Estes Park, The Gateway To Rocky Mountain National Park

Estes Park, Colorado

At 7,522 feet elevation, the mountain village of Estes Park lies along the Big Thompson River on the front range of the Rocky Mountains at the eastern entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park in northern Colorado.

Since 1917, Estes Park has been welcoming visitors as a popular, year-round basecamp for Rocky Mountain National Park. Approximately 80% of Rocky Mountain National Park visitors stay in Estes Park and enter through the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station, driving Trail Ridge Road for 48 miles through the park to the town of Grand Lake, Colorado at the western park entrance.

The small town offers visitors a variety of outdoor activities like the scenic Riverwalk, charming downtown shopping area along Elkhorn Avenue, many historic sites, and the Estes Park Aerial Tramway that connects the town to the summit of Prospect Mountain.

Named Best Mountain Town in Sunset Magazine’s 2018 Travel Awards, Estes Park has something for everyone, no matter what time of year you visit:

  • Summer and fall: Activities include camping, biking, hiking, mountaineering, and rock climbing, as well as water sports at Lake Estes like boating, kayaking, paddle boarding, and whitewater rafting.
  • Winter: Activities include sledding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, backcountry skiing, and ice climbing.
  • Year-round: Activities include horseback riding, backpacking, fly fishing, geocaching, birding, golfing, zip lining, shopping, wildlife watching, and photography.

With breweries, distilleries, wine bars, and restaurants, Estes Park also doesn’t disappoint when it comes to dining. Plus, there are special events, concerts, and festivals throughout the year to add to the fun.

Visiting Estes Park

We stayed in Estes Park during our family vacation at Rocky Mountain National Park. It made entering and exiting the park easy and fast and provided us a home base close to restaurants, shops, gas, and groceries. After exploring the main touristy street full of shops in Grand Lake, I wanted to do the same in Estes Park. Luckily, we had time to do just that on our last day before heading to Colorado Springs.

We parked along the Riverwalk near the George Hix Riverside Plaza. The Plaza, at the confluence of Big Thompson and Fall Rivers, features statues, bridges, fountains, and places to sit relax. We then wandered down the Riverwalk a bit before heading over to Elkhorn Avenue to find pressed penny machines and some souvenirs of our summer road trip to Rocky Mountain National Park.

More than 200 shops, galleries, restaurants, and attractions line the downtown along Elkhorn and Moraine avenues. One of the best parts is that the businesses are all independently owned, which means you won’t find a chain store here! It’s the perfect place to find unique treasures, gifts, handmade crafts, souvenirs, and even pressed pennies. It’s also the best spot to find fresh baked goods, candy, chocolates, ice cream, and other sweet treats.

After that we drove over to the south trailhead for the Centennial Open Space at Knoll-Willows. The parking area is behind the Estes Park police station, town hall, and public library, and from there the trail climbs a 75 foot tall rocky outcropping to the Birch Cabin and stone Birch House Ruins.

Know Before You Go

  • Estes Park, Colorado lies along the Big Thompson River just 70 miles from Denver. The town is surrounded by Rocky Mountain National Park, Roosevelt National Forest, and Lumpy Ridge.
  • Download the Estes Park Visitor Guide.
  • The Estes Park Visitor Center is located at 500 Big Thompson Avenue, Estes Park, Colorado 80517, in Larimer County near the intersection of Highways 34 and 36.
  • During the summer, the Visitor Center is open Monday through Saturday from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm and Sunday from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. During the winter is it open Monday through Saturday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm and Sunday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
  • The Visitor Center is where you access the downtown trolley and catch the free Rocky Mountain National park summer shuttle buses. Trails lead from the Visitor Center east to the Lake Estes Trail and west through the downtown Riverwalk.
  • Estes Park has endured three major floods: the Big Thompson Flood of 1976, the Lawn Lake Flood of 1982, and the epic flood of September 2013.
  • Estes Park has six electric car chargers. Two on the north side of the municipal parking lot behind Town Hall, and four at the new Estes Park Transit Facility Parking Structure.
  • Average temperatures are 40 degrees in winter, 53 degrees in spring, 76 segrees in summer, and 58 degrees in the fall. Dress in layers and be prepared for rapidly changing weather.

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