Estes Park, Colorado is a place that is familiar to a lot of people. One thing we have found, after 30 years of visiting, is that so many people have a connection to that town. As a kid, my (Abby’s) family spent a bit of every summer there. We stayed at a bed & breakfast called The Baldpate Inn every summer for 24 years. (My husband and I even spent the first few days of our honeymoon there.) The owner knew our whole family. Growing up in Nebraska, and then Colorado, it was a priority every summer to take at least one weekend away to Estes Park.
Part of the reason we went every summer was because my dad grew up going every summer. And his mom grew up going every summer. It has been a destination for nostalgia for families across the country.
The truly unique thing about Estes Park is that while it is fueled by tourism, everyone is a regular. Sure, I may be a tourist each summer, but I have generations of connections there. And we have heard that to be true for SO MANY people. However, even if it is your first time visiting Estes Park, you will feel the uniqueness and charm immediately. It really is a special place, nestled in the heart of the mountains and embedded with a family feel. I love that my connection there will continue with my children and they are already spending so much time there.
So obviously, we love Estes Park and give it a 5 start review. Here are a few family-friendly things that we highly recommend doing when you visit.
- Cruise Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). This one is probably a bit obvious, but my favorite part about RMNP is that you can truly find a hike for everyone. With young kids, we obviously are usually on the hunt for a hike that feels like an adventure without being ultra strenuous. When we first took our kids to RMNP we “hiked” on a flat but gorgeous path and even saw some folks in wheelchairs around the lake. Then of course, they have true trails and more rocky hiking for those that are so inclined. Plus, you are almost guaranteed to see a herd of elk or deer grazing around.
- Visit a taffy shop. Any of them. And for no other reason than to say you did. The salt water taffy shops in Estes Park are one of the more laughable “attractions”. Ryan and I joke often about how hilarious it is to have seven different taffy shops on a single street in a town that is nowhere near saltwater. Plus, most taffy shops give you a free taffy sample and the kids are always keen on that.
- Walk around Lily Lake. This is a small little nature walk in an absolutely picturesque setting. Straight out of a Bob Ross scene. There is a gravel path around the lake and every angle provides the perfect backdrop for a family photo. The kids love watching for wildlife on the lake and it is a perfectly manageable “hike” for them. (It also has a split path you can take for a longer and more challenging hike.)
- Get a post-hike gyro or burger. Two of our favorite joints in Estes Park are Boss Burgers & Gyros and Penelope’s.
- Boss Burgers and Gyros is right outside one of the entrances to Rocky Mountain National Park and we eat there every time we visit Estes Park. Their gyros are so good, we haven’t even tried anything else on the menu. They are absolutely filling so only go when you’ve skipped breakfast or just finished a long hike. Our favorite things from Boss Burgers & Gyros are: Gryo, Seasoned Fries, Greek Salad.
- Penelope’s is another awesome choice. It is a hole-in-the-wall diner in downtown Estes Park with the best burger you will ever eat. Amazing fries and fountain sodas with phenomenal ice are also huge draws to eating here. Again, this is definitely a filling meal, so go for a long morning hike and then refuel with a juicy, greasy burger you will be dreaming about for months.
- “Hike” the Birch Ruins. I want to preface again that our “hike” recommendations are more just nature walks. It is basically something a two to three year old could walk or we have the endurance to walk with them on our shoulders. The Birch Ruins is this quiet little hike tucked away and you’d never guess it is nearly in the heart of downtown. It is such a fun adventure for taking kids because you twist around and hike to the ruins of an old stone cabin. The kids think this hidden secret is so fun and adventurous and the getting there is totally doable for them. Plus you can hop right out on main street right after and grab a coffee.
- Visit YMCA of the Rockies. Whether you are staying there or not, we definitely recommend heading up to the YMCA with your kids. Our favorite activity with the kids is to go to the craft shop, especially if the weather is not great. They have crafts for every ability level and are super great with getting the kids set up. We have done painting, ceramic painting and tie dye there and it was a blast every time. They also have a huge playground and sand box outside the craft shop, which our kids could play on for hours if we let them.
- Get a cinnamon roll from Cinnamon’s. Set your alarm, get up with the sun, and go get a warm, fresh cinnamon roll from Cinnamon’s Bakery before they sell out. They typically sell out of cinnamon rolls by 9am, so that should tell you what a hit they are with those that know about it. They have a great variety of rolls and are truly a special treat. Definitely worth the early wake up!
If you have visited Estes Park, we would love to hear your favorite spots and things to do!