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Look no further for the best all-encompassing Estes Park family vacation itinerary for spending 1 to 7 days in Estes Park, Colorado!
With its multitude of amazing outdoor activities, kid-friendly attractions, and ultra-close location to Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park is the perfect family vacation destination.
In this article, we include all of the best things to do in Estes Park with kids as well as provide tips on when to visit, where to stay, and how to get around.
Here’s how to plan the ultimate Estes Park family vacation and what we think is THE BEST 7-day Estes Park itinerary when visiting Estes Park, Colorado with kids.
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Tips for Your Estes Park Family Vacation
A family trip to Estes Park, Colorado is a US bucket list destination for many families.
With its charming downtown, easily-accessible hiking trails, and beautiful river views, the mountainous backdrop of Estes Park creates an atmosphere you can’t help but fall in love with.
As a base camp for amazing adventures in Rocky Mountain National Park, it’s important to understand the general layout of the area and to know what there is to do there before your arrival.
Though Estes Park is a popular tourist destination, knowing what to expect will make your family trip less stressful as well as ensure that you see and do all that is of interest to you.
Here are a few travel tips for your Estes Park family vacation that’ll help you prepare before you go.
Oh, and psst…we love our Estes Park vacations so much that we’ve written several other guides to help you plan your trip:
- 29 Best Things to Do in Estes Park, Colorado With Kids
- Best Things to Do in Estes Park and RMNP in Winter
- Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary + Best Things to Do With Kids!
- 15 Easy Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park
1. Dress in layers.
Mountain weather is notoriously unpredictable, and vacationing in Estes Park is no exception.
Average temperatures in and around Estes Park vary significantly from season to season, as well as among its varying elevations.
No matter when you visit Estes Park – winter, summer, spring, or fall – we always suggest packing and dressing in layers.
During the coldest season from December to March, choose substantial layers like winter jackets, hats, and gloves in order to increase insulation and reduce heat loss.
Not only do temps hover in the mid-30 degrees Fahrenheit, but there are often high winds, ice, and snow as well.
During the warmer months of June through September, dress in light layers that offer protection from the sun and will guard you against the chill of the unpredictable mountain weather.
In the summer, temps range in the high 60s to high 70s, but mornings and evenings are still quite chilly.
2. Have your own vehicle or rent a car.
If you’re not traveling to Estes Park by means of your own personal vehicle, I recommend renting a car upon your arrival.
Though Downtown Estes Park is walkable, the city of Estes Park itself is quite spread out.
You definitely need a vehicle to get around during your Estes Park family vacation, as well as if you prefer the convenience of having your own vehicle to visit Rocky Mountain National Park.
If you’re opposed to renting a car, however, there are trains, buses, and taxis to Rocky Mountain National Park, as well as free park shuttles during the summer vacation season.
The Estes Park Visitor Shuttle, for instance, operates daily from late June through mid-September.
Get more details at Visit Estes Park.
Ride-share cars such as Uber and Lyft do operate in the Estes Park area, but availability and number of drivers are limited.
3. Consider your parking options.
There is very limited street parking when visiting Downtown Estes Park and finding parking can be a hassle.
It’s important to familiarize yourself with the alternative free parking options, as well as the many lots in the heart of downtown where you can park for a fee.
Free parking options include the Estes Park Events Complex lot (1125 Rooftop Way), which requires shuttling into downtown, or the Estes Park Parking Structure at the Estes Park Visitor Center (691 N. St. Vrain Ave.)
We recommend trying to find a spot at the Estes Park Parking Structure as it is conveniently located within walking distance of downtown.
Visit here for a complete list of free and paid parking opportunities, as well as access to the Estes Park parking app (that’ll help you find a parking spot so that you’re not aimlessly circling lot after lot).
4. Be sure to make reservations for Rocky Mountain National Park.
Gone are the days of a spontaneous visit to Rocky Mountain National Park.
Visitation to Rocky Mountain National Park has surged within the last decade and has led to severe crowding at many park destinations.
In order to control the crowd level and improve visitor experience, a vehicle reservation permit is required when visiting the park during the busy months of May through October.
Vehicle reservations are available in advance online at Recreation.gov (Vehicle Reservations), Recreation.gov app, or the Recreation.gov Call Center (Reservation Line: 877-444-6777) and require a $2 processing fee.
Once available, reservations sell out fast and are not available for purchase at the park.
*Details for the 2023 summer season are not yet available but are expected to be released in January 2023.
