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.

Best Places to ‘Have a Cup of Cheer’ in Estes Park, Colorado

From a steaming mug of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream to a glass of robust red wine, the holiday season is a great time to sip and savor. Estes Park has opportunities for you to pair fun winter adventures with your favorite cup of cheer.

Best Kid’s Drink

Trailhead Restaurant on Fall River Road serves hot chocolate the way  toddlers and their parents like it, with loads of whipped cream! If you are feeling extra festive you can order peppermint hot chocolate or opt for the hot cider that smells just as good as it tastes. 

Another favorite is the milk flight found at Mama Rose’s restaurant. Our kids enjoy small cups of strawberry, chocolate, vanilla and white milk. This is a fun replacement for dessert. 

Best Coffee

Kind Coffee is located on the edge of downtown Estes Park. Grab a cup of quality organic coffee and warm up in the cozy cafe before shopping, or take it with you on a stroll along the Estes Park Riverwalk. For many Christmas is the season for giving, but Kind Coffee gives back year-round by donating a percentage of their revenue to international charities as well as participating in the Estes Park Give Back community partnership. 

Estes Park Coffee Shops
Warm up in local coffee shops before shopping in downtown Estes Park

Best Local Beer

If you appreciate good beer and a laid-back, friendly environment, Rock Cut Brewing Company is your place. It’s a tough choice to decide which beer on their menu to try, so why not go with a flight of 5 tasters? Rockcut also contributes to the local community. When you order a pint of their German-style amber aptly named Altruism, $1 goes to charity. 

In this category we also have to mention Lumpy Ridge Brewery which is located in an old gas station building that feels both hip and compact. What they are lacking in space, they make up for in taste. Their menu currently includes a Winter Breeze Coconut Brown Lager – yum. 

Best Local Wine

We have written about our love of Snowy Peaks winery before and we probably will again because of their awesome play area for kids to enjoy why parents taste local wine. For $6 you can taste 5 wines that are made by Snowy Peaks and other local Colorado wineries. 

Snowy Peaks Winery in Estes Park Colorado
Kids entertained at Snowy Peaks Winery

Best Margarita

Merry Margarita to all! It’s not the first drink you think of on a trip to a winter wonderland like Estes Park, but there are several good Mexican restaurants in town and there is always room in our life for chips and salsa. If that comes with a refreshing margarita, no complaints here. For Mexican cuisine with a Colorado twist, we think Ed’s Cantina and Grille is the place to go.

There are plenty of ways to fill your cup this season in Estes Park, Colorado. We are excited to learn more about a Booze Cruise offered by the Ridgeline Hotel. We have kids traveling with us this season, so we can’t participate, but we want to share for those looking for a safe and fun way to experience local breweries and distilleries. 

The Ridgeline Hotel’s website also highlights Trendz boutique, which is one of our favorite local shops. They now offer a Sip & Shop experience along with a full calendar of great shopping events in December. 

Winter Refresh

We have been doing a winter refresh project on our blog and want to share a couple articles that have updated content. 

The Most Underrated Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park: Following the Historic Ute Trail

Gingerbread Cabin Cookie recipe

2 Day Itinerary in Estes Park with Toddlers

When we are on vacation with our young girls we try our best to stick to a regular routine and take advantage of unexpected moments. If you are looking for ideas on how to spend a couple days in Estes Park with your young family, here are a couple days we recently enjoyed in our favorite mountain town.

Day 1 Itinerary in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park 
First thing in the morning we drove to Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park so the girls could burn off some energy by walking around the gorgeous half mile loop. We love this hike because our girls can both walk at their own pace and stop to climb rocks and look at trout. The views of the Continental Divide are stunning – one time we spotted a moose right in the middle of the lake!

Sprague Lake Rocky Mountain National Park

Next we went to Trailhead Restaurant which is attached to the Fall River Visitors Center. We sat outside on the deck and sipped cups of hot chocolate and split warm, gooey cinnamon rolls. The girls played on the attached playground and we enjoyed views of Deer Mountain.

After some quiet time and naps at our cabin, we headed back out in the evening to Snowy Peaks Winery in downtown Estes Park. They have a great kids area with toys and art supplies which occupied our girls while we enjoyed Colorado wine. After the tasting we all headed downstairs and back out to the garden where local bluegrass duo Dahlby & Nadine inspired our own duo to joyfully twirl in circles behind our table.

We went to the playground across the street before heading down the River Walk to Mama Rose’s, an Italian restaurant for dinner. We weren’t lucky enough to grab an outdoor table by the Big Thompson River, but we enjoyed our spot inside. Our three-year-old enjoyed a flight of milk: strawberry, chocolate, vanilla and white. She was nice enough to share sips with her little sister.

Day 2 Itinerary in Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park & Brainard Lake
We started out our morning with another favorite lake hike. Lily Lake loop is less than a mile and it’s flat so our girls can hike on their own. Lily Lake is located six miles south of Estes Park on Highway 7. We enjoyed spotting muskrats swimming the in the lake as well as the awesome views of Twin Sisters Peaks, Longs Peak and Lily Mountain.

Mountain Views around Lily Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Next we enjoyed coffee and hot chocolate at Coffee on the Rocks. Our girls love walking around the duck filled pond behind the coffee shop. We also ventured into Red Rose Rock Shop which shares a parking lot. The girls each thoughtfully selected pink sparkly rocks from the abundant display.

Rock Shop Estes Park Colorado

We got back in the car with the treasure and our 1.5-year-old instantly fell asleep. We decided to seize the opportunity by grabbing an amazing take-and-go sandwich from Scratch Deli & Bakery and driving to Brainard Lake Recreation Area. This popular hiking destination has been on our bucket list all summer. It’s located 50 minutes away from Estes Park. After sitting in line at the entrance we eventually got a parking spot, which was lucky on a holiday weekend. We got out and hiked around the breathtaking setting.

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

Even though it was overcast and eventually started to hail, the trip was still worth it!

Brainard Lakes Colorado, Indian Peaks Wilderness

Rainy Afternoon Activity in Estes Park, Colorado
The hail was brief but cut our adventure short. We decided to go swimming indoors when we got back to Estes Park. 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. We had so much fun!

We wrapped up our vacation at Rock Cut Brewing Co. which has games and picnic tables outside. We ordered Chinese takeout from the restaurant next door and saw other people order pizza from across the street. There is typically a food truck option as well.