Last years trip was through the northern Rocky Mountains in Montana and then Yellowstone and Grand Teton. My momma and I became addicted to them and just had to plan another trip this summer! Summer vacations are something my mom started when my sister and I were young. We would venture off to anywhere in the Appalachian Mountains! I would assume that is where my love for travel began (thanks momma)!!
My mom is an incredible researcher and planner when it comes to trips! She finds the best things to do, best places to go, and exactly how we should do them.
Day 1 : Denver, CO – Lusk, WY.
This summer we took a morning flight into Denver, CO and landed early afternoon so that we still had a decent first day in Colorado. After we landed, we picked up the rental car from Budget. If you are a big traveler, you know rental car places can be disastrous. If you can sign up with Budget Fast Break ahead of time, DO IT. We got to go to a whole separate counter, and were at our car in less than 10 minutes!
After we picked up our car, we made a stop for lunch at the Old Spaghetti Warehouse. They are amazing and we always look it up to see if we are going to a city where one is located! After lunch we were off to our first hotel in Lusk, WY!!
Day 2 : Custer State Park – Mount Rushmore – Keystone, SD
The next morning we woke up and continued our drive to Custer State Park for a tour of one of the caves! This mornings drive took us into South Dakota and I got to add another state line photo to my collection. After the cave tour, we continued onto Sylvan Lake. You can swim, canoe and kayak in Sylvan Lake and its the perfect place for a summer afternoon! We just took a walk around it, and got ice cream and then left to drive Needles Highway into Keystone, SD for Mount Rushmore!
Needles Highway has short tunnels you drive through and while heading towards Keystone, you can see heads through the tunnels!! It is such a cool sight!
If Mount Rushmore is not on your list of ‘things to see’, it should be. It was not on mine, and I can say I am so glad that I saw it! There is the presidential trail you can take around it and see the monument closer and a section where each president is showcased more. I would say though when starting the trail, go to your left (if you’re facing the monument), it is less strenuous. After you have seen each presidents showcase area, take the trail back the way you came, unless you’re into a bunch of sets of stairs 🙂 We were too far down the loop when we realized we should have gone back the same way!
For dinner we ate at a little pizzeria in town and then just drove the towns streets before heading in for the night!
Day 3 : Wild Loop Road – Estes Park, CO – Rocky Mountain National Park
This day was an early one. We woke up at dawn and saw deer right on the street by our lodge! We headed out early for the Wild Loop Road drive to see wildlife! We saw a ton of deer, and WILD DONKEYS. The receptionist at our lodge told us we might see them and to bring carrots or apples for them! So we pulled over and got to pet and feed them! It was so cool, and a little scary HAHA.
On our way out of Custer State Park, we came across A TON of Bison and their little herds and BABIES. If you do not think Buffalo are cute, you should see their babies. We also drove by prairies filled with little prairie dogs!! They are literally the cutest thing, and their barkkk!! Ugh, adorable. I wish I could have brought one home, haha!
Our drive to Estes Park was a long one, but we jammed to music and made it a fun ride!
After checking into our lodge in Estes Park, we heading into RMNP for a hike to Alberta Falls. The trailhead is about 20ish minutes from the entrance to the park and when we got there it was raining, we waited it out about 30 minutes and it was cloudy but the rain subsided and we had the trail practically to ourselves and the falls were running even extra from the rain! I am so glad we waited it out! Also – the trails still have snow on them, and that just blew my mind since it was June!
For dinner we went to Smokin’ Daves BBQ and the sweet tea and corn bread was out of this world! Definitely check it out if you are in Estes Park!
Day 4 : Rocky Mountain National Park – Estes Park, CO
Another early morning, but for good reason. We were hiking a longer hike, and the trailhead parking lot gets super filled as the day goes on. The trail we decided to joke was the trail for Nymph Lake, Dream Lake and Emerald Lake. It was snowy so the micro-spikes we rented for our shoes came in handy so much! This hike was not easy. I won’t lie to ya, the elevation climb was no joke, and before we even made it to Nymph Lake, we considered turning around. I am so glad we didn’t though. Once we passed Nymph Lake, the trail only got harder, it was more snowy at this point and we stopped to put our micro spikes on. You couldn’t even see the natural trail because of the build up of snow, so we relied on the foot steps from others before us. Many times my foot fell right through the snow and it came up to my mid thigh. How crazy that it was that deep! The views were amazing! Dream Lake was just that, a dream. Still partly frozen and aqua in color. Hiking up to Emerald Lake…I was truly surprised we made it. Others were hiking up a full incline, full of snow in jus their nikes and people with the spikes were struggling…CRAZY. But when we made it, it was just pristine. and completely worth it. The hike was approx. a 630 feet elevation gain. And took us around 2-2.5 hours just to hike up, and just over 1 hour to hike down and around 4.2 miles roundtrip. I could have napped for hours after this hike, but we had a horse back riding adventure scheduled.
