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.

What We are Adding to our Favorite Restaurants and Breweries List Near Estes Park, Colorado

One of the most popular questions we get from friends and family who are traveling to Estes Park, Colorado is where we like to go out to eat. To help answer that question, we’ve added a page under ‘Estes Park’ to list our favorite restaurants, coffee shops, breweries, and winery.

Some of the restaurants that I’m most excited about are new finds for us this year. I’m also adding a few suggestions in the nearby towns of Lyons and Boulder where we often stop for lunch on our way into town.

New Picks: Restaurants and breweries Near Estes Park, Colorado

Latitude 105 at the Ridgeline Hotel in Estes Park – This modern mountain restaurant has a good lunch and dinner menu. There was something for everyone from juicy burgers to flavorful salads. We liked the laid back atmosphere of the restaurant so much, that we went twice during our last trip. I appreciate that they serve beers from local Estes Park breweries, while also offering items on their bar menu that are gluten free. On our second visit, we sat outside in red andirondack chairs with friends and family.

Latitude 105 outdoor seating restaurant in estes park. gluten free options

Waterfront Grille in Estes Park – We enjoyed a great lunch at Waterfront Grille. The highlight was the gorgeous views of Lake Estes and the proximity of a playground to burn off energy after lunch.

restaurant with a view in estes park. waterfront grille

Mojo Taqueria in Lyons – Mexican food is my favorite. We sat out on their patio and enjoyed fresh chips and salsa and tacos. The meal was delicious.

Oskar Blues Grill & Brew in Lyons – This is the original Oskar Blues location. They serve lunch and dinner. We enjoy their pizza, and of course their beer.

Avery Brewing in Boulder – We stopped in for lunch. I enjoyed their outdoor space. Ellie’s Brown is one of my favorite beers, so this was a special treat to sip a pint directly from the source.

Our full list of favorite restaurants is here. We will continue to add to this list as we find new places we enjoy. Let us know if you have suggestions by leaving a comment.