Joseph Pawlak

Free Things to Do in Estes Park

Estes Park is an incredible and scenic destination. We’ve put together a list of some of our favorite free things to do, which make for great ways to spend time with family after a busy day exploring the area or after a delicious meal in downtown Estes Park. Experience all the area has to offer and stay at our conveniently located Estes Park vacation rentals, only a 5-minute walk from the downtown area!

Stop by the Estes Park Visitor Center

Just arrived in town or looking for more information? Then the Estes Park Visitor Center should be one of the first places you stop. You can find maps, up to date information, weather forecasts, and more from the local guides. The visitor center is centrally located on the river, right beside the riverwalk, and includes plenty of parking for cars and RVs.

Take a Stroll on the Estes Riverwalk

Located behind the many shops and restaurants along Elkhorn Avenue, the Riverwalk is a great place to unwind after exploring downtown, Estes Park. The walk begins at the George Hix riverside plaza and provides convenient access to the downtown area. You can take the riverwalk all the way to the visitor center, and if you keep going, it eventually leads to the scenic Lake Estes.

Visit Lake Estes

The Estes Riverwalk continues on from the Visitor Center and loops around Lake Estes, making for a great place to walk the dog, take an evening stroll, or ride your bike. First created in 1949 by the Olympus Dam on the Big Thompson River, Lake Estes is the primary source of drinking water for the town. This is an excellent place to watch wildlife, fish, and spend time relaxing with the family.

Play at the Dog Park

If you are staying in one of our pet friendly vacation rentals, then the Estes Park dog park should be high on your list. The park is situated on Lake Estes and provides a safely fenced-in area for your dog to run around and play. Outside the fence, there is also a small beach where you can walk your leashed dog and let them play in the water. This is a great place to visit in the evening before heading back to your rental.

See the Birch Ruins

Sometimes referred to as a local secret, this attraction is located within walking distance of downtown. The remains of a stone cabin on a hillside offer spectacular views of the area including the Stanley Hotel and the Rocky Mountains. The entrance to the area is located behind the police station and is a quick and easy walk. This makes for a great add-on if you’re already exploring downtown, Estes Park.

Attend the Events and Festivals 

Estes Park has many free events and festivals held throughout the year, with summer seeing something happening nearly every weekend. The majority of these events are either held in the downtown area or at the visitor center. While some of the events do require a ticket for paid entry, most allow you to walk around and enjoy the sights. For a full list of events, you can review the full calendar here.

Drive the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway

Everyone has heard of the famous Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park, but have you heard of the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway? The Peak to Peak is Colorado’s oldest scenic byway and was opened over 100 years ago in 1918. The road takes you south from Estes Park to I-70 and is one of the most beautiful drives in Colorado. While driving the entire way to I-70 will take about 3 hours, we recommend spending an hour or two enjoying the drive, especially in the fall when the leaves are stunning.

Winter in Rocky Mountain National Park

Winter in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is not only one of Colorado’s most popular destinations, but also one of the most visited National Parks in the United States. However, during the winter the crowds disappear and the park becomes more peaceful and serene.

If you’re looking for Estes Park vacation rentals near Rocky Moutain National Park, we have a wide selection of condos conveniently located near downtown!

Take a Scenic Drive to Many Parks Curve

While spending time in Estes Park during the winter is a must, a drive through the beautiful mountains of Rocky Mountain National Park is a highlight of our guest’s time in the area. Trail Ridge Road, the park’s main thoroughfare, is closed from November through May. However, weather permitting you can drive up to 8 miles on this road to some of the park’s most scenic overlooks including Many Parks Curve. 

This popular overlook offers stunning views of glacial valleys and treeless alpine peaks towering above the landscape. Take your time while driving in the park and soak up the stunning views! Stop at the many overlooks during your drive and be on the lookout for the park’s plentiful wildlife.

Go Sledding at the Former Hidden Valley Ski Resort

Did you know there used to be a ski resort in Rocky Mountain National Park? The former Hidden Valley Resort closed in 1991 when the park decided to not allow expansion of the resort. You can still see where the ski trails once were located at the Hidden Valley picnic area. The beginner slopes that end at the picnic area are perfect for sledding, with a gentle slope that’s fun but not too steep!

This is the only area of the park where sledding is allowed and you will need to bring your own sled or rent one in Estes Park. Keep in mind that metal runners are not allowed and the hill is not supervised by the park staff. The sledding hill is open from 10am to 4pm every day, as long as the road conditions allow for safe travel.

Spend a Day Hiking or Snowshoeing

If you’re looking for scenic hiking, we recommend visiting the section of the park accessible via Bear Lake Road. This area has many opportunities for hiking including three alpine lakes: Sprague Lake, Bierstadt Lake, and Bear Lake.  Each of these lakes is a relatively easy hike from the road and are among the most stunning locations in the park!

Make sure to bring snowshoes and prepare for freezing temperatures! Because the park receives so much snow during the winter, the best hikes are typically at lakes or at lower elevations that are more accessible. Enter the park at the Beaver Meadows entrance and turn onto Bear Lake Road. There are many pull-outs and trailheads to explore along the way.

