20+ Epic Things to Do in Estes Park, Colorado with Kids

A few years ago, we set off on a cross-country road trip. One of our favorite stops was Estes Park, Colorado, which is best known for Rocky Mountain National Park.

Just 90 minutes from Denver, there are so many fun things to do in Estes Park with kids.  I’ve got all the scoop on how to plan an Estes Park family vacation, but first, what to do.

Things to Do in Estes Park

Estes Park is great for kids. There are a lot of family-friendly activities, especially for outdoor lovers. Here are a few of our favorite Estes Park activities (that kids will love).

#1: Go Horseback Riding With SK Horses

Book a horseback trail ride to experience wilderness trails in the forests and valleys around the national park. For those with young children, even toddlers, sign up with SK Horses.

Rides range from one to four hours. Children as young as two can ride at the Cowpoke Corner Corral. Close to the park, ride with SK Horses at their National Park Gateway Stables.

Sombrero Ranch is another top-rated stable for area horseback riding for the whole family. Here, riders must be at least six years old, even for short 30-minute trail rides. 

#2: Explore the Estes Park Museum

Among Estes Park points of interest, the Estes Park Museum is free and has loads of kid-friendly exhibits enabling families to learn more about the history of Estes Park.

Outside the main gallery, look for two historic structures, including a turn-of-the-century rustic cabin and a historic building that was the first headquarters for Rocky Mountain National Park.

#3: Fly Through the Trees at Open Air Adventure Park 

At Open Air Adventure Park, kids and teens will love flying through the trees and crossing swinging bridges as they maneuver around this aerial adventure ropes course.

High up in the trees, this is one of the most popular Estes Park attractions. Kids as young as five can participate so it’s truly fun for the whole family.

There are 32 unique challenges, including high-flying ziplines. The adventure park has also expanded to add the only ax throwing activity in Estes Park.

#4: Get on the Water at Lake Estes 

Whether by kayak, pontoon boat or canoe, it’s a must to get out on 185-acre 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 that runs along the perimeter of the lake. You can walk the lake loop trail, too. 

#5: Spend the Day at the YMCA 

From fishing to mini golf to archery, you’ll have no trouble spending a full day outside at the YMCA of the Rockies. There’s also roller skating and disc golf for kids.

For those who want to stay the night, look for a variety of family cabins, as well as three on-site restaurants. You can also ride horses at on-site at Jackson Stables.

#6: Take a Class at the Rocky Mountain Conservancy

There are a number of classes, bus tours and excursions available 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. As a bonus, the Field Institute offers more than 40 free kids classes in the summer.

#7: Go Fishing at Trout Pond

There are plenty of opportunities for fishing in Estes Park. One of the best places to go is the well-stocked Trout Haven Fishing Pond. Or simply, Trout Pond.

Rent fishing poles and pick up bait at the pond. The staff will clean, pack and freeze anything you catch to take it home. It’s a great way to introduce children to fishing.

#8: Take a Wildlife Tour or Photo Safari

Connect with Yellow Wood Guiding for a photo safari, nature tour or wildlife safari. Keep your eyes open for native wildlife, like big horn sheep and moose.

Tours set off with a naturalist well-versed in the area’s geology, flowers, local history and wildlife watching. In winter, Yellow Wood Guiding offers hiking and snowshoeing tours. 

#9: Navigate Mountain Trails in a Jeep Wrangler 

Active families, look to Backbone Adventures to experience 4×4-friendly mountain trails. Cross flowing streams, navigate verdant forests and take in stunning vistas.

Teens aged 16 and up (with a license) can rent ATVs for off-roading adventures. The outfitter rents Jeep Wranglers, e-bikes, ATVs and scooters, as well as snow sleds. 

Green Jeep Tours is another popular Estes Park outfitter offering off-road 4×4 and Jeep tours. They also schedule photo safaris, waterfall hiking tours and elk viewing tours.

#10: Ride the Estes Park Aerial Tramway

estes park aerial tramway

The five-minute ride to the top of Prospect Mountain on the Estes Park Aerial Tramway is a fun way to soak in the mountain views. The season runs from late-May to early-September.

To beat the crowds, go in early-morning or late-afternoon. These are also the best times for calmer skies and better photos. In peak season, the tramway runs from 9 am to 6 pm.

