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panpeter May 29th, 2013 12:01 PM

Three day colorado summer trip (Denver-RMNP, Colorado springs)
Hi all,

I (28 yrs) and my wife are planning a 3 day trip to Colorado in third week of June. We are from the south coast and this is our first visit to a mountain state. Thus we are planning to do more sight scenes and take some good pictures as both of us are doing some semi-pro photography. So we are OK with a little bit busy itinerary.

We'll be arriving at Denver Int'l airport around 8.00 am. planning to drive to Colorado springs via I25 and going to spend rest of the day at CS. activities planed for the day are, ride pikes peak cog rail, garden of the gods, and visit manitou cliff dwellings.

For the second day we are planning to visit royal gorge area in the morning, Then after the lunch we'll be heading back to Denver. Plan is to take the loop, Cañon City --> salida (US 50) --> Leadville (US 24) --> Breckenridge (SH 9)--> Fairplay --> Denver via US285.

For the third day we are planning to visit RMNP, hike in Bear lake and spraque lake area and drive Trail ridge road.

Any recommendations/suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you...!!!

Bitter May 29th, 2013 01:16 PM

Some comments based on some research for a similar trip:

Round trip on the Pikes Peak cog appears to be 3 hours-ish, and I think requires reservations (though there appears to be stand by). That will take up a chunk of your day, particularly after arriving and driving from D.

Consider Cave of the Winds instead of the cliff dwellings. The cave is neat, though the last time I went through the script was awful (bad jokes).

The gorge gets really mixed reviews. Apparently it is expensive for what it is.

Considering just stopping in Breck for a couple days and enjoying the mountains in and around there, instead of going back to Denver right away. But know that returning to D on a sunday from Breck can be an lengthy ordeal (I don't know when you depart).

WhereAreWe May 29th, 2013 01:28 PM

Royal Gorge is a bit of a tourist trap.

If you want to get the good early morning and late evening light you will have to be at your destination(s) at those times. I would not drive back to Denver on day 2, instead head to Estes Park so you can get an early start on day 3.

Besides the better lighting conditions, there is road construction on Bear Lake Road. If you arrive after 9 am you will have to park and take the shuttle to access Sprague and Bear Lake. With only one day, you don't want to waste time waiting on a shuttle.

Gretchen May 29th, 2013 01:39 PM

To me there are much prettier parts of the CO mountains than CO Springs. I find Manitou Springs itself a big souvenir shop. There is no need to go back to Denver to access the Park on the third day. Stay in breck, and then access the Park from the western entrance.

Nelson May 29th, 2013 02:23 PM

I've also heard Royal Gorge is a tourist trip. Have a look at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, see if that rings your bell. I'm into photography and really loved it there, about the same time of year.

Agree with Gretchen and WhereWeAre about driving to Denver day 2, no need, a waste of good mountain time.

Consider spending that night in Grand Lake. This will put you in the Kawuneeche Valley of RMNP early in the morning. Presuming a clear sky, the sun will be shining on the Never Summer Range, which should still have a lot of snow. There is an excellent chance of having moose or elk for the foreground subject. Then you have all day to enjoy a leisurely drive over spectacular Trail Ridge Road and get in a hike.

My current Fodors profile photo was taken in RMNP also about this time of year, so good luck!

Have a great trip.

panpeter May 29th, 2013 04:22 PM

Even I read lot of bad reviews about royal gorge, stating it's a ripoff. We actually thought to have just a sneak peek in to the canyon and and the bridge without spending any time or $ at the amusement park. So if we drop it off from our itinerary what would be the other best options for day 2? Actually we are planing to take the best possible (within 1/2 - 3/4 day) scenic route from colorado springs to RMNP and came up with the above route via canon city after reading some Colorado forums and some trip reports. Still am a little hesitant whether it's the best route that we can take to have best views along the way. any suggestions?

Thanks for the cave of winds idea Bitter. We thought to skip it this time, since we already visited some other caverns before (mammoth, natural bridge). Thanks for the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument idea Nelson. Thanks for the heads up about construction WhereAreWe. Thanks for the breck idea gretchen. I read driving along 285 from fairplay to denver is worth the time, thus we thought to stretch the 2nd day drive to denver instead of stooping in a midway city.

Hez May 29th, 2013 07:04 PM

Royal Gorge not worth your short time. The drive there is not interesting enough to warrant it.

Driving 285 from Fairplay to Denver is definitely not worth staying overnight in the mountains. You say a 'midway city' - I think you might not appreciate the beauty and quaintness of towns like Breckenridge.

Florissant is cool.

If you're ok with a fair bit of driving on that second day consider driving up Independence Pass. Here's a map...

Driving from Breckenridge to RMNP through Winter Park is really a lovely way to go. That will take you over Trail Ridge Road - with Bear Lake being on the other side.

If you have time on your way from RMNP back to the airport consider a stop in Boulder. We have some amazing restaurants!

WhereAreWe May 29th, 2013 08:17 PM

The issues with staying overnight on the west side and entering RMNP in the morning are: 1) the wow photo ops are on the east side and you'll miss the best light by the time you get there and 2) OP needs to avoid using the park shuttle to access Bear Lake since they have only a day in the park. They almost certainly won't make the 9am cutoff time if they start from Grand Lake or Breckenridge in the morning.

