Do you remember back in October of last year when I told you that my husband and I vacationed in Colorado? Well, I’m finally sharing all the deets with you. Better late than never, right? It’s quite a bit of information so I’m sharing this in two parts (stay tuned for Part 2).
If you love the mountains or have never experienced seeing them, then we highly recommend visiting Colorado. There are so many wonderful cities to visit so we decided to do a 10 day road trip. We visited Denver, Colorado Springs, Aspen, Vail, a few spots in between, and then ended back in Denver before flying home.
Here’s our itinerary and a list of our recommendations for Denver and Colorado Springs:
We flew in and out of Denver International airport, so we spent our first night in Denver. After a long day of travel, staying local gives you a chance to recharge a bit. That really goes for most vacations, but especially when you’ve been up since 2am and have flown over 4 hours. We also spent our last night in Denver so that we could be close to the airport for traveling back home. We wanted to stay at a different hotel each time to try something new. Both hotels were great and located right in downtown Denver for easy access to a lot of fun stuff.
What To Do:
- 16th Street Mall. Similar to the open air style of shopping districts you can find in other cities.
- Denver Botanical Gardens. We love to visit gardens wherever we travel and this one in Denver was amazing. We walked around for hours and took lots of pictures. The picture below is one of my favorite pictures that I took there.
The picture below was taken in their romantic garden. It certainly felt romantic as we sat on the marble bench admiring the scenery. Things were actually holding up better than I would have expected since it was Autumn in the mountains.
3. Coors Brewing Company. On our way from Vail back to Denver, we stopped in Golden for a free tour of the brewery. It was pretty cool and you even get free beer at the end of the tour (in fact it was way more beer than either of us could drink)!
- Rialto Cafe (in the 16th Street Mall). My husband had the chicken pot pie and it was one of the best things he ate on the entire trip!
This hotel is in a great location because it is centrally located to all of the sites we visited. There are tons of things to do near Colorado Springs and the elevation isn’t so high that you can’t think straight.
What To Do:
- Royal Gorge. The history behind this bridge is amazing. Fair warning, it’s one of the world’s highest suspension bridges so it’s really high up. Don’t look down if you have a fear of heights. 😉
It was very windy the day we went. I’m not sure if it’s like that all the time. Being a suspension bridge it really does move in the wind. Not ridiculous, but enough to make me want to stop and hold the railing. I’m a bit of a weeny so you probably can’t go by me. My husband had no issues at all. This was a great site to see.
2. Cave of the Winds. You can choose from a variety of caves to tour. We chose the one where you can stand up the entire time, the sections you go in are reasonably well lit (for a cave) and there is no mud or water to deal with. I’m a little claustrophobic and had no issues walking around. It was a very cool thing to see. The pictures I took are not worth showing because there was very little light in the caves.
3. Pikes Peak. These pictures don’t do any justice. The views were breathtaking. It’s incredibly hard to explain how it felt looking out at the world from 14,114 feet elevation while still standing on the ground. They have a little store at the top of the mountain where they sell souvenirs and bake doughnuts. They claimed that the doughnuts tasted different at the top of the mountain versus at the bottom of the mountain. Of course we had to buy two and see if they were correct. We didn’t notice any difference in taste or texture, but it was fun to try and we got two doughnuts out of the deal.
The photo below was taken at Crystal Creek Reservoir, which is on the way up to Pikes Peak and is at about 9,230 feet elevation. The views were awe inspiring and the air was blessedly thick compared to the top.
4. Garden of the Gods. This was one of my favorite sites of the entire trip. It’s a free nature walk. Yes, really and truly free. Even the parking! As you walk around, each turn reveals something more beautiful than the last. If you look at the people walking on the path, in the bottom of the picture, you can get a sense of how awesome those rocks are. The colors don’t translate well in photos, but in person they were gorgeous.
