Autumn in Estes Park is when everything falls into place. Your rock shoes will stick a little better, the trails are in ideal condition for mountain biking, trail running, or hiking, and the trout are biting. It's peak season for your favorite activities but not for the crowds if you can play hooky – you may have the trail, river, or rock to yourself if you can get out midweek. Hike among the quaking, golden aspens and hear bull elk bugle. Even the alpine tundra takes on a new color. The rut is some of the best wildlife watching anywhere and has its own festival, along with others nearly every weekend. Here are ten reasons to visit Estes this fall.
1. The Elk Rut
At some point in early September (and even late August), bull elk lose the velvet on their antlers and start sparring with other bulls to test their dominance, then get to work assembling a harem of cows. This is the rut. And this show is on display in various valleys in the National Park--and around town. It’s one of North America’s best wildlife viewing opportunities. Learn all about it here. And if you bring the camera, be sure to read up on how to nail your dream elk shot.
2. Those Electric Yellow Aspens
At roughly the same time as the rut begins, aspens at higher elevations begin to change color. From horseback riding to hiking to guided tours, there are so many ways to soak in all the colors this season has to offer. Here are some of our favorite ways to see this annual gilded spectacle. Please don’t carve your name, initials, the date, or anything else into these beautiful trees. It’s an important part of leaving no trace, so we can continue to enjoy these sights for years to come.
3. The Have-it-to-Yourself Midweek
While September weekends can be some of the busiest of the year, the middle of the week is waiting for you. Yes, you! It’s perhaps the very best time of year to play hooky.
4. The Weather
Those summer storms that roll in like clockwork in the early afternoon are long gone (but keep an eye out), the air gets crisp, and the “golden hour” seems to last all day long. It’s heaven, man.
5. The Killer Events Lineup
From races to handmade crafts to craft beer and spirts, and concerts, this is our favorite season for fun events in Estes Park. Celebrate the elk rut and compete in the bugling contest at the Estes Park Elk Fest®! For more than four decades, Estes Park has been the backdrop for one of the nation's largest celebrations of the heritage, the sounds, the tastes, and the arts of the Scottish and Irish cultures. Check out the Longs Peak Scottish Irish Highland Festival to see what we mean. Trust us, you'll find something you'll love.
6. Rock Climbing
Colorado’s Estes Valley has been a hub of rock climbing and mountaineering activity since the 19th century, so it’s no surprise that the area is chock-full of some of America’s most classic routes. Whether you’re looking for big alpine lines, bolted sport climbs, or high-country bouldering, there’s no shortage of high-quality rock in and around Estes Park. There’s a reason hardcore climbers have renamed the next months “Sendtember” and “Rocktober.” The cooler temps and lower humidity increase friction on the rock. It’s the best time of year to climb--and if you haven’t tried it yet but are curious--to try. Read our guide to rock climbing around Estes.
Yeah, hiking is great here year-round, but the weather and lighter crowds and wildlife and colors (all that stuff you just read about), make a walk in the mountains better than ever. Strapped for time? Here are some of our favorite half-day hikes around Estes.
8. Fly Fishing
Fly fishing is an art form, wading into rivers and methodically casting your lines, patiently waiting to hook your next fish. Have you caught yourself wondering how it all works and wanting to give it a try? You’re not alone. Rods, reels, fly lines, flies, waders… tying flies. It’s a lot. And trout are smart. They know winter isn’t far off and that they need to eat some fat bugs while they can. Come toss a line or hire one of our world-class outfitters.
Sleeping under the stars and hearing elk bugles echo throughout the night. Waking to golden aspens and the crispest of air. Estes Park is the place to camp and you can do so in almost any manner you please. Camp near your car, in a tent or in the backcountry, camp on a cliff face – that’s right, cliff camping – or at an RV park.
10. The First Snowfall
Another thing that makes Fall so special is how fleeting it is. Winter’s coming, and we’re never quite sure when it’ll arrive. Maybe you’ll see the season’s first flakes, a celebration itself.