As the National Park Service gears up to celebrate its 100th anniversary next year, now is the perfect time to take the kids to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. From hiking to horseback riding to kayaking on Lake Estes, there’s a lot to do as a family in and around Estes Park.
On our recent visit, we stayed at the Fawn Valley Inn in Estes Park. It’s a five-minute drive from the Fall River park entrance, making it easy to get into the park to explore, then head back into town for lunch. Meal options inside the park are extremely limited. There’s a snack bar at the Alpine Visitor Center, but that stop is very popular (read: very hard to find parking) and you are much better off eating in Estes Park.
Alternatively, make a stop at the Safeway in Estes Park to pick up bread, chips and deli meat to make bag lunches to take into the park. At the Fawn Valley Inn, we stayed in a two-bedroom suite with a full kitchen (even a dishwasher), which was perfect for us. We were able to make lunches, cook dinners, wash our clothes, even check out DVD movies from the registration office.
The drive into town from the Fawn Valley Inn was no more than five or seven minutes. It’s tucked away off the main road, allowing for quiet and privacy. We even saw several elk as we pulled into the parking lot from the main road, so clearly they knew it was a quiet, safe area. It was ideal for kids.
If you’re thinking about a family adventure in the Rocky Mountains, take a look at my list of 15 fun things to do in Estes Park with kids. Have fun. 🙂
1. Go Horseback Riding. Try a horseback trail ride to experience wilderness trails in and around the national park. For those with young children, sign up for a trail ride with SK Horses. One- and two-hour rides start in Estes Park and children as young as four can ride.
2. Attend a Ranger-Led Program. It’s a must to attend a ranger program. You and your kids can learn about bear safety, bighorn sheep, even ecology and astronomy. Pick up a park newspaper when you arrive or go online ahead of time to check out the schedule for the day(s) you’ll be in the park.
3. Try Geocaching. Download the free Geocaching mobile app and hunt for geocaches as part of the Across the Divide GeoTour. You’ll cross the Continental Divide as you make your way between Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park. Find at least 10 geocaches to earn a souvenir commemorative coin.
4. Explore the Estes Park Museum. The Estes Park Museum is free and has loads of exhibits enabling families to learn more about the history of Estes Park, including “Call of the Wild,” which focuses on native wildlife living in the Rocky Mountains.
5. Stamp Your Passport (Multiple Times). Buy a Passport to Your National Parks either online for $8.95 or at the park visitors center or bookstore (same price). Inside the park, buy the official sticker for Rocky Mountain National Park, then keep your eyes open for cancellation stamps. You’ll find a handful of stamps across the park, including at the Moraine Park Museum.
6. Zip through the Treetops. At Open Air Adventure Park, kids will love flying through the trees and crossing swinging bridges as they maneuver their way around the aerial adventure course high up in the trees. Kids as young as five can participate so it’s truly fun for the whole family.
7. Get Out on Lake Estes. Whether by kayak, pontoon boat or canoe, it’s a must to get out on Lake Estes. As a bonus, the Lake Estes Marina has a beach, a wading area and a children’s playground. You may also want to rent a bike or pedal cart to ride along the paved 3.75 mile Lake Estes Trail.
8. Take Lots of Photos. It’s okay, take as many photos as you like. I easily took dozens of photos from visitors centers, lookout points, even from my car. Every view seemed better than the last and worthy of a photo. It’s incredible to look back at the photos and ponder our experiences.
9. Spend the Day at the YMCA. From fishing to mini golf to archery, you’ll have no trouble spending an entire day outside at the YMCA of the Rockies. For those who want to stay the night, there are a variety of family cabins, as well as three on-site restaurants.
10. Take a Class at the Rocky Mountain Conservancy. There are a number of classes, bus tours and excursions at the Rocky Mountain Conservancy, including several kid-friendly programs. Look for nature art activities, photojournaling, fly fishing and nature hikes just for little ones.
11. Keep Your Eyes Open for Wildlife. In Estes Park, it’s not uncommon to see elk and mule deer roaming the town. In fact, they can be seen just about every day, but keep your distance. Bring binoculars with you to take a look at the wildlife from a safe distance.
12. Go Fishing. There are plenty of opportunities for fishing in Estes Park and one of the best places to go is the well-stocked Trout Haven Fishing Pond. You can rent fishing poles and pick up bait at the pond. Even better, the staff will clean, pack and freeze anything you catch if you want to take it home.
13. Become a Junior Ranger. My kids love earning badges and patches at various national parks through the Junior Ranger program. Pick up an activity booklet at any visitors center inside the park. Complete a certain number of activities depending on your child’s age to earn a badge.
14. Go Camping as a Family. In Estes Park, there are quite a few family-friendly lodging options. One to check out is Jellystone Park of Estes, a Yogi Bear-themed campground that offers sites to pitch a tent as well as family cabins. You’ll also find plenty of activities, like scavenger hunts, wagon rides and crafts.
15. Soak it All In. A visit to Rocky Mountain National Park is an incredible experience. So, take it slow. Don’t rush. Enjoy the views and soak it all in so you can hold onto the memories for as long as you can.
16. Run a Race. As a bonus activity, get outdoors and run a race while in Estes Park. While I was in town, I signed up on a whim for the Rocky Mountain Half Marathon. It wasn’t my best race time, but the views were incredible and I was so glad I put on my running shoes and got out there.