The state of Colorado offers a diverse landscape of Rocky Mountains, river canyons and bone-dry desert. Whether you are traveling in the summer and fall to enjoy the beautiful scenery and the numerous hiking trails or coming to enjoy some awesome winter sports, Colorado has something for everyone!


Believe it or not but, a 4 day outdoorsy vacation takes a lot more planning than you would think, especially for newbies. After my recent trip to the beautiful state, I decided to compile all of my research and recommendations into one blog post, to save you the effort and time. Here is my 4 day itinerary for Colorado, including the best places to visit, hike, eat and stay.

 

ITINERARY AT A GLANCE

Day 1: Denver

Day 2: Rocky Mountain National Park

Day 3: Rocky Mountain National Park/ Breckenridge

Day 4: Breckenridge

 

DAY 1: EXPLORE DOWNTOWN DENVER


Our first day in Colorado, we arrived at the Denver International Airport and decided to stay one night in the Mile High City. Perched exactly a mile above sea level, Denver features a vibrant downtown area with many delicious outdoor restaurants & cafes (perfect for people watching!). By night, the downtown area, filled with charming lights, comes to life as rooftop bars, breweries and night clubs start buzzing with people.


Places of interest in the city:

1. 16th Street Mall

2. Larimer Square

3. The Union Station

4. River North Art District (RiNo)


DAY 2: BOULDER HIKE AND EXPLORING ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK


First thing in the morning, we went to pick up our rental car because it was cheaper to rent a car in the city than at the airport. By picking up our car later on, we were able to dodge the hotel fee for overnight parking in Denver and save a few extra dollars by picking it up closer to our hotel.


Read more on how to travel on a budget!


Pit Stop: Hike in Boulder


Before we arrived in Estes Park, we decided to make a pit stop in Boulder and hike the Chautauqua Trail, a moderate, heavily- trafficked out and back trail located in Chautauqua park along Boulder’s Flatirons. The park also consists of many other trails ranging in difficulty levels, so depending on the amount of time you have and your experience, I would recommend doing a little research in that area for the perfect trail. If you are looking to eat, drink or shop, Pearl Street Mall is the ideal place to visit when exploring this city.

Traveler Tip: I found the All Trails app was super helpful for giving us more information on trails nearby, from how difficult and long they are to personal reviews!


Explore Rocky Mountain National Park

After our short hike in Boulder, we made our way back on the road to Estes Park where we ate some lunch and headed to the Rocky Mountain National Park. If you have some time, I would recommend checking out the beautiful, historic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park.

Traveler Tip: The Rocky Mountain National Park website is an important resource to use when planning your trip. Make sure you monitor this website for any changed conditions and information regarding the park.


Nymph, Dream and Emerald Lake Hike

Our first hike in the national park was the ‘Lake Hike’ near Bear Lake. This hike is family friendly and due to its short distance and manageable elevation gain, makes for a great first hike in the Rocky Mountains National Park. The ‘Lake Hike’ is one of the most popular hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and consists of three beautiful alpine lakes (Nymph Lake, Dream Lake and Emerald Lake). It is an easy to moderate trail and is 3.6 miles, allowing you to finish the hike in 2 to 3 hours.


Traveler Tip: For the hikes that start on Bear Lake Road ( Bear Lake, Alberta Falls, Mills & Black Lake, Sky pond, Fern Lake, Hallett Peak) consider arriving early in the day to get parking at the start of the trails or take the free park shuttle, which is what we did.


Traveler Tip: Always carry layers when hiking because you never know how the weather will progress throughout the day.


Other hikes on our bucket list:

1. Alberta Falls- most popular waterfalls (1.7 miles)

2. Alpine Ridge Trail- easy hike but beware of high elevation (0.6 miles)

3. Sky Pond- Longer hike but definitely worth it (9.5 miles)

4. Flattop Mountain and Hallett Peak- Two very tall Rocky Mountain summits (10.3 miles)

DAY 3: ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK AND DRIVING TO BRECKENRIDGE


On our last day in Estes Park, we decided to wake up early and catch the sunrise in the park. After much research the night before, we decided to go to Sprague Lake for our early morning sunrise spot. We woke up at 4:30am, checked out of our hotel and made our way to the Rocky Mountain National Park again. Sprague Lake was easy to find, had plenty of parking spots and from the looks of it was a pretty popular sunrise spot. The mountain view from the lake was absolutely stunning and an awesome photography spot. (Be sure to check out the other side of the lake as the sun rises and lights up the mountain peaks.)

Traveler Tip: Our last day in the Rocky Mountain National Park, we were able to get in for free as the reservation system that is currently being used only allows travelers to reserve park tickets from 6am to 5pm. If you arrive earlier than 6 am or decide to go to the park after 5pm, you can beat the reservation system entirely. Keep checking the National Park website for any updates on your trip!


