1st time CO road trip

Old Aug 5th, 2017, 09:30 AM
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1st time CO road trip

Arrv Denver Sept 3- depart Sept 13
Looking for suggestions for road trip loop. Start loop southward or northward?
No lodgings yet
Must see RMNP; 3 or 4 nights, where Estes Pk? Grand Lake? Other?
Hubby wants to see Great Sand Dunes & AF Academy, I'm leaning towards Vail.
Distance seems to be issue to get both in.
Looking for authentic experience while hitting the highlights.
TYIA
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Old Aug 5th, 2017, 09:45 AM
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You will need to get your plan very soon and make reservations asap. Do be aware that Labor Day weekend will be a very busy time for the parks.
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Old Aug 5th, 2017, 11:05 AM
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As one who has loved to ski Vail, there are MANY more beautiful and fun places in Colorado and especially in the summer. If you want to shop, then that IS your place!

There are many here who can give you the "drive". The Sand Dunes and AF academy may be a "down and back" from Denver.

Denver is also worth a look for the amount of time you have.
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Old Aug 5th, 2017, 01:05 PM
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You need to define "authentic experience" 'cause I have no idea what you want.

Personally at that time of year I would avoid Estes - it will be over run with tourists. The drive over Trail Ridge Road should be high on the list but once through the park - keep moving.

With ten days you have adequate time, let give you a rough loop - Denver, Estes - Trail Ridge Road, Kremming, Hwy 9 to Dillon and on to Vail. Back track a little to US 24 via Tennessee Pass (Camp Hale), Leadville, south, maybe Salida, Alamosa - Sand Dunes - east to 1-25 to Colorado Springs and Denver. That will run you through a lot of mountains and small towns.

There are other options.
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Old Aug 5th, 2017, 03:43 PM
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I like the second half of fmpden's drive, but I don't think you'd be backtracking after Vail. The I-70/US-24 junction is west of Vail.
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Old Aug 5th, 2017, 03:58 PM
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Here's the basic route fmpden suggested, it's a good one:
https://goo.gl/maps/vpsGbPU95o42

Yes, Estes will be packed, Grand Lake less so. I'd vote for the latter, though the scenery around Estes is arguably more spectacular.

Note the little dogleg off to Vail. As Gretchen mentioned that could be skipped unless you like high end shopping. It's OK for what it is and it's pretty enough. If you go then also visit the beautiful Betty Ford gardens.

Leadville is a cool town, at least to some of us. Other find it a bit rough looking, but hey it's an old mining town.

Salida is nice, though it's been a few years since I've spent time there and info may be dated. There was a fantastic (at that time) restaurant that had "Ladies" in the name.

To me an "authentic experience" is walking through the mountains with a heavy pack on yer back, but I don't think that's what you are looking for.
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Old Aug 5th, 2017, 03:59 PM
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Opps, this is the route:
https://goo.gl/maps/jMe6qDtK6vL2
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Old Aug 6th, 2017, 03:46 AM
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Tnx. We're hoping to see as much natural beauty but not be on the road every other day. LMK if it makes sense to move our loop more westerly? Will not be high end spending in Vail! We are average to active hikers; and welcome suggestions on locations\vendors for outdoor activities. Appreciate your local expertise!
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Old Aug 6th, 2017, 04:36 AM
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I'll recommend again taking Vail out of your itinerary except to drive by on I70 if you go that way. The bottom of the mountain is completely built up of restaurants and shops. and a parking deck where you must park and use the shuttle to get around.
There are other wonderful ski areas where you could hike--even taking a lift to the top (as you can at Vail also). It may be the least "authentic" place.
You can also drive to the top of Mt. Evans for a view from a 14er.

the loop that Fmpden has suggested gets you everywhere (and more) you wanted to go and along beautiful road to get there. You can break it up--a couple of days in RMNP (if you can even get reservations), then on west for a few days, etc. Look at the map and decide.
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Old Aug 6th, 2017, 09:04 AM
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If you run your loop in reverse starting with Denver to Springs down to the Dunes, etc., you will at least avoid the Labor Day crowds at RMNP
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Old Aug 6th, 2017, 12:06 PM
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Exactly what bailey said - do the loop in reverse. Arrive in Estes Park on Sunday the 10th and leave either the 12th or 13th. Far less crowded than starting your trip there on Sunday of Labor Day weekend.
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Old Aug 6th, 2017, 12:59 PM
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AND you will save the best for last
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Old Aug 7th, 2017, 02:29 AM
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topping or OP
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Old Aug 7th, 2017, 08:22 AM
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The loop posted is about 12 hours of driving, which isn't bad at all over 10 days. You could add in Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Glenwood Springs/Canyon by adding a few more hours to the loop and skipping Leadville.
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Old Aug 7th, 2017, 09:20 AM
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bailey's advice to reverse the trip is excellent. Nice to have a creative thinker in the group!

However in this case note that the weekend of Sept 8-10 is the Estes Scottish Highland Festival. If you arrive on the 10th as suggested, then you'll just catch the tail end of the big crowds.

The Scottish Festival is fun if you are into that kind of stuff, my wife and I are planning to go one day. But it is crowded.

In any case, doing the loop in reverse remains a good idea.
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Old Aug 7th, 2017, 06:10 PM
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Agree to plan on a few days in Denver, which is actually a very cool destination in it's own right. Ignore the sea of (Bronco) orange. If you leave them alone, they will not harass you. In Denver consider the Stranahan Distillery, Larimer Square and the Molly Brown House museum on Pensylvania street. Googling other sights and restaurants in Denver is worth the research.

Agree to so south 1st and then save drive through RMNP for last. Going south of Denver one idea is to go on the Parker Road, state rt 83. Stop for a brief hike in Castlewood Canyon State park. Then grab a brew at the Pikes Peak Brewing Company in Monument. If your budget allows a bit of extra expense, a night and steak dinner at the Flying Horse Resort just on the north side of the springs is very nice, and a good base for exploring the Springs. While in the Springs - everyone, but everyone, goes to Garden of the Gods, and this should not be missed. But just north of the Garden is Glen Eyrie, a Tudor Style replica mansion/castle built by Gen Palmer, founder of Colorado Springs and owner of the D&RGW railroad. Reservations for tours are required. In the Springs, a stroll through the downtown or the "Colorado City" area is nice for active bars and cafe's. If in the mood for Pizza, Pizzaria Rustica is highly regarded, while Garden of the God's Gourmet, Paravincini's, and Jake and Telly's are local favorites.

From the Springs you can go straight west directly to Buena vista, southwest on State Rte 115 to Canon City and the Royal Gorge, or head south on I-25 to Pueblo and Walsenbuerg, then west to Alamosa. This last option is a lot of driving but will display the entire front range in all it's beauty, then you'll head north out of Alamosa and see the entire Continental divide.

Final Recommendation: between Buena vista and Leadville, on the road to Independence pass is the very quirky
Twin Lakes Inn (thetwinlakesinn.com) Not at all luxurious, but very typical of the Old West, and surprising ly good dinners.
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Old Aug 8th, 2017, 07:15 AM
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A word of caution, if you are interested in the chapel at the Air Force Academy, it still may be closed for renovations. Check the website.
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