Just having returned to the States from living in Asia for nearly 3 years, Josh and I have been spoiled in our new home of Denver, Colorado. Oh, we still have the travel bug, but it’s nice to unpack our bags and decorate our house with our beautiful memories of life in Asia. Plus, we’re in a prime location to spend the summer exploring this incredible state. In fact, many awesome destinations are literally just an hour or so from our house.
The Summer of Colorado
As a result of there being so many things outside our door, combined with the fact that we are still a little exhausted from traveling all over Asia the last couple years, we’ve dubbed this the Summer of Colorado. Our goal is to go out and explore as much of this place as possible, and be able to share it with our awesome readers.
Fun is Just Outside Our Door!
We LOVE our neighborhood here in Denver. In fact, this whole city is pretty awesome. Or let me say, this ENTIRE state is freakin’ awesome! Josh and I can grab some snacks, put on our outdoor shoes, get in the car, and be up in the gorgeous mountains in less than a half and hour from when we pull out of our garage.
How great is that?
In less than a one hour drive, we have access to lazy rivers we can float on tubes, breweries (more than we could possibly count), hot springs, countless walking and hiking trails, river rafting, zip lining, camping, rock climbing, and lakes for boating or just paddle-boarding.
With so much to do, it’s been difficult for us to decide. So since we are new to Colorado, we’ve decided to just see and do as many different things as possible. Sometimes even just taking a drive to scope it out for future reference — because it seems like we are always stumbling across something new and fun to do!
A Little Further Beyond Our Door…
Venturing out just a couple hours or so from our house, we get to visit some of the world’s premier resort towns. While they may be bustling with skiers in the winter, the summer time is also quite fun to explore these mountain towns. Many of them have lots of outdoor activities like hiking, waterfalls, rafting, cycling, etc. Or it’s even nice just to wander some of the historic towns and dine al fresco.
Highlights from Our Time Exploring Colorado This Summer
We been taking day trips nearly every weekend since we’ve been here in Colorado. But a couple times, we’ve even stayed overnight at further off destinations. Here is just a quick sample of the beautiful places we’ve been able to explore so far:
Rocky Mountain National Park
WOW! Only 1 1/2 hours from Colorado, this iconic National Park is a sight to behold. It is full of amazing natural landscapes, and so much wildlife. We’ve seen elk so close, they were literally sitting next to our car when we were in the visitors center!
We were also to see some moose from a distance, hike to rushing waterfalls, and climb our car far above the tree line to the highest visitor center in the world at over 12,000 vertical feet! This parks is so amazing, that we purchased one of the annual National Passes — because we’ve already visited a couple times, and the pass is good for ALL the other National Parks around the country. A great deal!
Estes Park (Entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park)
This resort town is popular for Colorado residents and tourists. Located at the entrance to RMNP, it’s a popular place to stay when visiting the park. However, this town has plenty to see as well. There’s boating, rafting, and lots of history in the area. The quaint downtown has some great shops and an endless number of ice cream parlors. There a lovely riverwalk area that runs throughout the town, restaurants serving wild game dishes, and of course some putt putt mini golf and other family entertainment attractions.
There’s also the famously haunted Stanley Hotel, inspiration for Stephen King’s “The Shining” — where you can take a tour to try and spot a ghost, or stay there overnight if you dare. And it wouldn’t be Colorado if there weren’t a couple breweries too.
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Oh we LOVED this town! Located about 3 hours from Denver, we stayed overnight and had a blast. We hiked to a waterfall, wandered the paths around town, visited the botanical gardens, and watched some rafters. We also made a drive out to some beautiful lakes to explore campsites (and yurts you can rent) for future trips. And we ate some of the best brunch we’ve ever had, paired with bacon Bloody Marys that put others to shame.
Last but not least, we found probably our FAVORITE hot springs that we have visited yet. Strawberry Hot Springs was actually the reason we drove all the way to Steamboat — because we were looking for natural outdoor hot springs. These seem to be the best…I mean, watching their promo video (below) – who wouldn’t want to visit?
What we loved about these hot springs is that they are naturally coming out of the mountain (so be careful and don’t get too close!) and they mix with the natural river water. But it’s a well maintained facility, where they have arranged rocks to make a variety of different pools with varying temperatures. You can also swim at night to gaze at the stars (adults only because it’s clothing optional at night…and no lights so be careful & bring a flashlight). There’s also a few cabins onsite or you can pitch a tent right near the swimming areas!
