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Guide to Choosing Estes Park Vacation Lodging

An Insiders Guide to choosing the perfect Estes Park Lodging for your vacation in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Estes Park has over 200 lodging choices.  If you’ve never been to Estes Park before to get the “lay of the land”, how will you know which one to choose?  Here’s some helpful info to help you zero in on the perfect Estes Park vacation lodging for you.

First we’ll talk about the different areas of the Estes Park Valley where hotels, lodges, and cabins are mainly located, and the benefits of each area.

Then we’ll discuss features and amenities you can expect as you range from rustic to luxurious.

Finally, we’ll talk about timing and advance booking for peak seasons.

Let’s dive right in:

Table of Contents

(links jump directly to your topic of interest)

Location, Location, Location

Riverfront,  Lakefront, or Mountainside – Views are all around

Secluded Hideaway

Cabin, hotel, house, lodge, cottage, motel, inn, resort?  Oh my!

Hot Tub vs In-suite Jacuzzi – Amenities galore

The Camping option

Timing for an Estes Park vacation or wildlife viewing

The Best of Estes Mapped

Lodging Guide - Map View

The Real Estate Mantra – Location, Location, Location

Estes Park is the gateway village to the eastern entrances of Rocky Mountain Park.  It lies at 7,522 ft elevation in a spectacular mountain valley surrounded by the towering and majestic peaks of the Continental Divide.  Two rivers flow out of the Park and converge in downtown Estes Park before rushing down to the Colorado Front Range plains below.

Three highways coming into Estes Park also converge near downtown – Hwy 7 (Peak to Peak Highway that passes by Longs Peak); Hwy 36 coming up to the mountains from Boulder/Lyons and the Denver area; and Hwy 34 coming up from Loveland and the northern Front Range via a spectacular, rocky canyon formed by the rivers of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Visitors started coming to the Estes valley in the late 1800’s, and cabins and resorts naturally sprang up along the rivers and roads.  Rocky Mountain National Park was formed over 100 years ago, making Estes Park a favorite family summer destination for generations.  You’ll find history and rustic log cabins as well as luxurious mountain modern resorts, so the location you choose determines the feel.

  • Fall River – Hwy 34 west from downtown Estes Park to the Fall River Entrance Gate to Rocky Mountain National Park.  A beautiful riverfront setting amid rocky outcroppings and giant Ponderosa Pines.  Condos and resorts.
  • Big Thompson River – out Hwy 36/66 (Moraine Ave) from downtown Estes Park toward the Beaver Meadows Main Entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. An area of many rustic mountain cabins mixed with newer condos and vacation homes.  Hike directly into the Park from some lodging near the original Park entrance road (now closed to vehicles).
  • Downtown Estes Park – close to restaurants, shops, museums, and around town family activities
  • Hwy 34 east of downtown – a strip of motels and views of the Continental Divide
  • Hwy 34 down the Big Thompson Canyon – rustic riverfront Colorado cabins
  • Hwy 7 heading out of downtown to the south past Mary’s Lake (S. St Vrain) – local businesses and retro motels.
  • Hwy 36 heading southeast out of downtown (N. St Vrain) – campgrounds

There is no lodging inside the Park!

Estes Park’s Free Summer Shuttle Bus serves all of these areas (except Hwys 34 and 36 coming into town) if you want to go car-less for all or part of your vacation.  Rocky Mountain National Park’s free Shuttle Bus connects at the Visitor Center in downtown Estes Park and heads to Bear Lake and popular hiking trailheads on the East side of the Park.

The western entrance to the Park is across the Continental Divide near the small town of Grand Lake, a forty-plus mile scenic drive over 12,000 ft on Trail Ridge Road (Hwy 34 – closed late Oct thru Memorial Day).  It’s harder to get to the western side of the Park, and thus, less visited and more rustic.

Riverfront, Lakefront, or Mountainside?

riverfront-lodging-RiIverstone-BearPaw

Riverfront lodging along both the Fall River and the Big Thompson River is abundant and prized for many reasons.  Fishermen can literally stand on the banks outside their lodging and fish the stocked rivers.  Vacationers love the peaceful sounds of the rushing water, or visiting around a fire-pit next to the river.  Riverfront decks are great for a family evening barbeque on your own grill, or a relaxing and romantic hot tub soak beneath the stars!

lakefront-boating-on-Lake-Estes

Lake Estes in the center of the Estes Valley is a big, man-made lake popular for boating, fishing, easy strolls, dog walks and bike rides along it’s flat shores, elk watching on the golf course, and birding in the spring.  Great views of the mountains in the distance across the Lake.  The Hwy 34 motel strip is located on a low hill above Lake Estes.

