©Pete Seaward/Lonely Planet

Estes Park

Estes Park is just seconds from one of the US's most popular national parks. The town itself is a hodgepodge of T-shirt shops and ice-cream parlors, sidewalks crowded with tourists and streets jammed with RVs. But when the sun reflects just right off Lake Estes, or you spend an afternoon with a lazy coffee on the riverwalk, you might just find a little piece of zen.

Those expecting immediate views of the pristine beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park may be disappointed to find themselves watching brake lights on E Elkhorn Ave, the town’s artery to both park entrances. But it’s not all bad. Although the strip malls and low-rise motels can be unsightly, Estes Park promises every convenience to the traveler, and during the off-season the place has a certain charm, as the streets quieten down, elk wander through town and the prices of creekside cabins drop.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Estes Park.