Looking to explore Estes Park like a local? This gorgeous town — nestled away in the Rocky Mountains — has something up its sleeves whether it’s your first time or your twentieth!
The area has been attracting families for over 10,000 years, with Native American tribes Ute and Arapaho being the first to winter over in the middle park region.
The 1800s brought a wide range of nature lovers, and lodges began to be established towards the latter part of the century as well.
While the main tourist attractions in Estes Park are always worth a visit (if you can stomach being around all the crowds!), heading off the beaten path can provide new perspectives on a classic holiday destination.
So, interested in all the unusual things to do in Estes Park? Today, we’ll explore this gorgeous town and highlight 10 of the most unexpected the Park has to offer, such as:
- Stargazing at Upper Beaver Meadows
- Hunting gemstones at Lulu City Ghost Town
- Playing a round at Meadow Mini Golf
- Taking a scenic drive along Old Fall River Road.
… and more. Let’s get exploring!
1. Midsummer Scandivanian Festival
Dates: June 21 to 23 (dates can vary, but typically held near the end of June)
If the image of a crying Florence Pugh covered in flowers and staring at a burning building has been seared into your mind, you might have heard of Midsommar.
The good news is that this iconic Scandinavian celebration doesn’t require any human sacrifice! Instead, this Nordic tradition provides a brilliant excuse to come together to celebrate the longest day of the year.
The Estes Park Midsummer Festival is a family-friendly event that has been running for 30 years.
If you’d like to stop by, make sure to take part in all the weird and wonderful (but very fun) events such as the beer garden and the classic raising and dancing around the Maypole.
If it’s the food you’re after, you better visit with an empty stomach! This festival has all the traditional and modern fare you could want, such as potato sausages, Swedish meatballs, and the most delicious ice cream!
2. Stargazing at Upper Beaver Meadows
Cost: Free (Rocky Mountain National Park pass fees apply)
Open: Held on select days during the summer
Fancy yourself an astronomer? Or, do you simply feel like lying down in awe of the universe?
If so, then there’s no better place to do these things than in the unpolluted dark expanse of Upper Beaver Meadow!
On a clear night, this grand location is like a looking glass of the night sky, allowing you to see all the way to the Milky Way! And aside from being endlessly fascinating, stargazing has also proven to have positive impacts on mental health.
There are only really a few places that can outmatch Estes Park, so if this activity is something you’ve been considering, then perhaps your next visit is the perfect excuse to give it a go!
From the Upper Beaver Meadows Trail, you can even join a park ranger-led stargazing experience so that you can enjoy some exploration at the same time. Interested? Make sure to check the available times online.
Just remember to bring warm clothes, a thermos of hot chocolate, and some binoculars for the best night under the stars!
3. The Baldpate Inn Key Collection
Looking for the keys to history? It may surprise you, but the world’s largest key collection calls Estes Park home.
And we’re not just talking about any old keys either! Among the 20,000 keys on display, a few really stand out. We’re talking keys to Adolf Hitler’s bunker, Frankenstein’s castle, the White House bathroom, and more amazing locations!
These keys have played an important role in history in their own little ways, and if this sounds like something you’re interested in, the Seven Keys Lodge (previously known as Baldgate Inn) should make it to the top of your activities list.
4. Discover the Hidden Cascade Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park
If we’re taking the phrase “off the beaten track” in the most literal of terms, then the Windy Gulch Cascades definitely fits the bill.
The Cascades is just under half a mile into the Fern Lake Trail System, and after a brief excursion off-track in some grueling, steep terrain, you’ll discover a gorgeously rugged site in all its glory!
The round trip to the hidden Cascade Falls takes 45 minutes in total, so it’s not all that difficult to get to.
And if you bring a makeshift picnic and a camera for capturing all of the majestic sights en route, this could very well be the ideal excursion for a secluded, romantic afternoon!
5. Discover the Stanley Steam Car Museum
Cost: Tours are available at cost
The Shining fans, look here: the Stanley Hotel that inspired Stephen King’s terrific work is situated right here in Estes Park.
