There is nothing more sublime than summer vacation, and I was lucky enough to sneak one in between a job transition this summer - my 2 weeks off were enough for a staycation here in DC and a trip to Colorado, a place that has been on my bucket list to visit for years!
I flew out to CO on a Saturday afternoon and covered five areas over a 6 day solo roadtrip. It was definitely a lot of ground to cover in a short period of time, but when you travel alone, the time you save making decisions for a group can be used to your advantage. Here's a recap of the places I saw and would recommend to anyone planning a trip!
Denver (18 Hours)
Drop me in front of a majestic mountain range and I behave like a teenager fangirling the lead singer from her favorite boy band. Denver is definitely a city, with quite a few neighborhoods to explore - I only covered Downtown and RiNo during my short stay. Be sure to check out the Dairy Block and the infamous Union Station!
Shops: Jenni Kayne, AYR, Alchemy Works (Downtown) |The Source Hotel (RiNo) Drinks: Denver Beer Co (Downtown) | The Ramble (RiNo)
Coffee: Sapor Coffee & Concepts (Downtown) | Blue Sparrow (Rino)
Food: Safta, Rye Society, The Source Hotel (RiNo) | Union Station (Downtown)
Boulder (18 Hours)
Boulder is tucked among the foothills of the mountains, and it definitely had more of a small-hometown vibe to me despite having a population of 100,000. I walked the Pearl Street Mall for a couple of hours at the end of the day and stopped into the stationery and book shops that caught my eye. The Kitchen is a great place to go for dinner - I enjoyed two glasses of wine with the most incredible hushpuppies and grilled salmon. In the morning, I grabbed a latte and a Cardamom and Earl Grey donut from Boxcar Coffee and a breakfast burrito from Illegal Burrito, and then made my way on up to Estes Park!
Shops: Pearl Street Mall
Coffee: Boxcar Coffee
Food: The Kitchen
Estes Park/Rocky Mountain National Park (2.5 days)
Estes Park is the place to stay if you want to have direct access to the mountains. I wish I could tell you that I camped in the backcountry the entire time, but I haven’t graduated to a comfort level of camping alone in a place where bears are real. We’ll get there! Estes Park has some great food options for the end of a long day of hiking, but that is not what we are here to discuss considering RMNP was literally a stone’s throw away from my AirBNB.
My first afternoon at the park, I drove the perilous journey up the Alpine Visitor Center - rain, hail, and lack of guardrails could NOT stop me nor my fellow driving colleagues. The drive is a National Scenic Byway, so be prepared to pull over often for photos of the landscape and wild elk.
I started the second day in a beautiful meadow near Moraine Park, then journeyed over to the other side of the park (once again on the most terrifying but terrific roadway) to set up my hammock along the Colorado River Trail. I ended the day over by Adams Falls!
On my last day at RMNP, I woke up with the sun and chased it to Bear Lake - I strongly recommend this strategy, because not only will you beat the crowds, but if you’re lucky, you will have the lake to yourself for a few minutes and get to see the sun rise over the mountains. I grabbed a spot in the parking lot by 5:45 AM. After some time at the lake, I took the 2 mile hike through Nymph Lake and Dream Lake up to Emerald Lake. When I arrived at Emerald Lake, there were maybe 10 people total meditating in front of the view around 8 AM. I’m not an early bird at all, but I can assure you, beating the rush on hiking days in popular parks is very, very worth it.
On my way to Vail, I stopped at the beautiful Brainard Lake near the Indian Peaks Wilderness area. This lake has some gorgeous tributaries, flanked by trees that are perfect for an afternoon in the hammock. Entrance the the lake is cash only, so don’t make the same mistake I did.
Vail/Silverthorne/Breckenridge (1 day)
The drive down to Vail was long but glorious. The roads open up to four lane highways that carve through canyons and along the river. There is a paved, 50-mile long bike path at the bottom of the valley that anchors the river, and I’d love to come back to the area today to bike it! Take note though, people in Colorado drive very, very fast, so as much as I wanted to take in the views while singing Lizzo at full volume, this drive requires undivided attention.
Vail itself didn’t steal my heart, but Breckenridge did, and if I ever plan a ski trip I’d likely choose Breckenridge. Not that I ski, but I’ll tend to the mulled wine by a fire and stare at a mountain any day of the week. Breckenridge also has a cute riverside walkway, as well as some very charming houses off of the main street!
Colorado Springs (6 hours)
Though it wasn’t my original plan, I drove through Colorado Springs for a quick hike in Garden of the Gods and then grabbed dinner before heading back to Denver for the night. Though Garden of the Gods is a tiny, tiny park in comparison to some of the areas I was traveling from, it’s worth the trek - I’ve never seen anything like it! I recommend just pulling off into the first parking lot and walking as much of the park as you can. The south side of the park has a beautiful pulloff with a sweeping view of the mountains that is jaw-dropping during the golden hour. I had a hard time peeling myself away from the park, but I stopped by Oscar Blues downtown for a burger with bacon and honey (great combination) and an Elderflower Ginger Cider (delicious) and then made my way back to Denver for the night.
I hope you enjoy this summary of my trip! if you have never travelled alone before and are comfortable driving, I highly recommend a trip to Colorado - everyone is friendly, it’s reasonably priced, and you can experience the city and the mountains within a few hours of one another. If I were to do it again, I’d focus my energy on Denver, Boulder, RMNP, and the Garden of the Gods, and take a trip to Vail and Breckenridge during another trip.