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Need advice: first trip to Colorado in Spring Break (mid-March)

Need advice: first trip to Colorado in Spring Break (mid-March)

Jan 26th, 2008, 06:01 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 4
Need advice: first trip to Colorado in Spring Break (mid-March)

My wife and I are planning our first trip to Colorado during the Spring Break (3/8 - 3/15). This is our "seeing and doing" trip rather than "relaxing" trip - we want to take in all we can without going too overboard - adventure and affordability are important to us. Night life/shopping/eating out does not excite us. We'd like to stay in affordable lodge/condo with kitchen - cook food and save along the way. Hoping that now I've set the stage, here's what we have planned

1. Proposed itinerary:
We're planning to drive from Texas. First stop in Colorado Springs to visit Pike's Peak. Next we'll go to Denver. In Denver, we'll see the U.S. Mint and Denver Botanic Gardens. Next, we'll go to Rocky Mt. National Pk. - Don't know if we can boat/raft in one of the Lakes in March. Is the entire Trail Ridge Rd closed in March?? After RMNP, I'm looking for a skiing destination that doesn't take us too far off I-70 Hwy. (More about skiing in next paragraph). After skiing, we'd like to head off to Colorado National Monument, and onward to Utah's Arches Ntnl. Park. After that we'll get back into Colorado and head Eastward to Great Sand Dunes National Park (more camping). It will be our last destination. Afterwards, we'll hit I-25 going South and go back to Texas.

Overall, it's a big triangle inside Colorado that we hope to traverse over 5-6 days (Interstate-25, Interstate-70, and Principal Road 50).

2. About skiing:
Both of us are first-timers, so we will take a half-day lesson and try it out ourselves the remainder of the day. Since affordability is important, we're debating Winter Park (on the way to I-70 from RMNP), Breckenridge, or Vail but feel free to suggest other destinations. Given its proximity to I-70 Hwy, Vail may be most crowded in Spring Break (just my guess). We might decide on our skiing destination based on where we get the best lodging deal. I'm looking at Craigslist.org for vacation condo rentals, but please feel free to recommend a condo if you've lived there and really liked it. Since we won't seek night life/shopping/eating out, I think we'd prefer small skiing towns to the more resorty-places.

3. About safety:
Although there are so many great driving routes, are there any radio stations we should tune into for latest road conditions? Can I take my car from texas there? It has almost new tires, but would I have to fit special snow tires to drive in colorado? or change the radiator coolant?

Thanks for the advice in advance!


Ski_Camper is offline  
Jan 26th, 2008, 06:35 AM
Join Date: Apr 2006
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I can give you some info on RMNP in March. It is definitely still winter in this area and Trail Ridge Road is closed, so you will not be able to go through the park over to Winter Park en route to I-70. It will require backtracking almost to Denver, so it might not be the most convenient ski destination afterwards. No boating this time of year anywhere in Colorado.

You can still explore the east side of the park where there are plenty of roads open. We go every February and love to go snowshoeing, which is easy and cheap. The Bear Lake area of the park is where the snowshoers go and it's a blast. You'll just about have the park to yourselves, and you'll see plenty of elk, and maybe coyote, bighorn sheep and lots of other critters. Estes Park will have a lot of choices in lodging, many of which have kitchens, and you'll find the lowest rates of the year. Try The Woodlands on Fall River Road, my favorite place to stay (or any other place on Fall River Rd.)

There are Colorado Dept. of Transportation radio stations to listen to road conditions - look for signs along the highway for which station, since they vary depending on where you are. Along I-70 and other major routes, they also have digital signs to warn drivers of any problems ahead. It will be wise to pay attention to the weather forecasts as you go. If you have decent all-season tires and don't drive fast in wet conditions, you should be fine. Most residents here do not have SUVs or snow tires and get around just fine.
tekwriter is offline  
Jan 26th, 2008, 08:49 AM
Join Date: Nov 2006
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Wow -- don't know if I can answer in less than an hour. Tekwriter gave a good started. Will try to keep answers very brief so contact me off line for an expanded answer.

1. March is the heigh of spring skiing with prices and availability at it's peak. March is also our snowiest month.

2, Trail Ridge Road is closed till Memorial Day weekend and sometimes later. It could be later. We are having record snowfalls in the mountains this year through it could quit snowing anytime. The road to Pike's Peak and the cog railroad will not be open at that time either.

