You may have heard this one before in pretentious travel circles or general travel-related chit chat: “come for the winter, stay for the summer.” Yup, you guessed it – they are talking about Russia – pack your bags comrades! Ok, ok – fake news again, sorry. No, this is usually what you’ll hear about good old Colorado, right here in the U.S. of A. But, after many years of hearing this saying (and ignoring it for no real reason) I finally thought I should see it for myself. Oh shit, I mean, “ourselves”! I almost forgot that I have a little travel companion who bravely (semi-bravely) goes along with most travel plans I throw at her. So, with 4th of July on a Tuesday, it seemed like the right time to pull off a week of exploring summertime Colorado with the ever-entertaining bundle of strangely dressed joy that is TheMidsis. We had just six days to explore what Colorado summer is like so we decided time was of the essence. We flew our asses in and out of Denver and rented a car for the week – a mini road trip I guess you’d call it. Note: the real road trip MVP statuette firmly belongs to our friend Maggie McBride after her latest post. We cheated just a little bit and, on an early Sunday morning, we flew out of Midway and were on the road in Denver by 10am in a Jeep Compass rental (Hotwire.com) heading west.
A: I was currently on very little sleep about to drive us a couple hours through mountains and shit, so I tasked my first mate to find an interesting/good coffee place on the outskirts of Denver. She came up with Huckleberry Roasters which was right off the highway and right on the way. It turns out she did something even more incredible as she picked a place that sold slightly fancier, adult versions of the wild-berry pop-tarts I scarfed down relentlessly in my youth. I inquired about what I saw in the display case and the man behind the counter (who was extremely high) took a minute before he blankly and simply described it as….. a blueberry scone. I promise you it was much more than that and, at that moment, about ten minutes into our trip, I proclaimed this blue chunk of awesomeness as one of the top five sweet things I’ve ever eaten in my life. And I wasn’t even high.
A: The drive towards Vail-Eagle can be pretty damn stressful in winter but, in summer, I found it really incredible and peaceful. Endless layers of mountains and trees lay ahead of us and in almost every direction as we winded our way west. It was much better than total white-outs of snow and not knowing what the hell is what as you are going 70mph. Riding along various drop-off cliffs seemed much less daunting than previous experiences. Still, TheMidsis was a little shaken when she saw the runaway truck lanes along I-70 and that one particular truck needed such a ramp and was now elevated up on the mountain seemingly because its brakes went out. Luckily, our Jeep Compass held up for the two hours it took to get to our first stop, Vail.
L: First off, major kudos to the pilot of our Jeep Compass for getting our asses safely from one spot to the next during our Colorado road trip. This destination, specifically during the summer, has been on his travel bucket list for some time now, so it was a huge thrill for me to see him checking some of those boxes off. Once we decided this trip was a go, we thought it’d be a great idea to visit my college friend, Liz. Go DePaul! She and her beautiful family of four. two dogs and a cat live in Eagle, so we thought we’d spend some quality time with her and her Colorado gang. First, we rolled into Vail and stopped at the local farmer’s market. If I could suggest two things you should have when there, it’s easy: potato chips on a stick and the smoked salmon tacos. Holy sh*t! Those tacos were seriously mind blowing.
Now, we knew we would be consuming a ton on this trip so we asked our hosts if they’d be up for a hike. Seven miles and three hours later, we officially finished one of our longest hikes yet. Right near a little town called Fulford, you will find the trek to Nolan Lake. Pack yourself a light lunch and trail mix and you will see one of the coolest hidden lakes to be explored. Hiking tip from our leader, Patrick, Liz’s husband: while out on adventures, if you smell a musky scent, it’s not uncommon for elk to be in the area, know that one isn’t too far away from ya. How cool is that?!
