Colorado - Denver & Rocky Mountain National Park - 2018
July 2018 - A 7 day loop from Denver through Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Winter Park, Breckenridge, Mount Evans, Colorado Springs the Back to Denver.
Colorado's three major Front Range cities are quite different from each other, offering very different experiences, but they are also close and convenient. They are also near Colorado's famed Rocky Mountains, making it very easy to leave the city lights behind and enjoy the serenity of the great outdoors.
Arrived @ Denver Airport and took an Uber to Downtown and Picked up a Rental Car (usually cheaper to rent a car downtown)
Heading to Estes Park (Via way of Peak to Peak hwy 119 to 7 to 34) (approx 2.0 hours), we stopped in Boulder along the way and hit the West End Tavern on the Pearl Street Mall for lunch. If you have time check out Boulder, do so and split your time between the Pearl Street Mall and an attraction or two:
or try your best to conquer the Boulder Beer Trail.
Explore a bit of the Boulder Creek Path by foot or bike as well, if time allows, before dinner and a show at one of many venues -- Boulder is renowned for its music.
An easy drive from Boulder, we arrived in Estes Park, the eastern gateway into Rocky Mountain National Park. Checked in to the historic Stanley Hotel as our base for Rocky mountain national park the next few days.
The Hotel once owned by the Stanley family known for the Steam-powered car the Stanley Steamer in the early 1900's and is today a major tour spot and convenient base for exploring RMNP. There are Panoramic views of Lake Estes, the Rockies and especially Long's Peak. On the grounds we were treated to visits from local wildlife as deer and elk wandered through the grounds feeding on the plants and trees. The original hotel was built by Freelan Oscar Stanley of Stanley Steamer fame and opened on July 4, 1909 as a resort for upper class easterners and a health retreat for sufferers of pulmonary tuberculosis. The hotel and its surrounding structures are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The original historic portion is a 142-room Colonial Revival hotel, today there are three other accommodation choices on the property offering more modern facilities.
As we experienced it is great to stay in a historic building as long as you are prepared for the lack of modern conveniences. It was nearly ninety degrees during our stay and the lack of air conditioning and any form of ventilation made for difficult sleep. There is a constant hive of tourists moving throughout the hotel and grounds with nearly thirty guided tours per day! We thought was somewhat of a burden to hotel guests that were paying to stay there.
They do a great job capitalizing on the supposed filming of the Jack Nicholson movie The Shining; "Here's Johnny". The Hotel was only the inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King's 1977 bestselling novel The Shining but served as the filming location for the 1997 TV miniseries, also written by King.
In the morning we headed out toward the park and stopped in the RMNP visitors center to plan our day. Drove into Rocky Mountain National Park up to Grand Lake. Explored the fantastic beauty of the steep granite mountains, dramatic changing weather conditions, unique colorful high elevation flowers, and abundant wildlife. We didn't do much hiking today, only a few short walks out to scenic look out points due to the weather. We ran into a few epic thunder storms and high winds along the way, but would highly suggest a hike or two into the wilderness if weather permits. The fantastically scenic Trail Ridge Road from Estes Park up to Grand Lake is about 1.5 hr drive, more if you stop along the way which you should. Stop at the view points and take the half-hour walk along the Tundra World Nature Trail to get a close-up view of the plants, animals, and terrain of the tundra.
We stopped for a picnic lunch at the lake just passed Grand Lake at Pine Beach Picnic area and found a beautiful spot with a picnic bench near the marshy shore. There were signs warning of moose in the area, you could envision one rising from the reeds just in front of us, and ideal spot for them to hang out. Although we didn't see any up close there were a few others farther down the road. This spot was perfect for a quiet afternoon picnic
Returned to the Stanley Hotel for the night. Join in the Stargazing and S’mores
Our second day in the RMNP, we re-trace some of our Drive from yesterday as we headed to our next destination today on the fantastically scenic Trail Ridge Road to Breckenridge (Approx 4.0 hours via 34-40-70-6-9). More spectacular scenery on this route, we stopped in Winter Park for lunch then on to Berthoud Pass/Berthound Falls over Loveland Pass, by Grays Peak and on to Breckenridge.
Check in to the Crystal Peak Lodge for the night, a condo complex just above the town of Breckenridge. There is a restaurant and bar right at the lodge or you can take the tram attached to the building to the adjacent lodge and base of the ski resort or down to the town, very convenient. We walked around Breckenridge, several great restaurants, bars and shops in town. Make sure that you go to the new Breckenridge distillery just outside of town. We didn't make it out there but stopped in to the little tasting room in town. One of my favorite Bourbons but I was surprised to learn that they are now making gin rum and vodka too...
Drive from Breckenridge to Colorado Springs; Side trip through Mount Evans Scenic Byway
Echo Lake, Echo Lake Lodge, Mount Goliath Natural Area, Summit Lake, Mt. Evans and Genesee Park (4.5 hrs drive time). Leave for the drive in the morning and head straight for the summit of Mount Evans. Weather changes in the early afternoon at elevation so best to be off the summit before the thunderstorms.
