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Colorado Trip Report (Long)

Illinois
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106 reviews
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Colorado Trip Report (Long)

This trip began with a great airfare to Denver, only $214 roundtrip from Chicago on Southwest AIrlines. My husband and I weren't really sure where to go from Denver, but we came up with a few places that we wanted to visit, and made a circular route through Colorado from Denver to Estes Park and then on to Aspen, Ouray, and Glenwood Springs before returning to Denver. We drove over one thousand miles in seven days, which is more driving than I like. The problem is that there is just too much to see in this beautiful state!

In order to get that great airfare, we had to catch a 6 a.m. flight on Saturday, so a very long first day. We took the scenic route to Estes Park, driving via Boulder Canyon (Highway 119) through Nederland and up the Peak to Peak Highway. We stretched our legs at Boulder Falls, which is a beautiful spot, then stopped in Nederland for an early lunch. There were a lot of people stopped at New Moon Bakery, where we ate the most delicious roast beef and pesto sandwich along with some cookies on the patio outside - highly recommend. We had planned to hike at WIld Basin, but the parking lot was full so we were turned away. It was just as well since we were tired from getting up so early and a long hike may have been too much. Instead, we stopped a little further up the road at Lily Lake. It was very crowded with lots of cars parked on the roadway. Somehow we managed to get the only open space in the parking lot. The hike around the lake is easy, flat, and only about a mile long, so we added the Lily Ridge trail, hiking a short distance above the lake for some nice views. There were lots of people at Lily Lake, including a wedding party.

Onward to our hotel for the next two nights, the Estes Park Comfort Inn. This is an older motel east of town, but the room was fine and we enjoyed the breakfast, especially the cinnamon waffles. The cost was $192 per night, including taxes.

Our room wasn't ready and it had started to rain, so we decided to take the History and Ghost Tour at the Stanley Hotel. It was interesting to see the hotel and learn about the man who built it. I'm not a believer in the supernatural, but it was fun to hear the stories about ghosts and about how the hotel inspired Stephen King to write The Shining. Our guide was very kind to the kids on the tour and made sure that they weren't bored. The cost is $15 per person, plus $5 for parking. There were about 20 people on our tour, and tours begin every twenty minutes, so I'm guessing that the Stanley makes a good income allowing tourists to walk the hallways. We were shown one room - considering the price, I was happy to be staying at the Comfort Inn.

Dinner was at Mama Rose's in Estes Park; we both agreed that this was the worst meal of the trip. We walked around downtown Estes Park and stopped to listen to a live band playing at Bond Park. There was an arts fair going on, and we chatted with a local photographer selling some gorgeous pictures.

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Illinois
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106 reviews
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1. Re: Colorado Trip Report (Long)

We were up early on Sunday in order to beat the 9 a.m. closure of Bear Lake Road to auto traffic. We stopped at the Donut Haus to pick up box lunches, and were on the trail to Nymph, Dream, and Haiyaha Lakes before 8 a.m. Even at this hour, there were a lot of hikers on the trail. My favorite was Nymph Lake, with all the blooming yellow water lilies. We had planned to make a loop hike to Alberta Falls, but there are no women's restrooms along the way! There are plenty of options for men though! Tip: Use the bathroom before starting your hike - they really aren't that bad and are equipped with hand sanitizer dispensers. Back to the trailhead, and a hike to Alberta Falls, which is quite a sight. We didn't want to move our car, and the walk is a little more challenging from the Bear Lake lot than from Glacier Gorge.

We asked a friendly ranger about picnic spots, and he recommended Sprague Lake. No one else was at the picnic area except for a big crow in the tree above our table. He didn't take his eyes off of us the entire time, and swooped down on the table looking for scraps as soon as we walked away. Three ducks noticed us, and came over expecting to be fed. The ducks stayed right at our feet until another group arrived and they realized they weren't getting anything from us. Our Donut Haus lunches were great: sandwiches made with lots of meat and cheese on good bread, chips, along with a dessert. The brownie and apple pie bar were delicious. It was so much nicer to have a picnic in the park rather than drive all the way back to Estes Park to eat in a restaurant. We then made our way around Sprague Lake. My husband noted that if this place were in Chicago it would be a spectacular attraction. Here, we were the only ones on the trail.

