 7,522 feet above sea level, nestled in the heart of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Shops, galleries and boutiques line the main street, which has a quaint, small-town feel and ambiance.

Situated at the east entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) and surrounded by protected land, Estes Park offers travelers the best of outdoor recreation, real wildlife experiences, and hometown hospitality.

Its year-round, permanent population is about 6,000 residents. The town is named after Missouri native Joel Estes, who founded the community in 1859.

The town is served by U.S. Highway 34, which connects with Granby to the west, and Loveland and I-25 to the east. U.S. Highway 36 runs eastward to Boulder from RMNP. State Highway 7 extends to Boulder and points beyond, and is part of the Peak-to-Peak Scenic Highway.

We have enjoyed multiple trips to Estes Park over the years (and decades), and include in this review some of our travel tips, experiences and recommendations.

Panoramic view of Estes Park during winter
Panoramic view of Estes Park during winter

Interactive Map of Estes Park

 

Estes Park Visitor Center

Located just east of downtown, the Estes Park Visitor Center provides guests a wide range of local information from friendly, informative volunteers. It is conveniently located near the intersection of Highways 34 and 36 at 500 Big Thompson Avenue.

Sign at the intersection of US34 and US36 near the Estes Park Visitor Center

The Visitor Center is the transportation hub for all of the free shuttle buses which operate during the peak summer season, with additional service during special events throughout the year.

There is a large visitor parking structure nearby, connected by bridges from the Visitor Center.

The Visitor Center provides free information on the Estes Park area, wildlife and outdoor activities, Estes Park lodging, activities around town, dining, shopping and services. It also provides computers with online information and maps. Free wireless Internet is also available. as are clean, indoor public restrooms and drinking fountains. Outside, visitors will find picnic areas and benches.

Phone the Visitor Center at 970.577.9900 or 800.443.7837.

Estes Park Visitor Center (Staff Photo - May 2021)
Estes Park Visitor Center

Parking in Estes Park

View in winter of the river next to the Parking Structure
View in winter of the river next to the Estes Park Parking Structure

The Estes Park Parking Structure at the Visitor Center (691 N. St. Vrain Ave.) offers 415 spots, including accessible spaces and electric vehicle charging stations. The structure is conveniently located within walking distance to downtown, and is the hub for all five seasonal free shuttle routes running through the Visitor Center.

Visitors can park and walk across a scenic bridge to the Visitor Center.

Other parking lots are located throughout town ... some are free, some are paid (during part of the year).

Detailed parking information and maps at the Visit Estes Park Website

Estes Park Parking Structure
Estes Park Parking Structure
View from the Parking Structure toward downtown
View from the Estes Park Parking Structure toward downtown

May peace be in our homes
May peace be in our homes and communities ... may peace prevail on Earth
Play the xylophone on the river!
Play the xylophone on the river in downtown Estes Park, Colorado


Shopping in Estes Park

Estes Park boasts more than 300 shops offering products and gifs from around the world, the region and the village.

Riverwalk runs through downtown along the sides of Big Thompson River and Fall River. Many businesses' back doors open to it. Along the Riverwalk, visitors find stores, restaurants, benches, beautiful flowers and the sound rushing water flowing over river rocks. The path extends to Lake Estes where visitors can take a 3.75-mile walk around the entire lake.

Shops along the Riverwalk in downtown Estes Park, Colorado
Shopping in Estes Park ... a favorite of visitors! Shopping in Estes Park ... a favorite of visitors!

Lodging and Condo Rentals in Estes Park

Lodging in Estes Park, Colorado Lodging in Estes Park, Colorado Lodging in Estes Park, Colorado

Estes Park area vacation rentals and cabins

Estes Park hotels and motels

Estes Park Vacation Travel Guide at TripAdvisor ... Things to Do, Restaurants, Rentals

TripAdvisor Reviews

Lodging in Estes Park along the Fall River and US34
Lodging in Estes Park along the Fall River

The Stanley Hotel

Sculpture of Freelan Oscar "F.O." Stanley in front of the hotel
Sculpture of Freelan Oscar "F.O." Stanley in front of the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado

One of the popular places to stay in Estes Park is the original Stanley Hotel featuring historic rooms offering a unique experience and classically styled furnishings.

