Saturday, July 8, 2023

Colorado Road Trip

This trip was a spontaneous adventure, with minimal time for extensive research or detailed planning. I simply decided to go with the flow and embrace the unknown.

While there were a few unexpected challenges, such as the need for daily parking permits in Rocky Mountain National Park and the limited availability of cafes in other national parks, there were also delightful surprises along the way. The July 4th fireworks in Telluride and the breathtaking hikes and stunning emerald lakes in RMNP exceeded our expectations. These surprises added an element of excitement and wonder to the trip, making it even more memorable. In hindsight, I appreciate the spontaneous nature of our journey, as it allowed us to discover and appreciate the beauty of each destination without preconceived notions or rigid itineraries.

Sometimes, embarking on a trip with an open mind and a willingness to embrace the unexpected can lead to the most memorable and fulfilling experiences.


Day 0: Arrive in Denver and spend the night in the city.

Day 1:

  • Drive to Garden of the Gods.
  • Enjoy lunch at Garden of the Gods Cafe.
  • Take a trolley ride and go for a short stroll.
  • Drive to Great Sand Dunes National Park.
  • Stay overnight in Alamosa, CA.

Day 2:

  • Drive to Mesa Verde National Park from Alamosa.
  • Explore Mesa Verde National Park.
  • Continue driving and stay in Durango, CO.
  • Grab Subway in Cortez for food.

Day 3:

  • Drive to Telluride from Durango.
  • Hike to Bridal Veil Falls in Telluride.
  • Stay in Mountain Village, Telluride.
  • Enjoy some pizza for dinner in Telluride.

Day 4:

  • Experience the July 4th Parade, go biking, and watch fireworks in Telluride.
  • Have a delicious meal at a Thai place in Telluride.

Day 5:

  • Drive to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
  • Explore the park and enjoy its beauty.
  • Drive to Glenwood Springs, CA, and stay overnight.
  • Relax and unwind at Iron Mountain Hot Springs in Glenwood Springs.
  • Savor some street tacos from Taco Express.

Day 6:

  • Drive to Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • Spend the day exploring the park's magnificent landscapes.
  • Stay in Estes Park, CO.
  • Enjoy a flavorful meal at Nepal Cafe in Estes Park.

Day 7:

  • Explore Bear Lake Road in Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • Indulge in a delicious burger at Boss Burgers in Estes Park.

Day 8:

  • Continue exploring Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • Drive back to Denver.
  • Enjoy coffee and beautiful views at Coffee on the Rocks.
  • Have a delightful dinner at Coriander restaurant in Denver.

Few notes from our trip
  • Download offline maps for all the places you plan to visit. This will ensure that you have access to navigation even if you don't have an internet connection.
  • Other National Parks
    • When visiting Mesa Verde, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and Great Sand Dunes National Parks, it's important to note that there are limited food options available. It's advisable to carry snacks and food with you during your visit. We had to drive to nearby towns to find food while exploring these parks.
    • Keep in mind that Mesa Verde, Great Sand Dunes, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison can get extremely hot from around 10 AM to 4 PM. We managed to beat the heat at Great Sand Dunes by arriving around 5 PM. However, at Mesa Verde and Black Canyon, we definitely felt the heat during our visits.
  • Rocky Mountain
    • Make sure you have a full tank of fuel before driving from Glenwood Springs to Rocky Mountain National Park. There is a long stretch where you might not find any fuel stations until Kremmling.
    • The biggest lesson we learned was about the timed entry system at RMNP. Thanks to two of our friends, we were able to reserve tickets at exactly 5 PM the day before our visit when some slots opened up. Otherwise, we wouldn't have been able to explore certain areas of the park. Please check for timed entry requirements and book in advance or have someone book for you.
    • If you plan on hiking the longer trails in RMNP, consider adding an extra day to your itinerary. During our two-day stay with kids, we covered as much as we could, but there's so much more to explore that an additional day would be worthwhile.
    • Layer up when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, as there can be temperature fluctuations, and expect some rain showers even during the summer months, particularly between 1 PM and 3 PM. It rained lightly all three days we were there.
    • For accommodations, Estes Park is a great choice for quick access to the Bear Lake area in RMNP. It offers convenient proximity to one of the park's popular destinations.
  • Telluride
    • We highly recommend staying in Mountain Village in Telluride. It was a great decision, especially during the July 4th celebrations when parking would have been challenging. The free Gondola in the area made transportation convenient.
Day 1 : Colorado

Yesterday evening, we boarded our flight from SFO at 6:15 pm and arrived in Denver around 9:30 pm (Denver is 1 hour ahead of California). After collecting our baggage, we unfortunately had to wait for 1.5 hours to get the rental car. It took us an additional 45 minutes to reach the hotel, which we had purposely booked a bit further away from the airport. By the time we reached the hotel, it was already 1:00 am, so we quickly crashed and went to sleep.

