That Rocky Mountain high! We did a short Colorado road trip and it was great – Colorado is so much more beautiful than I could have imagined. We did Colorado in 4.5 days and I felt like that was definitely enough time to hit some major CO highlights. We flew from Nashville to Denver and our general plan was to see Denver, Boulder, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Colorado Springs. We ended up visiting all these + more! I’m a list kinda gal, so here were all our major stopping points in list form – then read on for the description of the whole trip.
- Voodoo Donuts
- Little Man Ice Cream
- Dio Mio
- Union Station
- 16th Street Mall
- Dairy Block
- Larimer Square
- Coors Brewery Tour (Golden, CO)
- Garden of the Gods
- Pikes Peak
- Manitou Springs
- Farmer’s Market
- Old Colorado City
- Urban Steam
- Notch Top
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Blue Water Bakery – breakfast
- Polly’s Sweet Shop
After landing in Denver we immediately went for brunch at one of the most poppin’ spots, Snooze Eatery. I don’t think there’s any wrong choice on the menu plus tons of morning alcohols to enjoy. There are several Snooze locations and we chose the one directly next to the ever popular Union Station. We spent about half an hour after brunch wandering around the station. We then walked down 16th Street Mall and ran into the coolest up-and-coming area – The Dairy Block. None of the restaurants were open when we went but you could tell it’s going to be so ballin’ when it’s completed. We also stumbled upon the Happiness Headquarters – a free gallery where you could walk in and paint or jump in a stuffed animal pit…YES PLEASE.
After a couple hours in Denver, we headed to Boulder. FIRST though, we had to make a pit stop in Golden, Colorado to visit the Coors brewery. Golden was a small town and worth the visit. The Coors tour is self-guided and free, so you can go as fast or as slow as you need to. The downtown area of Golden is within walking distance of the brewery. Lookout Mountain was another stop in Golden – the top of the mountain marks Buffalo Bill’s gravesite. A half hour drive from Golden and we ended up in Boulder. We only had one night here and I wish we had longer – this was a really cool city. Pearl Street Mall is a main attraction here with tons of food and shopping. We had dinner at Next Door and dessert at Le Pops (I got the Tupelo Honey w/ Housemade Honeycomb and LOVED it). We found a farmer’s market that occurs on Wednesday nights in the summer.
After Pearl Street Mall, we headed to the flatirons – one of Boulder’s notable landmarks. We got there right at dusk and got some great sunset pictures. After seeing the flatirons, we headed to our Airbnb which was about 15 minutes outside of downtown Boulder. This Airbnb was great and so were the hosts – it felt like your own private getaway right on the creek. If you need a place to stay, we recommend this spot. There were also several spots along the way to the cabin to park and lay out, tube, or just enjoy the running waters.
Estes Park and Grand Lake
Unfortunately, our Airbnb was the opposite way of downtown Boulder the second morning of our journey, so we didn’t get to experience a Boulder breakfast *sad*. We left at 6:30 to make an hour drive to the Estes Park entrance of Rocky Mountatin National Park. We did stop at Notchtop Bakery for breakfast in Estes Park though, so I got my french toast fix. We then spent the majority of the day at the park (check out my detailed guide of Rocky Mountain National Park coming soon!).
We drove through the park to end at the Grand Lake side, as that’s where we were staying. Grand Lake was less commercial than Estes Park and had a more small town homey feel. There’s one main street with a few shops and restaurants, plus the lake, and that’s about it! We didn’t even see a grocery store here! We arrived early evening and walked down the main street browsing. We made a pre-dinner stop at Polly’s Sweet Shop which is a must in Grand Lake and then had dinner at Sagebrush (where Matthew bravely tried elk, bison, and boar!). The next morning we had breakfast at Blue Water Bakery and rented pedal boats from Headwaters Marina. TBH, pedal boating is harder than we thought?! We rented for an hour and were sweating by the end of it! Grand Lake was a fun stop – it was a nice relaxing town and the lake in the morning was completely gorgeous.
Colorado Springs (and misc)
The drive from Grand Lake to Colorado Springs was our longest trek (3ish hours) so we planned a stop in Georgetown about halfway. There’s a train trip that you can take, but we were informed it was about an hour and a half ride and we weren’t looking to stay quite that long. Instead of the train, we made our way through the antique shops, miniature doll store, jerky store, and candy stores all within about an hour or two. This was a darling little town and made for a fun quick stop. Specifically, we stopped at Georgetown Valley Candy Company for some gorgeous truffles, Cake bakery for a croissant, and Kaffehuset for coffee.
Leaving Georgetown to go to Colorado Springs, we got distracted by a lot of casino signs. Central City is along the way and is an old town with several casinos. We stopped here for an hour and enjoyed some slot machines and free popcorn at the casinos.
When we finally made it to Colorado Springs, our first stop was Garden of the Gods. We drove all the way through the park and found Balancing Rock first for some photo opps. Then we drove back through the park and stopped to walk along the paths and see everything. This took less time than we anticipated and we were done about an hour and a half in. We ventured to Manitou Springs and were pleasantly surprised by how cute and fun this town was! They have a Penny Arcade that you MUST check out. It was possibly my favorite part of the whole trip. The arcade is partly outdoor and partly indoor, with several separate buildings and different types of games. There are games from every era and something for everyone – we spent most of the evening here because we were having too much fun!
Our Airbnb was in Colorado Springs and the next morning we had breakfast at Urban Steam. There was also a farmer’s market in Old Colorado City that we checked out. We then spent the rest of the morning traveling up Pike’s Peak (via car – not climbing). This was actually scarier than I thought it was going to be – you can drive up the mountain yourself but it was a little stressful looking over and seeing how high up you are (hope you trust your driver). A shuttle took us the last 3 miles up due to construction and we spent about thirty minutes up at the top for pictures and snacks and souvenirs.
After descending (which takes considerably less time), we heading back into town for lunch at Mother Muff’s and chocolate at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. We then headed back towards Denver to spend our last night there.
We spent our last night in Denver because we were flying out of Denver the next day. As much as I would like to say we went out and painted the town red, we were actually exhausted and just wanted a chill night. So instead of experiencing the Denver nightlife, we went to Dio Mio and picked up some greattt pasta and binged Riverdale. The next day we wrapped our trip up with further exploration of Denver. We hit up Voodoo Donuts for some super fun and super sweet donuts – and milk cartons that gave us middle school flashbacks in a good way. At this point we also visited a dispensary – when in Rome, right? We visited Larimer Square for shopping during the afternoon and hit up Avanti Food & Beverage for lunch. This was a cool space because it’s like a food court for grown-ups. Lastly, we went to Little Man Ice Cream and then headed to the airport. A Colorado Rockies game is always an activity option for Denver, it was just so darn HOT while we were there that we passed on that.
In conclusion, Colorado is a BLAST. It’s so gorgeous and has tons of fun cities and towns to explore. I loved how outdoorsy everything was and really loved those mountain views. I will definitely be returning at some point to do some more exploring. Drop in a comment of your Colorado travel tips and favorite places to visit! xoxo