Denver and Estes Park Colorado are two of the funkiest towns in the state. The capital of Colorado, Denver, is also the arts capital, filled with a thriving music scene, funky architecture, and a unique experiential restaurant scene. When you make the Denver to Estes Park drive you’ll be met with a total contrast. Estes Park, which sits at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, is a sleepy small town that’s as touristy as it is quaint. You’ll find great mom and pop restaurants mixed with loads of outdoor gear stores. Making the trip between Denver and Estes Park is something that most locals and visitors to Colorado should make time for.
There are a few ways to make the trip from Denver to Estes Park Colorado. Some of these routes are a great way to make the trip easy. And some of these routes make for some of the most amazing drives in Colorado. But no matter how you plan your Denver to Estes Park trip, you know that at either end are two of the coolest things to do in Colorado. But if you plan your Denver to Estes Park drive properly, you’ll end up seeing some of the most beautiful sites in the state. I’m here to help you plan this trip properly.
I like to say that there are two ways of making the Denver to Estes Park dive, the fast way and the right way. But in all honesty, everyone’s road trip goals are unique. I’ll lay out my three favorite routes between Denver to Estes Park. Then you can decide for yourself what works for you.
Why Make The Drive From Denver To Estes Park?
Estes Park sits at the base of the Rocky Mountains right on the doorstep of one of the most incredible parks in the USA. Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) is a sprawling mecca for nature lovers, hiking enthusiasts, wildlife photographers, and even those who just love an amazing road trip. Rocky Mountain National Park isn’t just one of the best National Parks in Colorado. RMNP has achieved worldwide fame for its combination of lowland wilderness, crystal clear lakes, and towering Rocky mountains.
Most visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park spend their nights in the town of Estes Park, which is about a 1.5-hour drive from Denver along the fastest route. Visitors spend their days exploring the incredible trails, waterfalls, and drives within the park and while away their nights at the many restaurants, shops, and hotels in Estes Park.
The Fastest Drive From Denver To Estes Park
If you are looking for the fastest route from Denver to Estes Park, I’ll assume that you aren’t looking for scenery. This Denver to Estes Park drive takes about an hour and a half. The route follows along the I-25 to US-36E. From here you would take Exit 243 to CO-66W and continue on US-36W. US-36W is a winding road that will take you directly into Estes Park.
Denver Airport To Estes Park
If you’re driving from the Denver Airport to Estes Park your route time is about the same. Simply follow Pena Blvd to E-470. This route will take you to the I-25 and you can follow the same Denver to Estes Park route as the route from downtown Denver.
Denver to Estes Park Scenic Route Via The Peak To Peak Highway
If you want to experience some of the most beautiful scenery in Colorado, then I recommend doing the drive from Denver to Estes Park via the Peak to Peak Highway. This absolutely gorgeous route takes you through narrow canyons, over mountains, and past scenic buildings and towns. The main Peak to Peak Hwy goes through the city of Boulder and takes just over two hours without stops. You can make the Denver to Estes Park road trip even more dramatic. To learn about this even more dramatic route, check further down the page for the Clear Creek Canyon route.
Peak To Peak Highway Route From Denver To Estes Park
If you plan on going directly to the Peak to Peak Highway from Estes Park and Denver your route will change once you reach Boulder, Colorado. Here you will take Baseline Rd W towards CO-119. This is where the beauty of the Denver to Estes Park drive really starts to show itself. Follow CO-119 to Hurricane Hill Dr. and turn right. Follow this route till you meet CO-72W. Turn right and continue on the winding route to CO-7W into Estes Park.
What To See Along the Peak-to-Peak Highway to Estes Park
The Peak to Peak Highway is a scenic drive that combines loads of incredible Colorado history along the way. Along the route, you’ll pass the remains of several old gold mines. You’ll also see side routes that will take you to historic Colorado ghost towns such as Hesse and Apex. Make sure to stop at the famous Chapel on the Rocks. This picturesque church is located about one-third of the way between Allenspark and Estes Park. The functioning Catholic church, which was opened in 1939 is dramatically posed upon a large rock ledge. A visit inside is worth your time to see the classic wood architecture and beautiful lighting.