Due to our late arrival, we ended up waking up around 8:45 am today and hurriedly had breakfast at the hotel. After our usual hotel breakfast, we got ready and embarked on a 1.5-hour drive to Garden of the Gods. During our research, we had discovered that this place was conveniently located on the way to Great Sand Dunes National Park.

We reached Garden of the Gods around 12 pm. Since our trolley ride into the park was scheduled for 2:30 pm, we had approximately 2 hours to explore. We had a satisfying lunch at the café in the visitor center and took some time to visit the gift shop and restrooms.

We went for a short walk in the Garden of the Gods park, but the temperature was rising quickly. Sree and the kids decided to head back after a while, while I continued on a brief loop and made it back in time for our tour.

Our tour guide, Cookie, was fantastic and patiently answered all of Pranav's questions. The tour took us all around Garden of the Gods, and Cookie shared interesting historical information about the park. We made a few stops for photos and then returned to our car.

Garden of the Gods - view from the cafe

A great biking spot - spotted many bikers

One of the photo spots 

From there, we fueled up and grabbed some snacks before embarking on a 2.5-hour drive to Great Sand Dunes National Park. The sand dunes here resembled those we had seen in Death Valley. We parked our car and walked down to the dunes. The kids, especially Pappu, had a blast rolling and running down the sandy slopes. We even had friendly competitions to see who could reach the bottom the fastest.

The dunes were breathtaking, and we were grateful that we arrived around 6:30 pm, allowing us to spend a pleasant 1.5 hours there. The temperature was ideal, and the wind blowing sand across the dunes added to the enchanting experience. In some areas, it was challenging to keep our eyes open due to the sand swirling around.

Afterward, we walked back to our car and drove to Alamosa, where we had made reservations for the night. We quickly prepared cup-o-noodles for the kids, took refreshing baths, and then settled into bed for some well-deserved rest.

Great Sand Dunes 

Fun with Shadows

Day 2 : Mese Verde National park 

Today, we woke up a bit early, had breakfast, got dressed, and left around 9:00 am.

Our destination for the day was Mesa Verde, and we had a 3.5-hour drive ahead of us. I hadn't done much research for this trip, so I figured we would figure things out once we reached the park.

The drive itself was incredibly scenic, with beautiful landscapes and charming small towns along the way.

When we arrived at the Mesa Verde Visitor Center, we were surprised to find that there was no café available. Nevertheless, we learned that the park mainly showcases the cliff dwellings built by the Pueblo people over 1,000 years ago. Although the tours to two of the main cliff dwellings, Cliff Palace and Balcony House, were fully booked, we could still see the dwellings from various viewpoints in the park.

We headed to a nearby Walmart where there was a Subway restaurant and grabbed some snacks and lunch. Then, we drove to the Chapin Mesa Museum, which was about 50 minutes away from the visitor center. We arrived just in time for the 3 pm Hopi dance performance.

The heat was intense as we walked down to the outdoor arena. The Hopi dancers gave a captivating recital, although some aspects of their performance were not clear to me. Nevertheless, I wanted to show respect and refrained from questioning it. Towards the end, they invited the audience to dance with them, and both the kids and I joined in. The heat was quite overwhelming.

Afterward, we returned to the museum and took a short hike to the Tree House dwelling. We made sure to refill our water supplies before embarking on the Mesa Top Loop.

The loop took around an hour, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. We made stops at various points and took short walks to see more cliff dwellings. The views along the way were simply spectacular. As the day progressed, the heat began to subside. Our final stop on the loop allowed us to catch a glimpse of Cliff Palace, which looked truly magnificent. We watched as a tour group entered the dwelling for a closer view.

On our way back, we made a stop at Park Point. I decided to stroll up first to enjoy panoramic views of the entire valley and the surrounding mountain ranges. I then called Sree and the kids to join me, and we all spent a delightful 40 minutes there, taking in the breathtaking scenery.

Afterward, we returned to Durango, where we were staying for the night. We were thoroughly impressed with our hotel, Spring Suites by Marriott. The room was modern and well-appointed. We were lucky to have a room right across from the pool area, so we could easily access the hot tub and pool with the kids. Tara and Pranav even tried to teach Sree and me how to swim.

