Estes Park, an iconic American getaway destination, has earned its reputation courtesy of its majestic scenery and breathtaking landscapes — all while still maintaining the rustic vibe of a mountain town!
For a lot of travelers, Estes Park is an unbeatable location for a summer vacation. With plenty of sights and experiences awaiting you, this town should be atop your list of must-visit locations.
Visiting Estes Park doesn’t have to blow a hole in your wallet, either! Once you understand the tricks of budget travel, places like Estes Park become a far more accessible tourist destination.
In this article, we’ll talk about some of the best free things to do in Estes Park, as well as:
- Cheap activities in Estes Park
- Handy tips and tricks for budget travel
- Answers to other burning questions about the town.
Let’s dive right in!
9 Affordable Things to Do in Estes Park
#1 Explore Estes Park Riverwalk
Taking a stroll along Estes Park Riverwalk is a brilliant way to spend a sunny afternoon just enjoying the atmosphere that the town is known for.
The walk is a mile-long paved path that offers views of beautiful brooks and cinematic sceneries, including Big Thompson River and Fall River.
Dotted with shops and restaurants, it’s a great way to explore the energy of Estes Park!
#2 Visit Bond Park
With its magnificent views and blue skies, Bond Park is well worth a visit if you’re looking for some downtime during your stay.
Thanks to the picnic tables on-site, it’s a wonderful place to spend a few hours with a book or with loved ones.
Bond Park is also frequently used as a space to host events, so check out what’s going on before you head there!
#3 Hike the Gem Lake Trail
Estes Park is beloved for its nature, so why not explore these sights for yourself? Hiking is an excellent way to do just that!
If you’d love to see the great outdoors, we recommend the Gem Lake Trail. This three-mile path is perfect if you want some exercise during your stay. And with a gorgeous view of Gem Lake at the end, the trip is well worth it!
#4 Wander around MacGregor Ranch
When it comes to Estes Park, there’s no better way to get acquainted than with a visit to MacGregor Ranch — rich with the history of early European settlers in the area!
Tours are available for you to explore the life of three generations of MacGregors who developed the ranch. There’s something for kids and adults alike!
#5 Explore the Estes Park Museum
For something truly immersive, drop by the Estes Park Museum! This building holds over 25,000 objects that depict the rich and diverse histories of the area.
With the museum’s long-standing tradition as a destination community and its relationship to First Nation history, there’s a lot for you to take in here!
#6 Attend Local Art Galleries
Being a place of unique beauty and solitude, many artists have flocked to Estes Park over the years for inspiration.
As such, it’s unsurprising how many art galleries have sprung to life in this town, most of which offer free admission.
This is the best way for you to soak up the local arts and culture, and experience for yourself just how much they thrive in Estes Park. For some recommendations, drop by The Aspen and Evergreen, The Art Center of Estes, and Earthwood Galleries!
#7 Picnic at Stanley Park
Stanley Park boasts 360-degree views of its surroundings, making it the best location for a picnic! There are stunning views here and a fantastic playground that kids (and kids at heart) can enjoy.
You could easily spend a whole afternoon in the park, so remember to bring enough food for the whole family!
#8 Discover the Historic Park Theatre
Estes Park is home to the oldest house motion theatre! The cinema was built in 1913 by J.L. Jackson and transferred ownership several times before landing in the hands of Mickey and Ola Stanger in 1964.
Today, if you visit, you’ll be met with the smiling faces of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren working in the business.
The HPT (as the theater is lovingly called) is a great way to spend a quiet, rainy afternoon in Estes Park and experience a bit of lived history – not to mention watch a show or two!
#9 Stroll along Lake Estes Marina
While there are many ways to enjoy the Lake Estes Marina, taking a stroll along its banks is the most budget-friendly way to enjoy the area!
With breathtaking views and countless opportunities for exploration and picnicking, a whole day can quickly pass you by during your visit!
Additional Tips for Saving Money in Estes Park
The activities we’ve listed above are some of the most iconic yet cheap things to do in Estes Park.
