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Here's What You Can't Miss in Estes Park, Colorado

Here's What You Can't Miss in Estes Park, Colorado

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Getaway Staff
Updated: Sep 9, 2022

Estes Park is a small town in Colorado, about a 90-minute drive northwest of Denver. It sits on the Big Thompson River, surrounded by majestic Rocky Mountain peaks. Estes Park doesn't have a large ski resort, unlike larger mountain cities, giving it a uniquely charming yet trendy outdoor culture. Visitors will find countless options for exciting outdoor adventures here in the summer or winter, but there's plenty to do, even if exploring the mountains isn't your thing.

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01Rocky Mountain National Park

Sprague Lake Hallett Peak and Tyndall Glacier in Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado USA benedek / Getty Images

Rocky Mountain National Park sits just minutes outside Estes Park, and no trip to Colorado is complete without a visit. Covering over 250,000 acres, this park is an outdoor lover's dream. Here, you can camp, fish, take a scenic drive, or go on a picnic. The meadows, rivers, and panoramic mountain views are a draw for photographers year-round, as are the over 300 miles of various trails. Whether you want to go cross-country skiing, sledding, and snowshoeing in the winter or hiking, biking, and horseback riding in the summer, there's a trail suitable for you.

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02MacGregor Ranch

To get a feel for the history of Estes Park, check out MacGregor Ranch. This preserved, authentic ranch dates back to the 1870s, when settlers first moved into the area. Horses and cattle still graze the meadows here, and guided tours take you through a milk house, smokehouse, blacksmith shop, and the main museum building, which holds antiques and other belongings of the MacGregor family.

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03The Estes Park Aerial Tramway

The Estes Park Aerial Tramway was built by Robert Herron, a ski lift designer who was taken with European tram and ski lift designs. This open-air tramway has been in operation since 1955 and takes guests up Prospect Mountain and its 9,000-foot elevation using a cable that runs without any towers. Once you reach the top, you get panoramic views of the Continental Divide, Longs Peak, and the Rocky Mountains, but the views during the ride are just as impressive. This attraction is open between Memorial Day and Labor Day, tickets are affordable, and kids under five ride for free.

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04The Stanley Hotel

Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado gregobagel / Getty Images

If you've seen The Shining, you're probably already familiar with the red-roofed Stanley Hotel. It opened in 1909 and is rumored to be haunted. If you're up for it, book a stay at the historic hotel and choose one of the "spirited rooms" that has high levels of paranormal activity, like Suite 217, where Stephen King stayed. If you aren't quite ready to spend the night, check out one of the spirited tours the hotel offers to get in on the spooky fun.

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05Park Theater

Sunset exterior view of the Historic Park Theater and Cafe Kit Leong / Shutterstock

The Park Theater is one of the more historical buildings in Estes Park and dates back to 1913, making it one of the oldest movie theaters in the country. The theater has been updated with the newest film and sound technology, but it's still a quaint, charming place to catch a movie, documentary, or indie film.

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06Estes Park Memorial Observatory

Colorado offers many unique opportunities for stargazing. The state's open spaces and mountains make the surrounding skies unusually dark, and the Estes Park Memorial Observatory is an exceptional place to take in these clear starry views. The volunteer staff runs educational programs, including lectures about the planets, galaxies, and nebulas you can see from the observatory. Guest lecturers knowledgeable about astronomy, astrophotography, and recent space missions also visit occasionally.

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07Elkhorn and Moraine Avenues

Elkhorn and Moraine Avenues are the two main streets in downtown Estes Park. In 1982 a flood heavily damaged this area when the Lawn Lake Dam failed. The rebuilding resulted in modern architecture sitting alongside rustic buildings dating back to the town's early days. The restaurants and shops on these streets are largely independently owned, making this downtown area the ideal destination to shop small and get a feel for the people living in Estes Park.

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08Fun City

Fun City has been an Estes Park destination since 1969. This family-friendly amusement park has a stunning view of the surrounding mountains, beautifully landscaped grounds, and plenty of fun activities. Take a ride down the giant rainbow slide, jump on the bungee trampoline, go panning for gemstones, or give the bumper cars or bumper boats a go. There's also a miniature golf course, water walking balls, and arcade and carnival games to keep you busy.

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09Lake Estes Marina

Lake Estes Trail path in Estes Park Colorado Jen Lobo / Getty Images

There are many ways to enjoy the great outdoors in Lake Estes. If the mountains aren't your thing, head to the Lake Estes Marina. You can get a fishing license, buy fishing supplies, rent a boat at the marina store, grab some snacks, and spend the day out on the water. The shoreline is the perfect place to sunbathe, and there's a 3.75-mile trail that winds around the lake for biking, hiking, and spotting elk, bighorn sheep, and bears.

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10Rapid Transit Rafting

Estes Park attracts a lot of adventurers, and Rapid Transit Rafting offers a unique and exciting way to see this part of Colorado. When the weather heats up and the ice and snow melt in the mountains, the rivers swell, making Estes Park an ideal location for white water rafting. Multiple rafting options of varying difficulties are available. The experienced employees will supply the gear you need and guide you on a safe journey. All you have to bring is a little courage and a dry change of clothes.

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