Actually, I’m getting ahead of myself just a bit. Because while Noah and I left Vail bright and early in the morning on Saturday with the intention of heading to Estes Park, a small town just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park where lots of hikers choose to stay, we instead wound up driving everywhere in between Point A and Point B, with lots of fun stops along the way.
Loveland Pass is a sky-high mountain pass that rises 11,990 ft. above sea level in central Colorado. It also happened to be right on the way to our second destination of the trip; cars can choose the 8-mile or so route above and over the mountain as an alternative to the tunnel below.
Unable to pass up the chance for awesome views, Noah and I obviously chose to take Loveland Pass en route to Estes Park. Once at the top, we parked along with around 20 other tourists and locals, and hiked uphill for about 10 minutes or so.
The views were pretty awesome.
Per usual, I attempted a headstand which, due to extreme wind and the inability to breathe that high up, never actually happened. But I got close. (Don’t worry, I’d master the mid-hike headstand several other times over the next 48 hours.)
From Loveland Pass, we continued on to Boulder so that we could check out a little eatery called Lucile’s. There’s a few different Lucile’s around Colorado, but this one was recommended by my brother.
The drive to Boulder was longer than expected, and by the time we got there, we were pretty much starved — especially after 48 hours of constant movement. Lucile’s turned out to be an awesome restaurant with Creole-style food — think New Orleans meets western U.S.A.
Noah ordered a hefty grilled cheese with bacon. I, on the other hand, went lighter (as usual) with what turned out to be a delicious salad of roasted mushrooms, greens, walnuts, feta and avocado. Colorado is teeming with avocado. Reason No. 1239429370 I belong there.
After breakfast, I went on to fall head over heels in love with Boulder. It’s a completely hippie town that manages to maintain a somewhat urban feel, except without the tall buildings and, for lack of a better word, stink of New York City. Noah and I surveyed the area, perusing the goods at the local farmers’ market…
…checking out the river that runs through town (I repeat: the river that runs through town)…
…and walking through a much smaller Central Park.
If I suddenly go missing, you’ll likely be able to find me in Boulder. Leaving was difficult to do.
From Boulder, we still had two more stops to go until we’d arrive in Estes Park.
Ceran St. Vrain
After chowing down on brunch, Noah and I decided we needed a short and fun hike, and so we pulled out the iPhone and located an easy path that’s just under 4 miles and is one of the few trails that follows a creek basically the entire time. The St. Vrain creek is incredibly peaceful, with tons of different types of flowers and trees and animals to keep your eyeballs more than occupied along the way.
Some of the trees seemed to never end.
Of course, a solid hike called for a thirst-quenching beer, so the next stop took us to seek out a brewery serving up awesome cans — yes, cans — of local brew.
Oskar Blues Brewery
Have you ever heard of or drank a Dale’s Pale Ale? I’d had a few of them before visiting this Longmont based brewery (don’t be fooled; it is no longer in Lyons, despite what Google tells you). And I love them. So it made sense for Noah and I to stop by the place where the magic happens — where it begins.
Oskar Blues is an awesome brewery if you happen to be in the area. I definitely suggest stopping by to take a tour, grab a sampler, and kick back with a can of peanuts. Dale’s loves cans.
Finally, it was time to drive the final 40 minutes to Estes Park.
Estes Park, A Mountain Valley Home B&B
First off, the drive into Estes Park, a small town just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park, is lovely, especially around sunset.
By the time we rolled into this small hiking town, Noah and I were pooped. All we really had energy for was to grab dinner at the Rock Inn Mountain Tavern (which served up delicious yet simple home-cooked meal; think elk meatballs, etc.) and pass out by 9:30 at the bed and breakfast we called home: A Mountain Valley B&B. Of course, 10 hours later, we woke up with endless energy and the craving for an epic hike. And so and epic hike we would take.
Since returning from our trip to Colorado, I’ve tried to describe the hike to Chasm Lake several different times and to several different people, and yet I’ve found myself completely unable to articulate the beauty and difficulty of that 4-5 hour journey.
The Chasm Lake trail was described as moderate to strenuous, which is true. While much of the uphill first-half is tiring, it’s not particularly difficult if you can handle a 2,000+ ft. incline. The trail takes you through woods and trees and streams; you pass the Goblin Forest (no need to tell me twice not to go down that path) and myriad plants and flowers.
The hike gets tough around 11,000 feet as you emerge from above the tree line. The air, too thin to breathe comfortably at first, adds an additional challenge. For most of the hike, we followed and kept up with a badass middle-aged man from Indiana; as he put it, he kept trying to get away from us New York folk, but we just kept tailing him quietly. Apparently, Noah and I were in pretty dang good shape to muster such an ascent at such a pace.
At the Chasm Lake – East Longs Peak trail split, we continued on to the former; for those of you who have never traversed the Rocky Mountain National Park trails, Longs Peak is a 15-mile hike that typically requires a night in a tent, that is, if you can bear the 50 mph winds. Not for me.
Instead, we veered toward Chasm Lake. From where we were, we had only .7 miles to go, but it would be the most difficult leg of the trek, winding around a thin mountainside trail, emerging in a lush, wet marsh, and ending with a rock scramble that emerges atop the glassy lake itself. Tough, yes. Worth it, well, there’s no question about that.
After eating lunch with a view of this…
…we made the 4.2-mile journey back to the bottom of the mountain and drove straight to Dairy Queen to reward our efforts by sharing a medium vanilla blizzard with Oreo, cookie dough and rainbow sprinkles. Best. Decision. Ever.
Needless to say, that was about all we had energy for that during that 24-hour period, and so the rest of the day consisted of an epic nap, a glass of wine, a lovely final meal at the Twin Owls Steakhouse (a non-fancy steakhouse with mountain views inside a log cabin), and a 9 p.m. bedtime. The UV rays had burned the crap out of me while hiking above the tree line, and the burn caused me to feel feverish pretty early on. By the time I woke up, I felt better, but in the future I’ll definitely be sure to wear my long-sleeved shirt for the duration of the hike.
Because our flight wasn’t until 5 on Monday evening, we were fortunate enough to be able to squeeze one final hike in after breakfast. After Sunday’s insanity, we decided to take it easy, choosing a hike that could only be described as difficult for the altitude at which it began: 11,466 ft. above sea level to be exact.
The Ute Trail is quiet and tranquil, with few hikers probably due to the finicky nature of the weather (flash lightening storms, what?) and the fact that it’s relatively easy. There are wildflowers everywhere from beginning to end.
The entire trail is only 4.4 miles long, and i can’t image we had more than 500 ft. in elevation change from start to finish. While the slight hills definitely left me breathless, I think it was more due to the heights at which we were climbing and not the difficulty of the ascents.
With flat land and minor winds, of course, I decided to turn my world upside down if only for one final moment of clarity during my time in Colorado.
So, there you have it. My trip to Colorado was eye-opening to say the least. In fact, I can honestly say that I’ve never been somewhere other than New York where I was so upset to leave. By the time I returned to the city I call home, I was pretty unexcited to be there.
New York has a lot to offer, and if I had to choose any major city, I can pretty confidently say that this would absolutely be it. Colorado showed me that there are other ways to live though — much simpler ways that can make you feel equally alive. This is something I’ve been thinking about since I’ve returned, and I’m not sure what conclusions I’ve made or will come to make from here. All I know is that I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to experience something so breathtaking and so uplifting — something that would leave an indelible impression on my being in such a short amount of time. I already can’t wait to return.