In November 2019, Rishi and I went to a destination that was never really on our radar. It was the cheap 50$ roundtrip flight that guided us to visit. We ended up discovering an incredible region that was beautiful, scenic, has the friendliest people; we found Colorado!
We flew in and out of Denver International Airport. It’s the 2nd largest airport by square footage in the world and the largest in the US. It made the experience comfortable since it never crowded. We rented a car at the airport for an excellent price at Alamo. The rep was so friendly in giving us a free upgrade, and we got to experience Colorado in a very comfortable Dodge Charger. The experience on our return flight was seamless and effortless. There were plenty of staff at the airport which resulted in no lines at the security.
We stayed at the Magnolia Hotel, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel. The location of the hotel right at the center of Denver downtown. It made it so easy to walk everywhere in the city. I don’t recommend renting a car at all if you plan to only stay in Denver as parking can be expensive. Everything was walking distance, and if it wasn’t, they had an excellent public transit system. They offer the public to use their Free MallRide electric buses that travel along the main street on Denver. I also never saw any traffic, as is usually the case of a majority city.
Our room had very high ceilings and very spacious and had a view of the lobby/valet area. The beds were very comfortable. It had a large shower and lots of counter space on the vanity. The room didn’t come with a minifridge, but they will bring one if requested.
They had a large gym fully equipped with cardio machines and a full weight rack and also a separate room for yoga. The hotel offered complimentary fresh baked cookies and milk/coffee during the evenings in the lobby.
They also had a fresh coffee station every morning. The Magnolia connects to a lounge restaurant, Harry’s, which offered breakfast, happy hour and late-night eats. It was a great spot to hang out and get some work done, and the staff were super helpful.
The Many Things to Do
We highly recommend walking everywhere in the city. It’s the best way to experience Denver. 16th St Mall is Denver’s “main street” where there were endless shops, restaurants and unique food stands.
Capitol City Park was beautiful and a great place to walk around and get a view of the city. On one end of the park was the Denver City Council building and the other side was the Colorado Capitol, which has tours and gives access to the public to climb up to the top. It’s a great view where we saw the Rocky Mountains in the distance!
We walked to Larimer Square, which is a pretty little street with lights and unique shops.
We then walked over to the Denver Millennium Bridge and on to Confluence Park. It was a great way to spend the sunset. In the same area are some excellent breweries such as Denver Beer Co. & Prost Brewing Co. We also went to Little Man Ice Cream, which had the most delicious ice cream I’ve ever had!
I also recommend checking out Larimer St. which has more unique restaurants, bars and great artwork. We highly recommend Cart-Driver for some delicious pizza.
Just 30 mins outside of Denver, we drove to Red Rock Park & Amphitheatre. It was a beautiful drive, and it was free to explore. There were these massive natural red rock formations. They had built a concert venue right in the middle of it. It was awe-inspiring. In the distance, we could see Denver downtown and the Rockies. It was an excellent place for a quick hike with lots of scenic views.
We decided since Colorado Springs was only 90 mins drive away from Denver, it would make a great day trip. The whole drive down and back was very scenic, with the start of the mountain range on the side of the highway.
Garden of the Gods
We arrived at the Garden of the Gods right when the park opened in the morning, which was perfect as the crowds and parking weren’t too busy. This park is an absolute must. It was so peaceful walking among beautiful towering rock formations. There were professional rock climbers who were pretty cool to watch. The trails were extensive and safe, which many options to go off-road. The weather in mid-November was perfect as it was not too hot and not freezing. By the time we left, the crowds had got significantly larger, and there was a lineup of cars waiting for a free parking space.
The start of Pike’s Peak was about 20 min drive from Garden of the Gods. The road to the summit was a 19-mile thrilling drive that goes from 6000 ft elevation to 14,000 ft and back. At the entrance to the ride, we got greeted by the friendliest park ranger. She gave us a guide on where to stop for scenic views along the way to the top. It was mostly forest views for the first 10 miles, but then it got incredible. Our jaws dropped at the 360-degree views during the drive. Once we reached the top, there was the Summit House, where they have food, souvenirs, restrooms and the observation deck. The view at the top was just as breathtaking as the drive. They were constructing a brand new Summit House, which will be completed by the end of 2020. We were able to see lakes and mountain ranges that went on and on to the horizon. The drive down was even better as each curve opened up to a new panorama. It’s rare to find a fully paved road that goes to the top of a mountain, so we highly recommend checking out Pike’s Peak.
About 2 hours from Denver is the town of Estes Park, a tiny beautiful village that is in the middle of the mountains. It’s the place to stay when you want to check out Rocky Mountain National Park. Right at the entrance of Estes Park is an excellent viewpoint where you can stop and take photos. Our jaws dropped as we entered the city, we weren’t expecting such scenery right away.