We headed there and ate lunch in the car before saddling up for 2 hours. We rode into Moraine Park and it was BEAUTIFUL. Also scary because the mountains were creating an afternoon storm and we were on the back of horses…its fine, were fine.
After the 2 hours on the back of the horse, we decided to rest the rest of the day and walk around the town of Estes Park! It is so cute and quaint. We then ate an early dinner at Mama Rose’s. YOU. HAVE. TO. EAT. HERE. Sooooo good!!!
Day 5 : RMNP – Trail Ridge Road – Grand Lake, CO – Glenwood Springs
Trail Ridge road is a road that takes you about 14,000 ft in elevation into the alpine area of the mountains. The views were breathtaking and it was absolutely freezing! The wind was so intense at some points that I could not even open my car door. We stopped at the Alpine Visitors Center for hot cocoa and the snow was covering all the windows of the building!! This Florida girl was amazed lol!
The other side of the road takes you into a town called Grand Lake. We did a short waterfall hike here, and then went kayaking on the lake! It was so beautiful! The water was a little rough from the breeze so we kinda got wet with the 40 degree water, but its fineeeee.
After kayaking we got a little snack at a bar and grille in town and then headed on our 3 hour drive to Glenwood Springs!
Day 6 : Maroon Bells – Glenwood Springs, CO – Colorado National Monument
We woke up before dawn to get ready to head out to Aspen to see Maroon Bells. Maroon bells is something I saw when I went to CO a few years ago, and I just knew my mom had to see it. It was an hour drive, but so worth it! The morning was full of sunshine and quiet. After we strolled around Maroon bells, we drove back into Glenwood Springs for our White Water Rafting adventure!!! I was so nervous for this!!! EKKK. We wore splash suits because the water was so cold! This was probably one of my favorite things we did. I cannot believe I was so nervous about this. It was so thrilling and so much fun! The temperature of the water did not even bother me!
We had another car picnic and continued our adventures to Colorado National Monument. This park is smaller, but SO beautiful and totally different then anything we have seen in Colorado yet! It was full of formations and beautifulness.
Day 7 : Ouray, CO
We started the morning with a drive into Ouray for our jeep tour through the mountains. It was a beautiful sunny day and so relaxing to be the passenger! We also went to see Box Canyon and swam in the natural hot mineral spring pool at our hotel! We ate dinner at an Irish Pub overlooking the gorgeous mountains. I totally understand why they call this town the “Switzerland of America.”
Day 8 : Black Canyon – Colorado Springs, CO
The first half of the day we drove through South Rim Road through Black Canyon. It was stunning and loved that the crowds were less. When we got to Colorado Springs we hung out for a bit before going to Garden of the Gods. This place is just simply stunning. and I loved that you can walk around and so close to the formations. We ate dinner at Paravicinis Italian Bistro. Y’all – this is hands down the best Italian restaurant. Like so good, we ate at it the night after too!!
Day 9 : Pikes Peak – Colorado Springs, CO
We ended up doing a bus tour up to the top of Pikes Peak because I chickened out from driving it my self. It was full of clouds when we made it to the top, but the drive up and down were incredible. I may or may not of had an anxiety attack on the way up, and then had anxiety from trouble breathing at the top from the altitude. Glorious lol. If you ever get up there, they sell the best altitude doughnuts. These. are. the. best. get 10. but apparently the further down you get on the mountain, they are not as good. So you have to eat them at the top!
We also went to see Helen Hunt Falls, and walked around Manitou Springs! They have a natural mineral springs tour throughout the downtown area and fountains where you can try the water or if you are a local, come and fill jugs up. And boy, were these not the greatest for my tastebuds. I guess I am just a pure water kind of gal haha!
We also walked out Old Colorado Springs and ate dinner at the same italian bistro!
Day 10 : Painted Mines – Denver
We were able to sleep in a little later this morning and started out drive back towards Denver. We stoped by the painted mines, which was really cool and ate lunch at a Jack n the Box (best fast food tacos). And then flew home!!
This was an amazing trip and if you are wanting to head to any of these places and want more details, shoot me a message!! I just love these summer vacations with my momma every year. I am so blessed to have the relationship with her that I do!!