While most visitors chose to visit the Colorado Rockies in summer, winter is Colorado is equally delightful. Estes Park is the ultimate gateway town for Rocky Mountain National Park and there are lots of great things to do in Estes Park in winter. Find snowshoeing trails, sledding areas, hidden hikes, frozen mountain lakes, and lots of snow fun in our ultimate winter guide to Estes Park. Find useful recommendations on where to stay, where and what to eat, and what to see in this epic guide.
The very first time that I saw the Colorado Rockies in winter was during our epic train ride across America on the California Zephyr. The train slowly climbed over snow-clad peaks and ran parallel to the icy Colorado River before crossing the Continental Divide via the Moffat Tunnel. We sat in the train’s observation car and saw snow-white vistas unfold before our eyes.
When the train slowly pulled into Denver’s Union Station, I felt almost nostalgic – and vowed to return again to visit Rocky Mountain National Park in winter. And that finally happened this year! We were planning our Valentine’s Day trip – a much-needed couple’s break since Baby G is just a little over 4 months old – and zeroed in on Estes Park for some R&R.
Stunning mountain scenery. Lots of romance. Candle-lit dinners. Snow-fights. Quality time. Jetted hot tubs for two. Incredible wildlife sightings. Gourmet food. Hikes to frozen waterfalls. Candy, fudge, and salt taffy.
Estes Park delivered beyond our imagination and has already become our favorite winter destination. We spent 3 amazing days in the Colorado Rockies and fell in love with the East Side (the Continental Divide is a very real thing, people!) of this amazing national park – didn’t feel like returning to Houston and it’s sweaty springs one bit!
Visiting Estes Park in winter was the perfect panacea for our snow-parched souls. We were initially worried that it would be too cold – our Chicago Days are far behind us – and that we would feel frozen half the time. However, we were having too much fun to discover that teeny little frostbite… just kidding, people!
The key to enjoying Estes Park in winter is lots of layers including high-quality thermals along with a few other tips. Don’t worry, we show you exactly how to make the most of your time in Estes Park and embrace the winter in this ultimate winter guide.
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“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. ”
– Edward Abbey, the American Author
Estes Park – The Eastern Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park
Estes Park is the eastern gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). What that means is that all the RMNP entrances and visitor centers located to the east of the Continental Divide are very close to and easily accessible from Estes Park. You can easily reach from anywhere in Estes Park to RMNP in under an hour. That’s why Estes Park makes the perfect base to stay and explore RMNP.
Estes Park has many motels, hotels, bed and breakfasts, and other accommodations to suit all types of visitors. The town also has a really helpful Visitor Center, restaurants serving a variety of cuisines, and gear rental shops. We also saw some really cool shops selling salt water taffies, candies, and popcorns.
Estes Park in Winter 101
Winter means quite different things to different people. My cousins who live in balmy Mumbai in India shiver when the temperature drops to 59 F / 15 C while my friends in New York say it’s a pleasant day when it’s 35 F / 2 C outside.
So when we talk about Estes Park in winter just what temperatures are we talking about? Estes Park averages about 35 F during the day and 17 F at night. But you won’t have to really worry about the night temperatures because after a day of snowshoeing, sledding, hiking, and skiing you will be all cozy in the bed by a crackling fire at about 7-8 pm. At least that’s what we did during our entire stay.
Snowstorms while not that prevalent on the east side of the Rockies can occur unexpectedly. In fact, just the week before we went the area was shivering in the Polar Vortex conditions and received quite a bit of snow. We were prepared for any unexpected delays/ cancellations and took out travel insurance and we would urge you to do the same.
The number of people visiting Estes Park in winter is definitely less than the peak season of summer but it was still quite a crowd. For reference, Bear Lake parking lot was full by 1 pm on all days during our stay and we saw no vacancy signs on many lodgings.
Estes Park also has many wintertime events – the Estes Park Wine and Chocolate Festival was being held during our stay – and visitors come to attend them. You can check the calendar of events to see what’s going on during your trip here.