If you’re looking to save even more, here are a few additional tips to follow during your stay!
- Cook Meals at Your Accommodation: Make kitchen/kitchenettes a priority when choosing your accommodation for your visit. This can cut down food costs significantly! Preparing home-cooked meals is the easiest way to save money while traveling — simply bring the basics from home and head to the grocery store for any extras.
- Use Local Transportation Options: All of the above activities are within walking distance of Estes Park’s town center. However, during the summer, Estes Park offers a free shuttle service which has a ton of convenient pick-up areas — it can even take you out as far as Rocky Mountain National Park’s Beaver Meadows! The shuttle runs from 10 am – 10 pm and is a great option especially if you’re traveling with young children.
- Look for Free or Discounted Events: Before heading to your destination, you should research the cultural calendar in the area. As a tourist destination, there’s always a lot going on in Estes Park – and especially in the summer months. Knowing what these free events are could be a real game-changer for your itinerary!
- Bring Reusable Water Bottles and Snacks: If there’s anything that you must bring while you’re out traveling, it’s the basics like food and water. Make sure to pack these with you to avoid paying what’s often known as the “tourist tax”. Being prepared will save you a lot of money!
- Opt For Budget-Friendly Accommodations: It depends on different circumstances, but it’s always worth investigating the cheapest accommodation options. Make sure you’re booking well in advance so you have a lot more choices available. Factoring the location of the accommodation into your budget is also important; while you could save a lot on your stay, you might end up paying extra for transportation!
- Use Coupons or Discounts for Attractions: A quick Google search of your destination could help you find coupons and discounts for common attractions. This often opens up a lot of options that you weren’t aware of, too! Additionally, accommodation hosts can also frequently help provide recommendations and discounts.
- Explore Natural Attractions and Parks: Immersing yourself in nature is great for your mental health and a wonderful way to spend time with your loved ones. Luckily, exploring the great outdoors is an affordable option for any traveler on a budget!
- Shop at Local Markets for Souvenirs: Local markets are a great way to mingle with and support the locals. Whenever you buy souvenirs at local or farmers’ markets, you’re usually buying straight from the creators – cutting down on shipping costs and giving you more value.
- Choose Outdoor Activities like Hiking: Hiking is a brilliant way to explore a town or a new area, especially in a place like Estes Park which boasts such majestic sights. Check out apps such as All Trails to learn the different hikes in the area, as well as how challenging they’ll be. Before heading out, talk to your hosts and locals for recommendations and safety advice.
- Travel during Off-Peak Seasons: Due to higher demand, businesses often raise their prices during peak seasons. Traveling during off-peak seasons can save you some money, but be aware that some activities don’t run during the winter months.
Is Estes Park affordable?
Estes Park can be an expensive place to stay, but if you’re smart and accustomed to budget travel, it can still be a great getaway option with the right research and spending habits.
Why is Estes Park famous?
Estes Park is a quintessentially American holiday destination (and has been for upwards of a century)!
The town boasts magnificent mountain views, exciting outdoor adventures, and calming natural beauty. Tucked away in the Rocky Mountains, Estes Park is an irresistible delight.
Is Estes Park worth the trip?
Absolutely! There aren’t a lot of summer locations that offer what Estes Park does; rich history, captivating nature, and an overall relaxing vibe that’ll take your mind away from the stresses of ordinary life.
Everyone should experience the Rocky Mountains at least once, and Estes Park fits the bill perfectly.
How do you spend the day in Estes Park?
Estes Park is one of those rare places that has something to offer, rain or shine! If it’s sunny, exploring the town’s great outdoors should be your main priority.
However, if rain spoils your plans, it’s a great idea to check out historical spots and learn about the town’s history.
Can you get around Estes Park without a car?
Estes Park is an easily walkable town, so it’s perfectly fine to get around on foot (or even with a bike).
During the summer season, there are also free shuttle buses that’ll take you around the town’s highlights if your feet start getting tired!