As we drove to Sheep Lakes, we watched dark clouds fill the sky. Once there, a ranger was talking about how to determine the distance of lightening strikes. They were getting closer and suddenly it was raining. Everyone ran to their cars. We drove on to Old Fall River Road. where cars were parked everywhere along the roadway. We pulled into a lot east of Alluvial Fan, put back our seats for a nice rest, and waited out the rain. We napped to the sound of rain, thunder, and hail hitting our car. After nearly an hour of peace, we made the short walk to the Alluvial Fan. My husband thought all the boulders on top of the hill looked like a graveyard. We stopped at the Fall River Visitor Center before heading back to the Comfort Inn and a nice dinner at Smokin' Dave's BBQ.

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2. Re: Colorado Trip Report (Long)

When we woke up on Sunday, we made a last minute decision to take the hike to Gem Lake before leaving town. We quickly got ready and were out the door by 6 and on the trail by 6:10. Two deer barely noticed us in the motel parking lot, and my husband spotted an elk and a coyote along the way. I loved this hike - so close to town, nice views of Estes Park, and very quiet and cool at this hour of the morning. We saw some hummingbirds drinking nectar from flowers along the way too. Once we got to Gem Lake, we were surprised to see a group of about 25 very loud teenagers, and it looked like they were having a lot of fun. They were getting ready to hike back, and once they saw us their leaders reminded them to be quiet. They were a friendly group and told us that they had woken up at 2:45 to get here this early. Once they left, it was so peaceful at the lake, and we sat on some big rocks for a long time. This is one of my favorite memories of our trip. The walk back to the car was tough on my husband's knees; it's hard hiking upward with big changes in elevation, but for some folks it's just as bad, if not worse, walking downhill.

We ate breakfast, got cleaned up, and began the drive along Trail Ridge Road, stopping at several of the overlooks. We hiked the Tundra Communities trail at Rock Cut. I have to admit that hiking through alpine tundra has about as much appeal to me as a hike through a midwest prairie - not much. The thing that caught my attention here was the large white puffy clouds. It seemed that the cloud formations in Colorado were much different than back home in Illinois. Due to a lack of time, we had to take a pass on any more stops along TRR, which was disappointing. We stopped at the McDonald's in Granby and drove along Highway 40 towards Interstate 70. South of Winter Park, there was a big rainstorm, which made driving difficult. We continued on through Leadville and over Independence Pass, stopping at the rest area at the summit for a short walk. Just before Aspen, we stopped at a place called the Grottos, where there was only one other car in the parking lot. This is one of those "hidden gems" that is interesting to explore. The waterfall is pretty, but the real attraction for us was the ice cave and the deep crevices in the rock dropping into an underground waterway. If you have children, don't let them out of your sight here!

The cost of hotels in Aspen seemed outrageously expensive, but I found an OK price at the Annabelle Inn ($188 per night, including taxes). Our room was quaint with a beautiful bathroom, and a continental breakfast with cheese and cold cuts was included. We opted to stay in one of the front rooms facing Main Street, so the sound of traffic was very loud but worth the $20 in room savings. The innkeeper here was friendly and helpful. We had a fantastic dinner (and a delicious dessert - chocolate chunk crème brulee with raspberries) at the reasonably priced J Bar in the Hotel Jerome, then walked around town and looked in some galleries. I felt a little out of my league, but Aspen is a lovely town.

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Illinois
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106 reviews
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3. Re: Colorado Trip Report (Long)

Breakfast at the Annabelle Inn didn't begin until 7:30, so we got a late start and didn't arrive at the Maroon Bells until about 8:30. After taking many photos of the beautiful bells, we decided to hike up to Crater Lake. It was a difficult hike because of all the rocks along the trail. A helicopter buzzed overhead. When we reached the lake, people were using binoculars to watch some activity on the side of the mountain. The helicopter took off with something suspended from a rope beneath it, and later returned. As we were walking back to the trailhead, we met a hiker who told us that a man had fallen and died after reaching the summit a few days earlier, and that the helicopter was used to search for him and recover his body. It is so sad that something so horrible could happen in such a beautiful place.