Don’t want to leave the mountain vistas behind in the park? Stay in one of our mountain view townhome rentals!

Winter Things to Do in Estes Park

Top Winter Activities in Estes Park

Whether you enjoy winter outdoor activities or staying warm and cozy indoors, Estes Park offers something for everyone! While Estes Park is beautiful any time of year, winter has its own unique appeal as the town sparkles under fresh snow.

We’ve included our guest’s favorite things to do during their winter stay at our Estes Park vacation rentals

Visit Downtown Estes Park

During the winter, downtown Estes Park is a vibrant place to visit with many restaurants, shops, and art galleries. The town’s festive lights glitter in the evenings, creating a beautiful winter scene with the freshly fallen snow. We recommend walking through the downtown area, browsing the shops, stopping by the art galleries, and enjoying the atmosphere. Cap off your visit with a meal at one of the many restaurants in the downtown area. 

The majority of the downtown attractions are centered around Elkhorn Avenue. Stay close to the action and book one of our Estes Park condo rentals that are conveniently located only half a mile from the center of downtown!

Attend the Annual Estes Park Winter Festival

Held annually on the Saturday and Sunday of Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, the annual Estes Park Winter Festival is one of the top events in Estes Park during the winter. The festival has many activities the whole family will enjoy such as a silent disco, obstacle course, bounce houses, and more!

The event attracts many food vendors and is home to famous chili cookoff, so make sure to arrive hungry. After a day of enjoying the sights and all the festival has to offer, close out the day by enjoying a live concert from the selection of both local and nationally known musical artists.

Explore Rocky Mountain National Park

No visit to Estes Park is complete without a winter visit to Rocky Mountain National Park! The Park is practically in Estes Park’s backyard! Even though the Park is less crowded during the winter, it is arguably even more stunning than usual with snow-capped peaks and countless evergreen trees coated with fresh snow.

Keep in mind you can only drive about 8 miles along Trail Ridge Road since it is closed at higher elevations during the winter. There are endless possibilities for winter fun including sightseeing, snowshoeing, sledding, and more! Make sure to check the weather and be prepared for freezing temperatures before visiting the park.

Have you found a place to stay in Estes Park? If not, check our Estes Park vacation rentals that are conveniently located close to downtown and feature many amenities to make your stay as comfortable as possible!

Estes Park Winter Festival Guide

Estes Park Winter Festival Guide

The Estes Park Winter Festival is one of the premier annual events in Estes Park, Colorado! The festival happens every year in January over Martin Luther King Jr weekend. Festivities will be on both Saturday and Sunday at the Estes Park Events Complex.

Whether you’re looking for family fun, live music, or some of the best local Colorado beer, the Estes Park Winter Festival is an event you don’t want to miss! If you need a place to stay near the festival, our Estes Park vacation rentals have everything you’re looking for.

A Winter Festival for the Family

There is no shortage of fun activities for the kids to enjoy at the Estes Park Winter Festival. Choose from many different things to do including the silent disco, inflatable bounce houses, an obstacle course, photo booth, and more! There will be live music on both Saturday and Sunday that features a diverse selection of local bands and renowned musical artists.

Food vendors will offer a variety of options and local breweries will allow you to sample many different types of beer from around the state. Food and drink tickets will be available for purchase at the festival and can be purchased ahead of time for a discount. While you’re in town, be sure to check out the many winter activities in Estes Park!

The Famous Chili Cook-Off

One of the best parts of the Estes Park Winter Festival is the Chili Cookoff. The cookoff is sanctioned by the Chili Appreciation Society International, which means this is no ordinary chili competition! You will get to taste some of the best chili recipes in Colorado as they compete to be recognized as the festival’s top chili recipe. 

For the first time ever, there will be a second chili cookoff starting in 2020. This chili cookoff will be focused on nonprofit organizations and will raise awareness and funds for these organizations that benefit their communities! If you’re interested in entering the contest, you can visit the Estes Park Winter Festival website to get all the details.

Transportation and Parking

Parking will be available at the Estes Park Events Complex where the festival is held. We recommend getting there before noon to secure your parking spot. If the lot is full or you prefer to take a shuttle, Estes Transit operates a free shuttle service that will travel between the stops around town and the festival. 

The shuttle is a great way to get around town without having to worry about the hassle of parking and driving a car. There are multiple park and ride stations around town to minimize your driving time.

Tickets and General Information

The Festival will be held on January 18th – 19th, 2020 from 12pm – 4pm at the Estes Park Events Complex located at 1125 Rooftop Way Estes Park, CO 80517. Tickets can be purchased online from the Estes Park Events Complex and range from $5 to $30 depending on if you decide to purchase food and drink ahead of time.

If you haven’t booked your lodging for the festival, check out our wide selection of Fall River Village condo rentals that are located only a five-minute drive away! We offer fully equipped condos and all the amenities you’re looking for, including heated pools and hot tubs.