The perfect weather, the mountains, the rivers make Colorado a place for endless outdoor fun in the summertime. Last week, I gave some tips and tricks from the start of our journey through Colorado in Denver. After our time in Denver, Joe, his brother John, John’s girlfriend Megan, and myself all set out on a road trip through the state on the way to Vail to visit members of Joe’s family. Needless to say, we got up to allll kinds of outdoorsy adventures and all of the fun there is to be had in the great state of Colorado!
Hiking & Camping
True fact: if you live in Colorado and they find out that you don’t like to hike or camp, you’re exiled to another state. Ok, ok, not really. But with the Rocky Mountains and so many beautiful views and sights, it would be almost a crime not to partake in these activities every once in a while!
How do I put this gently? Hiking a “14er” (mountain 14,000 ft or above) is not something that was ever on my bucket list. Having now done it, it’s pretty cool to say that I’ve checked it off. Also something I will absolutely, 100% never do again 🙂 If hiking is your thing though, and you enjoy incredible views, read on!
Mount Elbert is the second highest peak in the lower 48 states. What in the world were we thinking?! In order to complete this hike, you have to begin early. Storms usually roll in on the mountain around noon, so you want to be off the peak and back down to the tree line by then. We hit the trail at 5am (yawn!), but made it back in perfect timing before the weather hit, even with our slightly slow pace getting up to the top!
Because of the early start this hike requires, camping the night before is nearly essential. PSA: I only enjoy camping one night in a row. One night is fine, but if I can get to a warm shower the next day, I am a happy camper. Hehehe get it? 😉 There are several campsites near the trailhead. We stayed at the Halfmoon Creek Campground less than a mile from the Mount Elbert Trailhead. And this view for $6/night?! Stunning!
Now on to some of the “need to knows” for the hike itself. Look, I will be the first to admit that I am slightly out of shape at the moment. But, as I mentioned in Part 1 of our Colorado adventures, altitude is NO JOKE! Stay well hydrated in the days leading up to the hike. When you start gasping for air on even the flat parts of the hike, you’ll thank yourself for it! Also, there are three false summits on the way up, so don’t get disheartened each time you think you’re there because once you finally do make it to the top, you’ll feel goooood!
Oh, another thing. When you make it back to the bottom, you’ll be D.E.A.D., but not to worry, a cold beer will help!
For a little bit more of a laid back/family-friendly camping and hiking experience, look no farther than Estes Park! Estes Park is located only about an hour from Denver and is the kind of place where you can find campsites around almost every corner.
The Hermit Park Open Space is a great camping area. The Kruger Rock Hike is onsite if you’re looking for a short little hike (it is about 4 miles roundtrip and took us less than two hours to complete), and it boasts the “best views in the Estes Valley,” which I would probably have to agree with! If you are staying in the summertime, and especially if it’s on a weekend, be sure and reserve your campsite by phone ahead of time as they will fill up quickly. Major plus: if you catch a clear night, the stargazing is mind blowing!
Kind of like Splash Mountain but a million times more fun would be an accurate way to describe whitewater rafting! I’d never done it before and, I have to be honest, was fully sure that I would be the one person in the group to fall out of the raft. Good news though, I stayed in!
Arkansas Valley Adventures is located about an hour and a half away from Vail between Buena Vista and Leadville, CO. The Browns Canyon rafting trip is extra scenic and AVA’s guides are knowledgable, will make you feel safe, and always ensure that you have a fun time.
Exploring Vail Village
At the base of Vail Mountain in the heart of the town is the beautiful, European-inspired Vail Village. Wandering around these streets will take you away and even make you feel like you’ve actually been transported to Switzerland! We decided to explore the village the best way we know how: by making our own eating and drinking tour! Here are some of our must-stops in the Village:
- Vendetta’s – Delicious, HUGE pizzas! The Snow Pig was a favorite of our table.
- Los Amigos – Mexican spot at the base of the mountain. I’ve been told that it’s a great spot to watch the skiers come down in the winter, but in the summer is fun just to sit back and drink a marg or two and people watch the gondola go up and down. Plus, I’ve heard that there was a Justin Timberlake/Cameron Diaz sighting here back in the day, so how can you not love being in the same vicinity of that?!
- La Bottega – Cute Italian restaurant with a great bar for a quick pre-dinner drink
- Tavern on the Square – This is actually in the nearby Lionshead Village, but also a very cute restaurant with a good mountain view.
- Mountain Standard – If you like farm to table, this is your place! Their pimento cheese appetizer is to. die. for. And, admittedly I’m not an oyster person (slimy saltwater does not do it for me!), but if you are, they have several different varieties up for tasting.
- Sweet Basil – This restaurant is a Vail Village staple. It’s been in business for forty years and has a great view of the creek passing through town.
- 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Company – Stop by this tasting room for spirits with locally sourced ingredients. You can try a flight of their vodka, whiskeys, and even moonshine.
- Russell’s – An obsession of mine and Joe’s is a good steakhouse that serves King Crab legs. Yes, I know, “why wouldn’t you just get steak at a steakhouse?”…well, because steakhouses tend to do these bad boys with warm butter right. Russell’s is no exception! The crab legs, some good wine, another place with a good view of the river. This place is a must for a nice meal in Vail Village!
One of my newfound favorite ways to see a place (ok, second to eating and drinking!) is on horseback! What better way to see things from a new perspective than on the back of one of these majestic animals amirite?!
High atop a hill overlooking Vail Village is Vail Stables. They offer relaxing hill rides for anyone aged 5+, plus the views over the Village are gorgeous. Added bonus: Vail Stables hosts goat yoga classes throughout the week! Admittedly, I have yet to try it, but am in love with the idea of this new fitness trend! How could you not love a good chaturanga with baby goats running around you?
If only we could arrive at every dinner as stylishly as we did this one! Beano’s Cabin in nearby Beaver Creek is placed in a remote location way up on the hill. Your options for arrival are a van (standard), wagon ride in the summer/sleigh in the winter (ok, pretty cool), or a horseback ride (ding ding we have a winner!). It takes about an hour to ride up from the parking spot at Beaver Creek Stables and you will have earned your fancy dinner by then! Beano’s is reservation only, so be sure to plan in advance.
Ok, hands down the coolest adrenaline rush of the trip! We got these two-seater ATV bad boys going up to 60 mph and rode through all kinds of twists and turns on the dirt road we were on. Dad, if you’re reading, don’t worry, we wore our seat belts and drove as safely as possible 😉 It had just rained the night before, too, so we made a point to drive through almost every puddle we could find. I have to say, it was a blast getting a little muddied up!
After we were thoroughly soaked in mud, we headed to the conveniently located on site winery, Vines at Vail. I couldn’t have placed it better myself! If you’re lucky and get a chance to chat with the owner, Patrick, do it! Wine is the family business for him and he has been making it since he was 10 years old, so you know it’s good! They let you sign the ceiling after your tasting, so of course we went with a little shameless self-promotion 😉
What’s better than getting to spend fun times with loved ones and family? Colorado, you were a blast! Special thanks to the Binder Family for having us while we were in Vail!