Getting Chili in Estes Park – Where You Can Find the Best Chili in Town

On our most recent trip to Estes Park, the low temperatures meant more time by the fireplace and enough spare time to venture out on a unique quest. We were on a mission to find the best chili in town. Eating chili for lunch every day of vacation isn’t something I would normally do (nor do I recommend it, honestly). But, our passion for chili goes way back.

Winter in Rocky Mountain National park

Lord of the beans

My husband and his friends used to compete at the Midwest Regional Chili Championship in Lenexa, Kansas. On their best year (back in 2011) they earned a fourth place ribbon for home style chili out of 198 teams. The unfortunate outcome of cooking for a competition is that we find it challenging to cook chili unless it’s made in mass production, so typically we cook it only once or twice per year.

Chili cookoff, chili competition

estes park winter festival

Perhaps we will one day compete again. The city of Estes Park hosts an annual Winter Festival which will take place January 18-19, 2020 from 12 pm to 4 pm at the Estes Park Events Complex. The festival includes a chili cook off, free beer samples from local breweries, and live music. Individuals and organizations can register to compete. The competition is sponsored by Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI).

trailhead restaurant

Unfortunately, we can’t make the Winter Festival this year, so testing chili at local restaurants was the next best thing. The first restaurant we tried was Trailhead Restaurant which is near the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. The main reason we chose this spot is because our girls love their hot chocolate. The chili was pretty good, but for us, the best things about this restaurant continue to be the views, playground, hot chocolate, and cinnamon rolls.

The wapiti pub

wapiti pub estes park colorado

This was our first time going to Wapiti Pub. We are glad that our chili quest brought us here. This pub serves the ‘Colorado 100’ which means they have a huge selection of Colorado beers. They also had the Kansas City Chiefs football game on, which was a huge bonus to us. (Although I’m sure if the Broncos were on, they might have to switch the channel). According to their menu, the Wapiti Red Chili includes a mix of elk, bison, and beef. It also has beans and roasted corn. The chili is great and the overall experience was fun. We are adding this spot to our list of favorite restaurants.

Smokin’ dave’s bbq

My husband went on a winter hike up Deer Mountain. On his way home he grabbed to-go lunch from Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ where they offer two types of chili on their menu. Smokin’ Dave’s Red Chili has beef and several types of beans and spices. They add stout beer which I could definitely taste. They also serve Pork Green Chili. I enjoyed tasting both, but if I had to order one bowl, I’d go with the green chili which had great flavor.

waterfront grille

waterfront grille estes park colorado

Waterfront Grille has competed in and won awards at the Estes Park Chili Cook-off, so we were expecting great chili when we ordered. I’m happy to report the Award-Winning Bison Chili lived up to it’s reputation. It was hearty, with just the right amount of spice.

Top 10 Posts in 2019

In 2019, we were lucky to enjoy the outdoors as a family both in our new home town of Fayetteville, Arkansas as well as our favorite mountain getaway in Estes Park, Colorado. Writing about these adventures on rockymountaintot brings me a lot of joy. My goal is to provide as much helpful information as I can in each post and hopefully inspire people to check out some of the places I love.

The number of views on rockymountaintot this year quadrupled! Thank you to everyone who took the time to check us out. I’ve compiled the list of our Top 10 Posts of 2019:

Top Colorado Hikes & More

Romantic sunset over Estes Park, Colorado

Our most popular post of 2019 was, 7 Romantic Things To Do in Estes Park, Colorado. I recommend reading this post if you are planning a Valentine’s getaway to the mountains.

Dog friendly hiking trails in Estes Park
Homer Rouse Trail

The next most-read post in 2019 was, Homer Rouse Trail – A Dog Friendly Trail in Estes Park, Colorado. If you are planning to travel with your pup to Estes Park, I put together a whole list of trails you can take dogs on here.

Hollowell Park

Coming in third was, A Trail Less Traveled: Hollowell Park to Mill Creek Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park. I recommend reading this article if you are looking for a less crowded area of Rocky Mountain National Park to explore.

Hiking with Kids in Rocky Mountain National Park, Brainard Lake Colorado
Colorado Hiking with Toddlers

Our 2 Day Itinerary in Estes Park with Toddlers continues to be a popular post. I recently wrote a 2 day winter itinerary here.

View from top of Estes Cone

9 Hikes with Amazing Views Near Estes Park, Colorado is one of our top 10 posts of the year. This post includes suggestions for kid-friendly trails and more advanced options.

Ski in Granby, Colorado

Taking Root in Colorado – An Interview with Alison Stafford was another top post this year. Read this interview if you are interested in getting the insider scoop on skiing in Granby, Colorado.

Top Northwest Arkansas Hikes & More

Winery in Northwest Arkansas

The most popular post from our Northwest Arkansas adventures was, Falling for Fayetteville – Our 9 Favorite Things Since Moving to Northwest Arkansas Last Month.

Devil’s Den State Park – Arkansas

Our second top Arkansas post was, Devil’s Den Self-Guided Trail in Northwest Arkansas. This is the first hike we did in Arkansas, and I’m eager to go back to Devil’s Den State Park to hike on more trails.

Pigeon Roost Trail – Hobbs State Park in Arkansas

The third top Arkansas post was, The Best Way to Spend a Spring Day? Hiking Pigeon Roost Trail in Arkansas’ Hobbs State Park.

Lost Valley Trail – Buffalo National River in Arkansas

Hiking Arkansas: Lost Valley Trail, Buffalo National River was one of our top posts this year and my prediction is it will make next year’s Top 10 list too. It’s that cool of a hike.

I hope next year will be even more adventurous for us all!

Estes Park Winter Bucket List

The temperatures are dropping, the days are getting shorter, and the first few holiday decorations are going up. Winter is on it’s way, so I’m getting in the spirit by making a winter bucket list for our trip to Estes Park, Colorado.