Small Mary’s Lake at the south end of Estes Park has condos for rent, a campground, and a few cabins scattered nearby.

The most beautiful mountain lakes are inside Rocky Mountain National Park and make great destinations for a scenic drive or hike.  Drive or take the hikers shuttle bus to Sprague Lake and Bear Lake and from there hike to Bear Lake neighbors Nymph, Dream, Emerald and Bierstadt Lakes.

mountainside-lodging-aspen-brook-bull-elk

Find Mountainside lodging with spectacular views near the Fall River Entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park as the river valley opens up into the Park, or at the end of Hwy 66 at Eagle Cliff near the YMCA.   In the downtown area, the historic Crags Lodge and Stanley Hotel sit up on mountainsides for spectacular views.

Secluded Hideaway?

With over 4 million visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park each year,  “secluded” might be an oxymoron.  In the peak months of July or September weekends you might be tempted to think that’s the case as you struggle to find parking at hiking trailheads in the middle of the day.

But if you head just a short way out of Estes Park, and find lodging in the tiny towns of Allenspark or Drake, the Colorado cabin you rent will feel much more secluded and away from the crowds.

Look on our Classic Cabins page to find that mountain hideout or rustic cabin that you’re looking for.

big-thompson-river-drake

 

Cabin, condo, hotel, house, lodge, cottage, motel, inn, resort?  Oh my!

We have compiled lists of properties in each of eight Estes Park lodging categories:  Cabins & Cottages, Classic Cabins, Hotels & Lodges, Romantic Getaways, Vacation Homes and Condos, Motels & Suites, Bed & Breakfast, and Campgrounds.

Representing local Estes Park lodging brands and privately owned properties, we specialize in helping visitors to Estes Park locate lodging that won’t be found on national booking websites.

From any Estes Park Lodging page,  Refine your Search to a single lodging category or combination of categories.  Highlight desired Features (amenities) to see only those properties.

TIP:  Because there are many online reservation systems used in Estes Park (and they aren’t tied together), we recommend that you go directly to each lodge’s online availability/booking website page, and call the lodge on the phone and talk to their reservation desk if you have any questions.

Hot Tub vs In-suite Jacuzzi ; wood burning fireplace; swimming pool for the kids– amenities galore

riverfront-lodging-hottub

Outside Hot Tubs are very popular with visitors to Estes Park.  Nights in the mountains are often cool and the perfect temperature for a soak.  Bring your swimsuit for Hot Tubs that will be shared among guests.  Sometimes common area hot tubs can be reserved.  If you prefer au natural, ask for a private hot tub.  In-suite Jacuzzi tubs are always indoor and private.  Be sure to search for the one you prefer.

Many lodges and cabins have wood burning fireplaces, and supply the wood you’ll need to burn.  Others have gas burning fireplaces.  Either way, a cozy evening spent in front of a fire is a great way to unwind.

fireplace-castle-mountain-lodge

Mountain rivers and lakes are really too cold for swimming, but a seasonal outdoor pool for kids is a great option.  There are a couple of lodges with indoor pools open year round, and the new Estes Park Rec Center is a great place to take the family for a swim – it even has a lazy river.

 

The Camping option

If you really want to be close to nature, camping is a great option in one of the 5 Rocky Mountain National Park Campgrounds inside the Park, or in one of the privately owned  local campgrounds outside the Park, or backpacking into a backcountry site inside the Park.

Our blog “Get Ready, Camp in Rocky Mountain National Park” has all the info you’ll need on campgrounds, backcountry campsites, getting permits and reservations, camping with an RV,  or finding a campsite at the last minute.

camping-in-winter-estes-park

Timing for a vacation or the best wildlife viewing

Estes Park has a high percentage of returning visitors who book their vacation for next year while they are here this year.  Historically, the town is very full on Fourth of July week/weekends and it can be hard to get summer lodging at the last minute.  Don’t be surprised by limited availability during peak summer and fall periods.  Book ahead!

elk-herd-lake-estes

Memorial Day weekend is the traditional start of the summer season in Estes Park. Fall visits peak on weekends in September and wind down the second half of October.  Elk herds wander through town (and through the grounds  of your lodging for up-close encounters) during the fall elk rut.

Winter in Estes Park is peaceful and uncrowded – a great counterpart to the busy I70 Corridor Colorado Ski Areas.  Winter is also the time of year for the best deals and lodging discounts.  Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park is a great winter outdoor adventure.  Some lodges have snowshoes to loan, or you can rent them in town.

snowshoe-winter-rocky-mountain-national-park

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