Whether the aspens are turning yellow and there’s a chill in the air, or the mountains are covered in a soft dusting of snow, or the foliage is peeking bright-green, a visit to Estes Park, the bordertown of Rocky Mountain National Park, promises jaw-dropping views and a spectacular day. A launchpoint for many day trips, this mountain town, merely an hour away, boasts a riverfront main street, easy access to hiking, and dozens of cozy cafes and restaurants. As a bonus, be sure to drive the scenic Peak-To-Peak highway between Estes Park and Nederland on your way in or out of town for a breathtaking view of the expansive Colorado Rockies.
Coffee: Start your day in the mountains with a cup of fresh roasted coffee at the Kind Coffee shop, a friendly and welcoming hangout popular with the locals. Grab a seat on the riverside patio, and enjoy the warm morning sunshine and lively conversation.
470 E. Elkhorn Ave., kindcoffee.com
Breakfast: From the coffee shop, walk 10 minutes across town to the Mountain Home Cafe for a hearty breakfast in a cozy location. Fill up on a mountain egg scramble or the specialty Swedish pancakes before hitting the road for your big day.
457 E. Wonderview Ave., mountainhomecafe.com
Morning activity: For some of the region’s best scenery, head up the road to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) for a morning hike. With everything from a short stroll around a mountain lake to guided half-day wildlife hikes through alpine meadows, RMNP has the terrain to inspire and awe every visitor.
Visit estes-park.com/play/hiking for hike ideas and inspiration, and nps.gov/romo/index.htm for last-minute weather and road closure updates.
Lunch: Pack a picnic lunch en route from town, stopping at one of the many eateries like Scratch Deli and Bakery, and bring it to eat at the half-way point of your hike. If you’re visiting on a Tuesday, Friday or Saturday, stop by the Croft Family Farm, located at The Twisted Pine on 476 Moraine Ave., for fresh local produce.
Visit croftfamilyfarm.com for more information.
Afternoon activity: After a morning out in the park, spend a relaxed afternoon window shopping along Elkhorn Street and the riverfront. Stop by Aspen and Evergreen, an art gallery and store that showcases mountain-inspired pieces by local artists.
356 E. Elkhorn Ave., aspenandevergreen.com
Pay a visit to the Red Rose Rock Shop and adjacent Dick’s Rock shop, a historic landmark that features a half-century old rock collection. Purchase your own rocks to bring home, or select a geode to crack open and reveal the crystals inside.
490 Moraine Ave., redroserockshopestes.com
Dinner and a show: As the evening winds down, head to the Rock Inn Mountain Tavern for a cozy and intimate dinner. This wood cabin occasionally hosts musicians and bands on its 80-year-old stage for an old-fashioned boogie, so make sure to look up its full lineup of events before you go.
675 CO Route 66, rockinnestes.com
Spooky evening: After dark, make your way to the historic Stanley Hotel, famous for inspiring Stephen King’s The Shining. This grand and luxurious hotel offers visitors a variety of eerie nighttime tours. Depending on the time of year, sit out on the front lawn for an evening of stargazing, storytelling and s’mores, or explore the hidden hallways for a night spirit tour.
333 Wonderview Ave., stanleyhotel.com