Welcome to Estes Park, the charming gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park. Nestled in the heart of Colorado, Estes Park is not just a picturesque base for exploring the Rockies, but also a starting point for an array of unforgettable day trips. In this guide, we’ll uncover seven of the best day trips from Estes Park, each offering a unique way to experience the stunning landscapes and rich culture of Colorado.
- 7 perfect day trips from Estes Park
- Best time to visit Estes Park
- Wrapping up
7 perfect day trips from Estes Park
We stayed a week in Estes Park during our road trip across the US and Canada! During our time in Estes Park, we found a lot of fantastic ways to spend our days. Here are the most memorable days we had in this beautiful part of Colorado.
1. Go for a leasurily stroll through Upper Beaver Meadows
Day trip type: Hiking🚶🏿
Let’s start our journey with a peaceful stroll through Upper Beaver Meadows. This hidden gem, nestled in the Rocky Mountain National Park, offers a serene escape from the hustle and bustle.
As we wandered along the flat and easy trail, we were surrounded by stunning meadows and panoramic views of the mountains. Keep your eyes peeled for elk and deer grazing in the distance. It’s a perfect spot for a relaxing walk, especially during the golden hours when the meadows are bathed in a soft, warm light.
What makes this the perfect day trip?
It’s easy, low-effort, but super rewarding. You can go on a really long hike, or just keep it simple to have some time for a nice cup of coffee back in Estes Park!
2. Scout for animals near the Sheep Lakes
Day trip type: Viewpoint(s)⛰️
Our next adventure takes us to the Sheep Lakes, known for its frequent wildlife sightings.
This is a bit of an odd day trip, though. Since we were living in a campervan that we bought in Canada, we could take it really slow.
We actually parked our campervan on one of the parking lots that overlooked the Sheep Lakes, and waited for the animals to come to us!
In the meantime, we organized a little picknick for ourselves. And so, as we enjoyed some quality time together, we waited for the many wildlife spottings!
Don’t forget your camera, as these moments are truly one-of-a-kind. The lakes themselves, with their calm waters and mountain backdrop, are a sight to behold.
We spotted moose, lots of elk, and even a coyote that was charged by an elk! And even though the Sheep Lakes are known to be frequented by bighorn sheep, we didn’t see any of them!
If you stay long enough, you might be lucky and witness a beautiful sunset and starry night!
3. Drive the Trail Ridge Road
Day trip type: Roadtrip🚗
Now, let’s hit the road on the Trail Ridge Road, America’s highest continuous paved highway. As we drive through this scenic route, each turn offers a new, breathtaking view of the Rockies.
Make sure to stop at the overlooks – the Alpine Visitor Center offers some of the most spectacular vistas. The road takes you above the tree line, so you’re literally on top of the world at this point!
We visited Estes Park in late April, so unfortunately, part of the road was closed off due to the heavy snow! But hey, that’s only another reason for us to happily revisit Estes Park and it’s beautiful surroundings in the future.
4. Drive the Peak to Peak Highway
Day trip type: Roadtrip🚗
For a different kind of scenic drive, the Peak to Peak Highway is our next pick. This route is a photographer’s dream, with its aspen-lined paths and quaint mountain towns like Ward and Estes Park itself.
The drive is particularly magical in the fall when the aspen trees turn into a vibrant sea of gold and orange. It’s a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, immersed in Colorado’s natural beauty.
5. Adventurous hiking in the Moraine Park
Day trip type: Hiking🚶🏿
Moraine Park is is one of the best places near Estes Park for adventurous hiking. The trails here range from easy walks to more challenging hikes, all offering spectacular views of the park’s rugged terrain and wildlife. We saw lots of elk herds in the distance and spotted lots of different birds. It’s a hiker’s paradise and a great way to connect with nature.
6. Nymph, Dream & Emerald Lakes
Day trip type: Hiking🚶🏿
This is one of the most popular day trips of Estes Park. Three of the most picturesque lakes in the area are within reach: Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes.
The journey actually begins at another lake that you pass on the way up to the actual trailhead: Sprague Lake. We started our day here with a leisurely stroll, and saw an osprey hunting for fish (successfully!)
When you get to the actual trailhead a little higher up, you’ll park the car at Bear Lake. From here, you’ll climb up to Nymph Lake, after which you’ll ascend to Dream Lake. You’re surrounded by dense forests, and as you climb higher, the views get even more dramatic. After a while, you’ll reach the stunning Emerald Lake – a pristine, alpine body of water framed by towering peaks. It’s a bit of a hike, but absolutely worth every step.
Tip: we visited this area in late April so had to deal with lots of snow! Be prepared!
7. Visit Nederland
Day trip type: Leisure🏊♀️
Did you know that Nederland is also the Dutch name of the Netherlands? It’s our home country, so when we passed through Nederland, CO, we just had to stop here. It’s a quirky and charming town and is full of character, with unique shops, cozy cafes, and a friendly local vibe.
Don’t miss the Carousel of Happiness, an enchanting, hand-carved carousel that brings joy to visitors of all ages. Nederland is the perfect place to unwind and enjoy a slower pace of life.
Best time to visit Estes Park
Short Answer: The ideal time to visit Estes Park is between June and September. This period offers the most favorable weather conditions for outdoor activities, with warm days and clear skies.
Why? During these months, the full range of attractions in Rocky Mountain National Park is accessible, including all hiking trails and scenic drives. The warmer temperatures make it perfect for camping, wildlife spotting, and enjoying the natural beauty of the area.
Best month to visit Estes Park: July stands out as the best month. It’s the peak of summer, offering long days, comfortable temperatures, and a full bloom of wildflowers across the meadows and mountainsides.
Off-Season Tip: Visiting in the off-season, particularly October or April, can be a unique experience. You’ll encounter fewer crowds and have a chance to see Estes Park’s seasonal transitions. Plus, lodging is often more affordable. However, be prepared for unpredictable weather and some closed facilities in the national park.
We were in Estes Park in April, 2022, and even though some facilities were indeed closed, we had a blast of a time!
Tip: Be prepared to deal with snow! Even though the trailhead of a hike might seem easily doable, you can find yourself knee-deep in snow after every corner!
So, are you looking forward to your trip to Estes Park? We’ve spent a good couple of days here, and were thrilled with the beautiful day trip that we managed to experience. This part of Colorado has a lot to offer, and we will cherish these memories for the rest of our lives!
Did I miss anything important? Do you have anything to add to these day trips? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!