Following our pool session, we took showers and happily crashed for the day, exhausted from the day's adventures.

Scenery on the way

Hopi Dancers

The Cliff Dwellings 

Wild flowers 

A great view point - Park's point

Day 3 : Telluride

After a restful night's sleep, we woke up feeling refreshed and ready for the amazing hotel breakfast. We took our time and savored the delicious spread. Following breakfast, Sree and I sat down to discuss our plans for the day, including the possibility of visiting Maroon Bells near Aspen. However, after considering the shuttle logistics and time constraints, we decided it would be too ambitious for this trip.

Returning to our room, we got dressed, packed our belongings, and set off for Telluride. The drive was absolutely breathtaking, and we couldn't resist stopping at a couple of spots to admire the snow-capped mountains, the lush coniferous trees, and the serene streams that dotted the landscape.

Our first stop was Telluride Mountain Village, where we realized that Telluride downtown was about 7 miles away. Considering this, we decided to check into our hotel, which was located in Telluride Mountain Village. We had a delightful lunch at a nearby restaurant called Poachers, and the kids even had some fun trying out carnival games. Eventually, we made our way back to the hotel.

Speaking of the hotel, it was one of the more luxurious accommodations we've experienced. We had valet parking and a room with in-suite laundry! The bathroom boasted a Jacuzzi tub, and the room even had a convenient kitchenette and two TVs. It was pure indulgence.

After taking some time to relax and unwind, we decided to embark on a hike to Bridal Veil Falls. The hike involved navigating over small boulders and hiking at a higher elevation. As we neared the top, the kids started to tire and complain. It took us nearly 2 hours to reach the summit, patiently coaxing them along. While the kids rested, I ventured ahead and caught a glimpse of the falls. Eventually, Sree and the kids joined me, and together we marveled at the majestic Bridal Veil Falls. Along the way, we also encountered two other beautiful waterfalls.

On our return journey, we opted to take the dirt road back to the base instead of retracing our steps through the rocky terrain. Although longer, it spared the kids from further exhaustion. They were completely spent after the hike.

Upon reaching the car, we ordered pizza for takeout and drove to downtown Telluride to pick it up. As we waited, we explored the downtown area and popped into a charming gift shop. While Sree handled the pizza pickup, we noticed that someone sitting nearby had left her purse behind.

We located the address from her driver's license and drove to her home to return the purse. Once back at the hotel, each of us took turns enjoying a relaxing bath in the Jacuzzi tub. The hotel provided amazing bath products, adding to the luxurious experience.

After our much-needed bath, Sree and I settled down to watch an episode of Suits, while the kids entertained themselves with their iPads.

Scenes on the way


Hiking to Bridal Viel Falls

Bridal Veil

Scenic route as we walked down

Day 4 : Telluride 4th of July 

We started the day by enjoying the hotel breakfast. During breakfast, the chef mentioned the 4th of July Parade in Telluride town at 11 am and the fireworks in the evening. Both events were highly anticipated, and the Gondola line was expected to be long due to the festivities.

After breakfast, we returned to our room, got dressed, and by 9:45 am, we were in line for the Gondola. It was incredible to have a free gondola ride from the mountain village to Telluride town, operating until midnight.

The ride itself took around 12 minutes, but we waited in line for about 30-40 minutes. Upon reaching Telluride, we walked up to Main Street where the parade was set to take place.

Exactly at 11 am, the parade commenced, and to our surprise, there was a fighter jet flyover. Four jets soared above us, creating a breathtaking spectacle. It was my first time seeing fighter jets, and the experience was truly awe-inspiring. The parade itself was a lot of fun, featuring local Telluride residents showcasing horses, bikes, cars, gymnastics, tricks, and lots of candies and water squirts for the kids. We stood next to a friendly family from Denver who made sure Tara and Pranav also got their fair share of candy, and their kids even shared treats with us.

After the parade, we visited a book store, as it has become a tradition for Kungu who loves books. I grabbed a coffee from a nearby coffee shop, and we proceeded to the bike shop to rent bicycles. Pappu was particularly excited about this. Each of us took a bike, and we rode along the River Trail, which was incredibly scenic. I highly recommend this trail—it was a joy to bike while taking in the beautiful surroundings. Tara had a bit of trouble with her bike, as it wasn't the most suitable for her, but Pranav managed just fine. We biked for about 2 hours before returning the bikes and stopping at a Thai restaurant for lunch.

