Guide to Estes Park – Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park

Guide to Estes Park
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Want to spend some time exploring Rocky Mountain National Park? Who wouldn’t really? If so, then you are going to need to spend some time in the gateway town of Estes Park. It is a beautiful mountain town and the best place to re-supply when going long-term in the park. This is a full-time nomad guide to Estes Park. I hope this helps you plan a trip to this amazing part of the world.

This is meant to be a helpful guide for the eastern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. The park is huge so if looking for advice on the west side or northern areas of the park just know amenities are fewer in those areas. You can check out my post on the Pioneer Park Campground as a west-side option. The northern side is mostly limited to the Long Draw Reservoir area where boondocking options and established campgrounds are available, but no other services are nearby.

Guide to Estes Park

Camping in Estes Park and Nederland

Gordon Gulch
The secluded dispersed camping at Gordon Gulch.

We like to free camp… who doesn’t right? It’s free. The options in Estes Park are all paid ones. The best deal we were able to find was Mary’s Lake Campground on the outskirts of town. It is about 2 miles from Estes Park’s downtown area. The price still seems high to me but as they say, it is all about location, location, location. If you want to be close to town and the main gate of Rocky Mountain National Park this is the spot. The campground isn’t pretty, but hopefully, you aren’t spending much time there anyway. It does have a pool, but no wifi. If you want to stay here you should get reservations at least several weeks in advance.

Meeker Park Campground and Olive Ridge Campground are great options closer to the Wild Basin Area of Rocky Mountain National Park, but they have no amenities and no cell phone coverage so these aren’t great spots for working nomads. Olive Ridge does take reservations for more than half of their sites, but both campgrounds have first-come-first-serve spots as well. Both campgrounds are well laid out in forested areas. They are very nice places to spend time.

The best option if you don’t mind the drive is about 45 minutes south near Nederland, Colorado. Gordon Gulch Dispersed Camping Area is a first-come-first-serve, free camping area. You need a high clearance vehicle to access most of the campsites. If it is full up you can simply travel beyond the last site and then it is dispersed camping from there. We spent a lot of time here because it had great LTE coverage (Verizon & T-mobile). We also spent time hiking the Indian Peak Wilderness which is only a few miles down the road from this location. The Indian Peak Wilderness is a great option for those wanting slightly smaller crowds on the trails than Rocky Mountain National Park.

Sunset in Estes Park
A view over Lake Estes as the sunsets on Estes Park, Colorado.

Other Accommodations

The Stanley Hotel
The historic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado

The historic Stanley Hotel is a must-see when visiting Estes Park. Made famous by the movie The Shining. We haven’t stayed here, but even if you don’t stay it makes for a nice place to visit.

For those looking for more affordable accommodation check out the Estes Park Adventure Lodge. It is a hostel so you won’t have a room to yourself, but the room rates are comparable to staying in a tent at one of the Estes Park campgrounds.

Shower Guide to Estes Park

Dad’s Maytag Laundry & Showers is the best option for getting cleaned up when exploring Estes Park.

The Meeker Park Lodge is the best option for showers when camping in the Wild Basin Area of the park.


Dad’s Maytag Laundry & Showers has the best prices with reliable machines. The laundromat is located in a nice spot next to a Safeway grocery store, as well as a liquor store with a great selection of Colorado microbrews.

Internet for Full-time Nomads in Estes Park

Love the staircase art in the Estes Park Library.

Verizon LTE does not work for anything more than text messages and phone calls anywhere near Estes Park during the summer months. The signal is strong for most of the town, but there are too many people here making the internet super slow. We tried to stream movies and do FaceTime calls. All were impossible.

The Estes Valley Library’s open wifi is an amazing resource for full-time nomads in Estes Park. If you need the internet to work, your best option seems to be the public library. It is very nice with nice people working there. They have iMac computers available to those who need them located upstairs. The internet is strong. My speed test came in around 90 Mbps download and 30 Mbps upload on their Wifi. Light years faster than the LTE speeds we were getting around town (less than 1Mbps Up and Down). Also, it broadcasts a good distance. We were able to pick it up while parked against the backside of the building after hours.

Grocery Guide to Estes Park

The landscaping around Estes Park and the town’s central Bond Park is exceptional.

Safeway is the only thing close to a chain supermarket here. The prices are a little high but reasonable for this tourist area.

Every Thursday morning during the summer months there is a large Estes Valley Farmers Market at Bond Park located on the main strip in downtown.

