In 1864, one of Colorado’s most prominent men, William Byers, set his sights on Longs Peak.
Climbing the 14,000 foot mountain didn’t work out for the founding editor of the Rocky Mountain News. But the stay in this narrow, mountainous valley clearly left a positive impression, thanks at least in part to the hospitality of the couple who hosted him, Joel and Patsy Estes.
In his diary, Byers proclaimed, “Eventually this park will become a favorite vacation spot.”
He was right.
Estes Park is, of course, famous for being the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. Since Longs Peak and its surrounding wilderness were preserved in 1915, the city has grown – outward and upward from its origins along Elkhorn and Moraine Avenues, located along today’s Riverwalk today.
Despite the development and bustle, elk still venture into town, especially during the early fall rut. And the downtown corridor retains its historic charm.
It’s all while housing everything you’d expect from a tourist epicenter: sweets, gifts, galleries and boutiques. More than 200 businesses line the avenues.
Shop till you drop
The Old Church Shops was a place of worship in 1900. Today it’s a place for coffee, clothing, souvenirs and more.
Prior to 2020, Macdonald Book Shop was a family staple dating back to 1928; it is now owned by the couple next door at Inkwell and Brew, the cafe that is a good neighbor. Trusted Earthwood Artisans since 1977 for pottery, jewelry, paintings and photography. It’s always Christmas at the Christmas Shoppe, which has just celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Trendz has left its mark this decade, filled with handmade keepsakes, gifts, and home decor. Show up with something from Buckles of Estes and/or something from Patterson Glassworks. Patterson promises “dazzling gifts” and the occasional glassblowing demonstration.
Food and drink
The Big Horn Restaurant has been a favorite for breakfast on Elkhorn Avenue since 1972. The family-run establishment also takes care of you for lunch with the Big Horn Deal. The kitchen prepares your picnic to take away while you have lunch.
A new option down the road is The Egg of Estes – proudly reclaimed by and for locals after a former life as Egg & I, a national chain.
Penelope’s World Famous Burgers is the nostalgic stop, filling bellies with bison, elk and hand-cut fries in a retro atmosphere. Grubsteak is another family favorite serving a similar game. Want something wilder? Order Rocky Mountain oysters at Wapiti Pub.
Spice it up at Nepal’s Cafe and Himalayan Curry & Kebob. Visit Ed’s Cantina for Mexican. Find Italian dinners at Mama Rose’s.
Just east of downtown is Estes Park Brewery and Rock Cut Brewing Co. Snowy Peaks Winery is also within walking distance. Back on Elkhorn, enjoy the centuries-old nightlife at Lonigans Saloon.
have a little fun
Fun City has been a family favorite since 1969, an amusement park that surprises by the main street. There’s something for every kid and kid at heart: bungee jumping, go-karts, bumper cars, bumper boats, a giant rainbow slide and more.
Around the corner is the Estes Park Aerial Tramway, which soars 1,000 feet for a mesmerizing panorama. The walk has been an essential route since 1955.
For a rainy day, look no further than the Historic Park Theatre, a cinema tower overlooking the city center.
If you can’t pick up pikas in their high natural habitat, look around downtown. New to the streets are 12 bronze sculptures of tiny creatures; finding them will keep the kids busy. It’s a hunt best enjoyed with a treat from The Taffy Shop, Laura’s Fine Candies or Estes Park Sugar Shack.
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