I grew up in Colorado and spent my childhood exploring the state. My favorite part of Colorado lies just across the Continental Divide from Denver – Grand Lake and the western slope of Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).
My travels recently took me back to Colorado and I decided to escape the bustle of metro Denver and take a perfect three day road trip up Grand Lake and the national park. This is classic Colorado and what people from around the world come to see!
The main base in the region is the town of Grand Lake, which is aptly named for the vast body of water that lies at the town’s doorstep. This lake is Colorado’s largest and deepest natural lake. The lake serves is the first major stopping point of the Colorado River. The town of Grand Lake has a number of small lodges, restaurants, and souvenir shops.
Every time I visit this town, it is a chance for me to connect with my family’s past. The town also has the self-proclaimed highest yacht club in the world – at an elevation of over 8,300 feet.
In the 1930s, my grandfather would come here, do odd jobs and crash social events to get dates with the rich girls. He wasn’t very successful, but had a great time working, sailing on the lake and visiting the nearby hot springs. And that’s what Grand Lake is about to me: living in the moment and enjoying Colorado’s natural beauty.
But the best part is that the town lies less than a mile from the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. The park was founded in 1915 by Woodrow Wilson and spans over 400 square miles of pristine Colorado wilderness. The skyline of the RMNP is dominated by vast mountain peaks, most notably Long’s Peak at over 14,200 feet.
As a younger man, my grandfather used to help build trails here during his time with the Civilian Conversation Corps and I spent many summers hiking those same trails.
As we drove up into the national park, we stopped at the Holzwarth National Historic Site. This farm from 1917 became an early dude ranch. It has been restored to its former dude ranch glory days and you can see how the family lived as early pioneers. The farm is also the headwaters to the Colorado River, which starts as just a trickle.
Before heading over the Continental Divide to the eastern part of the park, we try to take a short hike. While there are fewer trails on the western side of the park, there are also significantly fewer people. This is a chance to enjoy one of the best national parks in America without the crowds on the eastern side.
The scenic drive over Trail Ridge Road is an extremely popular drive for tourists. This drive crosses a ridge at over 12,100 feet and gives flat-landers white knuckles as they clutch the steering wheel of their car. The route is only open a few months a year due to snow during the winter.
We took in the Trail Ridge Road drive on our weekend getaway. It was a great chance to take in some of the scenic vistas. However, during our trip, many views were clouded by smoke from wildfires, which is a perpetual problem in the Rocky Mountains.
Whenever I return to Colorado, Grand Lake and the RMNP are some of my favorite places to visit in the state. This is especially true in the winter because Grand County is Colorado’s winter playground.