As mentioned above Bart’s Liquor is in the same shopping complex as Safeway and has a great selection of Colorado microbrews. It is also reasonably priced.


Ed’s Cantina is the place to get gourmet tacos in Estes Park.

Jennifer and I love Mexican food. Ed’s Cantina & Grill is a gourmet taco shop located along the Estes Park city riverwalk. Jennifer had tacos, the best of which was the buffalo taco, and I had the buffalo burrito. Both dishes were excellent and the restaurant’s salsa was amazing.

Boss Burgers and Gyros is one of our favorite hole-in-the-walls in Estes Park. While the building is a bit rough, the food is amazing. We really like their traditional gyros, french fries, and fried pickles.

When you find yourself exploring the Indian Peak Wilderness to the south stop at Kathmandu in Nederland, Colorado for a unique Nepalese dining experience. I’m not usually a buffet guy, but the lunch buffet at Kathmandu is the way to go. They serve a wide selection of dishes that I had previously never heard of. The buffet is a great way to try it all and find a new favorite dish. This is a great spot to refuel after a long hike or backpacking adventure in the Indian Peak Wilderness.

Baba's Burgers and Gyros
Baba’s Burgers and Gyros serve the best gyros in Estes Park.


Water bottle fill stations are awesome. This one is located inside the Estes Park Library.

There is a free water refill station at the Beaver Meadows visitor center to Rocky Mountain National Park. It is located near the restrooms.

There is another fill station in the Estes Park Library. Located inside the front door on the right side.

For those choosing to stay closer to Nederland and visiting The Indian Peak Wilderness, there is a fill station located on the outside of the Nederland Visitor Center in the heart of the downtown area. (South of the round-about)

Filling the holding tank water is a bit trickier. Obviously, most of the campgrounds have hookups, but they are for paying guests. This is how we got our water for most days as we typically stayed at a pay campground once a week which was enough to get our water tank filled for the week. We did, however, ask around Nederland while staying in Gordan’s Gultch one weekend and found a shop owner willing to let us use their faucet.  We had no luck in Estes Park.

Recreation Guide to Estes Park

The Performance Park Amphitheater is located along the town’s river walk.

This one seems pretty obvious to me. Hiking or backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park or The Indian Peak Wilderness is why travelers flock here. Click here for the best Rocky Mountain National Park hiking and backpacking trails.

There is also a nice urban riverwalk in Estes Park that follows the course of the Big Thompson River as it winds its way through the town. This trail has a ton of options for food and shopping. It also has several nice kids’ parks along the way, lots of public toilets, and even a small outdoor venue where concerts are held.

Fishing opportunities are abundant in and around Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. Fly fishing for rainbow trout is a favorite among anglers in Colorado.

Kayaking and wading are popular on the Big Thompson River through Estes Park.

There are ample opportunities for rock climbing. There is a small climbing park adjacent to the concert venue on the northwestern side of town.

Jeeping and ATV riding are also very popular around Estes Park. Off-roading trails are easy to find in the area. You can rent a jeep or go with an outfitter if you don’t own your own rig.

Estes Park has an Aerial Tram Way, an open-air adventure park, a mini-golf course, a performance theater, a movie theater, and much more. There is no shortage of things to do for entertainment in this mountain town.

Estes Park Riverwalk
Yes, that is a water wheel in the heart of Estes Park.

Transportation Guide to Estes Park

Guide to Estes Park Trolley
Estes Park’s free trolleys are easy to spot.

There is a free trolley that runs through downtown Estes Park.

There is also an Express Shuttle that runs from the downtown Estes Park visitor center (trolleys go there too) to the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park. Once in the park, there are buses that run to all the stops on the Bear Lake and Moraine Park sections of Rocky Mountain National Park. However, this is only a small section of the larger park so if you want to explore lots of the park you will need a personal vehicle.

Guide to Estes Park Visitor Center
The Estes Park visitor center is beautifully laid out along the bank of the Big Thompson River.

A Nomad Guide to Estes Park

Estes Park Rooster
Estes Park may be an upscale mountain town, but it still has mountain quirks and charm like this spot located along the main strip.

Jennifer and I lived in Colorado for over seven years and in that time we visited Rocky Mountain National Park at least a dozen times. I always thought of Estes Park as a town whose traffic I must endure prior to reaching my destination within the park. However, after spending a summer living as full-time nomads in Estes Park, I have come to appreciate the beauty of this mountain town. I now consider it a destination and not just a stop along the way.

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