If you go in winter, you will also find other snow enthusiasts, avid skiers, visitors from the tropics, couples looking for romantic vacations, and families with little kids – basically, everyone looking for grand snow fun!
What to Pack for Estes Park in Winter
As we already mentioned, the key to outdoor fun in Estes Park from December to February is wearing lots and lots of layers. And oh yeah, chapsticks.
Since we were flying Frontier, all we could carry for free was a small backpack but we managed to pack for 5 cold days in Colorado in our allotted 14” X 18” X 8” personal item space: which for me meant an extra pair of shoes, a couple of dresses for romantic dinners, and a surprise gift for the hubs!
My secret to compact packing? Packing cubes. Remember, I said compact, not light. I can never be a light packer because of the sheer variety of things I need but I have managed to pack it all in a perfected system that makes my bags super compact.
Here’s what you basically need for 3 to 5 days in Estes Park: one layer of thermals – these are the most important items in your packing list. A good pair of thermal underwear is soft, un-scratchy, does not bunch over and is thin but warm. A good pair does not make you look 10 pounds heavier. We ordered these for both of us over Amazon a couple of winters ago and they still work for us. Best investment ever for under $25 per person when we bought them.
Other things you want to pack: t-shirts, a bunch of vibrant sweaters or fleece jackets for layering, scarves, mittens, hats, and a good winter coat. I like to pack trendy sweaters – I especially love the color-block styles – because then I can simply remove my coat and look good in photos! You will also want to pack winter boots and woolen socks.
If like us, you plan to squeeze in some fine dining and dressing up to the nines – then I recommend packing 1-2 sweater dresses. That’s basically it!
Now put all that pile of clothes in packing cubes – I have this set of 4 cubes and love it – and watch it become more manageable. If you don’t have a winter coat and don’t wish to purchase one exclusively for the trip, then the outdoor shops in Estes Park can easily outfit you in one.
Where to stay in Estes Park
Best accommodations in Estes Park for couples
Since it was our Valentine’s Day getaway, we were looking for a romantic, couples-only accommodation. And we found exactly what we wanted at the Romantic Riversong Bed & Breakfast in Estes Park.
As we learned from one of our innkeepers Tammy, all the rooms/suites at the Romantic Riversong are named after Colorado wildflowers. We were staying in the Wood Nymph room – a sprawling suite with a cozy 4-poster bed, a library nook, and a real wood-burning fireplace!
We had a welcome gift of sparkling wine and chocolates and loved how pretty it looked against the bedspread. But the real highlight of our room was the giant spa tub with overhead skylights. With flickering candles and lots of bubble soap, it was perfect for soaking our troubles away!
In our opinion, the morning breakfast is as important as a wonderful room (After all, it’s called Bed and Breakfast for a reason duh!) and the breakfast at Romantic Riversong didn’t disappoint! We had delicious baked apple, cheesy grits, and eggs with hot cider. Our table setting was just lovely and it was one of the most memorable breakfasts I have had in recent times.
The inn grounds are also very pretty. We learned about a trail on the property that goes up the hill and has awesome views of Estes Park. There are 7 stone benches on the way to the summit and all couples have to sit and kiss on each of them – which sounds so delightfully quaint!
Plus, there is a hammock at the top. The trail sounded really fun but we weren’t able to do it due to time constraints. I definitely hope to revisit the Romantic Riversong and hike up to the hammock another time.
All in all, the Romantic Riversong is perfect for romance. We strongly recommend staying here for couples – V-Day, honeymoon, Babymoon, anniversaries – whatever the occasion, I’m sure you will have a great time.
Snow Gear Rentals in Estes Park
For most of the things to do in Estes Park in winter, you will need a variety of snow equipment rentals including snowshoes, microspikes, trekking poles, snowsuits, snow goggles, and snow sleighs.
Fortunately, there are a variety of businesses in Estes Park that rent out the winter gear and you don’t need to carry your own over long flights and cars. Some of the popular businesses include the Estes Park Mountain Shop and the Warming House.
