Colorado heights and forests

Overview: This fabulous fly drive adventure – some 1000 miles excluding excursions – begins and ends in Denver, Colorado, heads high into Estes Park on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, takes a peek at the Stanley Hotel, the ghostly inspiration for Stephen King’s Shining, hangs out in eclectic former mining communities in Georgetown and Leadville, then onto Grand Junction, Durango and Colorado Springs.

Need to know: UK citizens do not currently need a visa for entry to the USA. However, a valid ESTA certificate is required, apply direct and pay on line via The ESTA, covering stays of up to 90 days per visit, is valid for 2 years and currently costs $14 per person.

Travel advice: Check for the latest advice on travelling safely in the USA. Ensure your travel insurance is adequate as it is well-known that medical care in the USA is expensive.

Money: Credit cards are widely accepted. Tipping is expected, between 15% & 18% is usual. Although Stirling is currently not strong against the US Dollar, fuel at least is much cheaper than in the UK. Eating and drinking costs very much depends on your taste and budget. It’s generally a good idea to stop off at a supermarket before your first journey, stocking up on bottled water, snacks etc. that you can just keep in your rental car – useful if you drive to fairly remote locations.

Days 1 – 3 Denver, Colorado

Stay:  Hyatt Regency Hotel at Colorado Convention Center, 650 15th Street, Denver 80202, from about $200 a night room only – but plenty of breakfast outlets in the neighbourhood. The hotel has its own car rental desks making this aspect pretty straight forward.

Do: Denver is known as the mile high city given its extreme elevation. It’s a pretty walker-friendly city, with nice parks and gardens such as below, with the Capitol Building and its imposing dome in the background. We just loved the Tattered Cover Bookstore – on 2526 East West Colfax Avenue – with its relaxed seating areas located around the store, weary guests can browse wonderful books, sip great coffee and munch on tempting cakes. We also liked the brewery district north of the river – and got quite adept at noting the timing of daily happy hours.

State Capitol Building in the background

The botanic gardens on York Street are well worth a visit, admission $12.50 and open daily. The range of gardens is pretty vast, including conservation areas, oriental spectacles, glasshouse displays and much more. It is pretty spread out so pace yourself if the weather is hot!

Oriental Garden in Denver Botanic Gardens, an oasis in a busy city

Day 4 Estes Park, Colorado

Drive – 1.5 hours (around 71 Miles) via the I-25 North and US-36 West to Estes Park. Expect to be awestruck by the magnificent views, and you are guaranteed to see plenty of wildlife. Take care because that deer you spot at the side of the road often has a friend or two close by!

The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park provided the inspiration for Stephen King’s iconic Shining novel and subsequent film – they charge visitors to park for a few moments to take photographs!

Stay – stayed at the delightful, privately owned Kokopelli Inn, 6777 US Hwy 36, Estes Park, CO 80517,, costs from $135 a night including home made breakfast.  Great location for hikes and scenic byway drives.

Image Taken on a hike in Estes Park- but what is the suspended red object on the right hand side of the image – your guess is as good as mine!

Day 4 – Georgetown, Colorado

Drive – about 2 hours (95 miles) via US-36 East and I-70 West to Georgetown

Stay – stayed at the Chateau Chamonix Hotel, on 1414 Argentine Street – rates start at $179 a night including light breakfast delivered through a hatch near your bedroom door – a welcome glass of wine on arrival & access to a hot tub.

About: Georgetown began life in 1859 following discovery of gold in the area by settlers – but by 1870’s it became known for being a prominent silver mining industry. This pleasant and historic town is compact enough to walk everywhere. Below is an image of one of the many remaining historic properties, the spread of early freemasonry in the USA is well-known and Georgetown is no exception. The Masonic Lodge below, dating to 1867 is still in use today.

Masonic Temple, Georgetown, Colorado

The Georgetown Loop Railroad (below) was originally constructed in 1884 to serve the silver mining industry. Although it closed in 1939 it was restored in the 1970’s and opened as a tourist attraction in 1984, 100 years after it’s original construction, connecting with Silver Plume.

Steam train trundling through Georgetown, Colorado
The Loop from Georgetown to Silver Plume

Do take the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway, a spectacular 22 mile drive from Georgetown. There are several museums in Georgetown, a notable one being the Museum of Energy – its hydroelectric plant, dating from 1900 emphasizes the immense power of water. Admission free but visitors may make donations.

Days 5 & 6 – Leadville, Colorado

Drive – about an hour (57 miles) via I-70 West and CO-91 South to Leadville via Copper Mountain

Stay – stayed at the Historic Delaware Hotel, on
700 Harrison Avenue, Leadville. Rates start at around $145 a night including breakfast. The hotel has many exhibits and artifacts, and permits visitors to dress up in yesteryear costumes. Leadville’s elevation stands at 3094 metres and is the highest City in the USA. We realised after being there for a few hours that we were feeling a little unwell, and then noticed the hotel information about altitude sickness – and our symptoms matched up! Little wonder we noted several residents walking around with portable oxygen equipment! As with Georgetown, Leadville’s origins, dating to 1877, arise from the mining industry.

