Photo's of one of my families many vacations to Eastern Colorado: Picture 1: Hallet Peak/Bear Lake - Rocky Mountain national Park; Pictures 2-3: Elk on Trail Ridge Road - Rocky Mountain National Park;Picture 4-5: Great Sand Dunes National Park
My family and I enjoy traveling to Eastern Colorado more than anywhere else, specifically Rocky Mountain National Park. We started traveling to Colorado back in 1994, and have made many trips since. There are so many things to do in Eastern Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park, Mt. Evans Byway (highest paved road in the 48 states), white water rafting outside Denver, Pikes Peak and Great Sand Dunes National Park.
As I said, Rocky Mountain National Park is our favorite. We stay in Estes Park, which is adjacent to the park. Estes Park has much to do, and is a great place to stay during your trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. By the way, Estes Park is home to the Stanley Hotel. This hotel is gained fame as the hotel where the movie "The Shining" was filmed.
In side the park you find the highest continuous paved road in the United States - Trail Ridge Road. The views from Trail Ridge Road are breath-taking. It reaches a maximum elevation of 12,183 ft. and is 48 miles long. Much of the road is above tree line, and wildlife is abundant. The road is covered by snow and is closed during the winter. It doesn't re-open until late spring or early summer - depending on the amount of snow.
The only question we have always had is: Where are the guard rails? The first time you travel on Trail Ridge Road (as well as many other roads in Colorado), you may experience that "blue knuckle" sensation. No guard rails, and sometimes you see nothing but air, and a 2000 foot drop. However, once you get acclimated to the roads, it is fantastic.
My wife and I love to head out into the park early in the morning (about 6:00 AM). We will stop by the "Donut Haus" to pick up hot coffee and wonderful pastries. Getting in early assure an abundance of wildlife viewing. On our last trip, on an early morning trip, we saw herds of bull Elk, Moose, Bighorn Sheep and mule deer. It was great!
Another great scenic road is "Fall River Road". Fall River Road is the original road that crossed the Great Divide. It is dirt most of the way, but is well kept, and the scenery is fantastic.
One of the things we love to do is find a great trail to hike. Make sure that you allow 2-3 days for acclimation to the altitude before taking a hike in the park. The air is thin. Our favorite hike is the "Timberline Falls Trail". It's a pretty strenuous 8 to 9 mile hike, but the views are breath taking. This trail takes you past "Loch Vale". This is a scenic alpine lake surrounded by mountains.
If you are in Estes Park, take in a Rodeo. It's great fun and entertainment. Horse back rides are available as well. On my last horse back ride, the name of my horse was "Dizzy". The name said it all. This horse was definitely dizzy. However, the ride was great!
Estes Park offers a variety of hotels, cabins, condo's for lodging. There are adequate restaurants as well. However, we may eat one meal a day in a restaurant, and eat the rest of our meals in the park. There are many places for picnic's.
Give yourself enough time in Rocky Mountain National Park to experience it's beauty and what it has to offer. We usually spend at least 4 days in the park before moving on to another location. I have attached several links below which provides information on the park, but first go to the following two links. It may be one of the best places to find information for planning a vacation to Rocky Mountain National Park and things to do in and around Estes Park:
Another great place to visit is the Mt. Evans Byway. Mt. Evans Byway is the highest paved road in the 48 states. Take Interstate 70 west about 32 miles to the town of Idaho Springs, CO. You will take CO 103, for a drive of about 28 miles in length near the summit of Mt. Evans. The drive is absolutely spectacular!! There are some parts of the drive that will make you a little nervous, but overall it's great (again, no guard rails). On the route you will see both Rocky Mountain Sheep and Rocky Mountain Goats. This trip is well worth your time. While in Idaho Springs, take in a little white water rafting. My family did that and had a great time.
Traveling south from Denver on Interstate 25 for about 160 miles, you will come to Highway 160. Go west on Highway 160 to Great Sand Dunes National Park. This is an amazing place to visit. The park includes tremendous sand dunes surrounded by mountains. Great Sand Dunes National Monument contains the tallest sand dunes in North America, the highest rising to a height of 750 ft. from the floor of the valley. The park lays on the western section of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range, and has 6 peaks over 13,000 ft. in elevation.
When my children were younger, they hiked to the top of the highest dune. That was no easy feat. One of my fondest memories is of my kids rolling down the sand dunes. I guess you had to be there, it was pretty funny.
One area I haven't mentioned is Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs is about an hour drive from Denver (63 miles). It is a beautiful area that boast Pike's Peak, Garden of the Gods, the Air Force Academy, and many other places of interest. We visited Colorado Springs on our first visit to Colorado, and had our first experience on driving on Colorado mountain roads when driving up Pikes Peak. It's a great drive, half pavement, half gravel. It was raining the day we traveled up Pikes Peak, and needless to say, it got a little hairy in places. I can distinctly remember someone in our car - at one of the many hairpin turns with nothing but sky - saying "don't anyone breath!"
If you travel to the Colorado Springs area, make sure to visit Royal Gorge. The park contains the worlds highest suspension bridge - 1053 ft. It's a beautiful area with many things to see and do.
Check out the books from Amazon.com (above right). It has great information about travel in Colorado.
One of the mistakes many visitors make when traveling to Colorado is they stay in only the large metropolitan areas. If you really want to experience the true flavor of Colorado
, you have to get off the beaten path, and visit some of the lesser know places. Towns such as Buena Vista, Fairplay, Cripple Creek, Manitou Springs, Salida, Georgetown, Central City, and others - provide an opportunity to meet some very nice people, visit specialty shops, and see scenery you would not normally see.