Estes Park sits at the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park in north-central Colorado. This mountain town offers things to do all year round, including during winter. When you visit Estes Park in the winter, you will find yourself immersed in a snow globe, unlike anything you have ever experienced.
I live in Iowa. My family and I have traveled to Estes Park at different times of the year through the years. Winter brings experiences that are unique to Estes Park and the season. Average highs are near 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the day, with evening lows in the high teens. Your perfect winter day in Estes Park is waiting for you. Here are some things you can experience when you visit Estes Park in the winter.
Take A Scenic Drive
You can drive into Rocky Mountain National Park and go to Bear Lake on Bear Lake Road. The meadow in Moraine Park Campground is breathtaking in winter with a backdrop of peaks covered in snow. Look for elk and mule deer in this basin. You may see several, and if you are lucky, you will see a herd of them. Several pull-outs offering magnificent views are along the route to Bear Lake. Take the time to drive slow and enjoy the view. This is a fee area, and your annual national park pass, which I highly recommend, will work. If you prefer, you can purchase a day pass.
Road closures are expected during the winter months, so watch for signage along the route that indicates a change in your travel plans. Winter brings icy roadways and heavy snow at times, so plan your drives accordingly. On my last visit to Estes Park in the winter, it snowed 18 inches both nights I was there. By mid-morning, all of the roads in the town were open and passable.
Find a park bench in town and watch for wildlife. It’s not uncommon to have a herd of elk walk near where you are sitting. Mule deer are also common in town. If you want to view wildlife from afar, break out your binoculars. The dog park or visitor center are two of my favorite places to sit and watch for wildlife. There’s nothing like watching nature with a fresh coat of freshly fallen snow all around. It’s an experience unlike any other. If you are lucky, a colorful bird will land nearby in the newly fallen snow. Dress in layers and have a bottle of water with you. It’s important to remember that you are up in the mountains, and water is essential 365 days a year. Dehydration is never a pleasant experience while in higher elevations.
Head Out Snowshoeing
Snowshoeing is a fun way to exercise in winter and experience the trails in the national park. Bear Lake is ideal for the novice snowshoer, as it’s level and beautiful. You will need snowshoes, waterproof boots, and a couple of poles for an epic snowshoeing experience. If you don’t own or want to invest in the equipment, you can rent snowshoeing equipment in downtown Estes Park at Estes Park Mountain Shop. I have seen moose, elk, and deer around Bear Lake around this trailhead during the winter. If you are more experienced and want more of a challenge, take any of the trails that start at Bear Lake for a fun time exploring the trails.
Tour The Stanley Hotel
The historic Stanley Hotel is open for tours throughout the day. My favorite tour is the Historic Stanley Night Tour. This 60-minute walking tour introduces you to Mr. F. O. Stanley, his wife Flora, Stephen King, and others who have visited the hotel over the last 110 years. Depending on your tour guide and your group’s size, stories are often unique to your tour. On the particular tour that I took, a couple on the tour had booked the room that Stephen King stayed in during the early 1970s.
Our tour group was able to go into Room 217 to see the most requested room at the hotel. Stephen King’s stay inspired him to pen the novel The Shining. He and his wife were the only guests at the hotel on the night they stayed. He felt that they were not alone during their stay. When you tour the hotel, you will learn more about his stay at this historic hotel in Estes Park.
Shop Downtown Estes Park
Downtown Estes Park is home to numerous shops that offer things unique to the area. Several Christmas shops offer fun, holiday decor, and more. You cannot leave Estes Park without stepping foot in one of the taffy shops that you find on Elkhorn Avenue. I am always intrigued by the taffy being pulled and produced in the shops. The occasional caramel apple in the windows on Elkhorn Avenue is also hard to resist. Strolling through these shops in winter brings a sense of warmth and happiness. Look toward the mountain tops for stunning views of the snow-covered peaks that surround the town.
Grab a cup of coffee or hot chocolate and stroll along the stream that runs through town. Winter brings photo opportunities that you won’t find any other times of the year. Freshly fallen snow along the creeks makes for some beautiful winter views.
Fly Fish In The Winter
Most people think fly fishing is not a winter sport, but it is. Kirks Flyshop has excellent tips on where to go winter fly fishing. If you need any gear, Kirks is the place for equipment for any of your outdoor adventures in Estes Park. The Trout Haven Fishing Pond stays open year-round, and you can ice fish in the open-fishing lakes and ponds in Rocky Mountain National Park. If you are looking for open water to fish, you do have an option, as Lake Estes’ east side does not freeze over in the winter.
Take Up Ice Climbing
If you are looking for more of a challenging adventure, book an ice climbing adventure with the Kent Mountain Adventure Center. They offer adventures with state-of-the-art ice tools and are geared toward the beginner. This ice climbing experience is a one-day outing. Ice, snow, and snowy mountain peaks make for the ultimate winter adventure. If ice climbing is a bucket list item for you, why not make it happen in Estes Park?
Go Cross-Country Skiing
My favorite place to cross-country ski in the Estes Park area is near Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. Slap on some cross-country skis and start your 3.3-mile loop cross-country skiing adventure at Glacier Basin Campground. Take an enjoyable winter walk to the Sprague Lake Loop, walk around the lake, and head back to the campground. If you are new to cross-country skiing, Sprague Lake is the perfect place to learn how to master this sport. The lake area is flat and easy to navigate. If you don’t own cross-country skis, several outfitters in the town of Estes Park can set you up with skis that fit you.
Enjoy A Burger At Penelope’s
Penelope’s is on Elkhorn Avenue, the main drag through Estes Park. This classic restaurant in Estes Park is a fun place to spend part of your day during the winter months. Their world-famous burgers and fries are sure to lighten up your day. Elk and buffalo burgers are famous, as are traditional hamburgers. You can get your order to go or eat indoors. When you dine indoors, you will be swept back in time. The nostalgia around the restaurant is sure to keep you entertained while you wait for your food.
Another advantage of visiting in winter is the fact that Estes Park is not crowded with people. It’s easier to find lodging, and you can also save a little bit of money, as it’s not a high-travel season. Several properties offer rooms with hot tubs that overlook the rivers. The perfect way to wrap up a day in Estes Park any time of year is soaking in a hot tub that offers a magnificent view. Winter brings an added touch of color, as freshly fallen snow brightens up the bright blue skies. Pack your sunscreen, layers of clothing, and binoculars, and you will be ready for an epic winter experience in Estes Park.
Whatever you choose to do while in Estes Park during the winter, I know that you will fall in love with the area’s natural beauty. Enjoy the people, sights, and sounds. The historical sites will lure you in and leave you full of questions. Your winter visit to Estes Park will be fun, and I can guarantee that you will also enjoy a stay at any other time of year. Summer brings an abundance of wildflowers, fall brings colorful aspen trees, and spring brings new life with young wildlife throughout the area.