Estes Park, Colorado, is a popular vacation destination for many, and it’s no secret that Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park attract millions of visitors each year. When you stay in Estes Park you are in the heart of many incredible places. Several day trips will wow you and leave you wanting more of the area. With incredible scenery in the area, you cannot go wrong with any of these day trips. I hope you will plan a trip to Estes Park and plan a day trip while you are there. You will want more of Colorado and Estes Park once you explore more of the area. These are some of my favorite day trips, and I hope you will experience one or all of these traveling solo or with your family.
Poudre Canyon, Colorado
Poudre Canyon is a 90-minute drive in regular traffic from Estes Park. You will travel on U.S. Highway 34 through the beautiful Big Thompson Canyon and catch I-25 North in Loveland, Colorado. Fort Collins is where you will hop on the Cache La Poudre/North Park Scenic Byway. This area of Colorado is a popular destination for whitewater rafting and hiking. You can drive the 101-mile scenic byway that winds through the Roosevelt National Forest and enjoy a picnic along the way.
Wildlife viewing and fishing can also be experienced while exploring Poudre Canyon. Drive, hike, fish, or look through your windshield; This day trip will be one you will never forget. The best tip that I can give you when visiting Poudre Canyon is to have your camera ready at all times. The views are incredible on this scenic byway and will appear quickly before your eyes.
Cheyenne, Wyoming, the capital of this beautiful state, is a two-hour road trip from Estes Park. You will travel through the Big Thompson Canyon and hop on I-25 North in Loveland, Colorado. If you want to get a taste of the life of a cowboy, Cheyenne is your town. You will see sculptures of cowboy boots scattered around town that will add flair to your visit. Hop on the Cheyenne Street Railway Trolley and explore the town. This tour is a great way to see the town, historic buildings, and an opportunity to learn the town’s history.
Cheyenne Frontier Days is an annual event that many visitors participate in each July. The town celebrates cowboys, the West, country music, and the history of the rodeo during this annual event. This is the “World’s Largest Outdoor Rodeo,” and top rodeo professionals attend to compete for more than $1 million in cash and prizes. If you are not in town when Cheyenne Frontier Days are happening, be sure to visit the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum. This museum offers an incredible experience of introducing all visitors to the life of a cowboy and rodeo life.
Nederland, Colorado, is a charming mountain town that is 42 miles south of Estes Park on CO State Highway 72. The drive offers incredible scenery with spectacular mountain and canyon views. You will want to allow yourself a little more than an hour to make the drive, as it is a drive through the mountains. A highlight for many folks when they visit Nederland is a ride on the Carousel of Happiness. This carousel features more than 50 one-of-a-kind wooden carved animals. Visitors can ride 35 of these wooden animals on the carousel for a small fee. The carousel is handicap accessible, and folks of all ages can take a spin on one of the few remaining wooden carousels in the United States.
Blue Owl Books is a tiny, fun bookstore that sits on Highway 119 near the Carousel of Happiness. Browse through the store and grab ice cream or coffee. My husband and I enjoy the hot fudge sundaes that they offer. The ice cream is delicious with homemade hot fudge and whipped cream. The portions are large, so order accordingly or plan to share with someone. There are also several bakeries, coffee shops, and restaurants in this mountain town for you to enjoy. If you need to burn off a few calories, hop on the Hessie Trail and watch for the moose that frequent the trail. This charming town will quickly win you over, so be prepared for a fun day in Nederland.
Grand Lake, Colorado
When you leave Estes Park on Trail Ridge Road U.S. Highway 36, you will find yourself driving towards Grand Lake, Colorado. Allow yourself an hour to make this drive. This cute little mountain town sits on the west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. You will need a national park pass to travel on Trail Ridge Road to get to Grand Lake. The drive itself is incredible and a memorable experience. I enjoy strolling Main Street in Grand Lake, as there are cute shops, ice cream stands, and numerous restaurants.
We always enjoy indulging in delicious pizza from Grand Pizza. Grab lunch to go and enjoy your meal down at the lake with a lakefront view. If time allows, rent a boat and enjoy some lake time in the mountains. Grand Lake offers a quieter setting than the noise in Estes Park. Grand Lake offers a time to get away from it all with an incredible drive on Trail Ridge Road.
Central City, Colorado
Central City, Colorado, is a beautiful drive from Estes Park through Nederland. Plan one hour and 45 minutes, as the scenery is incredible along the nearly 65-mile drive. I have driven by the lovely Central City Opera House several times, and it looks like a magical place. I hope to take in a performance there at some point. There are several casinos that line beautiful, well-manicured Main Street. Some buildings and signs represent the past, including the gold rush and mining. Both of these things played an essential role in how Central City came to be in 1859.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park is nearby and offers hiking, camping, and biking. You can easily combine a day of history on this day trip, including art galleries, and outdoor adventure. The drive to and from Central City is truly one of my favorite drives in Colorado, so make the most of it.
Loveland, Colorado is the gateway to the entrance to Big Thompson Canyon on U.S. Highway 34, which heads towards Estes Park. Plan 45 minutes to drive to Loveland and spend an entire day exploring. This charming town offers a lot of things to do, and Estes Park often overshadows them. You will not be disappointed when you take the time to take in some of the attractions. Sculptures are everywhere you look while driving through town on Highway 34. The Benson Sculpture Garden and Chapungu Sculpture Park will keep you entertained for hours.
The largest love lock sculpture of its kind is in Loveland. Plan to Stop at the Visitors Center, buy a lock, engrave it and lock it on the sculpture. Why not leave your mark in Loveland? Antique and specialty shopping enthusiasts will appreciate all that this town offers when it comes to fun finds. You will not go hungry on your day trip to Loveland. There are numerous brewpubs, wineries, coffee houses, and restaurants to keep your tastebuds happy. Nature lovers will want to spend some time at Lake Loveland. You can view the Rocky Mountains, swim, play tennis, fish, and even picnic with a view. Your time in Loveland will be memorable, and it will be a full day of fun.
Each of these day trips from Estes Park offers something a little different. You will want to pack accordingly when you leave Estes Park for the day, as the weather changes by the minute. You will always want to have a rain jacket, bug spray, sunscreen, and plenty of water along with you. In the higher elevation, you will need to drink a lot of water to stay hydrated. If you enjoy the outdoors, pack your hiking boots and a day pack. You never know when you will come across a hiking trail that is calling your name. I speak from experience. You will miss out on an incredible hike if you are not prepared. There is nothing like being surrounded by the beauty of the Rocky Mountains, and all of these day trips will offer you time to enjoy every moment with them.
Whether you’re looking for day trips or longer stays, Colorado has a destination just right for you: