Estes Park is brimming with stunning winter activities like snowshoeing, skiing, sled rides, and more! That’s not to mention that a winter visit will be characterized by fewer crowds.
The winter attractions of Estes Park are just waiting to be seized and spun into memories, whether you are with your significant other, family, friends or even traveling solo.
This guide will help you get the most out of your frosty trip to Estes by providing a local’s insights on the best winter activities in the Park!
Let’s dive right in! I’ll provide a quick glance at each activity and then give a more detailed overview of each. Let’s dive into:
- Skiing and snowboarding
- Ice climbing
- Sleigh rides and horse-drawn carriages
- Winter Wildlife Viewing
Let’s get into it!
- Time of year: appropriate at high elevations all year round
- Difficulty: Moderate to high fitness is required for snowshoeing trails; however, beginners can go on short trips within their comfort level
- Cost: Snowshoeing in Estes Park can cost around $90/head when you take into account the park access fee of $30/car and the cost of snowshoe hire for about 2 hours. A guided trail tour with lunch included will cost around $150/head. If you have your own snowshoes and feel comfortable without a guide, then the park access fee is all you will pay!
- Location: Some of the best Snowshoeing locations to check out include the Bear Lake Loop, Nymph Lake Walk, Chasm Falls, Mills Lake, Deer Mountain, and the Glacier Gorge trailhead in general
- For guided snowshoeing experiences, head to Kirks Mountain Adventures to see about booking a tour!
Snowshoeing is a breath of fresh air – relatively inexpensive, accessible all year round, and great for physical fitness.
If you can hike, I’m sure you can snowshoe! Snowshoeing involves trekking through the snow in specially designed footwear.
Hiking conditions aren’t always ideal if you visit Estes in the winter, so gaining some elevation means you can skip the mud and get back to walking.
There are a range of different snowshoeing walks in Estes Park that cater to all experience and fitness levels.
My recommendation for beginners is the mild Bear Lake Loop, which involves less than a mile of actual walking yet yields views of the beautiful Bear Lake.
Colorado’s alpine views wrapped in pristine snowy blankets make snowshoeing one of the most popular Estes Park attractions.
Skiing and Snowboarding
- Difficulty: Beginner, intermediate, and advanced slopes are available in Estes Park
- Cost: Lift tickets for Skiing in Estes Park range from $70-$80 per person depending on age in Eldora Mountain Resort plus the cost of gear and ski hire ($60-$100/day depending on your needs). The Colorado Mountain School also offers backcountry skiing. For a pass, lessons, and gear with them, you pay $279/head
- Location: Eldora Mountain Resort is the closest skiing/snowboarding location to Estes Park
- Time of Year: November through to April
- Bookings: Book for the Eldora field here (book well in advance as passes are limited).
Skiing and snowboarding are great in the cold, dry Colorado conditions. The slopes are typically best in mid to late winter when the snow base is thick and hard.
Skiing and snowboarding are quite involved and require practice if you are a complete beginner!
I recommend purchasing lessons if it is your first time and booking a multi-day pass.
You may be falling on your butt for the first day, but you’ll get the hang of it by the end of your Estes snowsports experience!
I recommend walking some hills and building up your lower body strength before skiing for the first time. Controlling your skis takes some glute and leg action!
If you are already experienced in either sport, you will love the challenging snow park jumps and great snow conditions available in the Estes fields.
The off-piste (ungroomed) skiing is generally fun and safe if you are an experienced skier in Estes Park.
- Difficulty: Good physical fitness is required.
- Time: One or more full-day trips
- Cost: At the Kent Mountain Adventure Centre, one full day of ice climbing costs $409 for one person, $598 for two people, and $777 for three people. An intro to ice climbing at the Colorado Mountain school costs $279 (less practical), or a 2-day development course costs $539.
- Location: Rocky Mountain National Park at high elevation
- Time of Year: Winter OR Early spring
- Bring: Warm and breathable clothes, and thick gloves
- Bookings: The best way to experience ice climbing is to take a lesson first! Book lessons through the Colorado Mountain School. You can also take ice climbing lessons (or send your young ones to an ice climbing camp) through the Kent Mountain Adventure Centre.
Have you ever wanted to feel like Lara Croft? Ice climbing is one of the more hardcore yet thrilling experiences that you could check out on your visit to Estes Park. If you feel up to the heights, sharp equipment, and frozen ice walls, then read on!
If you are physically fit enough for basic YMCA rock climbing, you will be fine to experience ice climbing.
If you haven’t tried it before, though, start with an ice climbing course such as the introduction offered by the Colorado Mountain School.
They’ll give you everything that you need to know about safety, equipment, and techniques. In my opinion, even experienced climbers will find no substitute for the expert training given in these classes!
As well as the adrenaline rush, you should give ice climbing a try for its beauty; you’ll be climbing majestic frozen waterfalls in an uncrowded winter wilderness, after all.
If you hate the glut of tourists who turn to Colorado skiing, then ice climbing is a great alternative!
Training groups are small, and you will be taken by an experienced guide to off-trail waterfalls of the Rocky National Park.
Sleigh Rides and Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides
- Difficulty: No level of physical fitness is required!
