We had literally come full circle. It had been just two months ago that we were pulling through Colorado Springs on our way to our first destination—the town of Manitou Springs. I had really wanted to stay here in the Springs (as locals refer to the town) at a particular state park that had received outstanding reviews, but as is so often the case with highly rated campgrounds, it was booked up solid. Thus we ended up nearby, with Manitou Springs having enough attractions to keep us occupied and well-satisfied. BUT, clever planner of trips that I am, why not tack it on at the end of our travels? Kids would be heading back to school and campgrounds were mostly left to us retirees (except on weekends, that is). Plenty of good sites to choose from. Worked out just fine! Approaching the end of another epic trip is always a bittersweet time, but with this campground waiting up ahead, our anticipations were far outweighing the sadness of the impending end.
Cheyenne Mountain State Park didn’t disappoint, even in view of my high expectations. One of Colorado’s newest state parks, it is a jewel. Just on the outskirts of The Springs, the park is positioned on the northern flanks of Cheyenne Mountain (yes, THAT mountain of NORAD fame).
With careful consideration when selecting a campsite, you might be fortunate enough to have the mountain rising behind you while the expanse of the Great Plains spreads out before you. It’s the very best of both worlds.
The newness of this park really shows up in its campground. Paved roads and pads, gravel picnic areas and spacious, well-separated sites. And best of all and a rarity as state parks usually go—full hookup sites! Yes, we were in a camper’s 7th Heaven!
Added to all this was the bonus (and it was a BIG one)—a field of sunflowers graced our surroundings! A sight to behold, spreading out below the mountain was a glorious meadow of those yellow beauties!
With everything so good in this most excellent site, we wasted little time making ourselves quite comfortable here. Even though The Springs was temptingly close with all it had to offer, we rarely went far away. Settling in to smell the sunflowers—something we rarely take the time to do.
Have I mentioned the outstanding trail system this park has? Well marked, with a wide diversity of topographies covered, you had your choice of flatland prairies or uphill, more strenuous hikes. A great way to begin the day! Or spend it, for that matter.
But we did venture out for a little outing, to hobnob with the ‘upper crust’.
When the Broadmoor Hotel was built in 1918, Colorado Springs was instantly put on the map—the map of the rich and famous, that is. More of a supply and railroad town in the past, the hotel helped to turn the city into a desired tourist destination. Businessman, entrepreneur and philanthropist Spencer Penrose (who had amassed his considerable wealth from copper mining) bought the property at the base of Cheyenne Mountain in 1916 and began to build the resort two years later. With the intention of having it be the “Grand Dame of the Rockies”, he expected it to be “the finest hotel in the United States.” He employed architects who had designed Ritz-Carlton and Biltmore Hotels, as well as Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of landscape architecture (who designed Central Park) to design the landscape for the Broadmoor’s 3,000 acres. A dismantled English pub was even brought over and reassembled at the resort. The shooting school was run by Annie Oakley. Far Eastern and European artwork and antiques were purchased for the hotel. It cost a total of $2 million to build, which is equivalent to $31,845,133 in 2016.
A short drive from the park, we arrived to have a nice morning tea and scrumptious pastry, and then strolled the well-manicured grounds. Several different buildings plus many smaller units make up the Broadmoor compound.
A nice, paved path nearly a mile around is a great way to stretch your legs while getting a full perspective of this impressive place. It’s quite the grand old lady that’s been well-cared for and obviously updated.
Colorado Springs was the conclusion of our planned trip . . . but we weren’t ready to call it quits. With August nearly over, we felt we could drain at least several more days from this summer’s travels. We thought it sounded reasonable to hang around until Labor Day Weekend–after all, that’s the official end to the summer season. It made good sense to us!
And so, we began improvising . . . something we rarely do. Where to go from here, we wondered. Where could we get a site, seemed the more pertinent question. We got to work with the map spread out.
Just west of the Springs and at a much higher elevation are a handful of forest service campgrounds. With a few sites still available at South Meadows Campground, we quickly snagged one of the largest. A typical FS campsite (read: no hookups or amenities), but a place to hang out over a long weekend, and then we’d move on to one last potentially perfect place.
Best of all, we went back into the mountains. Just west of the Springs, the elevation goes up and the air temperatures go down. Ahhhh, smell that mountain air!
Hang a right hand turn out of the small town of Woodland Park and you’re on the way to a landscape of scenic roads and great Blue Ribbon fishing waters. It’s an area we know well and have begun many of our Colorado adventures here . . . there’s plenty of outdoor activities to choose from. And the camping is pretty darn good too.
South Meadows Campground is just one of a whole handful where the camping is primitive but divine (if you’re interested in more natural but less civilized sardine-packed sites). In a Ponderosa pines forest, the sites are very well spaced and come in a diversity of sizes. You’ll even find some extremely deep ones—fit for the biggest of RV rigs.
And so, we hung out here, just relishing Colorado camping au naturelle. Chris tried his hand at fishing in the nearby scenic lake, while I attempted to catch up on some much delinquent posts. All the while just soaking up an environment soon to be sorely missed. It was among the best three days of our entire trip.
But we did have one last destination remaining ahead–another spontaneous, unscheduled spot. Very popular on weekends, we had been able to reserve a site on Monday, and a scenic drive would take us there.
Designated in 1918, the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway is Colorado’s oldest Scenic Byway. Its curvy road winds its way through national forests, past the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, ending up at Rocky Mountain National Park. Connecting the western flanks of the Front Range, it leads to the peaks along the Continental Divide, from which its namesake is derived. With high mountains bookcasing the drive, the scenery doesn’t get any better than this. Truly a Rocky Mountain High.