In past years, a portion of the available vehicle reservations were released 120 days in advance of the effective date (i.e., vehicle reservations for July 1 are available on March 3).
The remaining vehicle reservations were released at 8 AM MDT the day before the effective date (i.e., remaining vehicle reservations for July 1 are available on June 30).
*In other words, mark your calendars and set a reminder alarm to book accordingly!
Also, note that vehicle reservations do not guarantee parking spaces in popular areas.
You should still expect congested and busy conditions throughout the park.
5. Check the operating hours of all attractions while planning your visit.
Many of the most popular attractions in Estes Park, Colorado close during the winter season.
Be sure to check the website for each of the attractions that you’re hoping to visit to be sure that you are visiting during the months they’re in operation.
Most seasonal attractions are open from mid-May to mid-September but always double-check as you’re doing your planning.
6. Always be prepared for wildlife sightings.
Estes Park, Colorado is surrounded by protected lands that offer natural habitat to hundreds of animal species.
With Rocky Mountain National Park on 3 three sides and the national forest on the fourth, you’re almost guaranteed to spot wildlife while driving through town.
For us, the most jaw-dropping sightings were seeing multiple elk (both babies and adults) walking through the city park, resting on the lawn by the local library, and walking down the middle of the road on the town’s main street, for instance.
During our 7 days in Estes Park, we saw elk on a daily occurrence. It was a beautiful thing!
Similar to elk, mule deer sightings are very prevalent in Estes Park as well as chipmunks, ground squirrels, and rabbits.
Other large animals in the area include moose, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, and bobcats.
No matter where you’re going or driving to, always good to be prepared for animal sightings and have your camera close by.
Best Places to Stay in Estes Park for Families
There are dozens of exciting overnight accommodations in Estes Park, Colorado.
- Cabins and cottages
- Hotels, lodges, and resorts
- Vacation homes and condos
- Bed and Breakfasts
- Campgrounds and RV Parks
Where you end up staying will depend on your personal preferences, prices, and availability.
Our favorite convenient, family-friendly Estes Park hotels include:
- Murphy’s River Lodge – Located on Fall River 2 blocks from Downtown Estes park, indoor pool and hot tub, free breakfast, and friendly staff.
- Silver Moon Inn – Located in Downtown Estes Park on Fall River, outdoor pool and hot tub, free breakfast, free nightly s’mores, family owned and operated.
- The Ridgeline Hotel, Estes Park – Large indoor pool area and hot tub, onsite bar and restaurant, kids’ game room and movie screen, rustic-chic decor.
- YMCA of the Rockies – 9 lodges and 206 cabins, great for big groups, dozens of free onsite activities (i.e. roller skating, mini golf) plus extra activities for a fee (i.e. horseback riding, axe throwing).
- The Historic Crag’s Lodge – Incredible mountain views, outdoor pool and hot tub, onsite restaurant, and a game room.
Estes Park Family Vacation Itinerary
Here’s our suggested itinerary for spending up to one week in Estes Park with kids.
These day-to-day itinerary suggestions are based on our personal experiences and require a full day of exploring beginning at approximately 9 AM and going strong until the evening.
No two Estes Park family vacations will be the same, however, so use these itinerary suggestions as a guide.
You’ll need to adjust your itinerary as needed to account for the weather, where you stay, how much time you spend at each attraction, and the varying interests of your family members.
How many days do you need in Estes Park?
Ideally, I recommend spending 3 – 4 days exploring the town of Estes Park and 3 additional days in Rocky Mountain National Park – for a total of 7 days.
At a minimum, I suggest that you need at least 3 whole days to see the best of Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, especially if you’re traveling from a distance and want to make the most of your trip.
What’s the best time to visit Estes Park?
Though Estes Park is a year-round destination, the best times to visit Estes Park, Colorado are during the months of June through September.
During this time of year, highlights like Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park and other Estes Park tourist attractions are fully open. This is also when the weather is generally warm and pleasant.
Keep in mind that July and August are the most crowded months, so if you’re looking to avoid the crowds, plan on visiting in September through early May.
What airport do you fly into for Estes Park?
The closest airports to Estes Park are Denver International Airport (80 miles away) and Cheyenne Regional Airport (90 miles away).
Estes Park Itinerary 7 Days
Here’s how to spend up to 7 days in Estes Park, Colorado with kids.
The physical locations of the Estes Park attractions that are listed fit into the flow of this itinerary. If you choose to substitute a different attraction, be sure to adjust the timing of your itinerary accordingly.