3. A half day of ski lesson will barely teach you how to put your skis on but if you want a brief taste, and that is all it would be, go to Loveland Basin just off of I-70 at Eisenhower tunnel. It will be cheaper and less crowded than the major resorts further into the mountains.

4. There are other things more interesting to see in Denver than the mint and the gardens. The gardens at that time of year are pretty drab except for the inside stuff.

5. No rafting -- too early -- no water flow. You could go boating on the lakes in Denver -- but why?

6. Camping is out unless you are experienced with winter camping and have four season gear.

7. An alternative might be to stay in Frisco a couple of nights -- more reasonable than the major resorts. Frisco is on I-70 and it is about equal distance to Breckenridge, Keystone, and Copper Mt. and 30 miles to Vail. Have an excellent cross country ski facility there which might you give you the taste you want at a reasonable price.

8. Since this is a see and do - make an overnight at Glenwood Springs -- world's largest hot tub -- about a city block square. Fun place on your way to the Canyon lands in Utah.

9. You car will be fine. Your coolent should be for -30 below. Front wheel with good tires will be adequate for most conditions but if it is heavy snow then park it for the night.

That should get your started.
fmpden is offline  
Jan 26th, 2008, 08:54 AM
Join Date: Nov 2006
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Just had one of those PS thoughts after I re-read your posting. At that time of year, there is nothing in RMNP park that you would not see or do during the rest of your trip. Skip it. IMO, (and someone jump on me) it is not worth it at that time of year. Save it for another trip.
fmpden is offline  
Jan 26th, 2008, 11:15 AM
Join Date: Apr 2006
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Jumping on fmpden! LOL RMNP in the winter is fabulous and well worth visiting - better than summer!

That being said, you do have a point for this particular poster. It's not that RMNP isn't worth the effort, it just doesn't make as much sense to travel up there and backtrack with their very ambitious itinerary - it's only a week with a lot of miles to cover. Weather could play a factor in delaying them at any point and throw the whole week off. They will see plenty of majestic winter mountain scenery while driving through Colorado.

If skiing is more of a priority to them, they should spend more than one day skiing (definitely more than one 1/2 day lesson). If skiing isn't as important (it will be *very* expensive all totalled - lift tickets, lessons, equipment, lodging), then maybe do go to RMNP and just take a gander at the ski areas en route to Utah. Perhaps they should plan another trip to Colorado just for skiing in the future. It isn't something you'll get the hang of in a half day and you may end up hating it!

So basically, something's got to give in your itinerary to make it more feasible. I know it's tempting to try to see everything, but you won't get as much out of it just driving by at high speed!
tekwriter is offline  
Jan 26th, 2008, 12:22 PM
Join Date: May 2003
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I will only address the skiing portion: From I-70, Winter Park is a 45 minute drive over the windy, mountainous Berthoud Pass. I love skiing at Winter Park, but I wouldn't do that drive for one day.

Copper Mountain is right off I-70, and the lodging there might very well be cheaper than at Vail.

We love to ski, and I'd ditch all the rest of the trip, take multiple lessons, and spend the entire trip skiing. but that's just me.

We have also found reasonable ski condos on www.vrbo.com
abram is offline  
Jan 26th, 2008, 06:57 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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I echo everything that the previous posters have said. For skiing, really give it two days, and take full-day group lessons both days (or sign up for one day, and see how things go for the other day). Most ski resorts have special package deals for first-time skiiers (sometimes called "never-evers"), so that will help with the costs. The instructors, at all resorts, are very good at getting people up on skis and down the hills with a maximum of enjoyment. Also, if you're in a lesson, you get to skip the lift lines, and in the middle of the spring break season, that's a very desirable thing to do.

Staying close to I-70, I would suggest Breckenridge (9 miles south of I-70) or Copper (right off the highway. Vail is expensive. For either Breck or Copper, you can look for places to stay there, or in Frisco, Silverthorne or Dillon. Use vbro to keep the costs down. Loveland would be cheaper, but it's at a much higher altitude, and tends to be colder and windier than the other resorts. Check out mileage to Winter Park on mapquest; you may decide that it's worth doing. It will be cheaper, as will be lodging in the area (I assume; I've never spent the night in the area). Also near Winter Park is a large and beautiful cross-country center/resort called Devil's Thumb.


