Let's face it, we all have a "budget" for vacation. If you're anything like me, it's a challenge to stick to those pre-set spending limits. There's always something more the kids are asking for, or a little self-indulgence - I mean we definitely deserve it, right?! So, finding some free activities can be critical to not having post-vacay spending regrets while still keeping the family busy. And lucky for you, Estes has tons of fun things to do and great events that don't cost a dime or only request a donation - from exploring the outdoors to experiencing the arts, learning something new to getting festive!
While the entrance fee to Rocky Mountain National Park is truly a bargain relative to other entertainment - $30 per car for a whole week vs. $40+ for a family to see a movie - it isn't free. (Unless you have a 4th-grader - see the details here.) If you are looking to get on the trails at zero cost, head to Roosevelt National Forest. The Lily Mountain Trail, just south of town, and the Crosier and Round Mountain Trails to the north, are all open to the public and allow hiking with your dogs. You'll find more information about these trails on the Poudre Wilderness Volunteers website.
Another great option is to explore the bike and pedestrian trails around town. Park at the Estes Park Visitor Center and walk or bike the Lake Estes Trail for beautiful views and an almost entirely level loop around the beautiful lake.
Getting outside is important when vacationing with kids and dogs and, let's face it, anyone. There are a number of free, public parks in Estes to get the family outside running around, set up a picnic or do a little wildlife watching - the elk often meander through, grazing on the lush grasses.
Or try your hand at geocaching. There are apps you can download for free or for just a few bucks if you don't have the equipment. If you did spring for a park pass, there's a GeoTour covering both sides of the park with goals & prizes (it does include caches outside the park, too).
Stanley Park is the largest public park and features ball fields, tennis courts, a playground, a skate park and a dog park, as well as picnic tables and a shelter house. It is connected to the Lake Estes Trail, and you can take the underpass to avoid highway traffic. Playgrounds can also be found along the Riverwalk downtown and in a smaller pocket park south on Highway 7.
Learn all about the history, the wildlife and the people that make Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park so interesting. The Estes Park Museum is open year-round and the Historic Fall River Hydroplant Museum is open to the public in the summer months. Both are free to the public - donations appreciated. Learn more about the national park by visiting the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, where guests can meet rangers, get a Junior Ranger book and view the national park film for free.
Soak Up the Stars
Peer deep into the night sky at the Estes Park Memorial Observatory where, for a voluntary donation, you make an appointment for a guide to explore the planets and stars with you through their powerful telescope. Or, take matters into your own hands. Grab some blankets and pillows and head out of town and into the national park or forest to get away from the lights where the majestic skies come alive right over your heads. Print some info on constellations, download a star app or find a book at the local book store. And don't forget to grab some sweet treats and hot cocoa before you leave town. If you're lucky enough to be visiting during the two summer meteor showers - July 28-29 and August 11-12 (2016) - then you're in for a real treat!
Art in the Open
From free galleries to public art, there is a lot to experience around Estes for no cost. None of the art galleries or art shops charge an entrance fee, so you can browse thousands of photos, paintings, pottery pieces, blown glass and more. Sometimes you can even see demonstrations or plein air painters in or near the shops. The public art downtown includes bronze sculptures of wildlife and historic figures, interactive pieces that make music and modern installments that pique curiosities.
Throughout the year Estes Park hosts a number of free events and festivals. In the summertime, Bond Park and Performance Park in downtown Estes come alive with concerts, arts, culture and more. Sing along with Cowboy Brad, catch a movie under the stars or picnic at an outdoor concert. Browse all of Estes Park's free events on our event calendar.