The shops also have all of the gear in kids’ sizes. They also have winter camping, backpacking, and mountaineering equipment available including boots, backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, ice axes, etc.
Driving in Estes Park and the Rocky Mountains in Winter
While most of the roads in and around Estes Park are kept clear of snow, you will find snow or ice in certain areas like the Bear Lake Road, last few miles of Trail Ridge Road, and on parts of Fall River Road.
Even where the roads are kept clear, blowing snow in windy conditions can cause icy roads. While we rented a car from Hertz at the Denver Airport, it was a Kia sedan and there were a few times when we wished we had rented a car with better traction for all that winter driving.
We would recommend renting an SUV or a Jeep that will handle the icy roads much better plus give you a higher up view while you drive. As for other winter driving tips: you should always drive slowly, brake cautiously over ice, keep a watch for wildlife along the road, and for hikers or skiers who might be crossing the roads.
Outdoor things to do in Estes Park in the Winter
As we mentioned above, Estes Park in February is a winter wonderland. Visitors have access to dozens of snow-filled adventures including sledding, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, snowshoeing, ice-climbing, and snowmobiling.
Apart from the typical winter activities, there are lots of other things to do including scenic drives and wildlife watching. Because of its proximity to Rocky Mountain National Park, many of the activities will require you to purchase a National Park Pass.
We recommend purchasing America The Beautiful National Park Pass which gives you access to all national parks for an entire year. Here are our top favorite outdoor things to do in Estes Park in the winter:
Sled, tube or snowboard down the slopes at Hidden Valley sleigh area
Hidden Valley, Estes Park is the only place in Rocky Mountain National Park where you can sleigh down the slopes. As we discovered from our innkeeper at the Romantic Riversong, Hidden Valley has a unique history.
In the 1950s, Hidden Valley was a growing ski area known as ‘Ski Estes Park’ complete with a ski lodge, lifts, and established skiing trails. However, the establishment of the venture inside the national park premises didn’t go well.
Eventually, the park management took over Hidden Valley in the early 1990s and closed down the lifts and the trails. You can read all about the past of Hidden Valley and experiences of skiers who visited there during its heyday here.
Today, the slopes of Hidden Valley are popular for sledding down the hill. Visitors can rent a variety of equipment in Downtown Estes Park: snow saucers, snowboards, snow tubes, and sleighs.
The slopes of Hidden Valley are gentle enough for children to climb up and then whizz down at fast speeds. We also saw a lot of families just playing in the snow, building a snowman or having snow fights. Some were snowshoeing up the slopes of the old ski trails. We even saw an adorable 14-month-old boy sucking on his pacifier and being pulled down the slopes by his dad; he seemed to be having great fun.
Of course, that made me miss the kids and so, we have decided to return next year when Baby G will almost be 1.5 years old and S-Boy 4. Estes Park is that kind of place, you can’t come here without making plans for your next visit!
The Hidden Valley Sledding Area can be reached via Trail Ridge Road inside Rocky Mountain National Park. You will need to enter the park through Beaver Meadows Visitor Center Entrance and pay the entry fee. The daily fee is $25 while the weekly pass is $35; we recommend the weekly pass since you will mostly visit the National Park every day.
While the Trail Ridge Road is closed in winter at Many Parks Curve, Hidden Valley is just a little bit before the road closure and easily accessible. The area is open for sledding daily from 10 am to 4 pm. A warming hut and restrooms are located near the parking lot; the warming hut is open only on the weekends.
Outside the restrooms is a map of the area with marked trails where visitors can snowshoe, ski, or just hike in the trees. We recommend coming prepared for a day of snow fun: warm clothes, sleds, and lots of food and water is essential.
Take a winter road trip along some of Colorado’s best scenic drives
Winter in the Colorado Rockies is stunningly pretty and by far my favorite way to experience it was by driving along the area’s scenic drives. The roads were plowed and safe and there were few other cars on driving by.