We decided to stick around in the Vail/Avon/Beaver Creek area for the Fourth and get extra-patriotic this year. We hit up the Fourth of July Parade in Vail along with 10th Mountain Whiskey and Spirit. A must-stop for real good drinks and great music. And, what’s Independence Day without a bunch of sh*t blowing up sky high?! We enjoyed a ton of fireworks in both Avon and Beaver Creek. Avon has quite the reputation for amazing fireworks, however, we’re not certain if it was due to the edibles or not, but we both agreed that Beaver Creek’s blew Avon’s firework show out of the water. BC for the win! And then, there is what we like to call the Vail Trifecta – Vail Brewing Co., Native Roots and Rocky Mountain Taco. Delicious craft beer, a bad ass marijuana dispensary and a taco truck all in one stop, what more can you ask for!?
A: This day will forever be burned into my memory. We woke up early for the roughly ninety minute drive down to Buena Vista, where we would join up with American Adventure Expeditions for a full day rafting down the Arkansas River through Browns Canyon. It was an insanely scenic drive and I wish we could’ve taken some pics, but we had to be checked in and ready since we had no idea what we were in for.
I have been wanting to a whitewater raft forever and today was the day. As for Lauren, well, I’m not so sure it was on any of her lists. She tends to get fairly freaked out by the instructional videos and speeches discussing the worst-case scenarios that are the precursors to any slightly-adventurous activity that has an element of danger. You know, simulations of boats flipping over and tourists left washing down the river like rag dolls over humongous rocks. Let’s not forget to mention hypothermia, as even the 90 degree heat is no match for the 40 degree water temp–talk about shrinkage… If they showed alligators jumping out of the water snatching rafters out of the boat, poor little Lauren surely would have wet herself. But, we quickly realized that this particular outfit was very well-prepared, especially our main man, Tyler. He grew up rafting and was extremely careful, but also made it very fun for those of us who had no clue what we were doing. And by those of us, I mean people from Illinois as we randomly got matched up on a boat with a family from Elmhurst. Tyler threw my little adrenaline junkie and me in the front row which, from what we heard, was the best place to be. At first, Lauren thought this the equivalent of being thrown out of a plane without a parachute. It took about ten minutes for her whole demeanor to change. Browns Canyon was declared a national monument by President Obama in 2015 and we immediately saw why. It seemed like something out of a movie and by that I mean it legit looked fake. I assure you there was nothing fake about it. The granite walls of the canyon changed around us constantly in shape and color, as did the river itself. Just as we were in awe about one section we were floating through, Tyler would yell at us to paddle through some rapids and then, sooner or later, we would find ourselves in yet another stretch that looked completely different and amazing. When I looked over and saw Lauren’s giddy little face, I knew that she was very happy we did this and that just made it all the better. Soon enough, the little punk was demanding to know how far and how big the next rapids were. Hell, even the eight-year-old from Elmhurst turned into a little Johnny Utah asking if there were even bigger rapids up ahead. It was just awesome. When it was all over, I was thinking to myself, “wow, when and where else can we do this again?” We had just experienced class 3 rapids (out of 6 classes) and Midsis and I naturally wondered what classes 4 or 5 were like. I think we both mentally added another rafting trip onto “the list” for some day in the future.
L: Hi again, it’s me, Lauren, the adrenaline-seeking junkie! Side note: at one point while rafting, we pulled our boats onto the riverbank, climbed up some cliff and jumped off about twenty feet into the freezing cold Arkansas River. Talk about energizing! Even though I almost froze my nips off, I felt so alive! I suggest you take the plunge if you ever get the chance. After we settled up at the rafting company, we were back on the road and headed for our next stop, Leadville. I did some social media outreach before we left Chicago and enough folks mentioned this old-ass mining town that I thought it would be a worthy stop. And, I am happy to say that I would pass along the same recommendation. This town is a doozy! There is so much vintage character to Leadville, it’s no wonder everyone tells you to go there. Not to mention, it is for sure haunted, so that automatically ups the liking factor for me. We had enough time to roam around for a bit and grab a beer at a local brewery. Had we had an extra night, I would have definitely stayed the night in the local hotel which is known to have special visitors…if you catch my drift. The colors and personality of Leadville are a must-see.