- Cost: Varies $60/adult, $50/youth, $5/child.
- Location: Sleigh rides and Horse-Drawn Carriage rides are offered by various winter lodges, ranches, and stables around Estes Park. A great option is Rocky Mountain Stables at Snow Mountain Ranch (1101 County Road 53).
- Time of Year: Winter and early spring
- Bookings: Call 970-887-1999 to make a reservation at Rocky Mountain Stables.
Sleigh Rides and Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides Overview
A sleigh/horse-drawn carriage ride at Estes Park is sure to be worth your while! I think that every child will love the horses, jingling sleigh bells, and relaxed sleighing experience.
This makes it a great end-of-trip experience when the family is getting a bit tired. If you are in Estes with your significant other, snuggling up on the sleigh together is just as nice.
Whether snow adventure sports aren’t your thing, or your legs are tired from ice climbing, taking a sleigh/ carriage ride is a must-do experience!
You generally receive a meal, drink, or hot chocolate in a carriage ride package. This makes it a real activity; you should put aside a couple of hours in your day if you plan on booking one.
Winter Wildlife Viewing
- Difficulty: You should be able to walk into the Rocky Mountain National Park and access the trails, but you don’t need a high level of fitness at all!
- Wildlife to spot: Elks, Deer, Rabbits 250 kinds of Birds, Bighorn Sheep, Moose, Foxes, Bears, Mountain Lions, Bobcats, Squirrels, reptile species, and more!
- Cost: The cost of a pass to the Rocky Mountain National Park (From $15 to $70 depending on what kind of pass you need). Find out more on the Rocky Mountain National Park official website. A day trip tour may cost up to $150/head depending on the provider. You can spot Wildlife for free around Estes Park if you are lucky. Getting lucky is – of course – free of charge!
- Location: Rocky Mountain National Park and potentially in forest areas surrounding your accommodation.
- Time of Year: All year round
- Bookings: Book a Rocky Mountain pass on the National Park official website if you want to walk trails and spot wildlife independently. To check out a great day tour, head to Viator.com.
Estes Park is full of unique wildlife that can be spotted on hikes, guided wildlife tours, and even around the Downtown Estes area.
No matter which animals you find fascinating, Estes Park has a critter and a creature for everyone!
On a winter visit, you may not see the Tiger Salamander sunbathing, but the upshot is that Este’s wintry beauty also comes with fewer crowds.
You may not see but hear the great horned owls hooting in the night. Some common animals that you are sure to see include wild turkeys and grazing moose. Bears and Elks also lurk in the deeper Colorado forest.
Going for a wildlife tour is great with kids as well! You can quiet the little ones in an instant with a game of first-to-spot-a-deer or point-to-the-otter.
If you’re after an expert guide, then Wildlife4by4tours is open year-round to show off the wildlife, waterfalls, lakes, and snow of wintry Estes.
You get to go off-road on a safe yet thrilling nature tour. From the heated truck, you can also enjoy snacks and hot cocoa!
The duration of a winter tour with Wildlife 4 by 4 tours is about 3 hours and will definitely be enough to fulfill your desire for adventure for that day. Check out their reviews and promotional videos here.
- Difficulty: Easy for the whole family. If you can walk up a hill then the activity is not physically challenging.
- Cost: Free unless you have to purchase or hire a sledding device. If you are staying nearby, many Estes Accommodations provide sleds and tubes to loan in the wintertime.
- Location: Hidden Valley Sledding and Tubing Hill.
- Time of Year: Winter
- Bookings: Not required.
Nope – I’m not talking about tubing on the lake! Tubing on the snow is basically sledding in a big soft donut for a long distance. Better yet: it’s practically free!
Young and old kids will love the free tubing available at Hidden Valley, which is a popular attraction for sliding.
I’d say that a tubing session would take from 2-3 hours, and it’s a great way to burn off some steam!
On Trip Advisor, Tubing at Hidden Valley has been described as “Beautiful outdoor fun” and “Winter Wonderland” and has received many 5-star ratings. I couldn’t agree more with this consensus, and the cherry on top is the affordability of the trip.
The tubing hill can be a mission to find on your first time; here’s how to get there. Pop “Hidden Valley” into your GPS and Park in the parking area. The hill used to be in business for snow sports but is now used for free-access recreational sledding/tubing.
After you’ve parked, follow the path half a mile to the base of the hill. From here, all you need to do is follow the hill up to the top (a bit of a hike!), and enjoy the ride back down!
The hill is unstaffed, so be sure to bring yourself a picnic lunch, very warm clothes and a sledding device. Wind and possible snow on the hill means that snow gear is highly recommended.
If you need to hire a sledding device, then you can get them for $5/day from the Mountain Shop in Estes Park.
In wintertime, there’s something for everyone in the stunning Estes Park!
From snow sports to cozy vibes and relaxed tours, I highly recommend Estes Park as a fun wintertime destination.
My final tips are to try new things and plan ahead for your trip. The locals are helpful and friendly, which makes the park a welcoming destination for novel experiences.
Its popularity means that booking ahead is always necessary, so don’t leave activity reservations until the last minute.
Thank you for reading my in-depth guide to Estes fun in the wintertime; I’m looking forward to seeing you there soon!