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.


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 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.

Mass in the Mountains

One of our favorite afternoon activities in Estes Park, Colorado is to take relaxing drives to spot wildlife and enjoy views of the surrounding mountains. In December, we grabbed a couple of steaming lattes at the new Ziggi’s Coffee drive-thru and headed down Highway 7, which is part of the Peak to Peak National Scenic Byway.

peak to peak
Picture of signage posted near Allenspark, Colorado.

Along the way we stopped at Saint Malo Center which is located in Allenspark, Colorado between two of our favorite destinations in Rocky Mountain National Park, Lily Lake and the Wild Basin.

Much of Saint Malo Center is undergoing needed restoration work caused by damage from fire, flooding and landslides. The scenery remains heavenly with views of Mount Meeker.

“Upon arriving in Denver I lifted my eyes toward the splendor of the Rocky Mountains, whose majesty and power recall that all our help comes from the Lord, who has made heaven and earth (cf. Ps. 121:1). He alone is the rock of our salvation. (cf. Ps. 89:26).”

Pope John Paul II
The Chapel on the Rock was built in the 1930s

Pope St. John Paul II hiked the trails around the center and he blessed St. Catherine of Siena Chapel, also known as Chapel on the Rock, while visiting Denver for World Youth Day in 1993.

You don’t have to be a saint to visit the chapel, it’s open to the public year round from 10 am to 4 pm (except for Thanksgiving and Christmas). Mass is held each Wednesday at Noon.

More information about the history and future renovations at St. Malo Center can be found at

This picture of inside the Chapel was taken during a prior visit in May 2015

I am Catholic, so you would think after years of visiting this beautiful spot I would have made it to Mass there once, but unfortunately I have not.

The chapel in the snow December 2015

We typically attend service at Our Lady of the Mountains in Estes Park, Colorado. Worship times are on their website. Perhaps this picture of the girls and me in our Easter dresses helps explain why I have failed to take a picture of Our Lady of the Mountains. When we make it to church these days, my hands are pretty full.

I often feel a special spiritual connection while I’m hiking in the mountains, but we are happy that there are several options to experience Catholic churches in Estes Park as well – whether it’s a quiet moment to say a prayer at the Chapel on the Rock or a full Mass at Our Lady of the Mountains.

If you make it through a special hike or an hour-long Sunday service, you can’t go wrong with Donut Haus in Estes Park to reward everyone’s good behavior. When we’ve been there, the Sunday special has been blueberry donuts. You have to get there early before they sell out, especially in the summer.

Winter Refresh

I updated this post about one of our first hikes in the Wild Basin Area of Rocky Mountain National Park. I also added a pair of fingerless gloves to Shop Our Favorite Things. I think they would help with winter picture taking. Has anyone tried wearing fingerless gloves? Do they still keep you warm?