Driving Peak to Peak

On Sunday, the second day of our Colorado Rocky Mountain adventure over Labor Day weekend, we retraced some of our drive from the previous day as we headed toward Rocky Mountain National Park for the first time.

Side note: Thankfully, we had a gas station with a car wash next to our hotel, and we took that opportunity to finally wash the car before beginning our scenic drive for the day.  Our entire rental car experience is another story about this trip, and perhaps I will share that after my trip posts are done.  Let’s just say that one particular car rental agency at the Denver airport has some serious issues that someone needs to address… quickly… as this was, by far, the worst rental car experience we have ever had, and the condition of our car unfortunately impacted part of the drive we intended to make at RMNP later this day.
Day 2 Drive
Day 2 Drive

The first part of our drive took us back to Boulder, and this part of the drive looked quite different to us than it did the evening before, when we were headed out of the mountains toward Thornton to our hotel for the night.  On Sunday morning, the mountains loomed beautiful and large directly ahead of us.

Driving to Boulder
Driving to Boulder

The mountains at Boulder are called the “flatirons” for their distinctive shape.  We had a much better view of these mountains this morning than on the previous evening when we drove through the area in route to our hotel during a misty rain.

Flatirons at Boulder
Flatirons at Boulder

Boulder is such a pretty and seemingly vibrant town, with beautiful tree-lined streets and bike lanes along the river.  I would love to return sometime and explore the town much more.  And, as I mentioned in my previous post, the scenic drive between Boulder and Nederland was fabulous once again, too.

Boulder CO
Tree-lined street in Boulder
Hwy 119 scenic beauty
Hwy 119 scenic beauty

There is a scenic tunnel on this drive, and I wanted to get a good picture of it as we drove back through this area, but I forgot to watch for it with camera in hand.  It surprised me once again while we were driving, and this blurry photo was the best I could do as I hurried to get my camera in hand.

Tunnel Hwy 119
A blurry picture is better than no picture, I guess.  It really is a pretty tunnel.

We drove past Barker Reservoir and saw the big City of Boulder dam once again, too.

Barker Dam at Nederland
Barker Reservoir and Dam near Nederland

Barker Dam

After arriving in Nederland, we turned north on Highway 72 and once again resumed our drive on the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway.  We were amazed at how many people were out on bicycles on this beautiful stretch of road, too.  We agreed that while we enjoy riding our bikes, tackling the hills on this road is something we would not be excited to do, unless we could somehow find a way to only ride the downhill parts, of course.

Cyclists on the Peak to Peak Highway
Cyclists on the scenic Peak to Peak Scenic Byway
Scenic beauty on Peak to Peak Hwy 72 north of Nederland
Scenic beauty on Peak to Peak Hwy 72 north of Nederland

Since part of our purpose for making this trip was to check out possible RV campsites, we made a quick stop at the Peaceful Valley campground in the Roosevelt National Forest, which we easily accessed just off of Highway 7 – a continuation of the Peak to Peak route from Highway 72.  It was a truly beautiful place, but given the other nice campgrounds that we saw during our trip, we would likely pass on this one unless we just wanted a quick overnight stop.  It sits on a pretty creek, and each site has bear lockers.  Most sites seemed to be set-up more for tent campers, rather than RVs, and the only facilities were vault toilets.  Over the holiday weekend, the campground was almost full, too.

Roosevelt National Forest Camping 1
Campsite at Peaceful Valley Campground with bear locker
Roosevelt National Forest Camping 2
Peaceful Valley Campground sits right on Middle St. Vrain Creek, and several campsites sit next to it.

 We returned to Highway 7 and continued to drive north on the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway.  Soon, we found ourselves along the eastern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, and while Highway 7 is not actually in the park, several places in the park are accessed from it, as there is not a park road available to get to them.

Wild Basin Road
Road to Wild Basin Entrance Station at RMNP
Wild Basin Entrance Station
Wild Basin Entrance Station at RMNP

We opted to go ahead and pay our park fee here and hopefully see just a bit of this side of the park.  We paid our fee at this small station pictured above, but just after we drove in the park, the rain began to fall in sheets, and we could barely see in front of our car.  We were able to see a small lake nearby, but that was about it.

Rather than sit and hopefully wait for the rain to subside a bit, we made our way back to Highway 7 and just continued north toward Estes Park and the main entrance to RMNP.  Thankfully, the rain quickly began to subside, and it even cleared off nicely for a while.

Highway 7 Rain
Our Peak to Peak drive was both rainy and sunny.
Highway 7
Highway 7

 A few miles later, we passed the sign for the park entrance at Long’s Peak, but once again, we opted to just continue our drive north.  We pulled over shortly, however, to try to get a picture of Long’s Peak.  Unfortunately, the clouds were still hanging around right over the peak.

Long's Peak entrance to RMNP
Long’s Peak entrance to RMNP
Longs Peak in Clouds
Long’s Peak was hidden in the clouds.
Longs Peak Sign
Long’s Peak is the tallest peak in the area, but it was hidden in the clouds on this day.

