If you don’t plan well, a day trip to Estes Park could become really expensive. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to plan an amazing and budget-friendly day. Sometimes there's nothing better than spending a day walking around and exploring your favorite mountain towns. Estes Park is a casual town that has a lot of activities to entertain the casual visitor and it’s also the home of the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Driving to Estes Park can be a long but beautiful experience. There are various routes to get you there depending on where you’re coming from in the state. Those in the metro area can expect to spend about $15 round-trip for cars with average fuel economy.
When you arrive in town, stop by the Visitor’s Center. I recommend doing this because elk almost always seem to find their way close to the center. Your kids will love this! Remember if you do see elk, or any other wild animals, please don't get near them.
Make your way into town and if you’re lucky you'll be able to park behind the Town Hall building, which is perfectly situated for a day of sightseeing.
Plan on spending a few hours wandering up and down Main Street in Estes Park. Main Street has a wide variety of local businesses ranging from the ever-present kitschy souvenir shops to the cozy McDonald Bookshop for the book lovers in your family.
It won't escape your notice that there are a surprising number of salt-water taffy shops. No visit to Estes would be complete without picking up a small bag of taffy.
One of the best ways to explore Estes Park is to walk along the River Walk that is located behind the shops on Main Street.
When it’s time for lunch, find a cozy spot along the River Walk and eat it while watching the masses walk by. Don’t forget to walk to the end of Main Street to check out the water wheel at the far end of town. Once you’ve finished exploring Main Street, it’s now time to hop into your car and explore the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Rocky Mountain National Park
It’s not a cliché that Colorado people love to get outdoors and enjoy exploring their state. Rocky Mountain National Park is a perfect place to do this in Estes Park. The fee to enter the park is $20 per vehicle. As you make your way through Rocky Mountain National Park make sure to stop along the road and check out the many paths and scenic outlooks that line Trail Ridge Road.
When you reach the top of Trail Ridge Road, spend some time at the Alpine Visitor’s Center. You can park your car at the visitors’ center and go for a hike on the path located directly across from the center (facing west). No trip to the park would be complete without climbing to the top of “Huffer’s Hill” a somewhat daunting set of stairs that lead to the top of the hill across from the Visitor’s Center.
If there is still plenty of daylight left, head down the mountain and spend some time on Lake Estes. There is nothing better than renting a paddle boat and spending some time on the lake. A four-person paddle boat only costs $17 to rent from the Lake Estes Marina.
Getting there: You’re in day trip range so budget: $15
Accommodation: Hey, it’s a day trip! - $0
Food: A picnic lunch shouldn't cost you more than $25
Rocky Mountain National Park Entrance Fee: $20
Entertainment: Walking around main street, traversing the many trails, and taking in the Estes Park beauty is all free. Capping the day off with a paddle boat rental at Lake Estes is going to cost you (totally worth it!): $17
Total: An imminently affordable $77