Colorado Springs / Manitou Springs Area
Located about an hour and a half south of Denver is Colorado Springs. One of the most popular sights here is the Gardens of the Gods — which is an incredible park to visit. And best of all…this park is totally FREE to the public! There are many hiking trails where you can explore the natural scenery and fire-red rocks that cut straight up in the sky. And you can keep you eyes peeled for rock-climbers (or join them for a fee).
There are a number of different interpretive visitor centers around, including an old ranch with people dressed in period costumes and demonstrating what life was like long ago in this area. The park is big, and it’s a lot of walking…especially on a hot summer day. So one way to beat the heat and explore more of the park is to take one of their Segway Tours around the park!
Just beyond the Garden of the Gods is the town of Manitou Springs, nestled up in a mountain canyon. This charming town is great for walking to explore all the little shops…and again, more ice cream parlors than we could count! There was also a really fun arcade in the old town area with classic games and even some antiques. We were impressed at the collection and almost didn’t want to play some of them for fear of breaking a historical piece. But it was incredible to see all the old games from generations before us.
There are also some other nearby attractions within just a few minutes drive. Including some old cliff dwellings of native people from long ago, a super interesting place to explore! Plus the famous Pike’s Peak entrance isn’t too far away, where you can drive the famous road all the way to the top of this “Fourteener” (peak over 14,000 feet in elevation). For a truly unique experience, you can also take a cog-railway to the top of Pike’s Peak too!
Just nearby Manitou Springs is the Cave of the Winds. There are many different tours available, including lantern tours. However, we just did the basic tour. Visitors can also try some of the scary attractions outside overlooking the canyon — like the Terror-Dactyl, a thrill ride which swings you out over the canyon…but not before holding you face-down to star at the canyon floor before dropping you unexpectedly.
(check out the video below from our friends at the travel channel)
Golden Colorado – a Wild West Town with Beer!
Just a few minutes from Denver is the town of Golden, famous for the Coors Brewery. Free tours are available for visitors, and lots of samples to be had. The downtown area of Golden looks like it’s out of an old Western, yet sitting in the 21st century. Again, lots of great walking around here – including interesting shops, bars and restaurants. There’s also a great park area along side the river, and a riverwalk. In the summer, the place is full of locals and visitors rafting, kayaking…or just floating away on their own little tubes to cool off! On a beautiful day, keep your eyes peeled overhead for paragliders or hangliders who may be floating down to town from a high mountain peak nearby.
Various Mountain Towns, Lakes and Resorts
There are so many other little fun mountain towns to explore within a couple hour’s drive of Denver as well. Including Idaho Hot Springs, a super quick getaway from Denver that has both an indoor hot springs pool as well as some super awesome geo-thermal caves where you can soak, or even get a mud scrub!
Just further up into the mountains from Denver is the town of Frisco, a lovely place situated on a gorgeous lake with camping and water sports. Visit the marina to rent all kinds of motorized and non-motorized boats, including paddle boards. Just beyond Frisco is the famous ski town of Breckenridge, a great place in the winter and summer. This historic town has quite an interesting past, and there’s a lot of really cool museums, shops, and fantastic restaurants.
Granby / Grand Lake Area is also a beautiful place, that seems more off-the-beaten path of mainstream tourists in Colorado. There are actually a couple pretty big lakes in this area, lots of great little cabins to rent and campgrounds, and marinas to rent boats, kayaks, etc. Spectacular views of the mountains and a charming, yet quiet little town area that seems to be more for Colorado locals to get away from the city.
Blackhawk is an old mining town just west of Golden, and the drive is quite beautiful along side the winding whitewater river and through a number of tunnels cut into the mountain. Rather than letting this town fade away into mining history, they have actually built a number of casinos in the town — even a big Ameristar Casino (quite beautiful on the inside). For those of you who like a little gambling or playing some poker, this is a nice little getaway from town too with lots of options for gaming in a small town nestled in a mountain valley.
More Places to See Around Colorado!
Phew, that was quite a lot of places (more than I initially intended to write about). But there are actually many other places we have visited, although it would be too much to put them all here. Still, Josh and I have a massive list of places that we still want to visit around the state this summer. Places like Grand Sand Dunes National Park, Glenwood Springs, Mesa Verde National Park, Telluride…and so many more!
It looks like we still have a lot of traveling left to do. Colorado doesn’t disappoint. And while the summer brings loads of outdoor adventures, the winter brings a whole different kind. And we are really looking forward to seeing and experiencing as much as possible.