If you’re looking for a quick and easy escape that will create memories to last a lifetime, our wiking family recommends a trip to Denver, Colorado! Just peruse our photos-- I could look at them all day. Although we could have easily explored the area for a month, our visit lasted four days. With a nine-month old in tow, we saw and did a lot while allowing for the flexibility a baby needs. Here’s how you can do the same!
Fly into Denver—An easily accessible major airport, you’ll be certain to find a variety of flights into the city. We opted for an evening flight around baby’s bedtime to ensure she slept onboard.
What to Pack—The weather in this area of our magnificent country is WACKY; it will snow one day and be sunny and 75 degrees the next. Check the forecast, but pack for everything. We visited in early October and packed both shorts and t-shirts as well as jackets, hats, and mittens. We wish we had packed boots for the RMNP hikes, which included snow-covered ground. Be ready for anything!
Stay Near the Airport on Your First Night—On our first night, we arrived around midnight. We
chose to stay at a hotel nearby the airport to catch some zzz’s. You greatly decrease your chances of getting altitude sickness by spending a night in Denver before heading into the mountains and by not physically exerting yourself too much early in your trip. That being said, don’t drive yourself crazy thinking about it, like I did… ! We had no problems. Although we would have preferred to stay in the city, downtown Denver is a 30 minute drive from the airport. We were anxious to get into the wild, so it didn’t make sense for us to stay downtown. We took the airport shuttle to the hotel and quickly put the baby to bed. In the morning, my husband took the shuttle back to the airport and picked up our rental car. Then, we were on our way!
Rent a Car--You’ll definitely need to rent a vehicle to explore. I recommend an SUV, so you don’t need to worry about any changing weather conditions or off-roading you might do. The trunks of SUVs also happen to be great places for impromptu diaper changes! There are tons of companies renting cars out of the Denver airport, so price shop until you’re satisfied with your deal.
Drive to Estes Park, CO—Set out early to Estes Park, Colorado, which is a 1.5 hour drive. It is an adorable town with lots of quaint shops and restaurants, and it acts as a gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. With such a short drive, there’s no need to stop along the way, although if you need a bathroom break, the town of Lyons looks super cute.
Where to Stay in Estes Park—There are lots of great options for staying in Estes Park. You can stay at a ranch or spa, book an AirBnB tiny cabin or gorgeous log home, or stay in the haunted Stanley Hotel (where the movie the Shining was apparently inspired). Shop around for what you’ll best enjoy. We stayed at the Ridgeline Hotel, which is undergoing an enormous remodel, and we loved it.
Eat in Estes Park—We enjoyed the nachos at Ed’s Cantina and Grill and an Italian feast at Mama
Rose’s. We also hit up the Safeway to stock up on lunch essentials for a hiking picnic. For breakfast, you MUST devour some cinnamon rolls at Cinnamon’s Bakery. It’s on the edge of the downtown area, but worth the trek for your morning sugar rush from cinnamon rolls, pecan rolls, and salted caramel rolls. Get there early; they sold out while we were there around 9 am.
Enter Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP)—There are two entrances for RMNP from Estes Park. We entered through Beaver Meadows Visitor Center on Route 36. You’ll pay $20 for your car to enter the park for one day, $30 to enter for 7 days, or $60 to enter all year. There are a variety of free days throughout the year, so check the website before you arrive! When you pay to enter, also ask for a trail map.
Drive Rocky Mountain National Park—Get your bearings in the park by first driving around. Trail Ridge Road is open in good weather and will take you to the Continental Divide at Milner Pass. Unfortunately, it was closed at Rainbow Curve when we visited in early October, due to four-foot snow drifts. (Yes, I said early October, and yes, I said four-foot snow drifts!) The view from Rainbow Curve is still worth a drive-- absolutely stunning views of the snow-capped mountains! Additionally, early October coincides with elk rutting season, when the elk convene in the open areas with the bulls showing off by bugling, bellowing, and locking antlers in fights, all in hopes of landing all the lady elk of their dreams. We drove right up to Moraine Park around 5:30 pm, parked and watched the live elk show with our binoculars. You can read about the park's elk here.
Get Outside and HIKE
There are tons of great hikes in RMNP. You can also camp, fish, raft, and horseback ride. With a baby, we recommend two stunning hikes, both which were recommended by Jamie, who lives in Denver (follow her hiking adventures on Instagram @roving.robinsons).
