The mountains of Colorado are full of places to visit, including the incredible town of Estes Park near Rocky Mountain National Park. If you only have one day to visit Estes Park, what should you do?
The perfect day in Estes Park includes going on a hike to overlook the town, shopping and eating along Elkhorn Avenue, touring the famous Stanley Hotel, and getting on the water at Estes Lake.
My name is Kim, and I often bring my family and friends to Estes Park to explore.
Keep on reading to learn more about Estes Park!
About Estes Park
This mountain town is personally one of my favorites to visit and bring friends or family who are visiting Colorado.
The town sits at over 7500 ft and has a quaint, small-town feel with gorgeous views. It borders Rocky Mountain National Park, is home to the world-renowned Stanley Hotel, and with the beauty that lies in every direction, Estes Park truly is a photographer’s paradise.
Whether you like a relaxing day by Lake Estes, a day of shopping at the local spots lining Elkhorn Avenue, or a hike in the foothills around the town to enjoy nature, you can do it all here in a single day at Estes Park.
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Kruger Rock Hike
The hike to Kruger Rock is located in Hermit Park Open Space right off Highway 36 as you’re coming into town from Lyons, CO. This is one of my favorites because it is located outside of Rocky Mountain National Park.
This allows for a less crowded hiking experience while boasting beautiful vistas and big views where you don’t have to wait for your turn to snap that perfect photo opportunity.
As you hike through the forest and make it to the top of the summit, you end up at about 9,300 ft above sea level. You’ll see views of the entire town of Estes Park with Longs Peak stretching to the sky in the south, the Mummy Range to the North, and the Continental Divide between the two, giving you the feeling like you are on top of the world!
There is a ~$10 fee to enter the park with self-serve stations near the entrance where you can use a debit/credit card to pay the fee. I promise you the views and lack of crowds make it worth it.
The hike is about 4 miles in total with about 1,000 feet of elevation gain making it perfect for families or groups with mixed experience levels. I would rate it as moderate with a steady incline and the trail can get rocky at parts, but there are amazing views the whole way up. Make sure to pack lots of water and snacks, a first aid kit, extra layers, rain gear, and any other essentials you will need. The weather in Colorado can change at any second so it is always good to be prepared.
Perfect to hike in any season, Kruger Rock is a must-do if you are visiting Estes Park. Always remember to Leave No Trace!
Lunch or Dinner at Antonio’s Real New York Pizza
If you are looking for a delicious lunch or dinner option when you are visiting Estes Park, Colorado, I highly recommend Antonio’s Real New York Pizza. It’s located on Big Thompson Ave/Highway 34 on the north shore of Lake Estes.
Serving New York-style pizza, with fresh ingredients, Antonio’s makes their dough and sauce fresh daily and they also make fresh mozzarella from curd. They have a great menu with every Italian favorite and you can also order online for pickup.
Make sure to check their hours before you visit as well. The place is pretty big with plenty of seating, but there still may be a short wait, especially during the busy summer months.
I would definitely start with the garlic knots and an order of wings. Then get a pizza for your meal and for dessert definitely try the Tiramisu. They even have a 26-inch, thin-crust pizza you can order. It weighs about 5-6 pounds and is a sight to behold! They call it “The Mega Don!”
Affordable and family-friendly, this is one of the best places to eat in Estes Park.
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Take a Walk Down Elkhorn Avenue
One of the best things about Estes Park is the unique downtown area.
Downtown Estes Park is the perfect spot to do some shopping at the many local, independent stores in the downtown area. Shop around and find a gift for someone back home or something special for yourself. More than 200 retailers, restaurants, and attractions line the street.
You’ll also find some of the best homemade taffy. You can even watch it being made right in the windows as you walk by. You can also find homemade ice cream and so many other sweet treats to eat.
There are also many restaurants in the downtown area. My personal favorites are The Wild Rose for a nice sit-down meal or a quick stop at Penelope’s Old Time Burgers if you are looking for something faster.
