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Denver to Estes Park and Grand Lake

Tewkesbury, England
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Denver to Estes Park and Grand Lake

Hi folks from a wet and sorry UK.

We are starting a 4 week trip on 27th Aug with 2 nights in Denver, then 2 nights in Grand Lake before Tetons, Yellowstone etc.

Question - leaving Denver say 9am, should we take the fastest route to Estes Park (I25 ?) if we want to see Bear Lake before driving the trail ridge to Grand Lake - slowly, we want to see the scenery. Or do we have time to take the presumably nicer route via say Nederland, or the in between route via 36? What is the best route anyway? We are staying in the Comfort in dowtown Denver.

Any thoughts welcome.

Loveland, Colorado
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1. Re: Denver to Estes Park and Grand Lake

A lot depends on what day you are leaving for the park on. If you are leaving on a weekday, you might want to think about leaving after 9:30. Rush hour traffic on I-25 is miserable and you don't want to get stuck in it!

The fastest route for you will be to take I-25 to Hwy 66 in Longmont. Then take 66 to Hwy 36, which will take you into Estes Park. That will take you about an hour and a half or so to do.

If you want a longer and a bit more scenic route, take I-25 to I-70(or Hwy 36) to Hwy 119. That will take you a bit longer and it isn't super-scenic. It's a nice drive, but it's not going to take your breath away or anything!

You can certainly make a stop at the Bear Lake Trailhead and do a quick nature walk to see some beautiful spots and then get back in the car and head towards Grand Lake.

Littleton, Colorado
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2. Re: Denver to Estes Park and Grand Lake

Hi Joe (from a very hot and sunny Denver!)

I'm interpreting from your post that you want to take the whole day to drive from Denver to the park, over Trail Ridge Road and reach Grand Lake in the late afternoon/early evening, and you want to get in a stop at Bear Lake, right? It's definitely doable if you leave Denver at 9:00 and I think you could still take the most scenic route up to the park, the Peak-to-Peak Highway.

From the hotel, get on I-25, but go south just a couple of exits to 6th Avenue West. This is a mini-highway that will quickly take you to Golden. You'll have to navigate some city streets in Golden, but keep following the signs for Hwy 6 west, towards Black Hawk and Central City. You'll drive through a canyon along Clear Creek and it's very pretty. After about 10 miles, you'll hook up to Hwy 119 - it's well marked and still in the direction of BlackHawk. Blackhawk and Central City are former mining towns turned into limited stakes gambling areas about 15 years ago, so they're filled with casinos. If that interests you, it might be worth a stop, but they're almost totally slot machines since you can only bet a max of $5.00 on anything, so there's no craps and only low stakes poker and blackjack. Keep driving, in my opinion!

Continue on Hwy 119 towards Nederland. This is where the drive starts to get really spectacular. Take Hwy 72 north out of Nederland (well marked with signs towards Estes Park) and enjoy the view along here. After about 20 miles, the route become Hwy 7 north, once again, well signed. The scenery on the left is incredible. You'll pass Long's Peak and the St. Malo retreat with a beautiful stone chapel where Pope John Paul II visited in the early 90s.

Soon you'll arrive in Estes Park - if you haven't had lunch, I highly recommend the Estes Park Brewery for a decent menu and well crafted beer (for the passengers only, of course!) Many other nice choices in town as well. Enter the park and get a map to find Bear Lake - it's about a 30 minute drive inside the park to get there. Return to the main road and go up and over Trail Ridge - if you didn't stop, it would take about 90 minutes from the east entrance to the west, but of course, you will need to stop to take in the incredible views from the many overlooks on the way up, as well as at the Alpine Visitors Center. Bring warm clothing - jackets and pants - because the temperature will be very chilly up there, and windy. Do be careful if it gets stormy on top of Trail Ridge because lightning is a very common and serious risk above treeline. You're perfectly fine in your car, so don't get out if there's flashes you can see.

Continue down the west side of the park. Watch on the right side (west side) for moose by ponds and creeks - sometimes you'll see a large number of cars stopped which is a sign there's something to see! You'll also see a lot of elk on both sides of the park, especially as you climb higher.

Long day's driving, but you'll take in some of the most spectacular scenery anywhere. Hope your trip goes well!

Santa Fe, New Mexico
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for Santa Fe, Mesa Verde National Park, Boulder, New Mexico
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3. Re: Denver to Estes Park and Grand Lake

With all the driving you will be doing over Trail Ridge, you may want an easier drive up to Estes. We drove from Boulder up Hwy 36 to Estes and it was very pretty and an easy drive. You can stop in Lyons, some nice shops and places to eat. Took about an hour from Boulder.

Once you get to Estes, you need to get through town (very busy when we were there). You may want to stop and look around town. Some fun shops and places to eat. This last trip we did not stop.

From Estes Park it will take you about 20-30 minutes to get to Bear Lake. The hike around Bear Lake is .5 mile and relatively flat, but if you can not get into the parking lot, you will need to take a shuttle bus. Allow at least 1-2 hours for this trip.

We left the Bear Lake area around 12:30pm, stopped at the Moraine Park Museum, drove over Trail Ridge Road, stopping at each overlook and at the Alpine Visitors Center. On the west side of the park we stopped to see the Colorado River, checked out the campground for a future trip and arrived in Grand Lake by 4pm.

Have a great trip.

Tewkesbury, England
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4. Re: Denver to Estes Park and Grand Lake

Thanks for all the good info, I guess I'll just have to chose when we get there and see how energetic we feel!

Estes Park, Colorado
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5. Re: Denver to Estes Park and Grand Lake

I second the opinion of Shaken Bake. Also, since you are going to Bear Lake, you might want to stop at Sprague Lake also. It is on the same road. I has more photos ops, and mountain views.

6. Re: Denver to Estes Park and Grand Lake

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