Estes Park with kids: What to do in downtown Estes Park

While you’re in Estes Park with kids enjoying the mountains, be sure to carve out some time to explore the downtown area of this fabulous destination.

credit: midwest living

Fun City:

I would be remiss if I didn’t start with Estes Park’s ultimate kid-friendly attraction; it was the place my kids remembered best from our first trip, and the place they most wanted to return to. With burlap sack and 3-story twisty slides, miniature golf, go-karts, bumper boats, and more, this is a place you won’t want to miss. And trust me, you couldn’t miss it, even if you wanted to. It’s right next to the highway on the way to Bear Lake. Pricing is per attraction, and you load a swipe card in advance. Take advantage of the value cards—$57 worth of rides for $50, or $120 for $100.

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Feeding the Family:

For low-fuss, fast-service food, try Bob & Tony’s Pizza (124 W. Elkhorn). The pizza is decent and the atmosphere is fabulous, with walls of signed bricks and an arcade with pool, air hockey, foosball and racing games at the back. You order and pick up at the counter, so it’s very low-fuss and family-friendly.

If you’re more in the mood for burgers, go for Penelope’s World Famous Burgers, which really are pretty scrumptious, though you’ll pay more for the quality. It’s a fun, old-fashioned place with small tables and a modern version of a jukebox. (229 W. Elkhorn)

Sugar Rush:

What downtown tourist area would be complete without a slew of sweet shops? The Danish Cone factory makes waffle cones on site; several others offer big, soft cookies and candy-making. There’s also a taffy shop, and don’t forget the old-fashioned candy store, which sells bulk candy by the piece or by the pound, including some you haven’t seen since you were a kid. (Candy cigarettes, anyone?)

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Kitschy t-shirts, pens, mugs, wind chimes, blown glass, Disney figurines, bohemian clothes, toys—you name it, you can probably find it in downtown Estes. Naturally, this means Downtown Estes Park gets very busy in the summertime, with foot traffic on the sidewalks competing with the stream of cars headed to the Beaver Meadows entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. There’s lots of free parking, but prepared for slow traffic. Estes Park has a free shuttle; take advantage of it if you can. One thing I liked was the fact that the city has officers directing traffic at the major intersections in the downtown, and every cycle of the lights, they stop vehicle traffic so that pedestrians can cross—diagonally, even!

Free with kids:

Let’s be honest: with kids, ‘free’ is an important consideration.

  • Pikas in the Park: Keep the kids active and entertained trying to puzzle out the clues that help them complete this downtown scavenger hunt for bronze statues of the tiny mammal known as a pika.
  • The Riverwalk: Lining the back side of the main shopping drag, you’ll find this lovely pathway, with sculptures, fountains, and places to sit and watch the rushing mountain stream tumble past rounded rocks. You’ll also find a small play structure, too.
  • Performance Park: Just west of the downtown strip, this lovely amphitheater sits alongside Fall River. During the high season, there are free concerts on Thursday nights here. Bring blankets and lawn chairs.
  • The Birch Ruins inhabit an outcropping above downtown, with gorgeous views of Lake Estes and both the major corridors into the national Park. The walking trail, accessed from the parking lot behind the police station, takes you through a small nature preserve and then up the hill to the ruins.

Doing ‘grownup stuff’ with kids in tow:

For the most part, even the adult attractions in Estes Park are refreshingly kid-friendly. To wit:

  • The Slab, a no-frills, good-food outdoor pub which offers lawn games, Bingo, and Jenga as well as live music and adult beverages.
  • Snowy Peaks Winery, just a stone’s throw from Fun City, which lets kids do juice tastings while their parents taste the more fermented variety. They also have a play room in one corner and a lounge area with tons of board games. If you get rained out, take the family, buy a glass of Colorado wine, and spend a couple of hours together.

What are your “must-do” items in Estes Park?