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.

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.

Guide for Things to do in Estes Park, Colorado This Winter – 1 Day Itinerary

breakfast at a local coffee shop

The first thing on my mind when I wake up on a cold winter morning is drinking a warm cup of coffee. Our day started in downtown Estes Park at our favorite local coffee shop, Kind Coffee. I featured Kind Coffee when I wrote about the Best Places to Have a ‘Cup of Cheer’ in Estes Park. My girls were delighted to get hot chocolates. Along with our coffees, I ordered oatmeal and my husband enjoyed a breakfast burrito.

sledding in rocky mountain national park

The highlight of our day was going sledding as a family. After breakfast, we headed into Rocky Mountain National Park towards Hidden Valley. It is the only place within the park where you are allowed to go sledding. We were immediately hit with a strong blast of winter wind when we opened the doors to our SUV. We bundled up and started walking up hill to find the perfect sled run. Thankfully, the tall pines blocked the gusts. We flew down the hill on our little blue sled. We took turns – I was secretly competing with my husband to see how far I could make the sled go.

sledding at hidden valley in rocky mountain national park

Winter Hike at Lily Lake

After everyone had enough sledding, we decided to head over to Lily Lake for a short winter hike. The lake was mostly frozen over, but not solid. The wind made a marble pattern across the top. We enjoyed views of Longs Peak, the highest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Lily Lake frozen in ice. Views of Longs Peak, the highest mountain in rocky mountain national park

lunch

For lunch we went to my husband’s favorite sandwich shop. Scratch Deli makes fresh, delicious sandwiches. We took our meals back to our cabin and enjoyed lunch around our table. After lunch, we rested for awhile. We took showers and changed out of our snow gear. The girls happily played with each other, but refused to nap.

afternoon scenic drive around estes park

We decided to carry out our secret nap plan. An afternoon drive is a great way to explore the surrounding area. We saw a large herd of elk near our cabin. The girls drifted off to sleep as we cruised along the curvy mountain roads.

herd of elk in rocky mountain national park

shop estes park

In the late afternoon, we headed back to downtown Estes Park to go shopping. Cliffhanger Used Books is my favorite place to shop. I picked out three novels and several children’s books. Our total was under $20. Proceeds benefit the Estes Valley Library.

wine tasting in estes park

Happy with my deals, we walked further down the block to do a wine tasting at Snowy Peaks winery. The girls enjoyed their colorful play room and got to pick out a special rock from their treasure chest after they cleaned up the toys that entertained them while we sipped local wines.

family dinner in downtown estes park

For dinner we headed to a restaurant that has become a family-tradition, Mama Rose’s. The girls shared a milk flight and enjoyed spaghetti (our oldest) and meatballs (our youngest).

mountain retreat

After a full day, we headed back to our cabin. On a short trip, it’s hard to decide what to fit in. I hope our winter 1-day winter itinerary is helpful for anyone planning a trip to Estes Park this season. If you have any questions or suggestions, please comment below.