The Stanley Hotel is famous for its old world charm. Multiple renovations have restored this 140-room hotel to its original grandeur while offering over 14,000 square feet of sophisticated meeting and event space equipped with modern amenities.

The story of the Stanley Hotel began in 1903 when Yankee inventor Freelan Oscar Stanley arrived in the valley. He and his wife resolved to build a beautiful grand hotel and when the Stanley Hotel opened in 1909, the first guests who pulled up in stylish Stanley-designed steam cars were astonished at what they saw.

Website of The Stanley Hotel

Reviews of The Stanley Hotel on TripAdvisor

View of the famous, historic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park
View of the famous, historic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado

Dining in Estes Park

Dining options in Estes Park are plentiful! Enjoy a variety of American, Mexican, Asian and Italian, and BBQ fare.

Many places offer take-out, delivery and online ordering.

Estes Park Restaurant Reviews at TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor Reviews

Claire's Restaurant ... one of the many popular dining options in Estes Park
Claire's Restaurant ... one of the many popular dining options in Estes Park


Rocky Mountain National Park

Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park
Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park, a main attraction in the area, is located just to west of Estes Park, and consists of 415 square miles of spectacular mountain environments. A highlight of the park is Trail Ridge Road which crests at over 12,000 feet. The park also features over 300 miles of hiking trails, lakes and a variety of wildlife.

Nearly one-third of the park is above treeline. The park includes 72 named peaks above 12,000 feet. The Rocky Mountain National Park Act was signed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1915, establishing the park boundaries and protecting the area for future generations.

The Continental Divide runs northwest to southeast through the center of the park atop the high peaks.

The Park offers five visitor centers, and is one of the world's most popular natural attractions, with attendance exceeding 4.5 million visitors a year.

Park access is via entrances at Estes Park on the east side of the park: the Fall River Entrance Station on U.S. Highway 34 and the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station on U.S. 36.

The Grand Lake Entrance Station is located on the west side of the park via U.S. Highway 34.

The headwaters of the Colorado River are located in the park's northwestern region. The area is popular for hiking and camping.

During the summer and on holidays, traffic in the park can swell. During times such as these consider parking your vehicle and using the park's shuttle bus service.

In 2020, Rocky Mountain National Park was the fourth most visited national park in the country.

Changes in Park Access in 2021

Rocky Mountain National Park has implemented a new pilot temporary timed entry permit reservation system beginning on May 28, 2021.Park staff are managing for significant increases in visitation to public lands in Colorado, including Rocky Mountain National Park, along with continued Covid-19 concerns, ongoing park seasonal staff shared housing challenges and residual fire impacts in some areas of the park from historic fires in 2020.

There are two types of reservations available:

  • The first permit is for Rocky Mountain National Park, excluding the Bear Lake Road corridor.
  • A second permit is for the Bear Lake Road Corridor

Read the details of the permit system on the
official website of Rocky Mountain National Park

Phone the Park at 970.586.1206 for general questions. For recorded Trail Ridge Road status, phone 970.586.1222.


Trail Ridge Road

Near the peak of Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park ... Dangerous snowfields ahead -  Keep off steep slopes
Near the peak of Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park

Trail Ridge Road is a paved, 48 mile long scenic highway which connects the park entrances in Grand Lake and Estes Park. It features switchbacks and hairpin curves, and rises to a height of 12,183 feet above sea level. The road is open seasonally in non-winter months.

Leaving from either side of the park, the road climbs 4,000 feet in a matter of minutes. Numerous pull-outs and vistas are provided for visitors. The road, numbered as U.S. Highway 34, is the highest continuously paved highway in the United States.

It provides visitors thrilling views, wildlife sightings and spectacular alpine wildflower exhibitions, all from the comfort of their vehicle.

Steep, sharp curves and tall snow poles on Trail Ridge Road before the start of winterSteep curves and tall snow poles on Trail Ridge Road before the start of winter

Alpine Visitor Center

The Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road at Rocky Mountain National Park


The Alpine Visitor Center is located near the summit of the road at 11,796 feet. It features a snack shop, bookstore, gift shop and lovely views of the Rocky Mountains.

The Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road ...Elevation 11,796 feet


Open only when the Trail Ridge Road is open, usually from late May until the end of October.

Be prepared for rapidly changing weather conditions
Be prepared for rapidly changing weather and driving conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
2 miles above sea level on Trail Ridge Road
2 miles above sea level on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park ... 10,560 feet
View from Rainbow Curve on Trail Ridge Road with Sheep Lakes in the center distance (Staff Photo - May 2021)
View from Rainbow Curve on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, with Sheep Lakes in the center distance

 

Bear Lake

Bear Lake is one of the most popular areas of the park. Consequently, it can get crowded. Plan accordingly, arrive early or better yet take the shuttle. In 2021, advance reservations are required to access the area during certain times of the year, and time of day. Shuttle bus access is recommended.

Bear Lake
Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
Visitors shuttle bus in Rocky Mountain National Park
Shuttle bus in Rocky Mountain National Park


Old Fall River Road

The Old Fall River Road is a one-way, dirt road ascending the park, and closed in winter.

We have driven the road on multiple occasions, and highly recommend it for unsurpassed views of the natural surroundings.

It terminates near the Alpine Visitors Center.

The entrance area to the Old Fall River Road ... closed in winter (Staff Photo - May 2021)
The Old Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado is closed in winter

 

Watching Wildlife in the Park

Animal life in the park is plentiful, with elk, bear, moose, big horn sheep, deer and many types of smaller wildlife and bird life.

Big Horn Sheep in Rocky Mountain National Park (Staff Photo - May 2021)
Big Horn Sheep in Rocky Mountain National Park
Herds of Elk Everywhere!
Herd of elk in a peaceful meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park
The Stately Male Moose
The Stately Male Moose


Other Things to See and Do Around Estes Park

Popular activities include hiking, walking, nature studies, geology exploration, fishing, wildlife photography, cycling, camping, hiking and climbing.

Read reviews about things to do in Estes Park from TripAdvisor travelers

Endovalley Picnic Area
Endovalley Picnic Area in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
Hiking and Camping
Hiking and Camping in Rocky Mountain National Park
Golfing
Golfing in Estes Park, Colorado

 

 

Lake Estes

Lake Estes offers year-round activities, but is especially popular in summer. During the warmer months, visitors can enjoy stand-up paddleboards, pontoon boats, canoes and kayaks on the lake. The lake is stocked with trout for fishing.

The lake is ringed by a 3.75-mile loop trail known as the Lake Estes Trail, popular for hiking and biking.

The Lake Estes Marina offers a variety of boat and gear rentals.

Boating on Lake Estes

The Olympus Dam creating Lake Estes
The Olympus Dam creating Lake Estes

Estes Park Aerial Tramway

Estes Park Aerial Tramway takes visitors to the top of Prospect Mountain

The Estes Park Aerial Tramway offers outstanding views of 14,259ft Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park and the Continental Divide on its way to the top of Prospect Mountain.

The tram is open late May through early September. No reservations are required. It has been in operation since 1955.

There are also a few hiking trails and a cafe located at the summit.

Begin your trip on the tramway at 420 East Riverside Drive. For more information, visit the Aerial Tramway website or phone 970.475.4094

Chapel on the Rock near Estes Park, Colorado

The Chapel on the Rock

The Saint Catherine of Siena Chapel is a functioning Catholic chapel and tourist landmark in Allenspark, just south of Estes Park.

Commonly known as "The Chapel on the Rock", it is located on the grounds of the Saint Malo Retreat, Conference, and Spiritual Center of the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver.

 

 

More Estes Park Information

Visit Estes Park

 

Town of Estes Park

 

Estes Park Chamber of Commerce

 

Estes Park at Colorado.com ... Official Colorado Tourism Website

 

Rocky Mountain National Park official website at the National Park Service or phone 970.586.1206 for general park questions. Recorded Trail Ridge Road status: 970.586.1222.

 

Reviews about things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park from TripAdvisor travelers

 

Read reviews about things to do in Estes Park from TripAdvisor



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