You can rent a car at the airport. However, we found that if you rent a car from a location that’s not associated with the airport (and it’s various mandatory taxes and fees for rentals) you can save a lot of money. A LOT of money. We took an Uber from the airport to Enterprise Car Rental in Thornton City. This location is about 30 to 35 minutes from the airport, but if you’ve ever been to the area you probably know why. The airport itself is WAY outside of Denver and no matter what you do there is a long drive involved in getting to it. Also, the drive to the rental car place was on the way to our hotel so it was all in the right direction.
The Uber app is easy to use. We recommend that you download the app and set it up before your vacation so that you have what you need when you need it. Maybe even play around with the app to see how it works. The Uber driver arrived in about 5 or 10 minutes. It’s pretty cool that the app will send you a picture of your driver and their license plate. We picked up our rental car, easy peezy, and we were off.
On the last day of the vacation we dropped the rental car off at the same Enterprise location. We read some reviews that you might incur additional fees if you drop off the rental car at a different branch than the one you picked it up at (like the airport branch, for example) so we avoided that option. The Uber driver arrived in less than 1 minute. He was apparently driving by when our request came in. In fact my husband was still checking in the rental car when the driver arrived. The drive back to the airport was smooth, but don’t forget how far the airport is from everything (yes, I said that twice because it is better to hear it than to be shocked and then late for a flight). Overall, it was a great decision to use a rental car agency off of the airport property. It saved us hundreds of dollars and we would do it again.
Before I get into this, the lawyer in me wants to lay in a little “disclaimerese”. While we both experienced different symptoms and levels of discomfort, we were still extremely glad to have gone on the trip. So while this next bit may sound a bit negative, you really just have to realize that it’s a section about feeling crappy and there isn’t any other way to word it. 🙂
If you’re not used to high elevations, then you may experience altitude sickness. To minimize or prevent these symptoms, we recommend that you plan your road trip starting at the lowest elevation and working your way up. This will help give your body time to adjust to the altitudes. Also, drink plenty of water to keep extra hydrated. Colorado is essentially a desert in the mountains so the air is super dry.
In Denver and Colorado Springs, we both experienced a little bit of insomnia, but nothing too terrible. To give you an idea, our town in CT is at an elevation of 705 feet and Denver is at elevation of 5,280 feet (which is equivalent to 1 mile and is why Denver is called the “mile high city”). Colorado Springs, our next stop bumped the elevation up to 6,035 feet and there didn’t really feel like much difference.
On the way out of Colorado Springs, we drove up Pike’s Peak which is at 14,114 feet. While I fared a bit better than my husband did up there, I can’t claim that I was even remotely comfortable. Until you’ve had days of being up that high (like the brave souls that manage the gift shop) you really have no hope of getting used to it. It’s super high up. Expect dizziness and confusion because you are sort of slowly suffocating, but while breathing so you have no idea it’s happening until you start to feel cruddy. Totally worth the views, just don’t stay very long and you should be okay.
Aspen and Vail are at much higher elevations. (7,930 feet and 8,022 feet respectively.) We experienced a little bit of fatigue and I had a bad headache for part of a day in Vail. My best advice is to take it slowly. We walked around like a cute old couple twice our age. We even bought a can of oxygen while we were in Vail to see if it would fix my headache. Amazingly, within 20 minutes my headache was gone. A bit of oxygen did what 6 Advil couldn’t.
How to Dress:
No matter where you go on vacation, it is always a good idea to check to see what the weather conditions will be so that you know what to pack. In October, the temperatures were in the 70s and 80s for Denver and Colorado Springs. I wore pants with a light long sleeve top and a sweater or scarf for the morning and night.
For Pikes Peak, the top of the mountain was about 25 degrees and the wind chill when we went up there was 12 below zero. Needless to say, a t-shirt is not going to do it. In fact, the temperature dropped by around 30 degrees just on the drive up. That meant that we wore coats, sweatshirts, hats, scarves, and gloves. It was still very cold.
If you have any questions so far, please feel free to let me know and I’ll respond. Stay tuned to Part 2 of our vacation where I talk about our visit to Aspen and Vail.