The mere thought of Colorado conjures up images of majestic mountains, staggering natural beauty, and incomparable views for days. This state has been undeniably #blessed (sorry, way too easy) with remarkable rock formations, epic natural wonders, and awesome archaeological sites. Here, folks, is nature’s playground, an unrivaled paradise for adventurists, outdoor lovers, and active enthusiasts alike.
This post highlights several magical destinations that are all located within a two hours drive of Denver and is a compilation of three different trips. While Denver is a fine city in its own right, the real allure of Colorado is its backyard. Whether blanketed in snow or shrouded in lush greenery, Colorado is where outdoor lovers come to rejoice and renew.
GARDEN OF THE GODS
Located in Colorado Springs and about seventy miles south of Denver, the Garden of the Gods was my very first taste of just how gorgeous this state really is. These stunning geological rock formations are situated at the foot of Pikes Peak and are truly a natural treasure. There are plenty of accessible nature trails just waiting to be explored. At the very least, carve out at least half of a day to give yourself enough time to meander through this magnificent park. And if its utter uniqueness and beauty isn’t enough to entice you, it’s FREE! What else can you ask for?
For visitors information: http://www.gardenofgods.com/
My first and only experience with skiing out west, I adore Breckenridge. About ninety minutes from Denver, Breckenridge is a lovely former mining town that’s located at the base of the Rocky Mountains. While this alpine retreat is charming and filled with delightful restaurants, bars, and boutiques, there’s no question that skiing and other winter activities are the real draw here. Skiers and adventure junkies flock here by the tens of thousands each year for the world-class meticulously-groomed slopes, and for the pure thrill and rush of it all.
Growing up in Pennsylvania, nearly all of my skiing has taken place in the Poconos. While I am not an avid skier by any means, and I am certainly not advanced by any stretch of the imagination, I do enjoy it. Skiing in the Poconos for over two decades, I thought I knew what skiing was. Turns out, I really didn’t. Skiing out west blew my mind. Sure, there is the ice vs. powder situation. But if you’ve skied in both regions, you know there is so much more when comparing the east and the west. On the East coast, of course, there are lower altitudes (which is an enormous plus in my book because altitude sickness is for real people, and it’s no fun), the peaks are lower than in the Rockies, and a significant amount of snow and the trails are man-made and formed by machines. And the temperature! While it’s certainly not fair to compare one day out on the Colorado slopes with countless Poconos runs, the drier weather does make a considerable difference. I can’t even count how many times I’ve lost all feeling in my extremities while skiing in Pennsylvania. And it’s not just the fact that it’s cold. It’s wet and it’s wind-blown, which ultimately leads me to always debating how soon I can get to the lodge to warm up and enjoy my apres-ski. And in case you didn’t know, the apres-ski is half the fun of skiing. Hell, sometimes it’s the best part.
Clearly it’s been a loooong time since I’ve skied in Colorado. And on a side note, I think we can all agree that short hair isn’t my best look. But I digress.
ESTES NATIONAL PARK & STANLEY HOTEL
During our most recent visit to Colorado, we spent a leisurely afternoon in beautiful Estes National Park. The paved trail around Lake Estes is mostly flat and is a wonderful option for all-skill levels. Arresting panoramic views of the valley and mountains envelope the lake and are constant reminders of Colorado’s boundless beauty.
Wildlife watching at its best! Elk in particular are plentiful throughout the park and can be seen resting and roaming alongside the trail.
THE STANLEY HOTEL
The inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining, this hotel will send shivers down your spine. The Stanley Hotel is a Colonial hotel set amid Estes Park, offering panoramic views of Lake Estes and the Rockies. We took a ninety minute tour of the grand hotel and its gorgeous grounds where we learned about its legendary founder and original owner, its transformation over the years, and of course all of the scary and eerie things that have turned this estate into the thrill-seeking tourist attraction that it is today.
A View to Kill (see what I did there?):
There are over 140 rooms in this haunted hotel and you can bet your spirited a$$ that the Hills will be staying in none of them. That’s right. None. Zero. Zilch. Not. Happening. Ever.
The Grand Staircase:
The infamous room 217 where Stephen King spent a terrifying night at the Stanley in 1974.
An optical illusion, this mind-playing trick of a hallway appears to go on forever. Legend has it that this hallway inspired the scene with those creepy girls. Have I mentioned that I’m never staying here?
REDRUM: Need I say more? Eeek.
While Estes Park is of course alluring, its town is anything but. I was expecting a quaint and captivating village similar to the town of Breckenridge, but sadly that is not the case. The Town of Estes Park is uninspiring to say the least and a bit too commercialized for my taste. Situated at the base of Estes Park and the Rockies, it’s understandably busy and we couldn’t get a table for lunch anywhere (in hindsight, probably not the worst thing). Lucky for us, we were able to score a table at the Stanley Hotel’s Whiskey Bar.
The endearing village of Vail is a pedestrian-friendly area filled with shops, restaurants, bars, and art galleries. Couple its enchantment with the scenic and stunning surroundings, and you have the resemblance of a picture-perfect fairy tale.
When in Colorado, sometimes you gotta try to do as the locals do 🙂
Just over thirty miles west of Denver, the famous Beau Jo’s Pizza in Idaho Springs is well worth a stop for lunch on your drive to Vail. Known for its mouthwatering mountain pies, it’s easy to see why many make a special detour to eat here. Absolutely delicious!
A BEER LOVER’S HAPPY PLACE
No Colorado blog post is worth its yeast without mentioning its thriving beer scene. With over two hundred breweries, Colorado is revered for its craft beers and diverse range of microbreweries. When it comes to beer, Colorado is not messing around.
And while Colorado is clearly beautiful and amazing on so many levels, the real reason we keep returning is to see our dear friends, Jenna and Marc. We can’t wait for more incredible adventures out west with our favorite Coloradans!
Dinner at Denver’s Rioja, an excellent Mediterranean restaurant:
Swing, batter batter: At a Colorado Rockies game:
Our annual tradition of visiting an NFL stadium lives on: Sunday night football watching Broncos vs. Giants:
Till our next visit, Colorado. Stay beautiful, glorious one.