Go Sledding

Sledding at Hidden Valley in Rocky Mountain National Park is our favorite winter activity.

Snowshoe

Snowshoeing is a fun way to explore Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter. You can rent snowshoes locally at retailers who rent out gear like the Warming House in Estes Park.

Winter Hike

Some of our favorite winter hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park include Alberta Falls, Moraine Park, and Lily Lake.

Frozen river in Moraine Park

Drink Hot Chocolate

Sipping a steamy cup of hot chocolate is the best way to warm up during the winter months. Our favorite places to get a hot chocolate are Kind Coffee and Trailhead Restaurant. For more ideas, we wrote a fun post last winter about the Best Places to ‘Have a Cup of Cheer’.

Shop for a Christmas ornament

One of our favorite holiday traditions is visiting one of the Christmas Shops in downtown Estes Park and letting each of our girls pick out a special ornament to hang on our tree. The town has several Christmas shops including The Spruce House and The Christmas Shoppe.

Sit by the fireplace with a good book

Our cabin has a great fireplace in the living room and I love to sit next to it and read books while the snow falls outside our window. I wrote a post for fellow Book Lovers here.

Star Gaze

Fascinated by outer space? The Estes Park Memorial Observatory schedules private viewing sessions for groups who enjoy learning about astronomy.

go to a Movie theater

Estes Park has two movie theaters, Reel Mountain and the Historic Park Theatre & Cafe. Both venues are showing Frozen II this winter – a movie that our daughters want to watch again and again.

float down the lazy river

The Estes Valley Community Center opened a new pool with a lazy river, slides and water play area. There are resident and non-resident fees to use the facility. 

Attend a local festival

The winter is full of exciting events in Estes Park including:

  • Estes Park Tree Lighting Ceremony – 3:30-5:30 pm on November 23, 2019
  • Catch the Glow Parade – 5:30 pm on November 29, 2019
  • Estes Park Holiday Wine Fest – November 30 – December 1, 2019
  • Estes Park Winter Festival – January 19 – 20, 2020
  • Wine and Chocolate Festival – February 8, 2020

Check out the Estes Park Event Complex’s website for more information.

art groove

The First Friday Art Groove events in Estes Park celebrate local artists. A Winter Trolley will run between the galleries. Art Groove events are from 5pm to 8pm on December 6, January 3, and February 7. The event is free to the public.

Enjoy a quiet moment of reflection

This time of year can be hectic with events and shopping. My natural inclination is to have a to-do list running through my head. Seeking out quiet places to reflect on the year will help me maintain a sense of peace and appreciation.

St. Catherine of Siena Chapel (Chapel on the Rock) is open Tuesday – Sunday, 10 AM – 4 PM, except on national holidays. There is a weekly Catholic Mass every Tuesday at 11:45 AM.

Eldora Ski Weekend

This week Estes Park, Colorado had its first snow of the season. Which means it’s time to start planning our winter trip(s) out to Colorado. There are a lot of fun things to do in Estes Park during the colder winter months. We’ve written about sledding, snow shoeing, winter hiking and shopping in downtown Estes Park.

For all that Estes Park has to offer, it does not have a traditional ski resort. However, there are day-trip destinations close by including Eldora which is located in Nederland, Colorado. Nederland is located an hour from Denver, an hour from Estes Park, and 35 minutes from Boulder, Colorado. There is a bus service from downtown Boulder to Eldora.

Ski lift at Eldora

Eldora is smaller in size compared to other popular skiing destinations in Colorado. We didn’t grow up going skiing, so we appreciate that there are slopes available for different skill levels. Lessons are offered for adults and children starting at age 4.

Eldora is scheduled to open for the season on November 15, 2019. You can find more information about ticket prices online at eldora.com.

My husband has enjoyed a couple winter ‘guy trips’ to Eldora and Estes Park. He helped me put together a sample itinerary based on his trips.

Itinerary for Estes Park and Eldora Winter Adventure Weekend

Winter Hike Rocky Mountain National Park

Thursday: Fly into Denver International Airport in the evening and rent car. Drive to Estes Park to stay in cabin. Stop by grocery store on the way into town to stock up on essentials.

Friday: Wake up and eat breakfast at the cabin before heading to Eldora for a day of skiing. Try to leave before 8am to beat the crowd. Parking is limited. Some in the group can take ski lessons, others might choose to immediately hit the slopes. After a full morning of skiing, take a break by eating lunch at one of Eldora’s restaurants.

Get in a couple more runs. After leaving Eldora, stop by Very Nice Brewing Company in Nederland, CO for a pint of beer. (Thank sober driver by promising to pick up his dinner tab.) Drive back to Estes Park and grab take-out pizza at Antonio’s Pizza, Poppy’s Pizza, or Sweet Basilico.

Saturday: Wake up and go to breakfast at Notchtop Café. Head to The Warming House which opens at 9am to rent gear such as snowshoes and hiking poles. Head into Rocky Mountain National Park to snowshoe or hike (depending on weather and trail conditions). It’s important to talk to national park rangers to check on conditions before heading out in the winter. Two hikes you can ask about are Bierstadt Lake and Mills Lake.

Frozen Mills Lake

After hiking, warm up at a local brewery. We enjoy Rockcut where you can play games in their laid back tasting room. Walk to nearby Café de Pho Thai for late lunch.

Downtown Estes Park has some great places to shop for a souvenir for kids or significant others. Trendz boutique and Mary Janes have a lot of great gift options.

Return to cabin to barbecue or make some chili. Stay up late playing ‘nerdy’ board games.

Sunday: Head back towards Denver. If there is time, stop at Snooze for brunch before dropping off the rental car and taking off at the airport.