Along the Peak to Peak Highway drive from Denver to Estes Park, you’ll pass through several Colorado State Parks and wilderness. Some of the ones worth exploring are Golden Gate Canyon State Park, which has over 36 miles of hiking trails as well as Yurts and electrical hook-ups for RVs. You’ll also pass through Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests. These parks are amazing for wildlife viewing. You can see hawks, falcons, and golden eagles as well as jackrabbits, red fox, mule deer, and elk.
Peak To Peak Highway Route From Denver To Estes Park Via Clear Creek Canyon Park
The Denver To Estes Route via the Peak to Peak Highway and Clear Creek Canyon is a Denver to Estes Park road trip that will take your breath away. This three-hour route follows US-6W through Golden, Colorado. It juts up through Clear Creek Canyon Park for arguably the most spectacular leg of the Denver to Estes Park route. From there it meets with the Peak to Peak HWY at CO-119 for the second leg of the route mentioned above.
What To See Along the Clear Creek Canyon Park Route From Denver to Estes Park
The Clear Creek Canyon Park route may just be my favorite drive near Denver Colorado. If you can spare the extra 30-minutes of time to take this route (double that if you plan on stopping along the way for photos), you will not regret it. This scenic canyon drive is popular among outdoor enthusiasts. Cyclists often populate the trails that run alongside the canyon drive. Clear Creek Canyon is also popular among hikers and rock climbers. If you pull off at the parking areas adjacent to the many tunnels along the Clear Creek Canyon route you will likely see climbers high above you. These tunnel pull-offs are the best spots to get a glimpse of the best views of Clear Creek Canyon. You can even take hikes where the water veers away from the road.
There are quite a few other things to see on the Golden route from Denver to Estes Park. Many of the best sights are before you meet the Peak to Peak Highway from Denver to Estes. For a surreal experience, stop in Black Hawk and Central City. Here you can see what was once called the “richest square mile on Earth”. This former mining community is now wall-to-wall casinos all designed to an old-west theme. Compared to the scenic nature of the rest of the Denver to Estes Park drive, the tacky casino town certainly stands out.
What To Do In Estes Park
Once you arrive in Estes Park from Denver the fun is just getting started. Whether you’re planning on exploring Estes Park itself or continuing on to Rocky Mountain National Park and the beautiful drives within it is totally up to you. But there are a few things in Estes Park that you shouldn’t miss.
Rocky Mountain National Park is an icon all on its own. If you’re looking for things to do in Estes Park itself here are a few options:
- Glimpse into the local glass blowing studio at Patterson Glassworks Studio and Gallery
- If you’re in Colorado with kids, check out the make and take studio. At this class, you can create your own drawstring backpacks. Perfect for taking your snacks into the park.
- See the park from a unique angle with a horseback riding tour. There are a few companies offering tours including Sombrero Stables.
- Grab some food in downtown Estes Park at Mama Rose’s, a classic Italian spot, or next door at Poppy’s Pizza and Grill. If you’re looking for bbq, check out Claire’s Restaurant and Bar.
- Test your mettle at the Open Air Adventure Park. This thrill-a-minute destination features zip lines, tightropes, and obstacle courses.
Where To Stay In Estes Park
Estes Park is quaint and homey. But in the high season, it can get very busy. If you plan on getting a true taste for this Colorado beauty, I recommend spending at least two nights in Estes Park. If you are looking for a ghostly thrill, check out the famous Stanley Hotel, which served as the inspiration for Stephen King’s “The Shining“. For a less creepy accommodation, consider The Landing at Estes Park. This hotels offers great access to the entrance to Rocky Mountain Park and has some of the best views in town. You can check out their prices and availability here.
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