Also in that area, you can go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing through beautiful scenary. (Just as you can do in RMNP)

I don't know if Pike's Peak is open in March, either (that snow issue again).
Lexma90 is offline  
Jan 26th, 2008, 07:16 PM
Join Date: Nov 2006
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tekwriter, that was a pretty weak jump. You are correct, of course, IF they were interested in winter sports - snowshoeing, hiking, etc., but I sense that they are not prepared for that. Obviously they have little knowledge of the terrain or climate at that time of year. But if they want to drive by, poke here, and look there. That is fine. I think they should try cross country skiing instead of downhill because it is cheaper, easier, and quicker for a short time. And almost no crowds.

Will wait for Ski..Camper's response to these suggestions.
fmpden is offline  
Jan 28th, 2008, 06:04 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 4
Dear Friends,

Our plan changed drastically over the weekend. We’re now planning to come to Colorado in mid-May(family visiting). Spring Break will be something local in Texas (more camping maybe). However, reading over the responses earlier, it seems a summer vacation in Colorado means gardens, RMNP, rafting, camping, scenic driving through Trail Ridge/Peak’s Pike, etc. all can be enjoyed without too much special gear. Of course, we’ll miss out on skiing, but I’ve decided to look at the brighter side of things this year. So I’m looking fwd to May already….

Thanks for the suggestions and I will stay in touch with this forum. BTW, this was my first post - it is encouraging to see so many enthusiastic people on this forum who give gr8 suggestions. Cheers!
Ski_Camper is offline  
Jan 28th, 2008, 06:33 AM
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Hi Ski_Camper....Keep in mind that mid-May still isn't summertime in the Rockies. Trail Ridge Road usually doesn't open until Memorial Day and I believe the same for Pike's Peak - there is still an incredible amount of snow on the higher elevations. There can even be snowfall in the lower elevations too, so if you're camping, make sure to take your winter gear. Rafting is available, though, and early season runs are high and fast. That is a great time of year to see places in the southwest like Mesa Verde and Moab - much cooler than summer and not nearly as crowded.
tekwriter is offline  
Jan 28th, 2008, 07:23 AM
Join Date: Nov 2006
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Ski ---- don't misjudge our weather. Spring does not hit the mountains unto June. Trail Ridge Road will NOT be open prior to Memorial Day weekend. In the past 25 years I can remember only one time that it was opened the week prior. And there has been a number of years when it was opened by Memorial Day only to be closed the following week. Rafting will be a possibility but not a great one in mid-May. It will depend on a early Spring with early run off. Second, you will need to rent full wet suits as it will be cold. And could be very cold. Mid May is also the height of what we call the mud season. If we have an early spring with lots of run off, the mountain hiking trails can be very soggy.

Don't mean to be discouraging, but you need a realistic picture. If you have family here, check with them.
fmpden is offline  
Jan 29th, 2008, 07:03 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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If you have the time in Colorado Springs, I highly recommend a drive through Garden of the Gods.
beanweb24 is offline  
Jan 29th, 2008, 11:17 AM
Join Date: Aug 2004
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Pikes Peak highway may be iffy, depending on how much snow, but should be open in May. A good alternative is the cog railway ride to the top. (Note that while the cog used to be closed all winter, they have now started running year-round weather permitting. A nice addition given it was rare to see any amount of snow before.)

Skiing will depend a lot on the snow. You're a beginner and the easier runs lower down the mountain tend to melt off first. And even if there is a good base, warm sunny weather tends to make them icy. I'm not suggesting you give up the idea of skiing, just pointing out you shouldn't judge too harshly since conditions may not be optimal. I concur with the idea above about taking lessons. Even the half day ones are beneficial if you don't want to be in class all day.

Frisco and Dillon are both nice central locations to stay. They're right on a very pretty lake which is lovely either when open water or when largely covered in snow. They're less crowded than the ski resorts and a bit cheaper. Keystone, Breckeridge and Copper Mountain are easy drives of under half an hour each.
sundown is offline  
Mar 7th, 2008, 12:52 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 4
We are now planning to take an RV-camping trip through California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah May 21 through 28. After weighing in on how dicey the weather might be in Colorado at the time, I'm thinking national parks in CA, AZ, UT are a safer bet, besides our parents weren't going to love any piece of skiing. Overall, it seems what Colorado has to offer at this time of the year is rather cold and adventurous for our parents.

Anyone here has had great RV experience or suggestions for going through Zion, Grand Canyon, Tahoe, Sequoia, Yosemite national parks?
Ski_Camper is offline  

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