A Nomad Guide to Estes Park

Want to spend some time in 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.

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

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.

Camping in Estes Park and Nederland

  • 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. At $35/night for a tent site, the price still seems high to me. However, 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 here 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 and they will charge you a fee for the reservation as well. So it is really closer to $42/night.
  • Mt. Meeker Campground ($12) and Olive Ridge Campground ($15.75) 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 weren’t great spots for us. Olive Ridge does take reservations for more than half of their spots, 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.
  • Gordon Gulch
    The secluded dispersed camping at Gordon Gulch.

    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 spot. You need a high clearance vehicle to access most of the camping areas. 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 was 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 usually has.

Other Accommodations

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

    Of course, there is the historic Stanley Hotel. 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.

  • If you are thrifty like us the Climber’s Lodge might be the spot for you. It is a hostel so you won’t have a room to yourself, but at $44.22/night it is almost cheaper than staying in a tent at a campground.

Showers for Full-time Nomads in Estes Park

  • Again, I will point you to Mary’s Lake Campground. The showers are open to the public and cost $2. That is a steal compared to the $7 public shower at Dad’s Maytag Laundry & Showers.
  • Another Option for those staying closer to The Wild Basin area is the Mt. Meeker Lodge. They have $5 showers available.

Laundry

  • Dad’s Maytag Laundry & Showers – $2.25 for a wash and $1.25 for a drying cycle is the best we were able to find. We checked out several other spots. This is located in a nice spot as there is a Safeway grocery store in the same complex, 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 doesn’t work for anything more than text messages and phone calls anywhere near Estes Park in 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 Park Library’s open wifi is an amazing resource for full-time nomads in Estes Park. If you need internet to work like my wife and me, 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.

Groceries

  • 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 during the summer months there is a large Estes Park Farmers Market at Bond Park located on the main strip in downtown.
  • Bart’s Liquor: As mentioned above this is in the same shopping complex as Safeway and has a great selection of Colorado microbrews. It is also reasonably priced. I found some beers here that were cheaper than in Colorado Springs.
Bart's Liquor
Bart’s Liquor has a great selection of local Colorado brews.

Eating Out

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

    Ed’s Cantina & Grill.

    • Jennifer and I love Mexican food. This is a gourmet taco shop located along the city river walk. Jennifer had tacos, the best of which was the buffalo taco, and I had the buffalo burrito. Both dishes were excellent and the salsa was amazing.
  • Baba’s Burgers and Gyros
    • Jennifer and I found this place several years ago. It is kind of a hole in the wall, but the food is amazing. We really like their traditional gyros. The fried pickles and french fries are amazing as well.
      Baba's Burgers and Gyros
      Baba’s Burgers and Gyros serve the best gyros in Estes Park.
  • Kathmandu (Nederland)
    • Located in Nederland, Colorado this is an amazing and unique dining experience. I haven’t come across many Nepalese eateries in the states. I’m not usually a buffet guy, but the lunch buffet at Kathmandu is the way to go. I got to try so many dishes that I haven’t ever experienced before. This is a great spot to refuel after a long hike or backpacking adventure in the Indian Peak Wilderness.

Water

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

    If you are like us, you constantly need to fill water jugs with drinking water. There is a fill station at the 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.
  • Staying closer to Nederland and doing 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

  • 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.

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

    Fishing opportunities are abundant in and around Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.

  • Kayaking and wading are popular on the Big Thompson River through Estes Park.
  • There are ample opportunities for rock climbing. There is a climbing park adjacent to the concert venue on the northwestern side of town.
  • If you have a Jeep or ATV, off-roading trails are easy to find.
  • Estes Park has an Aerial Tram Way, an open-air adventure park, 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.

Transportation Guide to Estes Park

  • 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 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 RMNP. 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.
The Estes Park visitor center is beautifully laid out along the bank of the Big Thompson River.

Conclusion for a Guide to Estes Park

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 month living as full-time nomads in Estes Park, I came to appreciate the beauty of this mountain town. I now consider it a destination and not just a stop along the way.

If you found this guide to Estes Park helpful please share it on your social networks. Thanks!

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