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If you’re looking for a complete guide on the best things to do in Estes Park in winter – look no further, we’ve got you covered!
With its plethora of fun, year-round activities, breathtaking mountain views, and convenient access to Rocky Mountain National Park, it’s no wonder that visitors continue to flock to Estes Park in winter despite the snow and cold.
In this post, I’ll help you plan the perfect Estes Park winter getaway, whether you’re looking for adrenaline-pumping outdoor thrills or simple ways to get festive and cozy in town.
Along with including Estes Park’s most exciting winter activities, we’ll share our detailed packing list to keep you shielded from the winter weather.
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Winter in Estes Park FAQs
Namely, “Am I going to freeze to death?”, “Can I still access Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter?”, and, “Is there downhill skiing in Estes Park?”.
Those are all reasonable inquiries, so here’s what I can tell you…
How cold is Estes Park in the winter?
Winter in Estes Park starts in late November and lasts until at least March.
Winter tends to be somewhat milder than people may think and temperatures range from the 20s in December to the 40s in March.
The coldest month of the year in Estes Park is January, with an average low of 13°F and a high of 31°F.
Though snow patterns vary from a light dusting to several inches at a time, Estes Park doesn’t get as much snow as other areas in Colorado.
With that said, wind gusts and below 0 temps are not uncommon, and winter weather is hard to predict.
Therefore, it is crucial to be prepared with proper cold-weather clothing, including base layers and windproof/waterproof outer layers (more on what to wear in Ester Park during winter at the end of the post).
How do I get around Estes Park in the winter?
When it comes to getting around Estes Park in the winter, I recommend first brushing up on our winter driving tips as well as renting a car upon your arrival if you don’t already have one.
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 winter getaway, as well as if you prefer the convenience of having your own vehicle to visit Rocky Mountain National Park.
For maneuvering around town, however, Estes Transit does offer a free Winter Shuttle Service that operates from mid-October through January 1st.
The winter schedule offers a fixed route of stops on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays – which is an adjustment to the broader schedule offered during peak summer tourism season.
Is there downhill skiing in Estes Park?
Estes Park is unique among other popular Colorado mountain towns for not being a dedicated ski resort town.
While there are no downhill skiing or snowboarding options located right within Estes Park, the ski area of Eldora is approximately an hour and 15 minutes away, making it the perfect day trip.
For expert skiers with extensive training and experience in backcountry skiing, nearby Rocky Mountain National Park is full of opportunities.
In terms of the more well-known ski resort towns in Colorado, their driving distance from Estes Park are as follows:
- Breckenridge, Colorado – 2 hours and 30 minutes away
- Keystone, Colorado – 2 hours and 40 minutes away
- Vail, Colorado – 2 hours and 50 minutes away
- Steamboat Springs, Colorado – 3 hours away
- Aspen, Colorado – 4 hours and 40 minutes away
Things to do in Estes Park in winter
If you’re planning a winter visit to Estes Park, Colorado, there’s no limit on fun, winter activities available!
This Colorado town transforms into a winter wonderland each year with ice fishing, winter hiking, family-friendly sledding, and dozens of other fun things to do in Estes Park with kids!
Beyond the great outdoors, Estes Park also offers a cozy downtown, tons of holiday events, impressive galleries, and must-try local breweries – all with the view of snow-covered mountain peaks as your backdrop.
Oh, and psst…we love visiting Estes Park, Colorado so much that we’ve written several other guides to help you plan your trip:
- 29 Exciting Things to Do in Estes Park With Kids
- The Ultimate Estes Park Family Vacation Itinerary
- Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary + Best Things to Do With Kids!
- 15 Easy Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park That You’ll Love
1. Spend the afternoon at Hidden Valley Snow Play Area
If your family is in search of some low-key fun in the snow, Hidden Valley Snow Play Area would be my #1 recommendation for things to do in Estes Park this winter!
Hidden Valley was once home to downhill skiing slopes but was closed to skiing back in the 90s.
Its legacy, however, lives on at the bottom of the old bunny hill, where friends and families gather for fun-filled days of sledding and snow tubing.
It’s one of my very favorite things to do in Estes Park in winter and both kids and adults will have an amazing time!
There are heated restrooms and warming huts (open on weekends and holidays) to help you defrost throughout the day.
Bring your own food and drinks, however, as concessions are not available.
Additional planning tip: The sledding hill is open from 10 AM to 4 PM every day, but you have to bring your own sleds and snow tubes.