After our sunrise, we decided to hit the Trail Ridge Road, which is a very popular highway that spans the park from east to west and links the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake. The road crosses the Continental Divide at 12,183 feet and winds past countless peaks, high-alpine tundra and some of the best views the park has to offer. This ‘Highway to the Sky’ is a must-do when visiting the national park and I highly recommend pulling over periodically to take advantage of the countless turnouts, sweeping views and close up wildlife.

Trail Ridge Road Drive Time: 1.5 to 4 hours depending on traffic and stops at overlooks.


Some popular turnouts along the way: Many Parks Curve, Forest Canyon Overlook and Medicine Bow Curve.

Traveler Tip: Be sure to check out the Rocky Mountain National Park website for road closures as the Trail Ridge Road is only open from Memorial Day through mid- October when roads are clear of ice and snow.


Drive to Breckenridge:


Our drive from Estes Park to Breckenridge was about 2 hours and 30 minutes with no stops in between. This was a very scenic drive and consisted of numerous mountain views and quaint mountain towns. Once in Breckenridge we decided to explore the town and look for some souvenirs to take home. During our time in Breckenridge, the town was filled with beautiful foliage and we thoroughly enjoyed exploring the colorful stores and restaurants.

Explore Sapphire Point Overlook:


Before our trip was over, we decided to check out Sapphire Point Overlook Trail. This trail is a short, yet charming 0.6 mile walk and leads to a beautiful view of Lake Dillon. We spent some time on the hike marveling at the stunning view and also feeding some chipmunks some of our left over peanuts from our trail mix snack packets (be sure to bring some nuts or sunflower seeds for these little guys!). We thoroughly enjoyed exploring Sapphire Point Overlook and would highly recommend.

DAY 4: HIKE QUANDARY PEAK


Our last day in Colorado, we attempted our first ever 14er, which if you are not an experienced hiker like me, is a term used to describe mountains that are 14,000 feet or higher. Quandary Peak which is 14,265 feet, to be exact, is a 7.5 mile heavily trafficked trail located 15 minutes outside of Breckenridge. The trail is rated as difficult and should definitely be taken seriously, as this hike not only presented the normal challenges that you would normally have on any other hike but also had the potential for altitude sickness (which I definitely experienced, being from Florida). We thoroughly enjoyed this hike and I felt very accomplished when I had completed it, as it took us about 7 hours to complete. I would definitely recommend hiking this 14er as you just cannot beat the beautiful views of mountains and wildlife. Be sure to come prepared with many snacks, lots of water, sun protection (even if there is no sun) and multiple layers as you will find yourself hiking this peak for the majority of the day.

Quandary Peak is one of the more accessible 14ers to hike in Colorado and while it is still challenging, it is a great trail to hike your first 14er as most of the stones are shaped as steps. However, the climbs are still steep, especially during the final ascent to the top.


Traveler Tip: If you plan on hiking Quandary Peak, make sure you get to the trail early in the morning (6-7am) to get parking and to avoid any weather changes later on in the day.


Other Hikes on my bucket list:

1. McCullough Gulch Trail- several waterfalls can be viewed (6.2 miles)

2. Continental Divide- Hoosier Pass Loop- Moderate Trail (2.8 miles)

3. Spruce Creek Trail to Mohawk Lakes Trail - Leads into numerous other trails (8.2 miles)

4. Blue Lakes Trail- Easy and short trail (1 mile)

5. Boreas Pass Road- Incredible drive by car (19.8 miles)

DENVER

Hyatt Place Cherry Creek

We decided to stay a little outside the downtown area as much of Denver is easy to navigate with public transportation and we found the hotels to be much cheaper. We stayed at the Hyatt Place in Cherry Creek. For one night, this hotel is really all we could ask for. Clean and comfy!


ESTES PARK

Blue Door Inn

We stayed at the Blue Door Inn in Estes Park. This hotel/motel was exceptionally clean and had a super comfy bed! We loved the cozy feel and the price was perfect for the location, a few minutes from the downtown area of Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.


BRECKENRIDGE

The Bivvi Hostel

We decided to stay at The Bivvi Hostel in Breckenridge as it gave us a warm, cozy cabin vibe for our perfect mountain town experience. As the Bivvi is considered a hostel, you will find that most of the rooms are considered to be dormitory style, sleeping 6 or more people. However, the Bivvi does have some private rooms that we were able to snag.


DENVER

Snooze A.M Eatery- Breakfast & Brunch

Little Man Ice Cream- Dessert

Amethyst Coffee- Coffee & Bakes Goods

Denver Central Market- Variety of Vendors

Sams No.3 - Brunch


ESTES PARK

Bird & Jim - Lunch & Dinner

Antonios Real New York Pizza- Lunch & Dinner

Notchtop Bakery & Cafe - Breakfast & Lunch


BRECKENRIDGE

Giampietro Pasta & Pizzeria- Lunch & Dinner

Rita's Specialty Margs and Taco Bar- Lunch & Dinner

Bangkok Happy Bowl- Lunch & Dinner

Breckenridge Brewery- Drinks & Food

Crepes a La Cart- Dessert (be prepared to wait in line!)


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JOSIE LANE

10/06/2020

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