We continued our drive toward the beautiful and scenic town of Estes Park, which sits in a pretty valley just a few miles from two of the main entrances to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Driving to Estes Park
Driving to Estes Park in the valley ahead

By now, it was getting close to lunchtime, and we debated whether or not to eat lunch in Estes Park or drive on to the national park.  Since we already had our picnic lunch packed, we opted to just forego lunch in town and drive directly to the Beaver Meadows park entrance.  Even though we ran into quite a bit of traffic in town as we made our way to the park, fortunately it did not take too terribly long to get through town and to the park entrance.  We knew there would be crowds over Labor Day weekend and had already adjusted our expectations accordingly for our time in this area.

In my next post, I will share the rest of our fabulous Sunday drive, including our experience in driving the famous Trail Ridge Road highway to the Alpine Visitor’s Center at almost 12,000 feet for the first time.

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A Golden Day in Colorado

This will be the first of several posts on our recent trip to Colorado!  I’m excited to share this beautiful journey here, too.

Over Labor Day weekend, we visited the greater Denver area on a little reconnaissance trip of sorts.  We are interested in making a trip in our RV to this area sometime in the future, but we wanted to first check out several areas and RV parks before making that very long drive.  We also wanted to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the very first time on this trip, and we were able to secure flight reservations on the days we wanted to travel, despite the fact that it was a busy holiday weekend and we had waited fairly late to make our reservations.

Our sightseeing drive on Saturday
Our sightseeing drive on Saturday (courtesy of Google Maps)

On Saturday, the first day of our Rocky Mountain adventure, we flew to Denver, then drove to Golden, Colorado. We arrived in the town of Golden at lunchtime, and after walking around the main area of town a bit, we finally opted to dine at a tiny little restaurant called El Callejon that served Colombian and Mexican food, primarily because most of the other restaurants were quite crowded with longer waits.  As it turned out, the food at was very good, and we were quite happy that we ate there.

Lunch in Golden a
Hubby’s lunch
Lunch in Golden b
My lunch

If we are ever back in the area, we would dine at El Callejon again. While my lunch was a break from my usual diet, it was worth it on this particular trip.  At least I had a diet soda. 😉

Golden is a neat little town and one that we would like to revisit again sometime, since we did not have much time to do so on this trip.  Of course, the Coors brewery is there, and we saw it in the distance as we were leaving town.  I’m sure that it draws many visitors to Golden, too.

After lunch, we drove to nearby Golden Gate Canyon State Park for the afternoon, as we especially wanted to check out this particular park in person for a possible RV trip sometime in the next year or two.  While checking it out online, it seemed like a nice park in a pretty area, and it also showed to have 50 amp hookups for RVs, something we always look for when traveling in our motor home, especially in summer months.  Even though we opted to take Golden Gate Canyon Road from Golden to the park, we would likely take another route in the RV, as this road was a little too twisty and steep for our taste when driving the RV.  As I understand, Highway 119 is a better route, even though a bit longer, and RVs must come into the Reverend’s Ridge Campground via 119 and Gap Road anyway.

Golden Gate Canyon State Park Sign
The welcome sign outside the park office
Golden Gate Canyon State Park Pond
Fish pond and walking path in front of the visitor’s center

The park did not disappoint at all, and we would love to camp here sometime in the future, if time permits us to make such a long trip for vacation.

Golden Gate Canyon State Park Welcome
Visitor information table

The office area has a nice little welcome center, information area and souvenir store, and there is also a small trout pond in front.  Fish food is available to feed the fish for a quarter, which proved to be a popular activity for most visitors in the short time we stopped there.  We found the park staff to be extremely friendly and helpful, too.

Golden Gate Canyon State Park Visitors Center
Visitor’s center
Golden Gate Canyon State Park Feeding the Fish
Feeding the fish was a popular activity
Golden Gate Canyon State Park Fish
Fish feeding

The Reverend’s Ridge campground is very nice with several loops for RVs, and it also has cabins and big yurts to rent as well.  Electricity is available at the RV sites, and water is available to fill tanks at different points in the campground.  After seeing these nice options for the cabins and yurts, we are even discussing the possibility of just renting one of them instead of bringing the RV.  The fact that dogs are not allowed in these is complicating that decision a bit, though.  We like to bring the dogs with us when we go camping, both for enjoyment and to avoid expensive boarding fees for two big dogs.

Cabin in the Reverend's Ridge campground
A nice cabin in Reverend’s Ridge campground
Yurt in Reverend's Ridge campground
Large yurt in Reverend’s Ridge campground

We spent quite a bit of time driving through the campground, checking out RV sites, and we were happy to know that we would be quite satisfied with just about any of them.  Specific sites can also be reserved through Reserve America’s website, too.  Since none of the picnic tables are covered, we also made a note to pack our EZ-Up awning for this trip if we come back.  While rain is usually not an issue where we tend to camp most of the time, we realized that it actually rains here in Colorado, so having the awning over the table would be a big plus.