The drives had backdrops of snowy peaks and were lined with tall pine trees. Alpine meadows and frozen rivers kept us company along the way and shimmering mountain lakes made the journey enjoyable.
As you probably know by now, we never say no to a good road trip and during our time in Estes Park we drove over 6 different scenic drives. Here is a handy list of the beautiful roads and the best views:
Fall River Road
We entered Rocky Mountain National Park through the Fall River Visitor Center Entrance (which is closed for the season during winter) and drove up the Fall River Road.
In summer you can drive it all the way across the Continental Divide to Alpine Visitor Center or the Trail Ridge Road. However, due to winter road closures, we could drive on the Fall River Road till Alluvial Fan Trailhead.
Here, we hiked the Alluvial Fan hike and saw the huge boulders that washed down during the floods of 1982. On this road, we saw Sheep Lakes and beautiful views of the alpine meadows; we also spotted a couple of Bighorn Sheep on this road.
Fall River Road was our introduction to the amazing views of the snow-covered Rocky Mountain peaks and we felt like stopping at every turn to take in the natural beauty of the Rockies.
Trail Ridge Road
Trail Ridge Road is the most famous of Colorado’s scenic byways. Completed in 1933, this road holds the distinction of being the highest byway and also the highest motorable road in the country. It crosses the Continental Divide and connects Estes Park, the eastern gateway to RMNP with Grand Lake, the western gateway to RMNP and is incredibly scenic.
However, the Trail Ridge Road is closed beyond the Many Parks Curve overlook during winter. We continued on the Trail Ridge Road after the Fall River Road and drove up to the point of the road closure.
The views along the way were beautiful while the panorama of many parks or settlements from Many Parks Curve was a delight. We walked along the side of the road at Many Parks Curve and even climbed the short hike from where we could see a 360-degree panoramic view.
On our way back, we stopped and had sledding fun at Hidden Valley. I also loved the view of the Horseshoe bends in the Fall River. If you want to drive the entire length of Trail Ridge Road, you will need to plan a visit between Memorial Day and September end.
Bear Lake Road
The drive to Bear Lake Trailhead was definitely my favorite scenic drive in Estes Park. On Day 2, we entered RMNP through the Beaver Meadows Entrance and took the turn off Hwy 36 towards Bear Lake.
This road has amazing views of the snow-covered peaks of the Continental Divide and we got nearer to them at every turn till they loomed large in the sky. We also saw quite a bit of Rocky Mountain wildlife on Bear Lake Road. There was a large elk herd near Moraine Park and a couple of deer on our way back near Glacier Basin area.
Many snowshoeing trails start along this road and we spent almost entire of our Day 2 in Estes Park on this road.
Longs Peak Road
On our last day in Estes Park, we drove the Longs Peak Road till the road closure point. This road has a series of hairpin turns that made it fun to drive. We quickly gained altitude along the way and by the time we had reached Longs Peak, we had reached a height of 9405 feet.
The parking lot is also the trailhead for Longs Peak hike – a strenuous 14-mile long hike that ascends the peak. This hike is almost impossible in winter. Many other hikes also lead off from this area and we saw snowshoers attempting the Chasm Lake Trail.
Devil’s Gulch Road
We used the scenic Devil’s Gulch Road to reach Estes Park from Loveland, Colorado. Along the road, we had great views of Lumpy Ridge and saw the trailhead for Gem Lake hike. We also saw mountain sheep and quite a few birds along this road.
Peak to Peak Scenic Byway
We started along Hwy 7 and then continued on the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway while going from Estes Park to Denver. We first stopped at Lily Lake and did the loop trail to take in amazing mountain views. Then we continued on the road before making the detour for Longs Peak.
After Longs Peak, we continued on the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway. I loved the little town of Nederland. The last stretch of our scenic drive was in the dark, so we missed out on some views – however, we look forward to driving this route again in the summer/fall.
Observe unique geological landforms like the Continental Divide, Twin Owls, and the Alluvial Fan
Rocky Mountain National Park is home to many unique geological features. The most impressive of them all is certainly the Continental Divide. The Continental Divide is a series of high, towering mountain peaks in the US that continues all the way from Alaska through Canada to New Mexico in the south.
