About Estes Park Rotary Duck Race Festival

Quacking Up Since 1989

The Estes Park Rotary Duck Race Festival is held annually on the first Saturday in May. The Annual Duck Race continues a tradition started in 1989, which has returned more than $3 million (and counting) to local charities and groups!

Yes, we actually race little yellow ducks down the river… it’s for charity, of course… but it’s also really fun! The whole Estes Park community gets quacky on the first Saturday of May for a fun-filled day!

In the 2024 Duck Race, each charity receives $23 of the money collected from each adoption. This is a truly impressive return ratio that reflects the Rotary Club’s efforts to minimize the Duck Race costs and return the maximum amount of money to the charities.

Each year, 60-70 local Estes Valley charities and groups are selected to become Participating Organizations in the Duck Race. The Rotary Club of Estes Park organizes the Duck Race Festival and handles all the administrative, operational, and financial aspects of the event. During the Duck Race season, people may “adopt” little yellow ducks for the Duck Race and designate the charity of their choice to receive the proceeds of their adoptions. The adopted ducks will be released to float down the Fall River in Estes Park on Race Day. Volunteers at the Finish Line collect the ducks and Prizes are awarded to the adopters of the ducks that cross the finish line first. After the race, the collected funds are distributed to Participating Organizations and Charities on the basis of the number of adoptions credited to each benefitting group.

How did this Duck Race get started?

The Estes Park Duck Race started in 1989 to support the local charities of the Estes Valley. In 1989, Estes Park didn’t have a United Way or any other organized way to collect and distribute funds to needy organizations in town. Then, one day, four businessmen in town, Stan Pratt, Nick Kane, Mike McDonald, and Steve Nagl were having coffee and were discussing that very issue. They were also brainstorming on ideas for extending the “shoulder season” in Estes Park so that the merchants could have a better business season.

Stan mentioned that he had seen a neat duck race up in Oregon and it seemed like it was a lot of fun and a good way to bring the tourists to town for a festival. Not only that, it seemed like a good way to raise money for the charitable organizations in town. Looked like a natural winner.

Mike said. “Well, we’ve got a river that runs right through the main part of town.” Nick chimed in with, “We could start the race at my restaurant.” And Steve added, “The finish line could be at my place.” And, that’s how the Duck Race started. From that small beginning, the Estes Park Duck Race has grown to be one of the top 5 Duck Races in Colorado and now enjoys enormous popularity with as many as ten thousand ducks being adopted and hundreds of Prizes for the lucky winners. Our Duck Race has become the second oldest continuing Duck Race in the United States.

For the full story, enjoy this video interview with some of our wisest ducks about the beginning and the early years of the Estes Park Duck Race!

Want to join in the fun?