When we reached the trailhead, I told my husband that I wanted to hike just a short way across the bridge on the Maroon Creek trail. He asked me if I wanted to take the "abridged" hike. Groan! If we had had more time I would have done this hike.

Lunch was at CP Burger in Aspen, next to the miniature golf/ice skating rink. My husband had a hamburger and I had a great tuna burger with kale, miso-vinaigrette, tomato, and wasabi aioli. For dessert we stopped at Paradise Bakery for scoops of chocolate brownie and pomegranate gelato. We found a table on the brick pedestrian mall and sat for a long time, enjoying the big trees, flowers, and the streams that run down the center of the street. We walked over to the Aspen Art Museum, but they were between exhibits and weren't open.

It was a long drive to Black Canyon of the Gunnison, with lots of dark clouds as we neared Montrose. We were able to stop at two overlooks before a steady rain began. We watched a video at the Visitor Center, and since the rain didn't seem like it was going to stop, we left disappointed after a too brief visit. My husband loved the scenery here. Our consolation was the dark skies, dramatic lighting that made everything bright, and rainbows all the way to Ouray.

Our lodging for the next two nights was at the China Clipper Inn. I can't say enough wonderful things about this bed and breakfast. Very clean and elegant, reasonably priced ($179 per night, including taxes), a big in-room tub, a delicious breakfast around a big dining room table, and very sweet owners. On top of this, the other guests were wonderful people who we enjoyed talking with over breakfast. Since I booked a special package, there was a box chocolates in our room from Mouse's, a local shop. This was a perfect place to stay. We had dinner at the Outlaw Steakhouse, big portions of steak and trout, in a friendly older setting. We really enjoyed the talented piano player, who played everything from hymns to Beatles music.

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Illinois
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1,870 posts
106 reviews
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4. Re: Colorado Trip Report (Long)

We took a jeep tour in Ouray - I did not particularly care for this. My husband is a fan of big vistas and really liked it, so it was OK. When I booked, I had requested a particular trip, but when we arrived we found that everyone in our group was there for another trip which our guide said was better anyway. The jeep took us to the top of a mountain. Going up was scary, but going down was terrifying. We came upon another jeep going down as we were going up, so the two drivers had to maneuver their vehicles at a hairpin turn. It had rained the day before, so the road was slick. At one point our driver had to back up, and asked the group if he was getting too close to the edge. It was scary when the guide frequently turned around to talk to us since he had to take his eyes off the road. I did enjoy seeing the old ghost towns and hearing about the history of the area. If I had to do it again, I would save the $59 (plus tip) and let my husband go alone while I took a soak in the hot springs.

Our innkeeper suggested the Ore House at the Beaumont Hotel for lunch, which was a good call. We shared a salad and a prime rib sandwich in the pretty courtyard. For some reason, everything tastes better when it's served outside. We thought we could hike the Perimeter Trail around Ouray, but settled for stops at Box Canyon Falls ($4) and the Baby Bathtubs. Both of these were great hikes, and not so long that we were worn out. We found a quiet spot near the Baby Bathtubs, and my husband soaked his feet in the cold stream. We headed back to Ouray and got a dreamsicle milkshake at Mouse's, then walked up and down Main Street. We weren't too hungry after our late lunch and milkshake, so we sat on the rooftop at the Ouray Brewery and had some drinks and smoked trout dip with crackers and raw vegetables. The rooftop has picnic tables, and we enjoyed talking to the friendly folks sitting at our table.