Way back when we were first becoming acquainted with the towns and scenic areas of Colorado, I had heard of the town of Golden. Who hasn’t? Being the hometown of Coors Beer. Located just a stone’s throw from I-70, we had passed by its turnoff several times. Positioned on the cusp of the Front Range, it has the Great Plains stretched out on one side while the town is backddropped by the full splendor of the Rockies to the west. Sounds pretty ideal to me. But still, it was one of the few Colorado mountain towns we had yet to set our eyes on. Until now.
Golden Canyon State Park isn’t exactly on the outskirts of its town, yet only 16 scenic miles away. Established in 1960, this 12,000-acre state park is another jewel that IMHO makes a good rival to Cheyenne Mountain. As state parks go, these two easily hold their place near the highest rating. Reverend Ridge Campground is an excellent place to start. What it might lack in full hookups—only electricity is offered on 60 of its 100 sites—it more than compensates for with its layout. Nicely separated and private sites with many being pull-throughs, you’ll feel more a part of the natural setting than you would expect to find in a public campground. We were absolutely amazed at the privacy of our site. Another spot where just hanging out in camp can suffice for your whole time here.
Of course, we did have to leave and take a day trip once or twice. Not having ever passed through the town of Golden, we made that our first outing. And, despite high expectations, it didn’t disappoint. First off, the drive to get there is one incredibly scenic road. Stretching through Golden Gate Canyon, the road is 15 miles of curvy driving while the views are non-stop awe-inspiring.
Golden, Colorado is an authentic Rocky Mountain town. Not duded up or with put-on airs, it’s a genuine pleasant place to visit. With a downtown that’s been renovated to showcase the glories of its past, you’ll find western shops and galleries, mixed in with cafes and coffeehouses, with lots of al fresco eating to go along. All-in-all, a very pleasant place to stroll away your afternoon hours, or just hang out and people watch.
For a change of scenery on the outskirts of town, take a drive up to the summit of Lookout Mountain. Those in better shape or of a different inclination, might choose to bike it up. Whatever mode you choose, the summit is worth your time and effort. The views are nothing short of breathtaking.
With the town spread out below you, the far-reaching views are amazing. The centerpiece of the town is easily seen—Coors Brewery is a massive complex of buildings, the largest single brewery facility in the world.
Before the brewery came along, the views were always there. Standing on this very promontory of the Front Range, the scene before you has always been overwhelming. So much so that when he visited here in his later years, Buffalo Bill Cody declared this was where he wanted to be buried. And so he was. Today, his grave is easily visited, with a museum nearby that commemorates his full and varied life. While it might have some merit to it, after visiting the museum dedicated to him in Cody, Wyoming, it was not all that impressive. Take it from us, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West is the museum you’ll want to be sure to take in. Worth your time and money, for sure!
Aside from that one visit to Golden, we relished our remaining time closer to camp. We spent one day just hiking—over 36 miles of trails spread out on this 12,000-acre park.
Covering a wide diversity of landscapes, you’ll find trails of every length and difficulty. Whatever your spirit is desiring, you’ll find some trail to please you here. We soon discovered that despite the rugged rating, the park trails were laid out well and very easy to follow. You can easily move from the more intimate, closed-in, forest trails to the wide open, long ranging views of mountain peaks. We never got bored hiking these park trails. And so we spent our day.
But then, with our last day here in Golden Canyon, we did leave the park for greater glories. Another asset to this particular park is its proximity to nearby landmark locations. Following that same Peak-to-Peak Scenic Byway, you’ll soon come to the boundary of the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. And that’s a place that can truly get even the most staid and unemotional hiker’s heart beating faster. Indian Peaks is one supremely glorious place to hike the mountain trails. Just as many years ago, we had to take it in.
Lying just to the south of Rocky Mountain National Park, this wilderness area might be overlooked by many who are more attracted to the lure of the national park. But the Indian Peaks can easily hold its own in comparison. Straddling the Continental Divide, the area contains 7 peaks over 13,000’ in elevation. Carved by the glaciers, you’ll find high cirques, U-shaped valleys and numerous pristine alpine lakes within its boundaries. Having the largest glacier remaining today in Colorado, as well as a few other smaller ones, the landscape is pure Colorado beauty. And a place that called me back.
I couldn’t think of a better place to spend our last full day in Colorado. We headed out to Brainard Lake Recreation Area where we would find the trailhead for Lake Isabelle, the place where I’d left a piece of my heart.
First comes the fields of wildflowers, still blooming this late in the summer . . .
. . . and then Lake Isabelle comes into view and those incredible peaks are reflected in shimmering water.
Chris’ MO on our Departure Day has always been “Get UP and GO!” I tend more to the dragging-one’s-feet group. Unless there’s a photo to be had—then it’s a different story. While he did the final packing, I slipped away for one last shot.
The aptly named Panorama Point offers great views of the Indian Peaks along the Continental Divide, stretching up to take in Long’s Peak rising to the north. A beautiful spot any time of the day, it was memorable in the first light of dawn. A sight to take home with me.
And then, we were on our way.
With those peaks now at our backs, our route led straight east. Dropping down from the high elevations, the Great Plains of eastern Colorado stretched out to the horizon. Miles and miles of flat, grassy grazing land.
Throw in some hay fields too.
Those mountains would be a memory now, as our trip was nearing its end.
Yes, Colorado is a place we’ll continue to hold dear to our hearts and souls, no matter where else we travel.
Melinda & Chris
with more good travels to come.