Following lunch, we decided to take the Gondola back to the mountain village to rest for a couple of hours before heading back to Telluride for the fireworks. We knew it would be crowded, so we planned to leave around 6:30 pm for the 9 pm fireworks.

After our rest, we packed jackets and water and caught the Gondola back to town. We stopped by a place called 'Baked in Telluride' and grabbed some delicious banana bread and coffee cake before walking to Town Park. The sun's rays reflecting off the streams created a stunning sight, and we thoroughly enjoyed our stroll. In the park, people were already gathering in anticipation of the fireworks. Pappu had a great time playing in a well-designed play area for about an hour.

Around 8:30 pm, we found a spot to sit and patiently waited for the sun to set. As the ground became more crowded, the fireworks began slowly, and we grew a bit impatient. However, around 9:30 pm, they exploded in full swing, creating the most magnificent display I've ever seen. We lay down on the grass and watched the fireworks light up the sky. Photos and videos couldn't fully capture the essence, but lying there and experiencing the spectacle was truly remarkable.

Around 10:15 pm, the fireworks concluded, and everyone made their way back to the Gondola. The wait wasn't too long, and in about 20 minutes, we caught a Gondola and arrived at the hotel by 11:00 pm.

After folding laundry, we settled down to watch an episode of Suits before calling it a day and heading to bed.

Gondola Fun!

July 4th Celebrations - Telluride


A great park in Telluride

This was special - fireworks in the night

Day 5 : Black Canyon of the Gunnison

We started the day by enjoying another delicious breakfast before returning to our room to pack up for checkout. The kids were excited to have another relaxing Jacuzzi tub bath before we left.

At 10 am, we checked out of the hotel and hit the road towards Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. As we arrived, our first view of Gunnison Point left us in awe of the deep and impressive canyon.

Starting from the visitor center, we followed the South Rim Road, taking short hikes to various viewpoints along the south rim. We spent approximately 2 hours exploring the breathtaking scenery and soaking in the majestic vistas.

After our time at the national park, we continued our journey to Glenwood Springs. Along the way, Pappu started feeling nauseous, so we made a brief stop to allow him to rest before carrying on.

During our trip, we realized that permits were required to enter Rocky Mountain National Park. Concerned about securing one for the following day, I attempted to obtain the permit online. However, the slow internet connection made it challenging. Thankfully, our friends Manmeet and Preetam graciously offered their assistance, helping us book permits for the next two days. We were relieved to secure the 4 pm slot for tomorrow, but we couldn't help but feel that permit entries were becoming increasingly cumbersome.

Additionally, we managed to obtain tickets for the Iron Mountain hot springs in Glenwood Springs. Once we reached our hotel, we checked in, quickly changed into our swimwear, and headed to the hot springs. The combination of the picturesque mountain backdrop and the soothing hot springs provided a delightful experience for all of us. The kids had a great time, but eventually, we reached a point where we were ready to have some food and rest.

After our time at the hot springs, we took baths to freshen up, then located a nearby taco place where we enjoyed some delicious tacos. With satisfied appetites, we returned to the hotel, ready to crash and recharge for the next day's adventures.

Day 6 : Drive to the Rockies 

We had a leisurely start to the day, waking up late and indulging in a sumptuous breakfast spread at La Quinta in Glenwood Springs. After enjoying our meal, we got dressed and checked out of the hotel by 10:30 am.

Our drive to Kremmling took us two hours, and along the way, we were treated to stunning scenery and even ventured on a dirt road. Upon reaching Kremmling, we stopped at a charming coffee shop adorned with wooden swings. The shop offered a wide selection of lattes, and we couldn't resist trying them out. The coffee was excellent, and to our delight, they also served ice cream.

Continuing our journey, we drove along yet another scenic road towards Rocky Mountain National Park. We arrived right on time, entering the park at 2 pm from the west end of Grand Lake. Our drive along the Trail Ridge Road allowed us to stop at various breathtaking overlooks, with each view surpassing the previous one. We made sure to capture a memorable photo at the Continental Divide and even embarked on a short hike to a small waterfall in the area.

After spending approximately two hours on the Trail Ridge Road, we proceeded directly to Bear Lake Road, as we had a 4 pm pass to access that specific area. Since it was already 4:40 pm, I decided to stay within range to book the day permit for the following day. This moment was both amusing and stressful, as we were determined to secure the pass. Our friends Manmeet and Preetam were also trying to book slots simultaneously, increasing our chances of success. Thankfully, Manmeet managed to secure the 8 am slot, bringing us much-needed relief.