It continues even beyond Mexico and all the way into Latin America. All the rivers on the west side of the Continental Divide drain their water into the Pacific Ocean while those on the east drain into the Atlantic Ocean.
RMNP also has other unique geological landforms like the Alluvial Fan. The Alluvial Fan is formed from boulders that washed down the slopes during a flood event in 1982. An early summer morning, Lawn Lake breached its earthen dam and caused a flash flood that killed 3 campers and submerged Estes Park in 6 feet deep water.
The flood waters rushed down the valley and picked huge boulders on its way which were deposited in the area now known as Alluvial Fan. We had fun hiking over the large boulders; some of them were larger than pickup trucks!
The Twin Owls is a formation in the free area of Rocky Mountain National Park along Lumpy Ridge. To reach the Twin Owls trailhead, drive on Devil’s Gulch Road from Downtown Estes Park. The hike is just a mile log easy round trip and has views of the Twin Owls Rock Formations.
Admire the many mountain lakes and pick your favorite to return to year after year
Rocky Mountain National Park is filled with mountain lakes. During our 3 days in Estes Park, we must have explored just under a third of the park and yet we saw over half a dozen mountain lakes.
My favorite was the shimmering blue of Lake Mary followed by the frozen Bear Lake. Lake Mary is located at a lower elevation and has flowing water hence it hadn’t frozen except for some ice around its edges. In the noon sun, it looked an electric blue and is one of the best photographs I have taken in RMNP.
My second favorite was the completely frozen Bear Lake. Bear Lake was the highest lake we visited at an elevation of 9450 feet. The lake has amazing backdrops of the Continental Divide and Hallett’s Peak and completely freezes in winter. We initially began with snowshoeing Bear Lake Loop Trail but then just started to walk across the lake surface once we realized it was solid ice.
My favorite part was walking on the frozen surface and feeling the ice crack underneath with loud booming noises – it isn’t as risky as it sounds since the ice layer is quite deep and the cracked ice is jam-packed so it has literally nowhere to go even if it does crack!
The other lakes we saw were Lake Estes, Sheep Lake, Lily Lake, and a couple of others whose names I don’t remember. Each of these lakes had frozen to a different degree and in a different manner and looked completely unique.
RMNP also has many other lakes including Sprague Lake, Gem Lake, Emerald Lake, Bierstadt Lake, etc which make for interesting snowshoe hikes in the park.
Have amazing wildlife encounters with elks, deer, moose bighorn sheep and even bears!
Rocky Mountain National Park is known for its abundant wildlife. We encountered a large variety of animals and birds in their natural habitat while driving, hiking, or snowshoeing in and around Estes Park.
My absolute favorite places for spotting wildlife were Bear Lake Road and Lake Estes shoreline. Along Bear Lake Road, we saw a huge herd of elks grazing in the meadows.
We also spotted a couple of deer munching and frolicking in the grass. While snowshoeing around Bear Lake, I saw a beautiful magpie land on a rock next to me.
At Lake Estes, we again saw lots of elk and could hear them bugle in high-pitched voices. (That’s right – a cat meows, a dog barks, and an elk bugles!)
We also saw a flock of ducks fly and land gracefully on the icy lake waters. During our stay at the Romantic Riversong, we spotted a hare and just days before our stay, our innkeeper had seen a bobcat!
Since it’s winter, the bears were hibernating in their caves and we, fortunately, didn’t see a mountain lion – though bear, mountain lion, and coyote encounters are also quite common at different times of the year.
Snowshoe icy trails in the Rocky Mountains
First, let me start off by saying that we haven’t snowshoed ever before. Second, it is quite easy and super fun! While hiking along snow trails is dangerous, messy, and cold snowshoeing those same trails is a great way to see more of the national park.
While skiing or snowmobiling is not for everyone, almost all can learn to snowshoe and explore areas that are accessible only via foot. While you can rent snowshoes in the town, our lodging, the Romantic Riversong provides their guests with free snowshoes – Score!