Stick around to the end of this post where you’ll find our free printable Travel With A Plan itinerary planner to take notes on while planning your trip!
Day 1 – Downtown Estes Park & Estes Park Aerial Tramway
- Go to the Estes Park Visitor Center
- Walk the Estes Park Riverwalk
- Browse the stores, boutiques, and taffy shops in Downtown Estes Park
- Have an old-time portrait taken
- Ride the Estes Park Aerial Tramway
- Spend time at the top of Prospect Mountain
Get an early morning parking spot in the free Estes Park Parking Structure and visit the adjacent Estes Park Visitor Center.
At the Visitor Center, pick up a free map of both Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park and ask any questions you have about the area.
From there, follow the well-marked signs to walk the Estes Park Riverwalk that follows Fall River throughout Downtown Estes Park.
Stop for coffee at Kind Coffee and visit the many shops located along the Riverwalk and Elkhorn Avenue (most of them open at 10 AM).
This is the best time of the day visit Downtown Estes Park because there are fewer people and it gets very hot during the afternoon hours of summer.
The can’t miss shops are The Taffy Shop, The Old Fashioned Candy Store, Brownfields (for quality t-shirts and sweatshirts), Rocket Fizz (for old-time candy and unique soda pop), The Spruce House year-round Christmas shop, and Water Wheel Gift Corner (fun clothing and souvenirs!).
Also, be sure to snap a photo of the historic Park (movie) Theatre.
Built in 1913, this is one of the most recognizable buildings in Downtown Estes Park and still shows both classics and new release films.
Estes Park Aerial Tramway
In the late afternoon, ride the Estes Park Aerial Tramway to the summit of Prospect Mountain.
Along with fantastic, panoramic views, there are hiking trails, a snack shop with gourmet coffee, and a gift shop with souvenirs at the top.
Though the tram is open daily from 9 AM to 6 PM, it may close early if maximum capacity is reached.
This is an unforgettable Estes Park experience that should not be missed!
Day 2 – Lake Estes, Horseback Riding, & Mustang Mountain Coaster
- Walk Lake Estes Trail
- Rent a kayak or paddle board and enjoy Lake Estes
- Take a trail ride at Sombrero Stables
- Ride the Mustang Mountain Coaster
- Enjoy the Estes Park breweries
Spend the morning at Lake Estes located in the heart of Estes Park, Colorado.
Here, you’ll find a pleasant, multi-use, family-friendly trail called Lake Estes Trail, that offers great views of the valley.
This easy, 3.75-mile loop around Lake Estes takes approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes to complete.
While there, consider renting kayaks, paddle boards, or even a pontoon boat from the onsite Lake Estes Marina.
Afterward, go on your pre-arranged 1 or 2-hour trail ride at the nearby Sombrero Stables.
Enjoy the beautiful rocky mountain landscape via horseback while admiring spectacular views of the Continental Divide, Long’s Peak, and the Estes Valley.
1 mile down the road from Sombrero Stables you’ll find the Estes Park Mustang Mountain Coaster!
Purchase a 3-ride pass (1 ride is never enough!) to this unique alpine coaster and enjoy cruising down the mountainside at your own speed.
For prices, age requirements, and other FAQs, visit the Mustang Mountain Coaster website.
Finally, end the day by relaxing at one of Estes Park’s craft breweries – many of which have fun, locally-made sodas available for the kids.
Our personal favorite is Rocky Cut Brewing Company!
Day 3 and 4 – Rocky Mountain National Park
Estes Park is less than 5 miles from several different entrance points into Rocky Mountain National Park.
This close proximity makes it super convenient to visit the park for a short or long period of time each day.
I recommend spending at least 2 – 3 days visiting Rocky Mountain National Park during your Estes Park family vacation.
I also recommend reading about the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National park with kids so that you don’t miss any opportunities within the park that are specifically geared toward children.
While in the park, we spend most of our time at Bear Lake and enjoyed the sights and overlooks on Trail Ridge Road.
Our favorite easy hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park include Bear Lake Hike, Alberta Falls Trail, Lily Lake, and Alpine Ridge Trail for tweens and teens.
In addition, we loved spending time at both the Bear Meadows Visitor Center and Alpine Visitor Center.
*Check back soon for our complete Rocky Mountain National Park itinerary with kids!
Day 5 – All-Day Rafting Excursion
One of the best things to do in Estes Park, Colorado is to spend time on the Colorado River by way of a family-friendly rafting experience.
