Places to Visit: Estes Park Colorado

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Estes Park Colorado

Walk through the quaint town of Estes Park and experience its unique boutiques, restaurants, museums and parks, all the while surrounded by the beauty and grandeur of the Rocky Mountain National Park.

  • Estes Park is the gateway and headquarters to the Rocky Mountain National Park; hiking, fishing and wildlife viewing are popular past-times within this beautiful national park.
  • Unique attractions include an aerial tramway and ghost tours at The Stanley Hotel (which was the locale for Stephen King's thriller, The Shining).


This small mountain town is home to about 7,000 people, and it is the gateway (and headquarters) to the Rocky Mountain National Park; it was founded in 1859 by a Missouri native named Joel Estes. One claim to fame is that The Stanley Hotel captured Stephen King's imagination while he was a guest, enough to use it as the locale for his thriller, The Shining; this Edwardian hotel that was built in 1909 (and is still in operation), and is said to be haunted to this day.

Estes Park sits along the Big Thompson River and the Fall River is nearby, so rafting is a huge draw, with countless rafting operations offering every type of adventure. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are popular activities in the winter, but summer is when this community really shines. The flower-lined parks and the boutiques & restaurants that make up its downtown are a pleasure to stroll through, along with art & music fairs that are frequent draws to summer guests. Museums, spas and galleries can also be enjoyed and you can expect live entertainment on a regular basis.


Estes Park sits at the eastern entrance to the Rocky Mountain National Park, at an elevation of 7,522 feet. It is in Larimer County, Colorado, and it lies along the Big Thompson River; the Big Thompson and Fall River both flow from the Rocky Mountain National Park, and the town of Estes Park sits where these two join.


This town covers about six square miles, and though it is on the small side, it is packed with lodging options, from rustic cabins, B&B's to modern condos. All of the basic necessities can be found in this town, plus some, with most any service or amenity offered that you might find in a town that depends largely on tourism.


River rafting is very popular since the Big Thompson River runs alongside of the town, and for kayakers, the nearby Poudre River is a great kayaking area, but if you like to steer through eddies and pools, there is a kayak run on the west side of Performance Park that currently runs about two-and-a-half football fields in length on the Big Thompson River, and there's a kayak run on Fall River as well. Estes Park can be considered a fisherman's paradise with two lakes (Lake Estes & Mary's Lake) as well as the Lake Estes marina, or fly-fish in the alpine lakes and rivers within the Rocky Mountain National Park. Water skiing is permitted on Lakes Estes during designated hours, but otherwise, no motor craft other than sailboards and fishing boats with small engines are allowed. (Wet suits are recommended since the water is cold!) Everything outdoorsy is available in this mountain town, including horseback riding, swimming, biking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, golfing, wildlife viewing and the list goes on and on.


The Stanley Hotel, located on the outskirts of town, is a luxurious historic hotel built in the old Edwardian style (with sweeping staircases and ornate pillars) in 1909; it is the locale for Stephen King's "The Shining". Stop in for dinner or a cocktail, take a ghost tour or opt to stay overnight! There's an Aerial Tramway, giving riders a unique view of the surrounding mountains. Visit the Historic Park Theater, which is one of the oldest movie theaters in the country, opening in 1913! And of course, there's the Rocky Mountain National Park - drive through it via Trail Ride Road, which is the highest continuous highway in the United States, or hike on any number of trails and bring a picnic lunch.

Getting Here

From Estes Park to Winter Park, you can drive there via Trail Ridge Road during the summer season: just hop on Highway 34 and drive through Rocky Mountain National Park; you'll filter out on the other side to the town of Grand Lake, and then from there, continue on Highway 34 until it intersects with US Highway 40. Make a left (go east) on US Highway 40 until you reach Winter Park. From Estes Park, this should take about 2.5 hours.

From Estes Park to Winter Park via I-70: From CO-72, follow signs to CO-119 and stay on this road for about 18 miles. Turn right onto Gregory St., then a left at Lawrence St., then take the 3rd left onto Main St. Take the 1st right onto Central City Parkway/Nevada St, and then turn right to merge onto I-70 W. Drive for 10.5 miles until you see exit 232. Take exit 232 and merge onto US-40 W toward Empire/Granby. Stay on US-40 W, which will take you over Berthoud Pass, and directly into Winter Park. This route should take about 2.5 hours.

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