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

Santa is bringing us new sleds! Where is the best place to take them?

Our family is excited to go on an epic sledding excursion at Hidden Valley in Rocky Mountain National Park. Hidden Valley is the only place in Rocky Mountaion National Park where sledding is allowed. ‘Sleds and tubes are the most popular, but skis and snowboards without bindings also are allowed.’ according to

We wrote more about sledding in Hidden Valley in this post.


According to, snowshoeing is one of the easiest sports to learn – even for kids. The snowshoes help make hiking easier by distributing your weight so that you are walking more on top of the snow instead of sinking into it.

Need snowshoeing gear? Last year we rented poles and snowshoes from Estes Park Mountain Shop.

Ranger-led snowshoe walks start mid-January 2023. Participants must be 8-years-old or older and reservations are required. The park’s website contains additional information.

Winter Hike

It’s important to be knowledgeable about the avalanche warnings and trail conditions before setting out on a winter hike so that you bring along the right gear. Sometimes we’ve hiked with waterproof boots and other times strapped on micro spikes for extra traction.

9 Wintry Hikes in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park

Planning for a Winter Visit – Rocky Mountain National Park

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 about the Best Places to ‘Have a Cup of Cheer’.

hot chocolate at trailhead restaurant

Shopping in downtown estes park

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.

Looking for unique gifts? Some of my favorite shops in Estes Park are Trendz boutique, Mary Janes, and Hyk.

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.

Dine Out and enjoy downtown holiday lights

Last winter my husband and I enjoyed a romantic meal at Bird and Jims. We sipped on hand-crafted cocktails while the snow fell outside. It was so cozy! The restaurant offers a 12 Days of Christmas 3 Course prix fixe menu from December 21 – January 1 from 5-8pm.

HIMALAYAN CURRY & KEBOB is another Estes Park restaurant on the top of our list to visit this winter. The warm spices offer the perfect complement to the cold weather outside. Himalayan Curry & Kebob is located in downtown Estes Park which is always decorated with festive holiday lights. It feels like a magical winter wonderland!

Indoor Rock Climbing

Estes Park Mountain Shop has an indoor rock climbing gym for ages 5 and older. A variety of packages are available including a 3 CLIMBS FOR $20 option which includes belaying. Reservations are recommended. We haven’t gone yet, but this activity is at the top of my daughter’s list.

float down the lazy river

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

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)

Whether you are traveling to Estes Park on a romantic getaway, a friends trip, or a family vacation, there is a lot to do in the winter. I can’t wait until our trip!


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?