You can rent sleds and tubes at several locations in Estes Park including the Estes Park Mountain Shop.
2. Gear up at the Estes Park Mountain Shop
Speaking of the Estes Park Mountain Shop…
If you’re in the market for a little adventure, they’ve got you covered!
This sporting goods store offers dozens of winter rentals including ice skates, snowshoes, cross-country ski equipment – and even winter boots!
Take your equipment with you on the road for a day packed with snowy adventures.
If you want a little break from the cold, they also offer an indoor climbing gym.
This venue is a great introduction to rock climbing for all ages (kids 5 and up can enjoy a climb!).
Day passes are also cost-effective, with rates at $15 per adult and $7 per child.
3. Ride the Mustang Mountain Coaster
Estes Park’s Mustang Mountain Coaster is one of the best things to do in Estes Park with kids – and, yes… it’s open in the winter!
Este’s Mountain Coaster is an alpine slide ride in which riders load into a 1-2 person alpine slide cart and are transported via an automatic motion to the top of the mountain.
Riders then cruise down the alpine slide via gravity, controlling their own speed by way of a brake bar.
Purchase a 3-ride pass (1 ride is never enough!) to this unique alpine coaster and enjoy both the epic scenery and the exhilarating ride experience!
For prices, age requirements, and other FAQs, visit the Mustang Mountain Coaster website.
4. Visit Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is, without a doubt, the most popular attraction that Estes Park has to offer.
Plus, there are literally so many things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park with kids, as well as dozens of easy hikes for the whole family to enjoy!
With several different entrance points located within 5 miles of Estes Park, it’s super convenient to head into the park multiple different times when visiting Estes Park in winter.
Take advantage of the exceptionally beautiful scenery of the Rocky Mountains during the winter months via activities that include:
- Cross-country skiing
- A range-led snowshoe walk
- Wildlife watching
- And winter hikes
Though winter is a magical time to visit the park, cold temperatures, snow accumulation, and icy roads can create a challenge for visitors.
In addition, though Rocky Mountain National Park remains open all day, every day of the year, certain areas (including the popular Trail Ridge Road), are completely closed during the winter.
Be sure to consult a guide to visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in winter and plan accordingly.
5. Take a scenic drive
When visiting Estes Park in winter, there is plenty of natural beauty that you can indeed enjoy from the warmth and comfort of your own vehicle!
Roads that tend to stay open all winter in the park, depending on the weather, include:
- Fern Lake Road
- Bear Lake Road
- Twin Sisters Trailhead Access Road
- Upper Beaver Meadows Road
- Wild Basin Road
As mentioned above, always double-check road conditions and closures before heading out.
In addition to the scenery, always be on the lookout for wildlife when visiting Estes Park in winter.
With Rocky Mountain National Park on 3 three sides and the national forest on the fourth, you’re almost guaranteed to spot wildlife, even while driving through town.
Winter is an especially good time to look for snowshoe hare, coyote, elk, moose, and mule deer.
6. Go cross-country skiing
It’s no secret that Colorado is famous for its skiing, and Estes Park is no exception!
In fact, one of the best ways to discover and enjoy Estes Park in winter is by way of cross-country skiing.
Well-loved cross-country skiing trails in and around Estes Park include:
- Nymph Lake Trail
- Flattop Mountain Trail
- Mills Lake Trail
- Sprague Lake Trail (great for beginners!)
- Boulder Brook Trail
Head to Estes Park Mountain Shop if you’re in need of ski rentals.
7. Try ice fishing
Have you ever wanted to try ice fishing?
Now’s your chance!
If you’re an experienced fisherman and in need of some gear, take another visit to Estes Park Mountain Shop for rentals and ask for local fishing advice.
8. Experience Kent Mountain Adventure Center
For an outdoor experience that really gets your heart racing, I recommend a guided tour offered by Kent Mountain Adventure Center.
This agency offers tours in ice climbing, backcountry skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, splitboarding, and avalanche education.
While some of these activities aren’t suited for young children, teens and adults can experience thrilling outdoor adventures through safe and guided instruction.
9. Visit Colorado Mountain School
Similarly, the Colorado Mountain School offers guided experiences in rock climbing, backcountry skiing, mountaineering, ice climbing, and splitboarding.
You can also take educational courses in any of these experiences if you’re a beginner.
10. Tour the Estes Park Museum
For a break from the snowy outdoors, step inside the Estes Park Museum for a quick tour.
This history center showcases the lives of early homesteaders.