The official logo for Estes Park has an elk on it. It wasn’t some abstract symbol; there were hundreds of elk throughout the city. We saw a vast herd crossing the street, causing traffic and lots of curious tourists stopping to take photos (including us). We saw them hanging out in busy areas such as gas stations, restaurants and even right outside our cottage. It was indeed a unique experience to see so many elks roaming around alongside the locals.
Many accommodations in the town are cottage-style lodging. We stayed at Woodlands On Fall River about a 3-minute drive from the city center of Estes Park. As we entered the premises, we crossed over a tiny bridge over Fall River. We checked into our single floor cabin, which was similar to a 1-bedroom apartment. It comes equipped with a full kitchen, dishes and utensils. The living room that had a fireplace was very cozy and had a view of the towering mountains, as did the large balcony. The cabin was very comfortable and clean. There was an outdoor hot tub and a barbeque available to use. On the front end of the cabin had Adirondack chairs facing the river. It was a peaceful place to rest and relax after a long drive.
The Rock Inn Mountain Tavern was a great local spot to unwind. It was a large restaurant but felt cozy with its cottage vibe. The interior was rustic and warm. They had live music, even on a Monday. The food was very fresh and delicious. They got an excellent happy hour menu for both drinks and food. I highly recommend spending an evening at this local joint.
One of my favourite meals of our whole trip was at Bird & Jim. We went there after a tiring hike, and it was a great place to fuel up. Their decor is charming and cozy, and that staff are friendly and accommodating. All the food is fresh and local and, therefore, seasonal, healthy and very high quality. I had the Hallett Peak Lunch Bowl, which was incredibly delicious. This place is a must-eat!
There are a few other spots on Elkhorn Avenue that have great food. We recommend Ed’s Cantina for Mexican cuisine, Himalayan Curry & Kebob for excellent Tibetan and Indian cuisine and Inkwell & Brew for really great coffee.
The Many Things to Do
There are so many things to do in Estes Park, no matter which season that isn’t the Rocky National Mountain Park.
The Stanley Hotel is a stunning historic hotel that you can see from almost anywhere in the city. They offer tours of the hotel and hosts many events and shows. The hotel is the inspiration of Stephen King’s Overlook Hotel from his novel The Shining. Stephen King spent a night at the hotel in the dead of winter in the ’70s went Estes Park used to shut down for the season entirely. He had terrifying dreams that night, which led to the inspiration of his novel. The hotel also has a tiny hedge maze at the front entrance. The hotel was also the filming location for Dumb & Dumber. The view from the hotel was beautiful; we highly recommend spending some time at The Stanley.
Elkhorn Avenue is the main street of Estes Park. It had lots of unique shops, and it was nice to spend an evening stroll. There was an abundance of candy/taffy stores and ice cream shops. Some shops that stood out to us were Simply Christmas, Trendz at the park, Beef Jerky Outlet (endless flavours of jerky free to try), Estes Park Sugar Shack.
After our long hike in the mountains, we headed to Elements of Touch Wellness Spa & River Retreat. The location was cozy and peaceful, overlooking the river with beautiful wood sculptures of horses. We received an hour-long massage and a back scrub. The service by Sandra and Ravit was terrific; they were very accommodating and attentive. We left feeling relaxed and refreshed.
Rocky Mountain National Park
We had to go deeper into the mountains. We woke up super early to hike the Emerald Lake Trail. In November, the weather was mild, but the trails were icy and packed in snow. The drive up to the trailhead was beautiful, and we arrived at an almost empty parking lot at around 8 am. The Emerald Lake trail was beautiful the whole way. We saw three different lakes, the prettiest being Dream Lake. The lakes were frozen, but it was still stunning. Some areas of the trail were very icy, and spikes were needed, but for the most part, the path wasn’t too difficult.
After finishing the first hike, we did a quick walk around Bear Lake. The sun was out and warming the trail. It’s a great 20 mins easy walk, which we highly recommend.
The most scenic drive was supposedly Trail Ridge Road, which was closed in the winters. It didn’t stop us from going on two other incredibly beautiful scenic drives. We were able to turn left coming back from Bear Lake Rd onto Hwy 36 to the Many Parks Curve Overlook. The drive to the Overlook is beautiful and scenic. Once we arrived at the Overlook, we weren’t able to go further as the road closes, but it was a great spot to park and take in the views.
Another great scenic drive was from Devil’s Gulch Road to Hwy 43 and back to Estes Park from Hwy 34. The 45 min drive had towering cliffs of Big Thomas Canyon and Big Thomas River alongside.
All in all, Colorado was a great place to visit. It was never on our bucket list but now recommend it to everyone. We had discussions on our road trips of reasons Denver would be a great place to live. Denver, Colorado City and Estes Park were all such fun places to visit. Denver was trendy, and Estes Park was cozy. They all had great food, shops, and vibes. But best of all were the mountains. Whether they were in your face in Estes Park or the distance in Denver, it always made us feel happy. We highly recommend checking out Colorado for your next trip!