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There is a small town in Colorado, just an hour from Denver, where the outdoors is infinitely accessible and nature overflows and blends into every day life. Estes Park, often known as the base camp for or gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, is a small mountain town with a population of less than 7000.
With its cutesy independent main street and its friendly locals, Estes Park could be the set of a Hallmark movie. Which might explain why I fell head over hiking boots in love with the place.
What to do and See in Estes Park
Estes Park is inevitably suited to the outdoors enthusiast. With Rocky Mountain National Park and Roosevelt National Forest on its doorstep there are limitless adventures at your fingertips. But you don’t have to venture outside Estes Park for a bit of excitement, there’s plenty to do in the town.
First up, head to Lake Estes Marina and hire a kayak/SUP/pedalo boat to explore the lake. You’ll enjoy stunning mountain views as you glide across the glistening waters, soaking up the sun as you go. In the distance you’ll catch a glimpse of a very famous local hotel, which should be your next stop once you’ve finished exploring the lake.
The Stanley Hotel is an iconic Estes Park landmark and an absolute must-visit if you love anything spooky. It is the inspiration behind the classic Stephen King novel, The Shining. Stephen King stayed in this historic hotel for one night and was instantly inspired to write one of his most memorable masterpieces. Jump on one of the daily hotel tours to discover all the haunting details about The Stanley Hotel.
If you fancy something relaxed then a stroll along Elkhorn Avenue is for you. With independent art galleries and artisan boutiques, you’ll have no problem picking up some souvenirs. No matter what time of year you visit, Simply Christmas is the perfect place to pick up that one-of-a-kind Christmas ornament that your tree has always been missing. It’s open year-round and feels like you’ve been transported to the North Pole when you step inside.
After all that shopping you’ll have worked up an appetite – stop into Caramel Crisp Inc for some homemade caramel crisp popcorn, you deserve it!
While you’re out and about, make sure to keep your eyes open for local wildlife. During my last visit to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park I was lucky enough to see moose, elk, marmots and even a coyote. Check out the Beaver Meadows Visitor Centre for more information about local wildlife, maps of the local area and general information about Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.
Where to Eat and Drink in Estes Park
KIND Coffee is the best spot for a casual breakfast. Grab one of their gorgeous organic iced coffees and a breakfast bagel and head out to their river-front patio for the perfect start to any morning. The views and sounds of the Big Thompson River will soothe you into wakefulness and have you ready for a big day of exploring Estes Park and beyond.
For lunch grab a take away from Scratch Deli and Bakery before hitting the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park. The sandwiches are so big that you’ll probably get two meals out of them, which is perfect if you’re going for a long hike, and they’re all made fresh to order. I highly recommend their Vegan Philly sandwich and their cinnamon rolls (if you can get your hands on one – they sell out fast!).
When it comes to dinner, you cannot miss Bird and Jim. Anyone would love this mountain restaurant but true foodies will be delighted by the farm to table produce and creative yet hearty menu. Their philosophy is local, so local that they have a list of the farms they source their ingredients from hung on the wall. You will not leave here hungry.
If you’re up for a drink after a long day The Barrel is the place to be. This quirky bar has craft beer, meade, cider and even kombucha on tap. There’s a cosy, brewery-type feel to the place that invites you in and begs you to stay a while. Try to catch one of their regular game nights for some wholesome local fun.
Where to Stay in Estes Park
There is no shortage of log cabins, cute inns and boutique hotels in Estes Park. However, I can personally recommend a stay at The Evergreens on Fall River. It’s the kind of place that feels familiar the minute it comes into view. With warm furnishings and welcoming hosts it’s more like a home away from home than a hotel.
The cabins overlook the Fall River and wildlife sightings are a regular occurrence. Make sure to have your camera handy in case an elk or even a bear happens to mosey past while you’re relaxing in one of the outdoor hot tubs.
The cabins have working fireplaces for that perfect mountain lodge getaway vibe. Feeling secluded while still being in the heart of everything is a hard balance to pull off, but somehow that’s what these cabins achieve. A stay at The Evergreens truly is the ideal balm to soothe those aching muscles after a long day of exploring.
Why I Love Estes Park
Hopefully, by now, I’ve convinced you that Estes Park is a destination in itself and is well-worth adding to your USA bucket list. Like I said, I’m besotted the place, which is why I’ve visited twice in the last few years and would happily visit again. So if you’re thinking of visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, make sure to add Estes Park to your itinerary and give it the time it deserves – your camera roll and your soul will be better for it.