Additional planning tip: The museum is open Wednesday – Saturday, with free admission for all!
11. Go ice skating
If you have the itch to go ice skating, take a visit to the YMCA of the Rockies.
Here, you’ll find an outdoor ice rink perfect for some winter skating.
This rink is open seasonally, usually between December and early February.
The YMCA is also affiliated with the Snow Mountain Ranch Nordic Center – a ski resort getaway that offers 120k of world-class terrain.
Visit Snow Mountain Ranch Nordic Center for family-friendly skiing and trails suited for all ages and ski levels.
Additional planning tip: Kids under age 6 ice skate for free!
12. Browse downtown Estes Park
The town of Estes Park is just as captivating as its wildlife.
Spend an afternoon exploring Estes Park, popping into quaint shops, and sampling their local fares.
You’ll find various artisans, dining opportunities, and boutique shopping.
Exploring downtown is one of the best things to do in Estes Park in winter because it allows you to soak up the culture of the community by interacting with locals and supporting local small businesses.
13. Sample Estes Park Brewery
If craft beer is your drink of choice, be sure to pop in to sample the brews at Estes Park Brewery.
Here, you can taste 12 hand-crafted beer varieties like the Longs Peak Raspberry Wheat, Stinger Wild Honey Wheat, And The Shining Pale Ale.
You can also enjoy their famous root beer and full restaurant menu, including pizzas, burgers, salads, and appetizers.
Additional planning tip: Kids are welcome here with a kid’s menu available.
14. Enjoy holidays at the Stanley
The historic Stanley Hotel offers tons of holiday fun throughout the winter season.
If this hotel sounds familiar, that’s because it inspired Stephen King’s novel, The Shining.
And what the real hotel lacks in spooky spirits, they make up for with festive celebrations.
A visit to the Stanley is sure to be an event, whether you attend their Nutcracker Ballet or take part in their Christmas family dinner.
If you’re a fan of The Shining, they even offer hotel tours, including a historic tour and a spirited Shining tour.
More Things to Do in Estes Park in Winter
- Attend a local festival – Winter festivals in Estes Park include the Wine & Chocolate Festival, Winter Warm-Up, and Bigfoot Days.
- Go bowling – Head to Bull Pin for 8 lanes of bowling, pool tables, an arcade, and a full bar.
- Visit local coffee shops – We love Coffee on the Rocks, Kind Coffee, and Mile High Coffee House.
- Go winter camping – Designated sections of Moraine Park Campground are open all winter.
- Go swimming – Check out the large indoor pool at the Estes Valley Community Center.
Best Places to Stay in Estes Park in Winter
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
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, an 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.
What to Pack for Estes Park in the Winter
Mountain weather is notoriously unpredictable, and vacationing in Estes Park is no exception.
No matter when you visit Estes Park – winter, summer, spring, or fall – we always suggest packing and dressing in layers.
Strategic layering will ensure that you stay dry (or dry quickly) and protected from the wind, while still being able to explore comfortably.
When visiting Estes Park in the winter, we recommend wearing a merino wool base layer underneath your clothing every day during your trip.
Avoid non-insulating fabrics like cotton, and remember that natural fibers are pretty much always better than manmade textiles like polyester.
After your base layer, you’ll need to add on at least 1 additional layer before your outerwear, like a pair of pants and a pullover or sweater.
Also, don’t forget the following items when visiting Estes Park in winter:
- Base layer (as mentioned above)
- Mid layers (i.e. fleece pullover, sweater)
- Warm winter coat
- Warm, waterproof walking boots
- Merino wool neck gaiter
- Warm winter gloves
- Warm hat or headband
These are so important for creating traction and grip when hiking in winter.
Conclusion: Estes Park in Winter
Estes Park makes such a fun winter travel destination because of its exciting outdoor activities, proximity to the Rocky Mountain National Park, and fun, cozy atmosphere that downtown has to offer.
Explore Estes Park for an incredible winter holiday your family will talk about for years to come.
Looking for other options for where to take your family for the winter holidays?
Check out our other winter guides for additional family vacation inspiration:
- Best Warm Winter Vacations in the USA That You’ll Love
- Chicago in Winter (Best Things to Do + 3-Day Itinerary!)
- Family Travel: Top 5 Fun Things to do in Minneapolis With Kids this Winter
- 5 Fun-Filled Midwest Winter Weekend Getaways (+Itineraries)
*Before leaving, be sure to check our Travel Resources Page to find exclusive travel discounts and to book hotels, rental cars, and guided tours.*