Must-See: Rocky Mountain National Park and Garden of the Gods
It’s tax season and that means super spontaneous trips with all of that extra ca$$$$$$h money. This year I chose Denver, because it’s not flat. I love my home state of Indiana, but this girl needs a mountain or two every once in a while.
Side note: Speaking of living in Indiana, cities are not our jam. We’ve only got a handful, and I wouldn’t consider them much to look at. Therefore, when I travel I tend to avoid them. As a preface before you get all pumped about my adventures in Denver, this post really mostly covers the natural beauties surrounding the city, i.e. Rocky Mountain National Park and Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. That fresh mountain air ain’t got nothin’ on city smog.
So let’s get back into this. It’s been a while, friends. We had a solid 48 hours there, and I want to get to the juicy parts. But first let’s quickly logistics. Frontier fortunately flies out of Indianapolis, which means cheap airfare. For $185 I was able to fly to Denver. Now, that doesn’t even include a carry-on item, but if you’re a packing nerd like me, the personal item should cover it. I took one backpack for the whole 48 hours we were there and it was plenty. Plus, we avoided those gross airport lines by not checking luggage. Score.
Next we rented a car, a thing that no 23-year-old dare do. The fees are a stupid $20/day extra just because I’m a young thing. HOWEVER IF YOU ONLY READ ONE THING FROM THIS ENTIRE POST, READ THIS. With a USAA membership, young driver fees and additional driver fees are completely waived. AND you don’t even have to be in any way associated with the military to sign up for a free account. Check out this post for more info.
Once we were all comfy cozy in our normally-priced ride, we set out on the 1.5 hour journey to Rocky Mountain National Park. Estes Park is the town just outside of the east entrance and it’s adorable in its own right. Plus, for all the fans out there of the movie The Shining, the hotel where all that madness took place is located there. The Stanley Hotel is a historical building where you can actually stay for a night (creepy). We chose just to enjoy breakfast there on our race around Colorado in 48 hours and it was decent if not a bit overpriced. We were just there to say we’d been there so not many other complaints here. I’d say it’s a must-see.
Once we got to the park, we were in awe of the snow-capped mountains and the vastness of it all. Although most of the main roads were closed for the winter season (including the famous Trail Ridge Road), we were able to drive up to Bear Lake Trailhead. The drive lands you around 9,500 feet above sea level, so beware to those sensitive to altitude. But it sure is beautiful. Giant green pine trees covered in pure white snow stand tall along the road. It’s seriously magical. Even if you only get a chance to drive around the park, do it with your windows open so you can take in that fresh mountain air. (NOTE: Entrance fees are $20/day or $30/week or free with an interagency pass).
Once you get to the trailhead, the lake is just around the corner. However, if you plan to go during the winter season, you’ll need snowshoes to get much further. This is a popular place to be, so the trails become slick with packed snow. We didn’t have enough time, but I do suggest renting snowshoes from the park office and hiking the 2.2 miles around the lake and to a few other lakes in the area. There’s such a hush as you walk through the woods. It’s a refreshing moment away from the craziness that I’m bummed we didn’t prepare more for.
Once we’d had our fill of the mountains, we headed south towards Colorado Springs with an ultimate destination of the Garden of the Gods. From the Park, it took us just 2.5 hours to land in the stark contrast of the red desert rocks. Garden of the Gods is truly larger-than-life. The paths are paved, making it extremely accessible and you can walk right up to these giants if you want. For those of you who like to climb, permits are available to do so. You can spend either 30 minutes walking straight through the garden or enjoy miles of paths in the area. There’s really something for everyone. Another attraction near here is Pikes Peak, but alas time was fleeting. I hear it’s a must-see and one that I will be sure to add to my list the next time I’m in the area.
Now for all you city-folk, there’s just one thing I have to say about my short time in Denver: yum, food. 5280 Burger Bar is kick-ass. Apparently the man who received a patent for the cheeseburger did so at a burger joint in Denver, so this city knows how to flip ’em. All local eats here and so juicy.
Now coffee. Coffee is life. There’s more coffee in my veins than blood, so you can trust my advice. Go to Crema. Get a latte and a kombucha. The house-made kombucha was a treat for me, considering it’s still an emerging trend that I’ve been obsessed about for years and it’s impossible to find anywhere. The latte was perfect.
And finally let’s talk tacos. Los Chingones has a plethora of tacos and salsas to choose from. My personal favorites were there steak tacos and some sort of creamy lime salsa. I’m literally salivating right now at the thought of it, so I’m stopping now.
The last little tidbit about Denver that I’ll mention is the airport. It’s far from anything really, so plan a few Uber rides into your budget or plan to keep the car during your entire stay. We stayed at the Hampton Inn at Gateway Park, about halfway between the airport and downtown. It was very nice and offered a free shuttle to and from the airport, which came in handy.
That’s all. As always, comment with questions.
Bye, Bye, Bye,