Estes Park is a year-round vacation destination. In the winter, this mountain town has cozy cabins so cute they could star in a Hallmark movie and in the summer, it’s a launchpad for national park adventures. But just 35 miles northwest of Boulder, Estes Park especially shines in the fall.
In fact, this mountain town at the front porch of Rocky Mountain National Park has all the makings for a fall day trip or a weekend excursion. Your drive from Boulder includes roadways lined with beautiful fall foliage, the Aspen trees radiating gold. For spooky season enthusiasts, The Stanley Hotel has a haunted reputation and part of Estes Park is situated on a quartz and limestone mineral belt, which, according to paranormal investigators, is known for retaining residual energy, making it a consummate host for ghosts. Plus, the bugling elk and the town’s “Elktober” celebration is a spectacle to see (and hear). This time of year, you just may spot elk holding up the drive-thru line at a Starbucks as they mosey through town.
Here’s how to enjoy a quick getaway to Estes Park.
Where to Eat
The Post Chicken and Beer now has an Estes Park outpost, serving sandwiches you can order Nashville hot and tame with a cold lager. The chicken and beer spot is next to The Stanley.
At Latitude 105 Alehouse inside The Ridgeway Hotel, pair specialty burgers or pizzas with beers from the 18 rotating taps. The restaurant has large TVs to enjoy Sunday football games.
For a special meal, Twin Owls Steakhouse for its herb butter-topped steaks, like the 16-ounce bone-in bison ribeye and the Colorado rack of lamb crusted with dijon mustard and bread crumbs.
If you’re looking for a spot to grab lunch while strolling downtown, pop into Wapiti for pub fare like Colorado nachos with brisket over potato chips. Request a seat outside by the river and save room for dessert downtown. There’s lots of sweet shops selling caramel apples, milkshakes and fudge.
What to Do
For a scenic drive, meander through Rocky Mountain National Park. Though Trail Ridge Road is closed for the season, there’s still plenty to see in the park. You don’t need a reservation in the fall and winter, and it tends to be less crowded, too.
Adventurous types can go ziplining at the YMCA of the Rockies. Zoom through trees at speeds up to 30 miles per hour and 60 feet above the ground as you cross over Wind River Valley. Or, at the Walker family ranch on Dry Gulch Road, you can ride an open-air alpine coaster. The Mustang Mountain Coaster includes 2,000-feet of track and mountain views. You can control your speed with brake levers, so riders have a choice: A thrilling, high-speed ride or a leisurely and scenic one.
Spend some time strolling the shops downtown. More than 200 retailers, restaurants and attractions line the downtown along Elkhorn and Moraine avenues. You can get a tarot card reading at Omens, find meteorite necklaces and beautiful rocks from around the world at The Ore Cart Rock Shop and sample taffy from a number of sweet shops.
Where to Stay
Looking for a longer getaway? Estes Park has a number of lodging options from quaint cabins to luxury hotels.
The most famous stay in town is The Stanley Hotel, a historic property with spectacular views in every direction. It’s home to The Whiskey Bar, which claims to have the largest collection of whisky in Colorado. The Stanley has four types of stays, including the primary hotel with classic historic rooms (you can book the one that Stephen King stayed in and that inspired “The Shining), as well as The Lodge at The Stanley, a boutique hotel; Aspire at The Stanley, with apartment-style residences; and The Residences at The Stanley, which offers spacious condos.
The Ridgeline Hotel is a recently renovated 147-room hotel with plenty of family-friendly amenities, like a heated indoor swimming pool and hot tub, a 180-inch projector screen that shows movies, and outdoor fire pits for roasting s’mores under the stars.
For a mountain luxe experience, the spacious cabins at Mountain Village at Lake Estes have grand stone fireplaces, log interiors and vaulted ceilings. You’ll feel like you’re in your very own mountain chalet in these well-appointed private homes with full kitchens and lake views.