If you want to take a break and have a nice beer, definitely check out Estes Park Brewery. They offer over 12 different hand-crafted beers, as well as root beer, on tap straight from the brewery.
If you’re not into beer you can always visit the Snowy Peaks Winery. They have tastings, glasses, and bottle sales as well as great food to pair with your wine.
Some of the buildings downtown also feature rustic timber taking you back in time to Estes Park’s homesteading era.
There are several public parking options which makes it easy to find a parking space so you can enjoy your time downtown.
You might also spot some wildlife on your walk as the resident elk like to wander the area. I always say it is their town since they are literally everywhere! Please make sure to keep a safe distance from all wildlife if you do happen to spot them.
The town also has some exciting events featuring live music, art, and history on some weekends so make sure you check the calendar on their website before you go!
Take a Tour of The Stanley Hotel
The Stanley Hotel, which is best known for being the inspiration behind Stephen King’s The Shining, is a great place to visit, especially if you are a fan of the book or movie.
Some say that The Stanley Hotel is haunted, enticing visitors here year after year.
The Stanley Hotel offers several tours to choose from, during the day there are two different tours that you can pick from.
The Historical Day Tour takes you on a 60-minute walking tour to experience the hotel’s history, architecture, and pop culture.
The King’s Cottage Tour will help you learn more about how the history of the hotel helped pave the way for the thrilling story of The Shining by Stephen King.
Read about our family’s experience on a tour of The Stanley Hotel.
The night tours are my personal favorite, providing a more spooky feel when I walk around the hotel grounds at night. There are three different night tours to choose from.
The Stanley Night Tour is basically the same as the Historical Day Tour, but you are doing the 60-minute walk after dark.
The Shining Tour will guide you on a walk inside and outside the west side of The Stanley Hotel Campus. This tour boasts a lot of paranormal stories, Stephen King references, and a visit to The Shining Suite.
You can also purchase tickets to The Vault, where you learn a bit of whiskey history and have a whiskey tasting, sampling whiskey that is only available at the hotel!
The prices of tours range from ~$25-$40 per person depending on the tour you decide to book. Remember to always confirm tours and availability on the hotel’s website. You can also book a room to spend the night which I highly recommend if you have the time.
Rent Watercraft at the Lake Estes Marina
Lake Estes is the perfect place to have a relaxing day out on the water, have some fun, and take in the amazing views.
Estes Park Marina rents out a wide selection of options including pontoon boats, fishing boats, paddle boats, canoes, single kayaks, tandem kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards. They also rent out bicycles and pedal carts.
When my husband and I went we chose a paddle boat, which was an amazing experience! You paddle it with your legs entirely by yourselves. Thank goodness I had some help!
Fishing is another popular option that a lot of people choose to do.
Whatever option you pick, it is sure to be a good time!
I would highly recommend booking your marina rentals in advance because there may not be anything left to rent when you get there. It gets pretty busy in the summer months. Booking ahead is always preferred.
Prices are affordable and the marina is very family-friendly.
There are also several spots with picnic tables so you can have a nice lunch near the water before or after your rental experience. There are also several trails to hike along the lake if being out on the water is not for you.
Regardless of how you choose to spend your time in Estes Park, Colorado, you will be rewarded with Colorado hospitality, awe-inspiring views, and amazing memories. There are so many options that you will be planning your next visit as soon as you pull out of town!
Anything Else to Know?
If Estes Park is part of a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, we have tons of trip-planning resources on our website including a step-by-step itinerary to take the stress out of planning your trip and get you to the best places at the best times.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO ROCKY MOUNTAIN
ROCKY MOUNTAIN TRIP PLANNER: To read or watch all of our content about Rocky Mountain National Park, check out our Rocky Mountain Homepage
GREAT CITIES TO STAY OR CHECK OUT: Explore some amazing cities nearby including Estes Park
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