At the top, savor epic views and enjoy easy hiking trails. There’s also a coffee shop and gift shop at the 8,700 foot summit, even chipmunks that eat peanuts right out of your hands.

#11: Go Whitewater Rafting

Go rafting in Estes Park with Rapid Transit Rafting, which offers half-day and full-day family rafting trips. Half-day rapids trips go out on the nearby Cache la Poudre River. 

Full-day trips set off on the Upper Colorado River. These moderate whitewater trips are well-suited to first-timers and experienced rafters alike.  

#12: Stroll the Estes Park Riverwalk 

The scenic one-mile Estes Park Riverwalk winds through the downtown area, following closely along the Fall River and Big Thompson River. 

Start at the Estes Park Visitor Center, then walk by coffee shops, boutiques, restaurants and pubs by day or night. The path ends at Performance Park on West Elkhorn Avenue.

At Performance Park, tackle the climbing wall, then re-trace your steps to the visitor center over bridges, past bronze sculptures and alongside a children’s playground. 

Things to Do in Estes Park in Winter  

There’s no question that Estes Park is a fantastic family destination in summer, but there are more than a few fun things to do in Estes Park in winter, especially with kids and teens.

If you arrive in mid-January, the Estes Park Winter Festival is a family favorite. Here are a few of my top Estes Park activities for cold-weather months.

#1: Go Sledding at Hidden Valley

Of course, you’ll find lots of fluffy white snow and groomed slopes just right for sledding and snow tubing in the Colorado Rockies.

Inside Rocky Mountain National Park, Hidden Valley is where to go for family snow sledding. As a bonus, look for warming huts and heated restrooms.

Once a skiing hill, bring a tube or sled. Or, rent them at Estes Park Mountain Shop. They also rent snowshoes, all kinds of ski equipment and microspikes for hiking.

#2: Take a Snowcat Tour Through the Backcountry

Sign up for a three-hour deluxe snowcat tour through deep snow and pine forests in the wintry backcountry with Estes Park Outfitters.

Take in stunning views of Twin Sisters Mountain. A luxury Estes Park cabin serves as home base. Customize your tour with cross-country skiing. 

#3: Go Ice Skating at Dorsey Lake

From early-December through early-February, experience open-air ice skating at the YMCA of the Rockies. Ice skates are free to overnight guests and YMCA members. 

Skate on frozen Dorsey Lake near the Estes Park Center. There is also an outdoor rink at the Y’s Snow Mountain Ranch. Warm up with a mug of hot cocoa. 

At Dorsey Lake, ice skate rentals are also available to visitors for winter fun skating at the base of Rocky Mountain National Park.

#4: Winter Camping 

For hardy souls, several campgrounds inside Rocky Mountain National Park are open to campers during the snowy winter season on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Longs Peak Campground, as well as sections of the Moraine Park Campground and Timber Creek Campground are open all winter. Unfortunately, water is not available. 

#5: Join a Ranger-Led Program

In winter, Rocky Mountain National Park hosts a variety of park ranger-led programs, including weekly and twice-weekly snowshoe walks with rangers.

The park also hosts snowshoe ecology walks and full moon walks, as well as ranger-led cross-country ski tours. All programs require reservations.

#6: Take an Ice Climbing Course

Sign up for an ice climbing course with Colorado Mountain School. Even kids and teens can join in the fun when accompanied by a parent.

The eight-hour Intro to Ice Climbing course covers everything from how to stay warm to the best climbing tools to use to how to climb naturally and efficiently.

#7: Take a Scenic Winter Drive 

It may be cold outside in winter (the average winter high temp in Estes Park is 36 degrees), but it’s prime time for wildlife watching and savoring mountain views. 

One popular drive is Devil’s Gulch to Dry Gulch Road. Along the way, take in the views of Lumpy Range and the Twin Owls rock formations. Keep your eyes open for elk and coyotes.

#8: Go on a Scavenger Hunt in Downtown Estes Park 

Kids will love the Pikas in the Park scavenger hunt through Estes Park. Print out an activity guide to find 12 bronze sculptures of Pikas, small mountain-dwelling relatives of rabbits.

You’ll find Pikas all around Estes Park, as well as historical facts about Estes Park. When you’re done, claim your official Pika Finder button at the Estes Park Visitor Center.

Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is an exceptionally family-friendly national park. There are so many activities for outdoor-loving families, like biking, fishing and hiking.

You’ll want to plan to spend at least three days exploring the national park, which encompasses 415 square miles. It’s a big park and well worth your precious family time. 

The Bear Lake Nature Trail is an especially kid-friendly hike, as are many of the 25 hikes shared as among the best hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park.

For more must-do activities inside Rocky Mountain National Park, take a look:

#1: Stamp Your Parks Passport (Multiple Times) 

15 Fun Things to Do in Estes Park with Kids

Buy a Passport to Your National Parks online for $9.95 or at the park visitors center. Inside the park, buy the official park sticker, then keep your eyes open for cancellation stamps.

You’ll find a handful of stamps across the park, including at the Moraine Park Museum.

#2: Keep Your Eyes Open for Wildlife 

It’s not uncommon to see elk, bighorn sheep and mule deer roaming this national park. 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.

#3: Become a Junior Ranger

Pick up a free Junior Ranger program booklet at any visitors center in the park. Kids complete a certain number of activities depending on your child’s age.

Children also need to attend a ranger-led program. It’s a fun, hands-on way to learn more about this national park.

Eating & Sleeping at Rocky Mountain National Park

Unlike some national parks, there is no Rocky Mountain National Park lodging inside the park. However, there are five in-park campgrounds.

Three campgrounds, including Aspenglen, Glacier Basin and Moraine Park, take advance reservations.

The other two campgrounds, Longs Peak and Timber Creek, have tent sites available on a first-come, first-served basis.

It’s worth noting that there is just one small café (more like a snack bar) at Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s located adjacent to the Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road.

How to Get to Estes Park, Colorado

Estes Park is less than 90 minutes by car from Denver. As a bonus, there are a lot of airlines that fly into Denver, including United and Frontier.

Both airlines use Denver as a main hub. If you’re flying in, it couldn’t be easier to get to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.

If you’re driving from Wyoming or Kansas, or even from within Colorado, it’s also a snap to get to Estes Park.

Several major highways, including Route 34 and Route 46, go right through Estes Park. There are no small roads to travel to get to this national park gateway town.

If you are traveling to Estes Park from the west along scenic byways, like from Steamboat Springs, by way of Route 40 and Route 34, stop in Grand Lake, Colorado for a bite to eat.

From here, it’s just one mile to the park entrance. Then you won’t see any food for miles.

Estes Park Lodging – Where to Stay

There are quite a few Estes Park hotels. We stayed at the Fawn Valley Inn. It’s a five-minute drive from the Fall River park entrance.

Given its proximity to the park entrance, it’s easy to reach the park to explore, then return to town for lunch (food options in the park are extremely limited).

15 Fun Things to Do in Estes Park with Kids

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.

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 DVDs from the registration office.

A grocery store was also a short drive, so we could get bread, chips and deli meat to make bag lunches to take into the park.

Stanley Hotel

In Estes Park, The Stanley Hotel is very, very well known. The hotel inspired Stephen King’s The Shining, though the movie was not actually filmed at the hotel (thank goodness).

This historic hotel set on 47 acres is gorgeous and worth a look as you consider where to stay in Estes Park. The hotel boasts free wi-fi and spectacular mountain views.

Given the pristine natural surroundings, it’s no surprise to find a variety of cozy Estes Park cabins and delightful inns and hotels near Rocky Mountain National Park.

It’s lovely that Estes Park is so close to this national treasure. Consider these top lodging options:

Inn on Fall River (a family-friendly stay on the banks of a mountain stream)

Hotel Estes (a recently renovated hotel with sweeping mountain views)

Alpine Trail Ridge Inn (look for a delicious farm-to-table restaurant on-property)

Blue Door Inn (this inn redefines a room with a view – simply gorgeous)

Rams Horn Village Resort (this five-star review property wows families and couples alike)

15 Fun Things to Do in Estes Park with Kids

For those eager to pitch a tent, check out kid-friendly Jellystone Park of Estes. This Yogi Bear-themed campground features tent sites, RV sites and cozy Estes Park cabins.

The campground also has fully-equipped RVs on site that families can rent. Here, you’ll find plenty of kid-friendly activities, like scavenger hunts, wagon rides and mini golf.

15 Fun Things to Do in Estes Park with Kids