Rocky Mountain National Park has many easy snowshoeing trails. Our favorite by far was the bear Lake Loop Trail. On some parts of this trail, the ice was so densely packed that we could have easily walked in regular shoes but in some areas it was dumped so deep that with every step I sank at least a feet, making snowshoes necessary.
Other great snowshoeing trails include Lawn Lake Trail, Gem Lake, Lumpy Ridge Trail, Sprague Lake Trail, and the Emerald Lake Trail. This last one while 3.5 miles out and back / 3-4 hrs has views of 4 mountain lakes: Bear Lake, Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake and is just stunning in winter.
Try your hand (and legs) at skiing at Eldora Ski Resort
Whether you have never skied or are an expert skier, Estes Park has skiing trails for every level. Skiing allows you to enjoy the snow while at the same time explore the backcountry, snow and nature in the Rocky Mountains. It also constitutes a great workout that makes you hungry for awesome dinners in Estes Park.
Visitors can easily rent cross-country skis, boots, and poles at any gear rental store in Estes Park. You can begin to learn cross-country skiing at Sprague Lake or near Hidden Valley. You can also experience awesome views of the Continental Divide by skiing up closed Trail Ridge Road.
Another great option is to learn skiing with an instructor at Eldora Ski Resort which is located just an hour away from Estes Park and can be accessed via Peak to Peak Scenic Byway.
Experienced skiers can also try downhill skiing or backcountry skiing and explore new terrain and vistas of the Rocky Mountains. Nearby Winter Park Resort is located just 2 hrs away and is another great option for avid skiers.
Hike to frozen waterfalls and go ice climbing
Many trails in Rocky Mountain National Park go past beautiful waterfalls which in winter are completely frozen – giving you a chance to indulge in some ice climbing!
As we experienced for ourselves, ice climbing is fun and addictive. While professional ice climbers go all out on vertical ice walls with an ice axe, we had as much fun climbing an almost horizontal frozen waterfall at the Alluvial Fan Trailhead on Fall River Road.
You can be like us and simply climb a frozen waterfall when you see it or get professionally outfitted with carabiners, ropes, helmets, ice axes for a full day of climbing.
Popular Rocky Mountain hikes for ice climbing include Hidden Falls near the Wild Basin Trailhead, Alberta Falls hike near Glacier Gorge Trailhead on the way to Bear Lake etc.
Also remember, for most of the ice climbing hikes, you need to snowshoe or ski at least a mile before the actual ice climbing can start. The frozen waterfalls look really pretty and gorgeous and climbing over them is just awesome!
Snowmobile in the Colorado Rockies
Snowmobiling is the ultimate snow adventure. There is nothing better than cranking up the engine of your snowmobile and riding through the frozen winter landscapes, leaving behind a cloud full of snow in your wake. Snowmobiling is more prevalent on the Western side of the Continental Divide since most of the snow is dumped there.
The eastern side and RMNP don’t get that much snow. That said, there are a few snowmobiling trails in Estes Park as well. On these, you will be riding through pine trees, wide-open fields, down gentle slopes and along frozen streams. You might even be lucky to spot an animal or two including elks, moose, deer, and coyotes.
Snowmobile gear rentals come with helmets, trail maps, and vehicle delivery to start of the trail. Most of the tours are unguided and you are free to explore as you wish. You can rent the snowmobiles for a few hours to an entire day and your rental operator will show you how to drive and handle your ride.
Indoor Things to do in Estes Park in Winter
If you don’t like to be active, Estes Parks still has lots to offer. You can book a hot tub suite and indulge in some wine and romance with your loved one, go out for delicious dinners, indulge in spa massages, or read a book on your vacation.
While not all of the below activities are strictly indoors, they are close enough to town that you can duck into a heated, warm environment in under 2 minutes. So there, wear your trendy winter boots, grab your purse, and let’s get going!
