3 Days in Estes Park: Gateway to the Rocky Mountains

Estes Park is known as the basecamp for Rocky Mountain National Park. Just northwest of Denver, the small town is surrounded on three sides by federally protected land⁠. What does that mean for us? Estes Park is a mecca for outdoor sports and activities all year-round. Plus, it has a thriving downtown area, events for every season, and great local cuisine.
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THIS ARTICLE WAS CREATED IN PARTNERSHIP WITH VISIT ESTES PARK. ALL PHOTOS PROVIDED BY VISIT ESTES PARK.

No matter the season, we’ll show you how to spend three days in Estes Park, though we recommend more time. Visit in the winter to learn how to backcountry ski and go snow-shoeing in a real winter wonderland, or come in the summer to mountain bike and trek up to glacial-blue alpine lakes.

Downtown Estes Park and hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park

Day 1: Rocky Mountain National Park

After your flight into Denver, you’ll head towards Estes Park, taking in the views of the surrounding mountains. If you’re traveling in the winter or spring, be sure to check road conditions, as they may change. After you’ve settled into your accommodations, don’t waste any time making your way to Rocky Mountain National Park. Warm or cold weather, the park will be open and ready for you!

Summer or Fall: Day 1

Go for a hike in the park or at Hermit Park Open Space to stretch your legs after all that travel. Before sunset, head into town and get a ticket to ride the Estes Park Aerial Tram, giving you a beautiful bird’s eye view of Estes Park and the snow-covered Rocky Mountains.

Hikers on a rock and aerial tram above Estes Park.

Winter or Spring: Day 1

Head over to a local guiding company to go on a beautiful snowshoe tour in the park. Be sure to wear layers to make sure you’re comfortable all day long. Check the Estes Park events calendar for your evening plans. If possible, try to plan your visit around the Annual Winter Festival weekend.

Snowshoeing estes park

Day 2: Climbing, skiing & nightlife

Summer or Fall: Day 2

Estes Park is a great place for rock climbing. World-renowned climber Tommy Caldwell, who grew up here, even returned and made Estes Park his home base. Be brave and learn how to rock climb with a guide, or go out on your own if you have proper experience. Later, walk downtown along Elkhorn Avenue for some local shopping, before grabbing a cold one at one of the many breweries, wineries or distilleries.

collage of photos in Estes Park

Winter or Spring: Day 2

Since you’ve already been out in the snow on foot, maybe it’s time to learn how to backcountry ski. “Earning your turns,” as they say, involves skiing uphill with “skins” attached to your skis for traction, then peeling them off and zipping back down. You won’t be able to resist turning around and climbing up for more. Estes Park is a unique winter ski destination because, unlike most ski towns, there isn’t a resort with lifts. But there are excellent guides to teach you how to make the most of the snowy mountains.
If backcountry skiing sounds a little to intense for you, enjoy a peaceful (more flat) jaunt on cross-country skis. The human-powered nature of backcountry or cross-country skiing is rewarding, sustainable and peaceful—you could easily be out there alone with your group.

Collage of skiiers

Day 3: horses & fish, ice climbing & sledding

Summer or Fall: Day 3

This day is up to you. For dog owners, go for a hike in the national forest. If you’re looking for laid-back adventures, go horseback riding or take a guided fly-fishing tour. Don’t forget mountain biking and wildlife viewing…or listening. If the weather is nice, take a stroll along the riverwalk in the heart of downtown, where you’ll fall in love with the charm of the place.

Collage of horseback riding, fishing and walking.

Winter or Spring: Day 3

We’ve chosen two activities for your final day in town: sledding or ice climbing. Yes, you guessed it—ice climbing is literally climbing frozen waterfalls. You’ll probably want to go with a guide, so this activity will take all day.
If dramatic heights and shoes with sharp metal aren’t your thing, spend your last day getting the giggles on a sledding hill. Most sledding areas in Estes Park are attached to private or commercial lodging, so see if that is a part of your stay. Otherwise, there’s a sledding area inside the national park.

Ice climbing and sledding in Estes Park.

As we mentioned earlier, it’s recommended that you spend four to five nights in Estes Park. If you’d like a more comprehensive itinerary of Colorado as a whole, check out our round-trip itinerary here.

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