Estes Park is well known as a basecamp for adventure in Colorado, and for good reason. First and foremost, it’s a mere 3.5-miles away from the eastern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park—one of the top three most visited national parks year over year. Add that to a lively shopping and dining scene, and it’s no surprise that Estes Park is bustling with tourists year-round.
Don’t fret—we know just how to outsmart the crowds! Opt to visit during the week, and avoid classic travel times like Labor Day Weekend. You’ll get all the benefits of Estes Park with a fraction of the people. Below you’ll find our recommendations for the perfect 3-day fall trip (even though a trip to Estes is great year-round).
This story was created by Whitney James in partnership with Visit USA Parks.
Day 1: Breathe Deep in Rocky Mountain National Park
Get started with a hearty brunch. The Notchtop serves up cinnamon roll French toast and Rocky Mountain trout and eggs along with a side of mountain charm, or Coffee on the Rocks offers bear claws and breakfast burritos on the edge of a picturesque pond. Then, head west! Spend the better part of the day hiking a classic trail like the one to Emerald Lake, or try something off the beaten path such as the Crystal Lakes Trail.
Our tip for avoiding extra foot traffic (even mid-week) is to head out in the afternoon, when most other hikers have long retired to the local brewpub. But be mindful of Colorado’s unpredictable Rocky Mountain weather! Find our hiking essentials here, and please remember to always follow Leave No Trace principles when adventuring in the outdoors.
As the sun sets on your first day, return to town for an evening of indulgence. We recommend stopping by local whiskey house Elkins Distilling to sample their seasonal goods. Then, tuck into a meal in one of Estes Park’s many local restaurants; Rock Inn Mountain Tavern or Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ are both great options.
Day 2: Adventure in Estes Park Like a Local
Morning & Afternoon
Another delicious home-cooked breakfast awaits at one of Estes Park’s local bakeries. On your second day, explore beyond the borders of the park. We recommend taking advantage of the extensive local guiding and outfitting services. No matter your activity of choice or skill level, setting out with an expert always makes for a more fun (and safe) experience! Plus, when you’re with a guide, you’re almost guaranteed to be away from crowded areas.
Opt to spend the morning on a fly-fishing tour and the afternoon exploring the beautiful scenery at a faster pace—atop a horse or mountain bike. No matter how you decide to explore, you’ll be fully immersed in Estes Park’s iconic fall season. Observe the aspen leaves transitioning into winter with hues of yellow and orange, and listen for herds of elk bugling at dawn and dusk. Remember to keep your space from wildlife and photograph from a respectable distance!
After you’ve cast, clip-clopped, or pedaled to your heart’s content, enjoy an evening downtown. If you are feeling invigorated from all the mountain air, you could even journey to the Estes Park Memorial Observatory after the sun goes down. Dinner at the Dunraven rewards a day well spent.
Day 3: Reach New Heights (or Keep on Hiking)
Spend your final day in Estes Park getting even more acclimated. Colorado is home to world-class climbing, and some of the very best routes in the state are located right outside of town. Not sure what the difference is between sport and trad? Enlist the help of a guide who will take you on the perfect excursion for your ability. If you're not quite up to climbing check out Kent Mountain Adventure Center's via ferrata.
If you’d rather spend more time hiking, try the trails in Hermit Park Open Space or Roosevelt National Forest. These are especially great places for visitors with four-legged friends in tow. (Sorry, no dogs allowed in the national park!) No matter where you go, great views await.
Finish off your final day in Estes Park with another stop at a local brewery or distillery, and have a grand finale dinner at Bird and Jim. The elk burger or mushroom ravioli paired with a Colorado whiskey flight make the perfect culmination to your Estes Park adventure!