Tour the famous Stanley Hotel
One of the truly unique things to do in Estes Park, the Stanley Hotel guided tour takes you around the historic hotel and its grounds. The Stanley Hotel
It is supposed to be the inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s horror novel ‘The Shining’ and is a must for all literary fans. The hotel and its surroundings are on the National Register of Historic Places.
The tour narrates about the steam car inventor F. O. Stanley who built the hotel and its other famous residents including Stephen King. You can either take the Family Tour with younger kids, Day Tour with older kids, or the scary Night Tour which will tell you all about the hotel’s spirits.
Eat gourmet wild game dinners including elk steak in the town
Estes Park has plenty of gourmet fine dining with tables alongside fireplaces, visually tantalizing small plates, and exceptional service. We tried out quite a few meal experiences including Nepali buffet lunch and Italian cuisine but our favorite by far was our superbly done elk steak.
In keeping with our Valentine’s Day theme, we wanted to have dinner at the exclusive Twin owls Steakhouse – located close to the famous Stanley Hotel. The Twin Owls Steakhouse is known for its romantic ambiance, great wine list, and cozy seating making it perfect for a date night. However, the steakhouse was closed while we were in town and so we instead went to the Grubsteak restaurant on Elkhorn Avenue.
While the lights were a little brighter than we had hoped and our table wasn’t that secluded – we had the most amazing dinner served by a friendly server. The husband ordered an elk steak – which I tried – it was perfectly done and tasted wonderful! And I ordered the Rocky Mountain Trout which was super fresh and yummy with blackening seasoning.
We also drank a few local cold ones and they were refreshing. We loved our dinner at the Grubsteak and would recommend it to everyone who wants a wild game dinner. In the meantime, we also plan to revisit the Twin Owls Steakhouse on our next visit.
Buy fudge, candy, and taffy by the dozen and get a sugar high!
I love visiting US mountain towns and their main streets for this one reason: fudges, candies, salt-water taffies, and chocolates galore! Estes Park also has plenty of these stores and we recommend stopping in each and every one of them for free samples.
By the time you are done walking in each store and eating pineapple taffies, candied apples, pecan fudges, rock hard candies, gummy bears, and cheesy popcorns, you are giggling like a teen. At least, I am! Also, my purse is heavier with all the candies and taffy’s I buy and my wallet significantly lighter.
We stopped in The Taffy Store, Laura’s Fudge Store, and Candy and Sweet
We also bought a bag of Chicago Mix popcorn (because we miss Garrett’s Popcorn in Chicago) and it was awesome. They also have ice-cream in many flavors and we plan to try that on our next visit.
Learn about the area’s past at the Estes Park Museum
Estes Park Museum is the perfect starting place to learn more about the history of Estes Park, its settlement, and the history of the Rocky Mountains. The museum has interesting information for visitors of all ages and has neat interactive exhibits for children.
There are galleries about Colorado wildlife, early settlements, history of Elkhorn Avenue etc. There are also a couple of historic buildings near the museum which also have good exhibits. Other places in Estes Park that are good to take the kids for an educational experience include the Rocky Mountain Conservancy and Art Center of Estes Park.
Go shopping for treasures on Elkhorn Avenue
Where most small towns have Main Streets, Estes Park has Elkhorn Avenue. The historic street is lined with boutique stores, souvenir shops, art galleries, bookstores, eateries, and a variety of locally owned businesses.
Here you will find everything from local artists paintings of snowy peaks, wildlife sculptures, hand-blown glass ornaments, artisan produce and gifts, hand-woven textiles, unique one-of-a-kind clothing, vintage boots, leather stores etc.
Elkhorn Avenue is just perfect for all your holiday shopping needs. I loved the big souvenir stores with magnets, postcards, shot glasses, and the usual souvenir items. We also found some cool t-shirts, vintage belts with big buckles, and unusual decor in some stores.
Walk along the Riverwalk and relax with a romantic couple’s massage
While Estes Park’s fresh mountain air is quite relaxing, you can take it a step further by indulging in a rejuvenating massage. Many of the area’s lodgings offer on-site spa services – ours did and right by the stream too!
