Estes Park is just a hop, skip and jump away from Rocky Mountain National Park, making it an ideal base for exploring the Colorado Rockies. Majestic views from the mountain village are a given, from scenes of iconic peaks to fertile valleys dotted with wildlife. The stunning scenery, coupled with a fantastic selection of outdoor adventure opportunities, attracts visiting families from across the country, and there are many Estes Park vacation rentals to choose from. Here are some of the top activities to enjoy with family in Estes Park.
1. Take a guided tour
For first timers to this corner of the world, consider a guided tour of Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. Becoming familiar with the lay of the land will help as you navigate the rest of your trip, and tours from a professional are often accompanied by interesting facts. Choose how you want to get acquainted with the area, whether it’s through a wildlife photography tour, hiking, horseback riding or bird watching. During the winter, there are even snowshoeing and skiing tours as well. It can’t help to have an extra set of eyes on curious explorers, and can take some of the burden of planning the sightseeing spots and routes off your hands.
2. Go hiking
Hiking is perhaps one of the most simple, yet time honored activities in the area. The Rocky Mountain National Park has more than 300 miles of trails, and even more within the national forest. Opt for an easy hike without the incline around Lily Lake, Sprague Lake or Copeland Falls. For a bigger challenge, head for the Gem Lake, Finch Lake or Fern Lake, to put your hiking chops to the test. Estes Valley is also good for a stroll, whether you’re looking for a hike on a trail with the gang, or a leisurely amble across the valley.
3. Have a water-ful adventure
Numerous bodies of water in the area provide opportune water recreation. Several lakes around the valley and the national park allow recreational boating. Lake Estes, the most popular, offers canoeing, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, pontoon boating and more, from May through mid-September. Whitewater rafting is another beloved activity among adventure seekers. The Poudre or Colorado rivers accommodate rafters of all levels, from beginners to experts. Visitors can find several whitewater raft companies that operate out of Estes Park, such as Wildwater Rafting, Estes Park Adventures and Mountain Whitewater Descents.
4. See wildlife
Have an avid bird watcher in the family? Birders will have no trouble finding easy access to bird-friendly environments. WIthin the national park, bird watchers have the chance to view more than 315 species of birds. From waterfowl and raptors to passerines and more, a variety of birds make area lakes, mountains and woodlands their home. For animal lovers who prefer the four- or two-legged variety, the valley and park is home to ek, mule deer, moose and more. See who can spot a bighorn sheep or catch sight of a bobcat.
If camping is a family tradition, you won’t want to miss camping out at Rocky Mountain National Park. The pristine lands and backcountry campsites will have you immersed in nature — and each other’s’ company — in no time. Families can set up camp so they’re close to the park’s trail heads or bodies of water. Or choose to camp completely in the wild through the backcountry camping experience. Permits for backcountry camping must be obtained at a backcountry office. One is located at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center. Families traveling with RVs can find several campsites, such as Glacier Basin or Aspenglen, with RV spots.
6. Ride the aerial tramway
A bird’s eye view of Estes Park is one that visitors aren’t likely to forget. Ride the aerial tramway for a view that family members of all ages can enjoy — even for those who can’t or don’t like to hike. The tram, one of the last few European-style cable cars operating in the country, whisks riders to the summit of Prospect Mountain. At the peak, visitors can take in the view, capture some photo-worthy moments and even hike the family-friendly trails nearby. Tickets are $12 for adults, $8 for kids and free for those 5 and under.
7. Visit an amusement park
If your children aren’t quite old enough to trek across valleys and mountain summits, Fun City might be more in their wheelhouse. Located on the main road into the national park, fun city has all the makings of an adventure park for kids — and kids at heart. From bumper boats to miniature golf to go karts, Fun City brings old school family fun to Estes Park.
8. Go to a museum
For an extra educational experience, check out some of the historic treasures around the area. There are several site listed on the National Historic Register, such as the Bear Lake Comfort Station, Fall River Pass Ranger Station and Fern Lake Patrol Cabin. The Estes Park Museum, Historic Fall River Hydroplant or MacGregor Ranch Museum may add some interesting stops to your trip. Estes Park also claims the world’s largest key collection, so lock down a time to visit.
9. Wander downtown
If you have a family where everyone has a different interest, downtown Estes Park may be just the place for you. With crisp, mountain air, gorgeous views, whimsical shops, entertainment and good food for all, downtown is a surefire winner. While in the village, visitors can stroll the Riverwalk, peruse the shops, cast a line in Fall River or make a stop for ice cream. You’ll come across outdoor activities such as jazz concerts, wine tastings, cowboy sing-a-longs unique to Estes Park, as well as signature treats and unique businesses around town.
10. Visit a winery
If your family is made up of an older set, round up the gang and visit a local winery, brewery or distillery. Estes Park breweries specialize in handcrafted brews, and they have something for every palate. Even for the youngsters in tow, breweries offer wheats-even root beer, foosball and fuss-friendly fare. Wine is another local icon, with winemakers in Estes Park who turn Colorado-grown grapes into tasty offerings. Specialty liqueurs made from the finest ingredients are also handcrafted in the area.
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