Though there are several options in the area, we loved our experience with Rapid River Transit on the Colorado River Full-Day Trip.
The experience begins in Estes Park early in the morning with a drive (via charter van) over the scenic Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park.
Upon arriving at the river launch site, life-jacket fitting and paddling lessons take place before starting the 12-mile scenic float down the Colorado River.
This trip offers a mild whitewater experience in class I, II, and sometimes class III rapids – suitable for first-time and experienced rafters.
You’ll be on the water for 4-5 hours and stop for a picnic lunch provided by the rafting company, followed by a chartered ride back to Estes Park.
(Our group consisted of family members ages 7 through 75, all of which who had never rafted before – and we all had a great time!)
For more info and FAQs visit the Rapid River Transit website.
Day 6 – Local hiking & FUN!
- Get a fresh-baked cinnamon roll from Cinnamon’s Bakery
- Hike Knoll Willows Open Space Trail
- Have a family fun day at one of the Estes Park amusement parks
- Go to the LazyB Chuckwagon Dinner Show
Start the morning off at Cinnamon’s Bakery – a popular must-do, fresh-baked cinnamon roll experience in Estes Park!
Visitors and locals start lining up 30 minutes before opening, as they sell out daily within a few hours.
When finished with breakfast, walk the easy 0.5-mile Knoll Willows Open Space Trail in Estes Park.
Populated with elk, you’ll also cross a small bridge, view a rustic cabin from the 1980s, as well as get views of the historic Stanley hotel.
Afterward, spend the afternoon at one or more of Estes Park’s family-friendly amusement centers.
Amusement parks in Estes Park include:
- Fun City – A giant rainbow slide, mini golf, bungee trampoline, bumper boats, go-karts, gemstone panning & more.
- Meadow Mini Golf – A traditional 19-hole miniature golf course
- Ride-A-Cart – Go-karts, bumper cars, bumper boats, miniature railroad, mini golf, batting cages & more.
- Open Air Adventure Park – A zipline aerial adventure park and axe throwing.
End this awesome, fun-filled day by attending the LazyB Chuckwagon Dinner Show.
This indoor dinner show features an authentic BBQ dinner served at 5:30 PM, followed by a Western Show featuring family-friendly humor and songs of the old west.
Day 7 – Stanley Hotel Tour & YMCA Day Pass
If you or your teens are into horror stories then you must visit the historic Stanley Hotel.
This is the famous setting for Stephen King’s novel “The Shining”.
Tours are available for those ages eight and up and last 60 minutes.
Next, head to the YMCA of the Rockies for a fun-filled afternoon during your Estes Park family vacation.
If you are staying offsite, you can still enjoy the activities at the YMCA by purchasing a day pass.
Day passes for visitors not staying in YMCA lodging can be purchased for $29 for adults, $14 for children 6-12, and children 5 and under are free.
Activities include roller skating, mini golf, basketball courts, hiking trails, biking trails, disc golf, an indoor pool, and free family programs and films.
Other activities, that require registration and additional fees, include an escape room, indoor archery, axe throwing, an indoor climbing wall, arts & crafts, horseback riding, skiing, and sledding.
Advance registration is not available for day pass users but may be made the day of if there is availability.
Estes Park Itinerary 5 Days
If you have 5 days in Estes Park, I recommend enjoying days 1 – 5 as listed above, while also finding a morning to stop in for a Cinnamon’s Bakery cinnamon roll!
Estes Park Itinerary 3 Days
If you only have 3 days in Estes Park with kids, I recommend enjoying Downtown Estes Park, horseback riding, riding the Mustang Mountain Coaster, and spending 1 and a half days in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Estes Park Itinerary 1 Day
If you only have one day in Estes Park, Colorado, I recommend starting your day off with a walk around Lake Estes, taking a 30-minute trail ride via horseback, and then riding the Mustang Mountain Coaster.
Enjoy lunch and a short time browsing Downtown Estes Park before heading to Rocky Mountain National Park to hike Bear Lake Trail and travel Trail Ridge Road.
Please ask in the comment section if you have additional questions about visiting Estes Park with family.
And as always, here’s our Travel With A Plan printable itinerary planner!
Download or print this planner straight from our blog to take notes and begin planning the best family vacation yet!
*Before leaving, be sure to check our Travel Resources Page to find exclusive travel discounts and to book hotels, rental cars, and guided tours.*