A: After Leadville, we decided to stay in Breckenridge for the night as it was only a short drive from there, not haunted, and on the way back up north. I had been to Breckenridge once before, many years ago in winter. The most memorable thing from that trip was being practically snowed into our condo, on ‘shrooms, during the Final Four. It was awesome, but I couldn’t tell you one thing about the actual town. Well, we checked into our one-night Airbnb, which was perched up in the mountains just outside the main strip. The views, as advertised, were ridiculous. We settled in and made our way to the town to explore and eat something good. It was as if I had never been here before at all. Was this the same place? Man those ‘shrooms were good… Yes, it’s a little cookie-cutter, but so are a lot of ski towns. To me it seemed a little less cookie-cutter than Vail, though and had a totally different feel. A lot of stores and a good amount of bars/restaurants to choose from, all within quick walking distance and it was hard to escape the spectacular view of the mountains looming over the whole town. As the sun set over the mountains, the colors in the sky turned crazy colors of pink and purple. Any picture I tried to take didn’t do it justice. We took it in and then, as I felt Lauren start to pass away from starvation, we had a great dinner at this place Twist and capped the night off at Breckenridge Brewery.
L: When I told friends that we were going to Boulder, the response was typically, “you are going to looooooooove Boulder.” After spending a couple days there, it is confirmed that I do, in fact, loooooooove Boulder. I think it’s fair to say that we both loved it and would have enjoyed another two days or so to eat and hike our way through it. Yes, Pearl St. is the place to walk and explore, shop and sip, but there is an abundance to be done in this cute, little college town, not to mention the surrounding areas. Some places we loved included the Hotel Boulderado, Blackbelly Market, Bramble and Hare, and The Bitter Bar. Getting around was easy as our Airbnb was amongst the houses off the main strip that are quaint and explode with personality.
When it came time for a hike around Boulder, we debated between Chautauqua Park or Eldorado Canyon and finally chose the latter. Wow, no regrets there. If you are in Boulder, find yourself in Boulder or plan to be in Boulder, DO THIS HIKE because it was incredible! Eldorado Springs is less than a twenty minutes drive and is like another world. Every which way you turn, your mind is blown by the majestic beauty all around you. Anthony was obsessed with the train that literally coasted along the side of the mountain and thru it as well. The end view? Well, I’ll let the photos do the talking. We knew we had to end the day with one last adventure, so we got to thinking.
This may come as a surprise, but Anthony and I both love us some delicious wine. Well, wouldn’t you know that some sweet soul on Instagram directed us to North Boulder where we would find some wineries. Not knowing what to expect, we found ourselves in a sort of strip-mall area and, sure enough, wine was being tasted. We are not snobby wine types (at least we don’t think so!), so this setting did not deter us at all. I’m glad it didn’t as Colorado vino is no joke – Bookcliff and Settembre wineries for the win! Both offered delicious and totally different tastings and a couple bottles even made it back to Chicago with us. Whatever you do, do not pass up Boudler’s Saturday farmer’s market either. WOW. The peaches, paella and produce, oh my! We took a tip and will pass it along: get there early enough, because the peaches will, and did, sell out. And, you do not want to miss out on those. We took a walk down to the creek where people were hanging out and even rafting down it. We took in this wonderful place one last time and, before we knew it, the time came for us to head back to the Denver Airport for our afternoon flight back home.
L: All in all, this mini-road trip was a huge success and an explosion of nature, wine, food and adventure. Exactly what we love most about our trips. I will never forget jumping off that little cliff with Anthony next to me or sitting in a restaurant in Beaver Creek both laughing so hard we actually cried. We have many things in common, but our desire to see and experience the world perhaps is what I love most. If it weren’t for my hiking stick (which I usually find randomly as we begin our hikes), and for my traveling enthusiast husband (which I found randomly in a bar many years ago), I’m not sure I’d be having as much fun in this life. “Grateful” is the word I will use here. I can’t wait until our next adventure as I know one awaits! But, the only question is…..where in the world will it be????
Know of a place we should explore? Drop us some hints in the comments and we’ll start researching!
To follow Anthony’s travels and city adventures on Instagram, go to: @anthciancio
To follow Anthony’s love for signs, go to: @signsofthechi
To follow Lauren’s adventures, go to: @themidsis
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