Mingling with the locals at an outdoor fest above the town, we noticed how cool it is up here even though it was extremely sunny. Indeed, the legendary Doc Holliday visited here in pursuit of his gambling activities – the nipping cool air as well as the altitude did little to help his health and is said to have brought about a return of his respiratory illness – see the image below which we took en route to Grand Junction, he met his end in Glenwood Springs.

Luckily for us, the Melanzana Outdoor Clothing company is located in town on 716 Harrison Avenue. We each bought an incredibly lightweight yet comfortingly warm jersey, made from Melanzana’s unique polartec fleece, I wish we bought more product when we were there because they aren’t that geared up for international mail order – and their clothing only seems to be available in Leadville.

The Tabor Opera House, downtown Leadville, dating to 1879, currently undergoing an exciting renovation programme.
Near Independence Pass – Continental Divide at 13,095 feet elevation, close to Leadville
En route to Grand Junction, take the steep, well-marked trail at Glenwood Springs and find Doc Holliday’s grave, who sadly died here from tuberculosis aged only 36 in 1887, alas, the local and plentiful natural spring waters did not cure him.

Days 7, 8 & 9 Grand Junction

Drive – 3 hours (174 miles) Get on I-70 West in Eagle County from US-24 West for nearly an hour (33 miles) – going through Aspen and Glenwood Springs on the way.

Stay – stayed at the Castle Creek Bed and Breakfast Inn on the outskirts of Grand Junction: The lovely patio area overlooks a creek – which is a well-trodden route used regularly by deer – sip a glass of Colorado wine on the patio and you will almost certainly see these lovely visitors – do make sure you try some local wine, so often in the UK we mainly access Californian wines – very little wine from Colorado is available so do make the most of it while you can. Can recommend the Black Canyon Winery in particular.

Red Canyon Overlook, Colorado National Monument
Part of the spectacular Colorado National Monument
Rock formations at the Colorado National Monument

Drive on the Scenic 141 from Grand Junction, (about 83 miles) and see the
Hanging Flume over Dolores River – originally transporting water for the gold mining industry, built into the cliff face in 1880 ‘s
These sheer cliff faces leave you at one with nature
View from the scenic byway near Grand Junction
Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado

See: The delightful owners of the Castle Creek Inn, Grand Junction gave us the heads up about the magnificent Gateway Colorado Automobile Museum at Gateway Canyons, on 43224 Highway 141 – admission $15, open daily. Below is the 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 Convertible Concept Car – worth over 3 Million Dollars!

restored 3 million dollar Oldsmobile – 1954

1954 Buick Skylark Convertible – beautifully restored and gleaming beneath the spotlight
Telluride cable Car – free of charge – do a hike when you reach the peak if time and picnic on white peaches bought from the roadside in Grand Junction.

Days 10 & 11 Durango

Drive – 3.5 hours – about 168 miles, via US-50 East and US-550 South

Stay – stayed at the historic Strater Hotel, complete with corset-clad ladies in the Diamond Belle saloon – great ragtime piano playing adds to the atmosphere. We’ve stayed here as part of 3 different road trips – wonder if they know they have regulars from Sunderland! Look out for the happy hours in the Spiritorium, great martinis and frequent live music – very nice after a long, scenic but twisting drive down into Durango on the ‘million-dollar’ highway – so called because the views are worth a million dollars, the highway cost a million dollars to construct – and once you have driven it, and shaken at the extreme sheer drops and rocky heights, you might want a million dollars to give you the courage to drive it again!

Do: Take the historic Durango to Silverton steam train, this takes about a couple of hours each direction, and you are given time to explore Silverton before returning to Durango.

Durango to Silverton train – getting steamed up and ready to go!
Durango to Silverton Railway – you will need a head for heights!
Steam train refuelling, en route to Silverton.
Great Sand Dunes National Park, 189 miles from Durango

Days 12 & 13 Colorado Springs

Stay – stayed at the Hyatt Colorado Springs

Drive – 5.5 hours (315 miles) via the US-160 East and the I-25 North

See: Garden of The Gods Park. This land was originally owned by Charles Perkins who headed up Burlington Railroad in the late 19th century; before his death in 1907 he ensured that the land would be handed over as a magnificent park – provided this was always accessed free of charge by visitors – it still is to the current day.

Visit Garden of the Gods: for magnificent red sandstone formations, hikes and trails near Colorado Springs.
More Garden of The Gods

Day 14 Colorado Springs to Denver 

Drive – About an hour (71 miles) on the I-25 North back to Denver, either for more chilling out downtown or for your flight home.

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