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Illinois
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106 reviews
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5. Re: Colorado Trip Report (Long)

We had to leave Ouray early on Thursday in order to arrive at Curecanti National Recreation Area for our scheduled 12:30 Morrow Point boat tour. We picked up sandwiches in Montrose before another very short drive through Black Canyon of the Gunnison. We had been hoping to do some hiking here, but we settled for some short walks from a few of the overlooks. We really liked this park and wished that we could have spent more time exploring. We drove to the Pine Creek trailhead off US Highway 50, and walked down the 232 steps to the 3/4 mile trail which follows the old narrow-gauge rail bed before reaching the boat dock. There are several picnic table along the way, so we stopped and ate our sandwiches before the boat trip. It was an interesting hour and a half ride with a park ranger giving a narration for the first half of the journey. You get a completely different view of the Gunnison River here. Back at the park, you see just a narrow tiny green strip from so far above. It was very sunny on the boat; if you take the boat trip, make sure that you sit in the back of the boat where it is covered. My favorite part of the ride was seeing the Curecanti Needle. Definitely worth the $16 ticket price.

It was a long drive to Glenwood Springs, but we did have some excitement near Paonia State Park. We came around a bend and saw several cars stopped in the middle of the road. I assumed that it was an accident until I saw that everyone had cameras focused on the rocky wall above the road, and a small black bear scampering up.

Our final night was spent at the Glenwood Springs Hot Canyon Lodge. The room wasn't anything special, but access to the hot springs was worth the $199 room cost (including taxes). We got cleaned up and walked across the pedestrian bridge to the Pullman Restaurant. We had a lovely meal, sharing pork shoulder and smoked cheddar grits, rhubarb agrodulce (whatever that is!) and pan seared scallops with english pea risotto, pancetta, and mint. My favorite was the salted chocolate pie with a peanut butter crunch crust & peanut butter anglaise. We also had nutella bread pudding with bacon ice cream - very strange, but good.

I had never been to a hot springs before and was reluctant to get in a public pool with so many people, especially when I smelled the rotten egg smell and saw what looked to be dark murky water. I haven't been in a swimming pool in years, but I was won over immediately. It's so relaxing to sit in the warm water, especially since we arrived in the evening when you can see the moon and stars above. I'm already thinking about the day when I can return. Highly recommend.

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Glenwood Springs, CO
Illinois
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1,870 posts
106 reviews
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6. Re: Colorado Trip Report (Long)

Our last day in Colorado was very busy. The breakfast at the Grill adjoining the hotel was fantastic, with made to order omelets and pancakes. We loaded up the car, checked out, and walked across the street to Canyon Bikes, located in the Hotel Colorado. We used the shuttle service ($41 per person including taxes) to take us to the trailhead 16.2 miles east of town. The young people at the shop and our driver were super friendly and helpful. It was a fun ride, with only one mild uphill section. The bike path sits between I 70 and the raging Colorado River, with a railroad on the other side of the river thrown in for good measure. It's a memorable ride. We stopped and did the hike to Hanging Lake. This hike seemed to go straight up and was awfully crowded, but the lake is spectacular. You really have to see it with your own eyes. When we were about 4 miles from the bike shop, it began to rain. It rained so hard that it hurt my skin and I couldn't see anything. When we ride bikes, I always lead and my husband follows, but I had let him get ahead and didn't know where he was. I could barely breathe and got off my bike to walk it since I didn't want to ride into the river. I finally came upon an expressway overhang where I could get out of the rain. I wiped the runny mascara from my eyes and was relieved to see my husband up ahead. It took one hour to get situated with bikes and helmets and paperwork and make the drive to the trailhead, two hours to do the Hanging Lake hike, and two hours for the bike ride. Highly recommend Canyon BIkes.

We were completely drenched from the rain and considered taking showers with our free passes to the hot springs pool. Time was short, and we had a three hour drive back to Denver, so we just changed into some dry clothes. We had enjoyed a great meal the Pullman the previous night, so we returned there for lunch before heading out of town. As we got close to Denver, we followed a rainbow to the airport, so a lovely ending for a great trip.

Many thanks to all the DE's and posters. Your advice was spot on and much appreciated!

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7. Re: Colorado Trip Report (Long)

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