Since the first time I brought my wife to Estes Park, I’ve enjoyed experiencing my hometown through her fresh eyes. She didn’t grow up here like I did, so places locals take for granted are new and exciting for her. We mostly visit at Thanksgiving or Christmas now, so the summer hikes and seasonal attractions just aren’t available to us. But what we’ve discovered is that Estes is a romantic, inspiring getaway for us every single winter.
Every site on this list has to meet a certain standard: Would I go there if it were in my hometown? Back in Nashville we have a growing list of amazing restaurants, coffee joints, bars, and entertainment venues to choose from. But every one of these places could keep our attention even with all the choices of a big city at our fingertips. So ask no longer, what things should I do in Estes Park in the winter? Read on!
Don’t worry, barbecue connoisseurs. Dave does it right – whole hog, all day. The ribs, pork, and brisket could all hold their own in KC, St Louis, Nashville, or Austin. No wonder this place has spun off new locations in Lyons and elsewhere. What other joint in Colorado makes its case so plainly? Dave delivers an array of fantastic sauces, sides, and regional craft beers in an atmosphere that hits the sweet spot – clean enough to rest easy, rustic enough to be credible. Order too much (that won’t be hard); you’ll want more tomorrow.
The world is full of pizza joints, so a memorable one has got to have a unique edge. Poppy’s specializes in small pan pizzas and the best craft beer selection in town. They offer an array of crusts and sauces so diverse and interesting, it’s easy to forget how amazing their simple 8″ pepperoni pizza with red sauce is. Every visit, we discover one or two amazing craft beers that we’ve never seen before and likely never see again, making this a stop not to miss. Bonus: In the winter, it’s easy to get a great table with a view of the river. Where else you should go to eat in Estes Park? See our dining guide!
In a world where bookstores are fading into memory, MacDonald’s makes one strong case for selling bound and printed pages in a brick and mortar building. Tight aisles, a winding floor plan, and smart placement engineer lots of chance encounters with classics, breezy vacation reads, and distinct local fare that would take hours to discover online.
Music and Drinks at the Rock Inn
Locals know the long and mixed history of the Rock Inn, but it hit its stride a few years ago and still delivers on its basic promise: a cozy brew house with spot-on entertainment and pitch-perfect menu. We make a point of stopping in every year to sample the curated craft beer rotation, try their distinct takes on classic pub food, and chat between sets from bluegrass bands that more than please these Nashville natives. Go early for a table close to the wood-burning stove.
Ghost Stories and Cocktails at the Stanley
Historic. Spooky. Elegant. Charming. Rustic. Swanky. The Stanley mixes a constellation of qualities in a way no other place on earth really can. Yes, this is the hotel that inspired The Shining. Yes, it’s an internationally-renowned wedding favorite. None of that matters as you walk up the impressive front steps with a winter flurry swirling around you, and walk through that gorgeous edifice into another century. Sometimes it’s just for a drink — the cocktail menu delivers, and the whiskey selection is outstanding — but other times we pony up for dinner (one of the best in town) or just check out the ghost story night. It’s an unforgettable experience every time, and we can’t get enough. Looking for more? Check out our guide to nightlife in Estes Park!
Any afternoon spent strolling downtown absolutely requires a break for lattes or hot cocoa. This coffee joint delivers on atmosphere, view, quality espresso, and a conversation-friendly atmosphere. It’s our top choice for catching up with old friends, warming up away from the wind and snow, and plotting our next adventure.
Coffee On the Rocks
As far as I know, this is the only coffee shop in America with its own pond. The drinks are terrific, and view is spectacular, and the atmosphere is perfect for long-haul hang-outs. We bring a book or borrow a board game from the shelf, and spend hours. Whether on cold days or sunny, this is where we go to wear away long hours.
Drive Lower Trailridge
Rocky Mountain National Park puts its best foot forward in the summer, but that doesn’t keep us away in the winter. Sure, some of the best hikes are snowshoe-only after October, and Trailridge Road is closed at one gate or another. But what’s left is still a dazzling array of park destinations lit with winter brilliance. The chief of them all, as in the summer, is Trail Ridge Road. You don’t need to ascend the alpine heights the road offers in the summer. Just take it slow up to Rainbow Curve, where the gate is probably shut, and take in the winter wonderland from one of the world’s best mountain overlooks.
Or, if you’re ready to go on the mountain vacation of a lifetime, browse our Estes Park vacation rentals today!