Bear Lake Nature Trail-- This is a true wike, by Wike Baby definition. Park at the Bear Lake trailhead and set out around the lake, surrounded by high peak mountains. This is an easy, 0.7 mile heavily trafficked loop that is good for all skill levels. It features Christmas-card-photo-ready locations for family pictures and tons of visitors who will happily snap your shot for you. There are benches for relaxing along the way, and it is moderately accessible. With an off-roading stroller you’ll probably be able to get all the way around the pond (although a carrier is easier). You can purchase an interpretive guide at the trailhead for the 30 natural, geological, and historical markings along the way. We didn’t notice this offer until after our walk, so we weren’t able to enjoy it. From the Bear Lake trailhead, you can also venture out on a more moderate hike to visit Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake.
Mills Lake Hike-- The most beautiful hike of my life and my newest happy place, I can’t recommend this hike enough. Leave from Glacier Gorge trailhead, and it’s 5.6 miles out to the lake and back. The lake is set among the absolutely spectacular backdrop of the mountains. Just before the one-mile mark, you’ll reach Alberta Falls, scenic 30 foot falls named after one of the original settlers in the area. Carry on crossing small creeks, over boulders, along cliffs, and through Aspen groves, and you’ll reach the lake at 2.8 miles. The scenery along the way is enough to make your jaw drop, but when you hit the lake, you’ll have to scoop your jaw off the ground. The whole hike took us 3 hours at a sprightly pace, but take your time, pack a lunch to enjoy at the lake, and make a day of it!
The 5.6 miles for the Mills Lake hike was about as long as our little wike baby could handle hiking at this point. It’s not all waterfalls and mountain views; we had a small over-tired meltdown at one point, and she slept in the Ergo carrier on the way back. If we were sans baby, we would have loved to have hiked the Sky Pond Trail. The reviews say it is 8.4 miles with 1,844 feet elevation gain and requires some scrambling, so we’ll have to save it for later! If you try it, let me know what you think!
Return to Denver through Boulder—Eat lunch and enjoy a pint or a tasting at Avery Brewing Company. A little bit outside of the city center, the food at Avery is out of this world and the beer is obviously good, too. I recommend the off-menu item called the Angry Clucker: a fried chicken sandwich battered in buffalo sauce and topped with a runny egg. Best meal. Then, drive downtown and stroll around the shopping district called Pearl Street Mall, or use your AllTrails App to find a great local hike. If you haven’t downloaded the AllTrails App yet, do it now. You just type in your location, and tons of a great hiking and wiking trails pop up with length, level of difficulty, and reviews. It’s a great resource!
Explore the Greater Denver Area
We had one full day around Denver before our red-eye flight back East, and we packed a lot in! We didn’t find much downtown that interested us, but there’s a ton to explore in the area. We dragged my aunt, who lives in Denver, around to play tourist, and even she seemed to enjoy herself. Here are three of our recommendations.
Red Rocks—Visit the amphitheater, the venue famous for hosting your favorite bands and for the natural acoustics. Check out the visitor’s center with the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, gift shop, and restaurant, or hike around the surroundings for breathtaking views of the amazing rock formations.
Dinosaur Ridge—Near Red Rocks, wike around Dinosaur Ridge to see real petrified dinosaur bones, tracks, and fossils and learn about the geology of the area. If you’re interested, you can check out the visitor’s center, exhibit hall, gift shop, kids’ play area and take the guided shuttle up the ridge for $8 per person, or you can simply park across the street and walk the ridge to read the curated signs for free.
Roxborough State Park—Another @roving.robinson’s suggestion! $7 per car gains you entrance into this special park with red sandstone rock formations at every turn. You’ll get a map upon entrance, and you can plan your wike from there. We took the 2.2 mile Fountain Valley Trail, which was easy and gravel. With all-terrain wheels, you could bring your stroller if necessary. Don’t miss the Lyons Overlook for sweeping views of the park. There were lots of families and couples taking professional photos here. Bring a change of clothes, and you have another chance for that Christmas card photo!
Our four days in Colorado were pretty awesome, and we will definitely be back. If you visit any of our recommendations, be sure to let us know what you think in the comments below! If you’ve spent time in Colorado already, where should we visit next time?
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