Map tips: each color represents a different day. Click a marker to learn more about the spot, and click the star in the map header to save the entire map under Your Places in Google Maps.
Day 1: Rocky Mountain National Park and Flatirons
- Trail Ridge Road
We had arrived into Denver, Colorado the previous evening and drove to our Airbnb place in Lakewood (45 minutes). This was our first real trip with our 6-month old twins so it was much slower-paced than we’re used to.
Started out early for Rocky Mountain National Park (just get directions to Estes Park – about a 2 hour drive) and got there around 9. It was Memorial Day weekend so we knew it was going to be packed – very glad we got there early. No line to get in at the Fall River Entrance Station. Did Trail Ridge Road first thing and it was a beautiful drive. No real lines, could find parking at all the stopoffs. Spent 2 hours total driving to the Alpine Visitors center and back with several stops for pictures. It was still cold (40s) so we didn’t spend too much time at all out of the car.
On the way back down the line of cars going up was very backed up. We were going to go to Bear Lake but needed to get food and had to exit park. The car line to get back into the park was unbelievable and probably would have taken about an hour just to get back in so we headed back and stopped at the Flatirons in Boulder.
If you want to get up close, park at Chautaqua Park – do not go to the Flatirons Vista Trail, which is quite far away. We were going to hike up the Flatirons but a nasty storm rolled in about a half hour after we got there. Drove back and called it a day.
Day 2: Colorado Springs
- Cadet Chapel at the Air Force Academy
- Garden of the Gods
Started out around 730 for the Air Force Academy to check out the Cadet Chapel (free). It opens at 9 and we got there about 8:45. You can park either at the visitor’s center or at the Arnold Hall parking lot. Both have short paths to get to the chapel. Beautiful building, definitely worth the stop if you’re in Colorado Springs. The Thunderbirds were flying around so we were treated to an air show while we were there. Plan on maybe an hour, hour and a half if all you want to do is see the chapel.
Next we went to Garden of the Gods (20 mins from Air Force Academy and also free). If you enter from the visitor center, you’ll start driving counter-clockwise around the one-way Juniper Loop. About a mile down the road is a small pull-off where you’ll see what I think is the best view in the park. It isn’t really marked but you might see it referred to as Cathedral Valley Overlook – definitely worth finding even if you have to loop back around for a second attempt.
Continuing down the loop road, we were lucky enough to find parking at lot 16. You can just drive around the park and pull off at different spots, or you can park at one of the many different lots along the route and hike the trails (which I highly recommend). Some highlights are the Balanced Rock, Siamese Twins, and you have to do the Perkins Central Garden Trail (1-mile loop), which goes through the neatest part of the park.
Got some milkshakes at Josh & John’s, good stuff, then drove back to Lakewood.
Day 3: Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre
Went to Red Rocks to do a little hiking and see the ampitheatre, which would be an awesome place to see a show. Walked the Trading Post Trail, just under 1.5 miles and a really enjoyable way to see the park.
Spent a little time walking up the Amphitheatre steps and taking pictures, then headed back to our place.
We planned on doing Mount Evans this day, but we were all tired and the weather wasn’t showing great (43 degrees and rain) so we just stayed at the house and then went to Marie Empanadas to grab dinner (underwhelming, wasn’t worth the drive in rush hour traffic). Flew home the next day.
Few things to note: Would have liked to have spent some time in Red Rock Canyon Open Space in Colorado Springs, more time in Rocky Mountain National Park, and of course Mount Evans. We wanted to do that over Pikes Peak because it costs, and Mount Evans is free. There’s so much to see that we could have spent 3 full days in any of the areas we visited, but wanted a good base that allowed us to do some day trips. There are toll roads, but we were able to avoid all of them without going out of our way.
Year traveled: May 2016