4-Day Colorado Itinerary: Estes Park
Welcome back to my Colorado Itinerary Series! This one is perfect for someone traveling to Colorado for a long weekend who wants to check out the famous Rocky Mountain National Park! *This itinerary is for summer or fall when hiking is available in the park and roads aren’t closed due to snowfalls*. Check out the timed entry details here for access into the park.
Arrive in Denver and pick up a rental car. Start your drive to Estes Park - this town will be your launching point for activities in Rocky Mountain National Park. You have quite a few options for accommodations and there is something for everyone! If you’re wanting a cozy lodge feel check out The Inn on Fall River. For a more personal cabin experience check out Solitude Cabins & Lodge. If you’re looking for a great family friendly option check out The Ridgeline Hotel. And last but not least - if you’re wanting a luxurious mountain getaway you’ll love The Estes Park Resort! The drive will be about 1.5-2 hours from Denver International Airport. I recommend taking the Boulder route - it’s a great area to stop off for lunch on Pearl Street. For a bistro bite, The Kitchen is your go-to. Next Door Street Bar is a wonderful option as well, and for fresh tacos and great atmosphere hit up BarTaco! Once you arrive in Estes Park, get the boots dirty right away by hitting a local hike outside of the park to start! Either Lily Mountain or Kruger Rock will be great options for quick hikes with 360 mountain views. After your hike, head back to Estes Park to grab dinner and get settled for your big day tomorrow in Rocky Mountain National Park! For dining options I recommend Smokin’ Daves BBQ, The Rock Inn, or Himilayan Curry and Kebob. If you chose to stay at The Estes Park Resort there is the Dunraven restaurant onsite!
Get an early start to beat traffic into the park. Be sure you have your timed entry permit information + park pass ready to go (you’ll want the park pass that includes the Bear Lake Road Corridor). If you don’t yet have a park pass, you can purchase that at the park entry. If you’re one of the first into the park that morning, you can try your shot at parking at Bear Lake Trailhead. If not, there are shuttle services from Park & Ride lots. This first day you’ll be completing the classic tour of lakes in Rocky Mountain NP. Starting at Bear Lake Trailhead, you’ll hike to Nymph Lake which is an easy start, continue about half a mile on to iconic Dream Lake, and then an additional half mile to Emerald Lake. If you are more advanced, you can go from there to Lake Haiyaha. I definitely recommend this one because of the gorgeous milky green/blue color! Be sure to pack lunches + sufficient water with you and enjoy a picnic at one of the lakes. Depending on your pace/stops, this whole jaunt can take up to 5-6 hours.
From there you can either enjoy an evening in Estes Park, or catch a sunset in the park - Moraine Park being a great spot for sunset views!
Another early start as you have an epic hike ahead of you today! Again, if you arrive early enough you can go straight to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. Otherwise, opt for the Park & Ride shuttle. Here you will begin your hike to Sky Pond, one of my favorite hikes in all of Colorado! This one is a challenge and should not be attempted unless you have trained and are an experienced hiker. If you would like more moderate hikes from the same trailhead check out Alberta Falls, Jewel Lake, or Mills Lake. Remember to prepare for a long day of hiking again with lunch + plenty of water.
Once you return to your car, you can either head back to town for dinner or take a drive through the park to see other various areas, such as Rock Cut, Gore Range Overlook which is great for sunsets, or look for wildlife. Be sure to listen for bugling elk in late August and September!
Start your day at Coffee on the Rocks. This is one of my favorite little coffee shops ever! They also have great grab-and-go breakfast options. Today you can customize your adventures depending on how much time/energy you have. You can choose to head back into the park for more sight-seeing or another hike such as Finch Lake, Sprague Lake Loop, or Ouzel Lake. There’s also the option to do some site-seeing outside of the park. Estes Park is a headquarters for a wide variety of activities. Such as a nice stroll around Lake Estes, many hikes (I recommend Panorama Peak), guided trail rides on horseback, rafting adventures, or other guided activities through KMAC Guides, as well as fly fishing, 4x4 tours, or a lake day!
I hope this itinerary allows you to experience all of the magic that is Rocky Mountain National Park to the fullest! Let me know if you're using this itinerary :)