And even beyond that, this historic hotel has been foundational to the establishment of the town as it is today!
In 2011, the hotel opened the Stanley Steam Car Museum – an exhibition that features bits and pieces of memorabilia about the family, including their beloved steam cars.
If rainy afternoons are putting a stop to most of your previously planned outdoor activities, make your way to the museum!
This is a wonderful activity for the family or anyone who’s interested in automobile history (as well as the history of the local area).
6. Explore the Chapel on the Rock (St. Catherine of Siena Chapel)
Cost: Free/Donations Welcome
Open: 10 AM to 4 PM daily
Twelve miles out from Estes Park lies this unique church finished in 1939.
It’s famous for its location on top of a rock formation, standing majestically over the scenery — which is also why the church is known by its unofficial name, “Chapel on the Rock”!
With its intricate stonework and one-of-a-kind location, the Chapel is definitely worth the visit. This is a particularly beautiful place for those who are interested in dramatic architecture, picturesque photograph opportunities, or rich local history.
If this is on your itinerary, note that the Chapel is only accessible by car. Still, it’s only a short 20-minute trip, as well as a perfect way to find some peace and quiet away from the bustle of the town and its tourists!
7. Enjoy a Scenic Drive Along Old Fall River Road
One of the most iconic features of visiting Estes Park is that you’ll have a first-row seat to experience the breathtaking scenery of the Rocky Mountains. There’s no better way to take it all in than driving along the Old Fall River Road!
The Old Fall River Road is the first road in Rocky Mountain National Park that leads to the park’s high country.
At 11 miles long, this road takes you from Horseshoe Park to the Fall River Pass and treats you to dramatic cliff faces, alpine peaks, and a sea of trees covering the landscape.
This road follows the path that Native Americans established long ago for hunting, and still boasts a rugged way to experience the area.
Just be sure to exercise extreme caution: the speed limit is only 15 miles an hour, and that’s imposed for a very good reason.
While the road is safe here, there are no safety rails along the side. It’s also narrow and curved, and there are sections with abrupt drops on one side. As long as you keep your wits about you, you’re in for a thrilling ride!
8. Go Gemstone Hunting at the Lulu City Ghost Town
Cost: Reservation $2
Are you interested in hidden treasure? If so, head 35 miles from Estes Park to reach a mining town that’s been abandoned for 150 years and since become a ghost town.
Welcome to Lulu City! A 7.8-mile round trip rated as moderately difficult, you can reach this eerie town from the western entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park.
During the summer months, you’ll also need to make a reservation as the location is within the Park.
While the sights of the past are enough reason to visit Lulu City, there’s another way you can spice things up: gemstone hunting.
Whip out your magnifying glass and scour the ground in search of rare minerals, especially in any streams you come across during your walk.
Just remember that you can’t take any of the gems home, but it’s still a fun activity nevertheless!
9. Take a guided tour of MacGregor Ranch
Nothing screams “off the beaten path” more than a ranch out in the wilderness – and that’s why MacGregor Ranch makes it onto our list!
This pinnacle of history is only a mile from the heart of Estes Park, and paying a visit means exposing yourself to the long history of a ranch that has been running since 1873.
The previous owner, Muriel MacGregor, left the ranch in trust for it to be preserved and kept as a youth education center (if you have kids with you, this ranch is a must-visit). And in keeping with that spirit, a museum was established on its premises.
If museums are a must on your list of places to visit, make sure to participate in one of the available tours!
10. Explore Meadow Mini Golf
Cost: $3 per game
Open: March to October, Thursdays to Sundays, 12 PM–7 PM
Nothing says “family holiday” like a game of mini golf. And if you or your little ones are raring to go for a leisurely afternoon, then make your way over to Meadow Mini Golf Course!
Aside from offering a fun day out, this course also provides incredible views of the National Park and Long Peaks.
And if that’s not enough, ground squirrels have even been known to interact with golfers — so it’s bound to be a great activity in many different, unexpected ways!
The course features 18 holes, but here’s a great hint to remember: if you make the last hole, you win an extra game.
So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to practice your putting skills!