What do you get if you add 2 girls, 8 days, a Mazda 3, a tent, a mini stove and some mountains?
Well, you get the most epic road trip ever, that’s what, covering 726 miles of the beautiful state of Colorado, cruising through National Parks, up and down mountains and alongside rivers.
I am well and truly still basking in the glory that was this trip, a trip I’d been planning for the last few months. And while it ended up being a slightly different, shorter trip than I’d originally planned, it was by no means any less magical.
We started the trip in Denver, where we picked up our car, a super sporty Mazda 3 Sedan, not quite the road trip vehicle we’d had in mind, but we soon grew to love him, eventually naming him ‘Bertie’ for no particular reason at all (every car needs a name, right?)!
From Denver we headed south to Manitou Springs, where we eventually found a campsite a little outside of the town called ‘Lone Duck Campground’, a great little hideaway with all the amenities you could ask for… if only it wasn’t so close to the highway! We spent the next two days following the advice and suggestions of some friends – we wandered through Manitou, exploring some of the quirky shops and the hippie but slightly ‘Western’ vibe it had going on, visited the Garden of the Gods to marvel at the enormous red rocks that stretched high into the sky above our heads, and rode the cog railway up to the summit of Pikes Peak, an incredible journey that took us up to 14,114 foot, above the clouds, to what felt like the top of the world.
After two nights in our little tent, we packed up and headed West, then North to a place called Twin Lakes, where we found a beautiful (and free) campsite, right next to the water. We couldn’t quite believe our luck! After a bit of a kerfuffle when we accidentally pitched our tent in a spot someone else had apparently saved (by putting wood there… how were we supposed to know it hadn’t just been left behind?), we finally got settled in a spot next to a lovely family who invited us to join them around their campfire. It was VERY cold that night, so the fire was a welcome source of warmth until we could snuggle down into our sleeping bags, at the very late time of 8:40pm. The early nights were one of my favourite things about this trip… going to sleep and waking up with the setting and rising sun is something I don’t often do, and it was actually really nice to just let my body adjust to the natural order of things.
From Twin Lakes we headed further west, through Aspen (where there are some crazy, gorgeous houses) to Glenwood Springs, a place known for its hot springs. On the way we drove up and down some pretty mental mountains and along the Independence Pass, where we crossed the Continental Divide, which provided us with some absolutely stunning views! We arrived at Glenwood Springs and eventually found a campsite (Ami’s Acres Campground) – it was a little too close to the highway for my liking (i.e. it was mega noisy), but it was nice enough, and was convenient for our next day’s plans, which included a hike along the Hanging Lake Trail and a visit to Iron Mountain Hot Springs.
Hanging Lake was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. The hike was rocky and fairly steep in parts, but we made it to the top in abouat 45 minutes (and in our Chacos, although some guy called them flip flops haha), and were rewarded first with a rushing mass of water, cascading down towards us from above, and then the lake itself, with its clear, glassy waters and surrounding greenery making me feel like I was in some magical, mystery land. After our epic hike, it was time to relax at the hot springs, where we enjoyed a couple of hours in the hot pools, looking out over the river, followed by a much needed, and quite luxurious, shower.
Our next drive took us North to a place called Lake Granby. We decided we didn’t want to follow our (not so trusty) GPS and instead took the scenic route, following the Colorado River along a gravel road that wound its way through the mountains. We set up camp at Stillwater campground, a beautiful place right on the lake, pitching our tent twice as the first spot we chose was just wayyyyy too windy for our little tent to withstand. Once we finally had ourselves sorted, we set our water boiling (no easy task when it’s windy!) and just sat facing the water and the mountain, reading and chatting. Every so often I would look up and just be in awe of my surroundings… that happened a lot on this trip, and I would just have to stop and look around and take it all in.
That night was crazy windy, and I woke up multiple times thinking the tent was going to cave in… there was a moment at about 7:30am when there was a HUGE gust of wind and we both leapt out of the tent and took it down in about 3 seconds flat, without really even saying a word to each other. Definitely one of those ‘it wasn’t funny then but it’s pretty funny now’ moments.
After packing up it was time to get on the road again – we drove up to Grand Lake where we went on a hike to Adam’s Falls and then beyond, walking along the trail, following the water, until we didn’t want to walk anymore. On the way we walked right by a family of deer, who seemed totally unphased by our presence, even as we just stood there and watched them for a while.
The next part of our drive was absolutely stunning. We drove all the way through Rocky Mountain National Park, taking in the views and the trees and the nature. And then we saw a moose. A MOOSE! It was insane. We were driving along and there he was, right next to a very convenient lay-by. A moose, just playing in the water. We were one of the first cars to stop, and by the time we dragged ourselves away from this marvellous creature, there was a line of cars, all just stopped in the road to catch a glimpse. I feel so incredibly lucky to have seen this animal in the wild, to have been able to watch as he went about his day. It’s something I’ll never forget.
That night we stayed at Olive Ridge, a National Forest Campsite – the only one on our whole trip that hadn’t been closed! It was very basic but exactly what I’d imagined it would be, right in the middle of the woods, surrounded by trees and nature and nothing else. It was still and quiet and empty, and that night, as I was going to sleep, I thought about how very vulnerable you are when you live in a tent in the middle of nowhere. It was quite a humbling realisation.
Our next stop on the trip was Boulder, where we pretty much just wandered up and down Pearl Street Mall, enjoying good food, coffee and civilisation for an afternoon. From what I saw, it was a really cool place, with a vibe I think I could get on with if I were to every stay longer. That night, our last in the tent, it was hard to find a campsite that fit in with our plans, and we ended up at a Fairground Campsite just on the outskirts of Denver – it was honestly one of the most bizarre places I think I’ve ever stayed, right next to a highway and basically in a little wooded area next to a parking lot. So not quite the idyllic places we’d enjoyed previously, but it was super handy for getting into Denver the next day. We cooked our last dinner on our little stove (although by this point we were both kind of done with eating the same thing) and headed for our last night’s sleep in the tent.
Before we knew it, the last full day of our trip was upon us. We headed into Denver, found our AirBnB, dropped our camping stuff off with a friend of a friend and headed downtown. It’s quite strange going to a city when you have absolutely no concept of what the city is like or what there is to do there, but I kind of liked it… we just walked until we found something we wanted to see. That night we went out for sushi, at a place recommended by our host – as much as I genuinely did enjoy cooking our meals and camping out under the stars, it was nice to be out in the ‘real’ world, not cooking in one tiny pot and waiting forever for our water to boil. Back to reality I suppose.
And then that was that. We headed to the airport the next morning, did airport-y things and suddenly it was time to say our goodbyes. To Colorado, and to each other, with me heading back to New York and Jacinta making her way home to Australia. It was very surreal and now, almost a week later, it almost feels like it was all a dream.
A very wonderful, blissful dream; full of beautiful views, hikes, mountain roads, lakes, waterfalls, trees, animals, starry night skies and everything else a camping road trip should be.
Until next time, Colorado.