With a bustling main street, peaceful trails, and scenic mountain views in all directions, Estes Park is the perfect little mountain town to plan a weekend away. While there’s plenty to do and see all year, the fall season, in particular, is a special time to visit.
The crowds of tourists filing into Rocky Mountain National Park have started to thin out and there’s a quiet settling into town. Bright yellow and orange aspen leaves flutter in the wind and wildlife seems to take over, with elk hanging out anywhere they can find a spot of grass.
Not that Estes Park gets particularly warm in the summer (temps average in the mid- to upper-70s), but fall is that perfect time of year where you can adventure all day and curl up by the fireplace at night. And you won’t have to sit in traffic on I-70 to get here—Estes Park is about an hour from Boulder via US-36.
Want to know more? Here are six reasons why fall is the best time of year to head to this unpretentious mountain town.
1. It’s Easy to See Wildlife
Chances are high that you’ll see deer, elk, or even moose just about any time you visit Estes Park, but during the fall seasons, it’s practically a guarantee. Fall is rutting (aka mating) season for elk, so they like to come into town and bugle loudly for everyone to hear. They love to set up on the grassy spaces, whether it’s near the river by Kind Coffee, in the median between Big Thompson Avenue and N. St. Vrain Avenue, or in Bond Park.
You can almost always spot elk in Rocky Mountain National Park, and they especially like to hang out in the wide open spaces across from the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center.
When you do see these animals, be sure to keep your distance. They might be used to people being around, but they are still wild animals and it is mating season. For tips on safely viewing the animals you’ll likely encounter during a visit to Estes Park, check out our handy guide here.
2. There are Plenty of Fun Events
Estes Park hosts events all year long, but the fall brings some of the best, from seasonal celebrations like Autumn Gold Festival and Elk Fest, to boozy-themed affairs like Pumpkins & Pilsners, Rocky Mountain Craft Spirits Festival, and Fall Back Beer Festival. Autumn Gold and Elk Fest typically occur in mid- to late-September depending on when nature calls, and they offer a wonderful opportunity to hear live music, live elk bugling, and learn all about these massive animals.
In October, Pumpkins & Pilsners is a family-friendly event that is the largest fundraiser for the local nonprofit, Families for Estes. Featuring craft beer for adults, a bounce house for kids, and pumpkin-picking for all ages, profits from the festival directly support the local community. Rocky Mountain Craft Spirits Festival offers tastings from local breweries, bar games, and a free shuttle so you don’t have to worry about driving around town.
Spend your extra hour for Daylight Saving Time at the Fall Back Beer Fest at the Estes Park Events Complex. More than 30 local breweries come together to share more than 100 different beers at this annual event. The American Homebrewers Association will also be hosting seminars, demonstrations, and giveaways in celebration of Learn to Homebrew Day. This one is also family-friendly, as there will be some craft-brewed sodas available as well.
3. Fall Colors Are Everywhere
Whether you visit during peak leaf-peeping season or not (usually late September, depending on the year), fall is a beautiful time of year to visit Estes Park. You’ll see bright yellows and oranges throughout town, on the trails at Rocky Mountain National Park, or along the Peak-to-Peak Highway. This scenic route is also one of the best places to snap a photo of Longs Peak, one of the most famous 14ers in the state (a peak over 14,000 feet in elevation).
If you come later in the season, the fall leaves may be gone but chances are that you’ll have a dusting of snow on those beautiful mountain views.
4. The Weather is Perfect for Outdoor Activities
With temperatures in the 50s and 60s during the day and potentially below freezing at night, it’s perfect weather for crisp mornings, warm afternoons, and cozy nights. While it’s more likely to snow in the park than in town, Estes Park is so sunny that it usually melts quickly, making it possible to get outside without worrying about sloshing through mud.
Of course, there is an abundance of hiking trails everywhere you turn. While you can’t mountain bike in RMNP, Roosevelt National Forest offers dozens of trails and hundreds of miles. Fall is also the perfect time for one last climbing route or bouldering send. Or you can hop on horseback for a different perspective on the outdoors.
Cast a line and try your hand at fly fishing in Lake Estes or the Big Thompson River, or take your camera and keep an eye out for one of the many bird species you might see flying above. Bring your clubs and take a swing at the Estes Park 18-Hole Course or the Lake Estes Executive 9-Hole Course.
Whether you want to set out on your own or take a guided excursion with a local outfitter, there’s something for just about everyone in the family here.
5. It’s the Shoulder Season But Not Quite the Offseason
From June until September, it’s peak visitor season for RMNP and Estes Park. After that, things settle down a little bit. You will find less traffic on the trails, fewer people in the restaurants and shops, and there is more room availability in hotels and B&Bs. Many stores start to shorten their hours, but there are still plenty of people around.
We’re not saying you’ll have the town all to yourself, but there’s definitely a different pace once fall really settles in.
6. See the First Wave of Winter
Fall is followed very closely by winter in Estes Park, and often times, the seasons collide. Elk bugling and golden aspen leaves flutter among falling snow- giving a sneak peek at the season to follow. As always, pack some layers and maybe throw in gloves and a hat too.
Written by Abbie Mood for RootsRated Media in partnership with Visit Estes Park.