On State Hwy. 103, 14 miles slowly climbing in elevation with new vistas in every direction until you reach lovely Echo Lake. There are picnic tables, hiking trails and fishing opportunities at this pretty alpine lake. In summer, be sure to stop at the Echo Lake Lodge, an authentic 1926 log building with a charming four-sided stone fireplace. The lodge has a restaurant, bar, and gift shop and is known for their pan-fried trout.
The Mount Evans Byway starts at Echo Lake and climbs 14 miles to the summit (14,264 feet!). It is the highest paved road in North America, a day trip to the top is a journey that snakes and climbs through nearly 9,000 feet of elevation gain, from the high plains of Denver through five climate zones to the 14,264-foot summit. Mount Evans is one of 54 peaks in Colorado that soar to 14,000 feet and above – the famous “fourteeners.” It's a bit of a nerve racking drive on a narrow steep road with two way traffic. In just three miles, the road breaks above timberline. An excellent stop here is at the Walter Pesman Alpine Garden, where you can view 1,700-year-old Bristle-cone pines. Denver Botanic Gardens maintains a trail from here to Mount Goliath that winds across tundra, lined with alpine forget-me-nots, fairy primrose, purple fringe, chiming bells and spring beauty. They also offer guided hikes throughout the summer.
Another good stop on the way to the top is Summit Lake. At 13,000 feet, this is also a Denver Mountain Park and a good place to spot big horn sheep and Rocky Mountain goats, both of which have herds on the mountain. At the mountain's top, there is a short quarter-mile trail to the 14,264-foot summit. At this altitude, there is much less oxygen and breathing is difficult. Although the trail climbs only 120 feet in elevation, it will seem like you climbed the whole mountain. Wear sunscreen, because at 14,000 feet, there is 50 percent less protection from the sun's rays. It's also advisable to visit and be off the mountain before noon to avoid common afternoon thunderstorms. The view from the top is simply incredible. This is one of the grandest panoramas in Colorado and much of state is visible, from the Never Summer Range in the north to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the south.
Back down the mountain and further along on I-70 check out Genesee Park, yet another Denver Mountain Park. At this one, a herd of 40 buffalo graze in a meadow, with snow-capped peaks as a backdrop. We searched the park but were unable to locate the Buffalo on this visit
Checked in to the Legendary Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs for the night. Beautiful setting and highly recommended. In the evening, if your pocketbook allows, head to The Broadmoor for a fitting dinner to cap this part of the trip.
Spent the day near Colorado Springs then Drove to Denver in the Evening (Approx 1.5 hrs)
Garden of the Gods: There's nothing like sunrise at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, even though we didn't get there that early it was still fantastic with red-sandstone formations sculpted by wind and water over hundreds of thousands of years. It's worth spending some foot power to get away from the crowds on one of the park's many trails, to listen to the wind and imagine the gods cavorting among the formations.
Drove out to Manitou Springs for a stroll around this quaint little town. The Cog Railway train wasn't running during our visit but it appeared to be the thing to do taking you up slope to Pikes Peak.
Arrived in Denver and checked in to the Ritz Carlton Denver for the next three nights. 95 degrees today! Quickly discovered that the Giants were staying there for their games against the Rockies. A few player sightings tonight but none of the starters
Day 6: (4th of July 🎇🎉)
Denver - the best place to base yourself is downtown, where you can see all of the attractions on foot and by public transportation. Started the morning walking through the 16th Street pedestrian mall, found a street vendor along the way selling really good breakfast burritos. Later we found Union Station and ended up eating lunch at Ultreia a Spanish Tapas restaurant, one of the many great dining options at Union Station. Great tasting Croquetas de Jamon, Shishito Peppers, Patatas Bravas with Octopus and a few other dishes. After lunch we walked behind Union station to Commons Park and the shore of the South Platte River.
Tonight we went to Coors Field to watch the Giants play the Rockies @ Coors Field. Before leaving the Hotel we were in the lobby to see if we could catch any of the players loading into the team bus. Turned out most of them decided to walk to the stadium earlier so we didn't see any players. We did see Kruk and Kuip, the Giants TV announcers. Both were very friendly and took time to interact with a few of the kids gathered in the lobby. A short walk from the hotel to the stadium, we got there early so stopped in at the Wynkoop Brewing Company for a brew before the game. The game didn't work out to well for the G'men. The stadium was great and enjoyed the fireworks show following the game.
Denver - Started with a Tour of Coors Field this morning, our guide told us that Coors paid $10 million for the naming rights FOR LIFE! and that included exclusive beer selling rights too... What a deal! After the tour we stopped at Union square for lunch at Mercantile Dining and Provisions where we shared the charcuterie plate, nice selections here. We then continued our walk around to get acquainted with the city. We explored Larimer Square, Denver's birthplace, with a self-guided walking tour of the historic sites. Some great restaurants in this area too... Then we head toward the Colorado State Capitol, US Denver Mint (toured the gift shop as the mint tours were not scheduled today due to the holiday). Just across Broadway, we stopped in to take a a look at the historic Brown Palace Hotel.
Other Civic Center sites we didn't get to (many were closed due to the holiday), are the Denver Art Museum the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Botanic Gardens, and the Black American West Museum.
Dinner tonight at D Bar in Denver's uptown district. Fantastic food but the desserts are the star! We had the Thai Fried Rice and the Handmade Gnocchi.
Depart from Denver Airport
Take an Uber or the the A train from Union Station in LoDo