Grand Lake, nicknamed the “Western Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park,” is a must-visit for those looking for a nature-rich Colorado experience. Located about two hours from Denver, Grand Lake sits at the head of the famous Colorado River and is home to mountains, forests,meadows and the largest natural body of water in the state.
When payday rolls around and you’ve got some extra dollars to spend, here’s how to use it for an epic outdoor-focused road trip.
The Gateway Inn immerses guests in country culture via wood aesthetics, teddy bear and farming tool furnishings, and fire pit-adorned balconies overlooking Grand Lake. Locals even provide entertainment in a large bar and restaurant area, with free popcorn and Colorado beers enhancing the experience.
Things To Do:
Start your day by energizing with breakfast at Fat Cat Cafe. Try their expansive tea selection (the owner is English), homemade scones or their popular breakfast cookie with fruit and yogurt — a country-inspired dish of fresh yogurt with honey, preserves, seasonal fruit and homemade oatmeal.
After breakfast, walk to beautiful Grand Lake for a high-altitude kayaking experience at 8,367 feet. Paddle along the different coasts and take in the rustic architecture and local peaks. You can rent gear for reasonable rates from Mountain Paddlers, right on the water.
After kayaking, hop in the car and head to nearby Sloppy’s Grill to grab sandwiches — their grilled cheese with bacon is delicious! — and continue the adventure with a Rocky Mountain National Park hike. For around $20 per vehicle, you gain access to 355 miles of hiking trails, endless expanses of meadow valleys and Ponderosa pines,colorful wildflowers, mountain lakes, 60 peaks over 12,000 feet, and if you’re lucky, wildlife like bighorn sheep or moose.
After another night at Gateway Inn, make the 45-minute drive to Winter Park, also in Grand Lake County, for an adrenaline rush. Stay at Winter Park Mountain Lodge to be right where the action is — including hot tubs, an indoor pool, free Wi-Fi, an on-site brewery, apparel shops and loads of restaurants.
From the room, you’ll be able to walk up to the base of the mountain for adventures like skiing, zip lining or snowmobiling. Try a mountain coaster or, my personal pick, downhill mountain biking at Trestle Bike Park. Here you’ll find over 40 miles of trails — most geared toward advanced riders. The longest beginner trail, Green World, is a spine to the bike park as everything is accessible from it. With 5.5 miles of terrain and lots of downhill action, it’s anything but easy and enough to fulfill both beginner and intermediate adventurers.
While Winter Park Resort venues like Moffat Station Micro Brew & Restaurant for beer and wings, and Doc’s Road House for Patron margaritas and burgers are worthwhile, don’t miss a pizza pie at the locally famous Hernando’s Pizza Pub. It’s been open since 1967 and is filled with wall-to-wall with dollar bills featuring handwritten notes. The real draw though is the pizza dough, which is homemade.
Suggestion: A carnivorous “Column I” featuring bacon, salami, pepperoni, ham, sausage and meatballs!