And just in case yours doesn’t, you can go for one in just by the Riverwalk at Affinity Wellness Center – we saw this as we were walking down the river and it looked inviting. Estes Park has many other spas, you can see the entire list here.
And while we are talking of the Downtown Riverwalk – let’s discuss why it’s such a good idea even in the winter. The walk conveniently starts at the Visitor Center which you will be visiting anyways and then goes through the town.
The Riverwalk follows the course of the Big Thompson River and the Fall River. There are art pieces and statues along the riverwalk and bridges to cross the rivers. We loved parking at the Visitor Center and then walking to the busiest area of the town – enjoying shops, galleries, restaurants, and pubs along the way.
Find a good read to enjoy your indoors time
Our room had a library nook which had many classics, quite a few new bestsellers, and local travel books. I had a great time resting by the fireside and flipping through photos of Rocky Mountains in the travel books.
I also almost never travel with a book or my Kindle loaded with books and love having a quiet read in scenic locations – I had a great time catching up on my reading in Estes Park.
If you don’t happen to have a book with you, we recommend stopping by Macdonald Book Shop on Elkhorn Avenue – or if you are coming from Denver, stop in any Tattered Cover Book Shop location.
Macdonald’s is a cute little book store with a great selection for all ages and interests. They also had a great selection of books by local authors and based on the Rocky Mountains – including popular hikes, wallflowers guide, wildlife, etc.
Listen to live music or enjoy a play
If books aren’t your natural companions, don’t worry. Estes Park has a lot of restaurants and clubs which have live music right from the jazz-blues to Celtic notes.
In summer numerous concerts are held in town and local musicians dominate the scene but even in winter – you are bound to find happy notes streaming from many places on Elkhorn Avenue.
Other night attractions for couples include a bowling alley, live theatre or a movie night. The Park Theatre in Estes Park was built in 1913 and is in fact so old that it is the oldest cinema in the western half of the country!
Spend some quality time with your loved one at Lake Estes
While I loved almost all the lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park, Lake Estes was something else.
For one, I didn’t have to snowshoe a mile before I saw this gorgeous lake. It was just right there, by the side of the road.
Second, the first time we saw it it was surrounded by an elk herd!
Elks are just magnificent, graceful animals (though their bugling isn’t that majestic!) and it felt wonderful to see such a big herd grazing by the lakeside and drinking the lake’s icy cold waters.
Lake Estes has a couple of other attractions too, including the marina which rents water recreational vehicles, trout fishing, biking and walking the 4-mile long tranquil loop trail.
Take a stroll under the twinkling lights of Estes Park at night
Estes Park twinkles with a hundred lights even in February. We loved how the Holidays seemed to have come for an extended stay in the small town. We recommend bundling up and taking a stroll with your loved one to see the pretty holiday lights in Downtown.
While you won’t be indoors when you take a stroll in the night on Elkhorn Avenue, you can duck into any of the bars or restaurants for a hot coffee.
Enjoy the Whiskey Capital of Colorado
Here’s a little known gem: Estes Park is also known as the Whiskey Capital of Colorado. What that means for whiskey lovers is distilleries, Moscow Mules, and no more cold!
We knew about the Coors Brewery in Golden and were planning to visit it but didn’t realize the Estes Park spirits scene till we spent a few days here. Apart from distilleries, Estes Park also has wineries and breweries for wine and beer lovers.
You can find delicious craft beers: I loved the local ale we tried along with our elk dinner. Visitors can tour the distilleries, wineries, and breweries for a detailed look into the production processes and visit the tasting rooms in town to sample locally brewed products.
Or you can just take a bottle of something you love back to your lodgings for a more intimate experience. That’s what we did and it was the perfect ending to our amazing stay at Estes Park!
Disclaimer: Our trip to Estes Park including our stay at the charming Romantic Riversong was sponsored by Visit Estes Park. All opinions, local businesses, and activities recommendations are our own.