HERE IS A QUICK BREAKDOWN OF SOME OF THE BEST PLACES TO EXPLORE IN ESTES PARK, COLORADO - INCLUDING THE BEST RESTAURANTS, CAFES AND ADVENTURES.
The beautiful mountain town of Estes Park is home to a lot of restaurants - as you would expect from a popular tourist-y location. And while there definitely is quantity we wouldn't say there is 100% quality. But from two people, one of whom grew up in the town, will tell you, once you get off the main strip you can find some pretty delicious meals.
Below are a couple of our favorite places in and around Estes Park that will have you feeling happy and full, especially after a long day on the trails.
Meadow Mountain Café (located in Allenspark) $$ *get there early, it gets BUSY
Glen Haven General Store (the BEST cinnamon rolls) $
The Baldpate Inn, a cute, historic inn with salad and pie! $$
Nepal's Cafe, has an amazing lunch buffet $
Smokin Dave's BBQ, especially nice at the Hanger/Golf Course $$
Nicky's Steakhouse Restaurant, expensive but delicious $$$
Cafe de Pho Thai, amazingly authentic Thai food $$
Rock Creek Tavern & Pizzeria, great pizza in Allenspark $$
Fresh Burger Stop, in a gas station but really tasty - and cheap $
Bird & Jim, local, fresh, seasonal specialties $$$
Dunraven Inn, their cannoli's are out of this world $$$
Kind Coffee, also has awesome breakfast food $
Inkwell & Brew, eclectic shop with coffee and cartography $
Coffee on the Rocks, wonderful setting near a pond and RMNP $
Now for the fun (-ner) part: the best things to do outside, including hikes in and around the area, dog-friendly trails and mountain bike routes that give you some pretty stellar views (and get your heart pounding).
Rated 1-3 in terms of difficulty: 1 is easiest, 3 is most challenging
Chasm Lake, 2
Flat Top Mountain, for the best views try to go all the way to the top of Mt. Otis, 2
Dunraven Glade, a nice back entrance into RMNP, 1
Black Lake, beautiful and often quiet mountain lake 2
Chiefshead and Mt. Alice, two great peaks that see almost no people, 3
Devil's Thumb Pass, located down in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, 3
Dog Friendly Trails
Lily Mountain, go early because it gets busy, 1
Hermit Park Open Space, 1
Pierson Park, off of Big Owl Road is just an amazing trail, 2
Pole Hill Road, 2
Best Mountain Bike Routes
Johnny Park, nice dirt road that winds through evergreen forests and wildflowers
Pierson Park Cross-Over, ~12 miles but gorgeous
Pole Hill Road, rough start but pretty trail with views
Picture Rock, located in Lyons but has good flowers and easy(ish) trails
Awesome Stargazing Spots
Panorama Point, a long hike but nice and secluded
McGraw Ranch Trailhead, very quiet and almost no light pollution
Wild Basin area, the quieter part of RMNP, plus it is far enough away that there is very little light pollution
Estes Park has a lot more to offer than touristy restaurants, taffy shops and RMNP. While we did mention a couple trails within the park (Black Lake, Flat Top Mountain) there are tons of really nice trails - that are dog and mountain bike friendly - outside of the park.
Our recommendation is Indian Peaks Wilderness. It is near the cute town of Nederland and has some awesome trails that allow dogs. We love Devil's Thumb Pass because of the difficulty (you practically hike up to the Continental Divide) but there is also Blue Lake, Mt. Audubon and tons of other alpine meadows and waterways.
Hopefully, you will find this information useful when planning your own trip to Estes Park and would like to get off-the-beaten-path a bit more. If you want to see our itinerary for the best 3 days in Estes Park then check out this article.