RV site in Reverend's Ridge campground
RV site in Reverend’s Ridge campground

RVs are not allowed to drive on the park road from the visitor’s center to the campground, and they are required to come into the campground from a different park entrance nearby via Hwy. 119 and Gap Road.  Even though Gap Road was in great shape, I can see where it might be a bit difficult to drive on if rain is an issue.

Golden Gate Canyon State Park Campground Office
Office at Reverend’s Ridge Campground
Golden Gate Canyon State Park Amphitheater
Amphitheater at Reverend’s Ridge Campground

The short road to the campground from Highway 119 is a packed caliche road, and it was in very good shape.  There is no cell or internet service in the park, but we found a pay phone in the campground, just behind the office and close to the amphitheater.

Golden Gate Canyon State Park Pay Phone
Pay phone at Reverend’s Ridge Campground (no cell or internet anywhere in the park)

We also questioned whether or not we would be able to get a signal on our satellite dish, due to the abundance of many wonderful tall trees throughout the campground.  Having no cell, internet or television signals would give us a real getaway-from-it-all vacation, for sure, but on a week-long trip, we have found that relying solely on movies can get a bit old.  However, just being in such a wonderful new location with so many new sites to see would likely be our main entertainment anyway.  Since it is quite a drive to the nearest grocery store, we would want to make sure that we carried all of our needed food items and other supplies into the park and not rely on a drive back to Golden or elsewhere for supplies.

We then drove up to Panorama Point, which is just up from Reverend’s Ridge Campground and took in the amazing views of the Rockies to the west.  “The boardwalks of Panorama Point offer sweeping views across a 100 mile stretch of the Continental Divide.” – Protrails Website

Panorama Point Overlook
Panorama Point Overlook
Golden Gate Canyon State Park Panorama Point
Sign at Panorama Point
Magnificent view of the Rockies from Panorama Point
Magnificent view of the Rockies from Panorama Point

We also hiked part of Raccoon Trail, just down from the overlook, for about 45 minutes.  It turned out to be a fairly steep hike from the overlook, and we found that we felt the altitude a bit the longer we hiked.  So, we cut our hike short, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.  We just needed a bit more time to adjust to the 9311-foot altitude, and we had no issues the rest of our trip while hiking, even at altitudes slightly higher than this.

On the Raccoon Trail at Panorama Point
On the Raccoon Trail at Panorama Point

One of the most interesting sites that we saw while hiking this trail was the abundance of mushrooms in several different colors, a site that was most definitely new for us to see while hiking.

Brown Mushrooms
Brown Mushrooms
Orange Mushroom
Orange Mushroom

By the time we ended our hike, the sun was beginning to creep down toward the horizon, and it was time for us to begin our drive to our hotel for the night in the Thornton area, just north of Denver.  The view as we exited Panorama Point was beautiful!

Driving down from Panorama Point
Driving down from Panorama Point
View of the Rockies to the west
View of the Rockies to the west

Rather than return to the metro area via the interstate once again, we opted to take a more scenic drive to the north, and this particular drive turned out to be a treat of gorgeous scenery.  The first part of the drive on Hwy. 119/72 to Nederland is actually the southern end of the famous Peak to Peak Scenic Byway, and the drive on Hwy. 119 between Nederland and Boulder was absolutely stunning as well. We even stopped at several points to take a few pictures, especially between Nederland and Boulder as the road cut through large cliffs and alongside the flowing creek.  This entire area is part of the Roosevelt National Forest.  In fact, we found ourselves in the forest lands most of the time we were gone, except for the times that we were physically in the state and national parks.

Drive on Highway 119 to Nederland
Drive on Highway 119 to Nederland along the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway
Barker Reservoir at Nederland
Barker Reservoir at Nederland with Eldora Ski Area in the distance
Drive on Hwy 119 to Boulder a
Scenic drive on Hwy 119 between Nederland and Boulder
Drive on Hwy 119 to Boulder e
Scenic drive on Hwy 119 between Nederland and Boulder

It would have been nice to stay in the beautiful town of Boulder for the night to save a bit of driving on this trip, but our hotel was free on points for the night in Thornton, which also worked out just fine, too.  I’m always good with free.

After driving through the scenic town of Boulder, past the University of Colorado and on to our hotel, we ate dinner at a nearby Perkins Family Restaurant, then made a quick dash to a nice Wally World nearby for a few supplies for our trip to Rocky Mountain National Park the next two days.  We were well advised to carry a picnic lunch and water bottles into the park both days due to lack of dining facilities in the park, and that was excellent advice, for sure.  A quick stop for a small collapsible cooler bag and a few groceries proved to be a great decision for us, and we will enjoy having the little $10 cooler bag to pack on future trips by plane, if needed, as it folds down flat and is easy to bring along.  It also kept our food and drinks very cold for the entire day each day, too.

The next two days of our trip took us to Rocky Mountain National Park for the first time, with an overnight stay at a nice little motel in Estes Park.  More to come!

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