OK. I hate the cold. This Florida girl can’t stand temperatures below 70 degrees. I will go out of my way to be warm. BUT – Colorado is one of my top 5 favorite states. I can’t seem to rationalize why other than the sheer beauty of wide open plains, miles and miles of empty roads, and the majestic Rocky Mountains. One of my favorite trips to Colorado involved a road trip around the southeast part of the state. If you have 4 days and a ticket to Denver, this is a highly recommended trip!
Our flights from Orlando to Denver were free. F-R-E-E no strings attached. (I mean, we paid the reservation fee. Like $10 per person. Whatever) Frontier Airlines may not be the most luxurious airline company, but it has dependably cheap tickets and a killer rewards program. We racked up enough miles and BOOM. Free round trip for the two of us from MCO to DEN. Becoming a Den Member makes flights even more affordable. If you can compromise your momentary comfort (seats don’t recline, smaller than average leg room, no free food or drinks other than water), it’s worth looking into Frontier as your go-to airline company.
First Stop – Colorado Springs, Colorado
Our flight landed pretty late so we only drove the short hour to Colorado Springs. We stayed the night Best Western Plus Executive Residency Fillmore Inn- and honestly I was SO surprised. The room was clearly brand new – everything was sparkling clean and super comfortable. The breakfast was delicious with many options. If we were staying in Colorado Springs for the entire trip, I’d easily have stayed at this hotel the full time.
If you have a few spare hours while in Colorado Springs, I encourage you to go to Garden of the Gods. It’s very popular with locals and tourists alike, and for good reason. The towering red rock formations are super fun to hike around, or climb if you have the proper equipment. It’s absolutely stunning and a remarkable sight to see.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Next on our itinerary is Great Sand Dunes National Park. (Shameless plug – We are pass holders with the National Parks. For just $80 you can get a year of free access into any NPS site that charges an entrance fee. Most parks charge $10-30 per vehicle for a 7 day pass, so you’ll get your money’s worth in just a few visits. Even if you don’t, you’re supporting our severely underfunded national park program).
The Sand Dunes were jaw-dropping, mind blowing, and simply extraordinary. From the parking lot we thought, “Oh, we’ve got this. Let’s get to the top. No stopping until we are there!” We were a bit overambitious in our plans. You don’t realize just how tall they are! Another thing we didn’t expect was the whole walking in sand part. That is tough! It was like an elliptical machine on the hardest setting; you sunk into each step, sliding slightly backwards as you tried to make forward progress. My calves were absolutely SCREAMING by the end of the second hour. Additionally, there was no set path. You just walked wherever you thought was best. I’d say we made it about halfway to the top. Even though we didn’t go to the highest peak, I was very proud with our progress! We met a few native Coloradans while we sat and marveled at the view. They were kind enough to share a beer with us, and after a few moments of talking with them and enjoying a cold beer, we practically slid all the way back down!
This park was a great half day stop – I’m sure there were other trails to do that would have been incredible, and I’d bet you can fill entire days here, but our plans did not allow more than a 5 hour stop. Between our hike and our time in the visitor center learning the history of the sand dunes, we easily filled our time and had to be on our way.
Sugarbush Sugarbush Sugarbush!
The name of the campground we stayed at was called Sugarbush. For some reason, I found this to be a really fun name. I may have annoyed Brandon at some point as I never said just “Sugarbush,” preferring instead to repeat it three times in a row. Not sure why, it just sounded so cool.
We found this great place to stay on AirBnb. It was a cute 25 foot airstream trailer! Very modern and totally stocked with all the supplies we needed during our stay. We cooked only breakfast here, but could have easily made lunches and dinners as well. If you’re in the area, I totally recommend it – https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/26005322
Black Canyon of the Gunnison
THIS. This national park was the reason for our road trip. Imagine Rocky Mountain National Park meets Grand Canyon in a weird hybrid of mountainous, tree-lined canyons. It was spectacular. An absolute must see in Colorado.
We did a few hikes while visiting this park – the Warner Point Trail and Painted Wall View Trail. They were easy to medium in the strenuous scale for our 30-something year old selves, but totally doable for most able-bodied age ranges.
Curecanti National Recreation Area
Equally as beautiful as the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, the Curecanti National Recreation Area is well worth a stop if you have the time. There was a crunch for time by the time we made it here, but we were able to squeeze in a quick hike to the riverbed. I’m sure this place was deserving of a much larger amount of time; I do not wish to undermine the beauty of this park, but unfortunately we only had so many days!
On the Road Again
Sadly, our trip was coming to a close. It was time to head back to Denver. We made the most of our long drive back by stopping in Leadville, a unique town with a golden history. Founded during the gold rush of the late 1800’s as a mining town, Leadville has historical buildings and sights to see. It’s easy to imagine the prospectors walking about, grabbing a bite to eat after a long day in the mines. One very memorable place we stopped was the Silver Dollar Saloon. Built in 1879 with the majority of the original building intact, walking into this saloon was like stepping back into the wild, wild west. We sat at an original booth and enjoyed a very delicious lunch.
We hit the road and found a new destination – a stop in Georgetown called Guanella Pass Brewery. We were pleased to find excellent, locally brewed beer! After sampling a flight (we were, after all, driving), we continued on to the airport.
The temperatures outside were plummeting as we sipped our drinks, and before long it had begun to snow. In October! Our drive back to Denver was a slow and treacherous one- only the second time in my life that I had driven in actual snow! (Although after driving in a blizzard in Iceland last winter, I’m pretty sure I can handle drive in ANY amount of snow or ice!) We stopped on our way back to make snow balls, take some wintery pictures, and to enjoy the silence. There is nothing quite like the peace that envelops you during a snow fall!
Wrap it Up!
With Denver being the biggest hub of Frontier Airlines, you can easily find cheap flights there almost any time of the year. Denver itself is a cool city to explore, but if you’re searching for beautiful scenery, unbelievable hikes, and unique settings – a quick road trip can easily be done in just a few days. Get out there and explore!