The Ultimate List of Things to Do in Estes Park
Get to know this Rocky Mountain town with our curated guide
Whoever Este was, her park is a natural marvel, with lakes, ridges and rivers that carve up the magnificent topography of the Rocky Mountain National Park. Or something like that. In any case, the Plum Guide has plenty of things for you to do in Estes Park.
Americans are known for calling a spade a spade – and that simplicity and directness can be found…in spades…here. What shall we call those rocky mountains? Why, the Rocky Mountain National Park. And that big river in Thompson Canyon? Oh that? That’s the Big Thompson River. There’s something epic about those titles that elevates them beyond the natural plain to myth and legend. Speaking of myth and legend, the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park (built by a man called Stanley, of course) is said to have inspired the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Stay there at your peril.
Stay somewhere iconic
If you’re a Stephen King fan, that last bit piqued your interest, admit it. The writer stayed at Stanley Hotel in Estes Park with his wife Tabitha in the 1970s. King has said before that ‘Every big hotel has got a ghost.’ He certainly took inspiration from the grand size and eerie desolation of this place. Sounds like...fun? Take a guided tour to learn about all the features that were muses for King’s book.
Apparently when King pulled back the curtain of the bathtub, he thought, ‘What if somebody died here.’ He sounds like a great traveling companion. Or not, poor Tabitha. Mosey on through the long meandering corridors and put yourself in the the shoes of the famous writer.
If that’s not iconic enough for you, spend another couple of days at the Baldpate Inn, another hotel with a book-related story. It was named after mystery novel (as in, a novel of the mystery genre, rather than an elusive book) Seven Keys to Baldpate and has a collection of 20,000 keys.
There’s more to staying somewhere than simply staying somewhere. In order for it to be a holiday of the highest order, there must be some ‘doing’ as well. You’re in the heart of the Rocky Mountain National Park, so it’s not a bad start. Go on a guided excursion, so a docent can help keep you alive for the few hours you venture into the park. Pass through the scenic path of the Trail Ridge Road and spot elk grazing on the grassy meadows. Enjoy the total serenity... unless you're with the kids. In which case, we can't help you.
In winter, the whole place is covered in snow. So why not go snowshoeing, which comprises sort-of mini skis, or rush down the slopes on sled. Try backcountry skiing and watch some of the experts ice climbing in the snow-covered range of mountains. Meet up with a tour operator (because we all know you’ll be lost without one) and rush head first into the snowy wonderland. Imagine you’re a James Bond villain as you slip down the slopes.
Hey, you know that scary, frothing, rushing river that’d be perilous to fall into? Fancy sitting on a small, delicate raft as it smashes downstream over rocks and cascades? Yes, us too, for some reason. Brave yourself for the adrenaline rush and fear factor, and have a go at white water rafting. What does white water mean anyway? Ah, it’s when the water is so turbulent that it forms white foam and bubbles. Good luck. If you’re up for it, there are fortunately countless rafting tour enterprises in the area, so it seems you’re not the only glutton for punishment.
Fly like an eagle (on a cable car)
They actually do have bald eagles, golden eagles and a whole bunch of hawks (what’s the difference? Good question…). But if you want to morph into an eagle, with the vistas of the town and national park as your picturesque prey (what?), then climb aboard the aerial tramway. It’s a way of getting those mountain views without having to put in the tough walking hours. It has a European charm; rustic and rickety (wait, are these good attributes in a cable car?).
After nearly dropping dead from exhaustion on your first hike, you finally have enough photos to show the folks back home that you did something semi-difficult. Now, it’s time to celebrate at one of the breweries and wineries around town. Try the lager and IPA at the Lumpy Ridge Brewing Co. and taste the grape varieties at the Snowy Peaks Winery. It has all manner of award-winning wines and tasting services, so you’ll be plastered in no time, especially with the altitude. Just take care not to fall off a mountain, or you’ll end up forever haunting the Stanley Hotel.