Since we live in Reno (currently), we don’t get to see much fall foliage — but this past weekend, we went to see a friend in Denver!
We went to Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park, Boulder, Golden, Red Rocks Ampitheater, and then spent our last day bar-hopping, exploring , and eating the best food in the up-and-coming districts of Denver.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
I was really excited to see Rocky Mountain National Park. But I had no clue that most of the main hiking attractions were at LEAST an hour drive from Denver.
So one tip — get used to riding in the car for long periods of time. Luckily — the drive is scenic! But don’t ride in the backseat if you get carsick, like I do! The roads are very windy, and you’ll feel the change in altitude.
Rocky Mountain National Park is also a completely different climate than Denver. It was about 35 degrees, sleeting, and was EXTREMELY windy and miserable towards the tops of the mountains. So look up the weather for the park, not Denver, when you’re preparing, DO NOT wear your hair down!! Ha.
When we were there, it was sunny at bottom of the park, but extremely cloudy at the top, which was kind of a bummer since the lookout points & views of the mountains were somewhat blocked. The leaves were nice, but I would love to go back during the summer. The wind made it so miserable we did not even do any hikes.
After a solid hour in the car driving within the park, we took a turn off for Bear Lake. It was kind of a long detour (about 20 minutes each way) and I wasn’t that impressed with the Lake itself. It was also raining, which probably didn’t help. It was nice, but I guess I’m used to Lake Tahoe. Bear Lake is not Lake Tahoe. It’s a cool alpine lake with a quick, easy, trail around the perimeter — good for a family hike.
But the highlight of the day, for me, was seeing a mother bear and her cub on our way out of the park! I was not willing to get very close to take a picture (sorry), but I had never seen an actual black bear in the wild, and it was so incredible! There’s definitely an abundance of wildlife in the area: elk, deer, and bears!
Getting to Rocky Mountain Park from Denver
ENJOY THE RIDE IN!!
ESTES PARK, CO
I almost liked the ride into the park better than the park itself! The town of Estes Park was so pretty with all the yellow leaves, and cute shops all along the Main Street. We also saw a large herd of elk on our way to the park! Plus — the weather here was actually enjoyable. No wind gusts, and a cool, comfortable, fall day!
BOULDER & GOLDEN
On our way back from the park– we stopped in Boulder. Denver has so many cute, mountain towns, and Boulder was my favorite! Think upscale, great restaurants lined all along Pearl Street. Definitely not what I’d imagined when I thought of a “college town”.
Golden was similar, but also had the Coors factory.
RED ROCKS AMPITHEATER
If you only have a day in Denver, and don’t want to drive far to hike – this is a great option! We did the Trading Post Trail, which wasn’t long but had a good enough incline to feel a good burn! The rocks made me feel like I was back in Arizona! Plus, a beautiful sunny, warm day, was really nice after the day of winter chaos we experienced at Rocky Mountain National Park!
If you aren’t into hiking, the actual city of Denver is a great destination in itself. I think the biggest surprise to me was how INCREDIBLE the food was. Everything we ate was one of the better meals I’d had.
Make sure and visit the RiNo District (art district — cool street murals, and lots of quirky bars & coffee spots.
Go to Work & Craft for fantastic upscale comfort food — you pick a few meats & sides for the table – we got roasted chicken & lamb, Mac & cheese, and jalapeño corn bread.
We had tacos on National Taco Day at Los Chingones — and they were anything but ordinary tacos. Think ingredients like salmon, fried cheese curds, and flights of different salsas!
Can’t decide on something? Head to Denver Central Market! Think of the mall food court, but fancier! They have local coffee, a bakery, a meat and cheese shop, a salad place, a bar, and a seafood market.
The other up-and-coming area, we were told, was The Highlands. We went here to go out. We stopped at Recess, a beer garden with a cool outdoor patio with purple lights, and a good crowd, then put our name down to get into the speakeasy, Williams & Graham. You enter through a secret door in a bookcase!
I’m definitely looking forward to going back! I would love to see Colorado either with snow, or when the weather is more hiking-friendly!