With hunger gnawing at our stomachs, we decided to save our visit to Bear Lake for the next day and drove to Estes Park instead. There, we discovered the Nepal Cafe and enjoyed a delightful meal of butter chicken, fish curry, naan bread, lassi, and hot tea. The flavors left us feeling immensely satisfied.

Following our meal, we checked into Best Western in Estes Park, where we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the rooms, each featuring a comfortable king-sized bed. The hotel also had a lovely outdoor area with a bench, adding to its charm. As I had researched various options for the next day's activities, we called it an early night to ensure we were well-rested for the adventures to come.

Continental Divide

Day 7 : Rocky Mountain National Park

Today, we had an earlier start to our day. We got dressed, enjoyed a delicious breakfast, and entered the park around 8:30 am, within our designated timed entry window of 8 am to 10 am.

Since the parking lot was full, we parked in the overflow area and took the shuttle bus to the Bear Lake area. The shuttle ride took approximately 20-30 minutes.

Around 10:00 am, we began our hike. We decided to tackle the Emerald Lake trail, which would take us through Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and eventually Emerald Lake. The hike consisted mainly of a slow uphill climb, and we stopped to take snapshots at Nymph Lake before continuing towards Dream Lake.

At Dream Lake, we found a comfortable spot to rest and take in the stunning views. Sree continued on to do the Emerald Lake hike while we waited. The kids were no longer interested in hiking, so when Sree returned, I took the opportunity to venture on my own to complete the Emerald Lake hike and also the Hyahea Lake hike. The Hyahea Lake hike involved a steady uphill ascent, and I took my time to enjoy the beauty of the surroundings. Once I reached the top, I spent some time soaking it all in before making my way back. The return journey took me approximately 45 minutes to reach the Bear Lake parking lot.

Sree and the kids had already had their lunch while I enjoyed my packed chicken biriyani. We waited together, and then Sree went to explore Bear Lake (which involved a short walk) and visit Alberta Falls. After he returned, he took the shuttle back to our car while I continued to hike to Alberta Falls. Although reaching the falls was relatively easy, the uphill return was tiring due to the constant ascent.

After visiting Alberta Falls, I took the shuttle back to the parking lot where we had left our car. We waited until 5 pm to book our park entry for the following day. Once again, Manmeet came to the rescue and successfully secured the reservation for us. Despite my attempts, I couldn't even get into the system.

We returned to Estes Park for dinner at Boss Burgers. After a satisfying meal, we went back to the hotel, freshened up, packed our belongings, and called it a night, ready for some well-deserved rest.

Nymph Lake

Dream lake

Emerald Lake

Lake Haiyaha

Bear lake

Bear Lake

Day 8 : Rocky Mountain and flight back

On our last day, we checked out of the hotel and headed straight to Rocky Mountain National Park, eager to make the most of our remaining time. We embarked on the Trail Ridge Road, taking in the breathtaking views along the way. We hiked the Tundra Communities trail, marveled at the Rock Cut and Forest Canyon lookouts, and eventually reached the Alpine Visitor Center. Here, we took a well-deserved break and enjoyed a quick bite for lunch. Alongside the bread and jam we had brought, we also indulged in some delicious hummus sandwiches available at the center.

After lunch, Sree ventured up the Alpine Ridge trail, while I followed suit as the kids opted out of the hike. We embraced the opportunity to explore the stunning landscapes and immerse ourselves in the natural beauty.

Leaving Rocky Mountain National Park around 1:30 pm, our next stop was the charming Coffee on the Rocks. Situated across a picturesque stream, this delightful coffee shop provided us with a perfect blend of caffeine and relaxation. The kids were entertained as they fed the ducks, adding a touch of joy to the serene atmosphere.

Continuing on our journey, we set our sights on the renowned Red Rock Amphitheater, located about 1.5 hours away. The kids and I found respite in the back seat, taking a nap during the drive.

Upon our arrival at the amphitheater, we were disappointed to discover that it was closed for a concert. However, we found solace in the proximity of an Indian restaurant called Coriander, situated near the airport. Excitedly, we decided to have an early dinner there, savoring the delectable flavors of the food, which truly impressed our taste buds.

Following our meal, we tidied up the car, clearing away any remaining junk, before returning it. Unfortunately, our flight ended up being delayed by approximately 2.5 hours, leaving us with a lengthy wait at the airport. Nevertheless, we made the most of our time by watching Netflix and browsing the internet, ensuring our wait was somewhat enjoyable.

Tundra Hike

Inside the cafeteria in the visitor center