A relatively simple fix is to do your trip in reverse order - stop off in Boulder on your way, then make a stop at the Wild Basin section of RMNP. Then head to Bear Lake after 4pm so you can drive yourself. Stay in Estes overnight, get up early to catch the alpenglow and sunrise shots at either Sprague or Bear Lake, then drive over Trail Ridge Road to the west side.

From there, make the drive to CO Springs however you want to go. Florrisant would be a good spot to explore if you can make it there in time. It closes at 6pm.

Skip Royal Gorge altogether. You can't see into the gorge and cross the bridge without spending some money and it just isn't worth the time or money. Black Canyon of the Gunnison is far more impressive but way out of the way.

Gretchen May 30th, 2013 03:20 AM

The reverse route makes a lot of sense to me for more reasons than "chasing the light". They may get captivated by the Park and the mountains and not bother with CO Springs. LOL

Nelson May 30th, 2013 06:07 AM

Another vote for WhereWeAre's suggestion of reversing the route - that's perfect.

However, rest assured there are wow photo ops on the west side as well!

Depending on your timing, the hike to do at Bear Lake is the Bear- Alberta Falls -Lake Haiyaha - Dream - Bear loop. If you time throw in the side trip to Mills Lake. My wife and I have often done this in summer with a late afternoon start, weather permitting. See here:

Tabernash2 May 30th, 2013 09:13 AM

Way too much drive-by sightseeing. You only have three days. Slow down and enjoy one mountain area. Minimize your driving. Minimize the pollution and congestion you would add to the summertime tourist crush.

PS. I agree with Gretchen about skipping Colorado Springs.

panpeter May 30th, 2013 01:43 PM

Thank you very much all for your valuable suggestions.

HeZ, we really love to explore and gaze the beauties of the delightful small towns. But, with the small time that we have, we decided just to focus n RMNP and some attractions in springs area.

Thanks WhereAreWe for the great suggestion. Actually the initial route is planned accordingly to our return flight (from DIA n 3rd day late night). Anyway your suggestion make more sense, and seems doable if we leave springs bit early on last day.

Thanks nelson for the suggestion. sure, we are looking for one or two little hikes. thanks gretchen and tabernash2.

Gretchen May 30th, 2013 05:17 PM

Still wedded to the Springs?!!! Think about it--REALLY. Do the reverse thing. It is SO SO much better.

Hez May 30th, 2013 05:41 PM

Ummm - you were choosing to drive back to Denver via 285, rather than stay in the mountains - not sure what that has to do with you focusing on RMNP & the Springs.

I agree with others, reverse your route, spend more time in the mountains, and skip Colorado Springs - but I've only lived here for 8 years, what do I know.

Nelson May 30th, 2013 06:55 PM

I think panpeter is considering WhereWeAre's idea: "<i>Thanks WhereAreWe for the great suggestion ... Anyway your suggestion make more sense, and seems doable if we leave springs bit early on last day.</i>"

The only negative is that they are saving the worst for last, but that's minor.

panpeter, if you decide you can't hike the Lake Haiyaha loop due to time then just go to Mills Lake. There is a safe and easy shortcut return from there I can describe if you are interested. Saves at least 20 minutes.

The second short hike in the area could be Sprague Lake, as you know. But also consider Hallowell Park or Cub Lake. Both of these are excellent for wildlife in the evening. Just head out on either of those trails and turn around when you've had enough.

Have a great trip. June is a beautiful month here.

Tabernash2 May 31st, 2013 07:01 AM

There is so much to see and do in Colorado, but many people get fixated on Colorado Springs and RMNP. Neither would be my choice, BTW.

With 3 days, flying in and out of Denver, I suggest you go to one place or the other, if you are set on those two.

wave725 May 31st, 2013 10:33 AM

Ditton on WhereWeAre's suggestion about stay on the east side to get great photos of Sprague Lake and Bear Lake. You really need to get to Sprague Lake at sunrise for the best photos:


During your drive across Trail Ridge Road, stop at the Tundra Communities Trail for interesting photos of the Mushroom Rocks.


panpeter May 31st, 2013 11:22 AM

OK, we've decided to do the reverse trip (thanks WhereAreWe) and spend more time at RMNP. Let's see how it'll turn.

Nelson, how long will it take to hike the whole Lake Haiyaha loop? am thinking of doing it n the morning.

You might be correct Tabernash2, but if you are like many people, you probably do not want to go with high risk options. When it comes to traveling, if the place you are visiting is an alien place to you, you will always try to follow other people suggestions and recommendations unless you're an adventurous traveler. there are lot you can find about RMNP or springs before you travel there, so you know what to expect, but most other places are like hidden gems. that's why many people fixated to RMNP or springs.

panpeter May 31st, 2013 11:27 AM

Thanks Wave725, I was planing to get to Sprague lake at the sunset and bear lake at sunrise.

Tabernash2 May 31st, 2013 12:01 PM

You haven't heard of Breckenridge, Winter Park, Steamboat Springs, Aspen, Vail. . .?

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