2022, Personal, Travel

Riley Goes to Colorado Day 1: Friday May 27, 2022 – Denver to Estes Park

Pre-pandemic, we used to travel to the States fairly often, both overnight in the summer to see minor league baseball games, and longer trips, usually in spring or fall, to cities we’d never visited. Our first of these trips in over two years was to Denver, Colorado, and environs. We went for 4 nights.

Why Denver?

Well, I’ve always wanted to go to Colorado, but mostly for skiing. But Denver is one of the US’s great beer cities. As is Fort Collins, which is quite nearby.


We got up at 4:15 in order to leave the house by 5 and get to the airport at 5:30. We’d heard lots of stories about planes leaving without some of their passengers and terrible airport delays so we got there early.

Too early to go through security, it turns out. There was actually a holding area where we had to sit for a few minutes to be called to security. So yes, it was a little busy. (For bag drop-off, though, we had perhaps the most pleasant airport experience we’ve ever had, as this woman came over and did our self-check-in for us, about as quickly as we could imagine.)

Security was quite efficient, less of a wait than it was the last time I was at Pearson and not much of a pain. But Customs, Customs was bad. I’m not exactly sure how long we spent in the Customs line, but we only had enough time to quickly eat before we had to board. So it was a while.

But then we just sat on the plane. Seems that some planes do wait for passengers despite the rumours we heard. Our takeoff was delayed because we were waiting for other passengers to get through Customs.

On the plane, I watched the latest Spider-Man movie.

The Denver Airport was extremely busy and we had a very long walk to baggage claim. It’s been a little while since I traveled regularly but I feel like it’s the furthest trip from gate to baggage claim I’ve done, or at least the most confusing.

But the airport itself is, in some ways, nothing compared to the oceans of rental cars outside. Perhaps it’s because most cities I travel to use parking garages but the Denver Airport rental car lots feel never-ending. You have to take a shuttle, and it’s not a short trip. And if you drive by the lots or take the train by, they really do feel like they never end.

We got through the assembly-line rental car process relatively quickly and headed for the mountains. The drive started off rather poorly as we were stuck in traffic for quite a while. I had no idea how large Denver was physically or that there would be a traffic jam leaving the city around noon on a Friday. It’s like Toronto! (Not really.)

Central City

We drove into the mountains and I asked Jenn where to turn for Black Hawk, what I thought was the start of the Peak to Peak road I wanted to take to Estes Park. Jenn said there were two roads and that we should take the later one. So we did.

And what a happy accident it was, because it took us straight up a hill, with a great view, and then down, into an old mining town called Central City.

Central City, Colorado

This was a fascinating little place, with a ton of preserved buildings from the 1870s. And, also, casinos.

We walked around and eventually found some pizza.

Estes Park, Colorado

We headed out of Central City – first uphill, which was the wrong way – to Black Hawk and decided we were happy to have found Central City. Black Hawk felt like a more conventional, slightly bigger and less quirky version of the same town. (It’s like a two minute drive down the mountain.)

And there we began our lovely scenic drive along the Peak to Peak road to Estes Park.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park now has a “timed entry” process. There are good reasons for this, including a massive increase in visitors (including during the pandemic) and a plateauing budget. But it is annoying. We had our timed entry booked for between 2 and 4 Mountain. But, due to our flight getting delayed, due to the traffic in Denver, due to taking the literal scenic route to RMNP, and due to spending too much time sitting in Central City, there was no way we were getting to the main entrance to the park by 4PM.

That turned out to be less of a problem than you might think, given what happened later. And we were both feeling fairly worn out already by the time we neared Estes Park. We did manage to find our way into a small part of RMNP on the Peak to Peak road and there we learned that Timed Entry only applied to before 3PM in some areas. We stopped at a lake technically in the park but well away from the main entrance. (The are many different federal, state and county lands in this area and figuring out where one ends and the other begins can be confusing.) Both the regular parking lot and the overflow parking lot were completely full.

Lily Lake

We then headed down into Estes Park and began to see why it’s such a popular spot.

Road into Estes Park (This is technically a different road than the Peak to Peak. I’m cheating. Sue me.)

The plan was to try to book a new time the next day, once we were allowed to, at 5PM local time.

We had been a little worried about where we stayed in Estes Park. This was primarily because it appeared like there were few cabs in town and, we assumed, there would be few sidewalks. (I have spent a fair amount of time in small town America and I can tell you that sidewalks outside of the immediate downtown are often uncommon.) So we fretted a bunch – instead of looking on Google Maps’ satellite view – and eventually settled on a place that was just a titch expensive but seemed to be close enough to downdown.

I began to get more worried when I Googled Mapped the walk to what I was told was the best brewery in Estes Park and it was somehow hundreds of metres from our hotel but supposedly a 50 minute walk. (So, really, for us, 45 minutes or less.) Google Maps is not great with pedestrian directions but this seemed absurd – it seemed like we could not possibly cross a bridge across this little creek. Anyway…

We eventually found our hotel at the top of a steep road and driveway, after wading through traffic and missing a few turns. We got a room on the mountain side – so less of a stunning view – and inquired about walking into town. The person at the desk said it was definitely possible, though it could sometimes be a little slippery.

So we unpacked and decided to head down into down, along the driveway and then down the steep road that was indeed without sidewalks.

How long did it take to walk to the brewery? Maybe 5 minutes. Maybe 6 or 7. And half of that was walking down the hill. The lesson here is never trust Google Maps about walking directions. Just look at the satellite and see if you can see a sidewalk or shoulder.

At the brewery, we got flights:

Rock Cut Brewery in Estes Park

We sat outside next to the creek. The beer was pretty good and the whole thing was extremely pleasant.

Then we wandered into town, which was mostly quite easy as the sidewalk started pretty close to the mini mall the brewery was located in.

We walked a few blocks among a fair number of people and eventually settled on a rooftop Mexican restaurant for dinner. The food was middling but my margarita was quite nice.

Partway through dinner, both of us sort of just lost the ability to want to do anything else. We had awoken at 2:15 local time and it was now close to 8PM. Once we paid the bill, we half-heartedly looked for ice cream – which gave birth to our theory Colorado does not let residents enjoy ice cream after 8PM – and then walked back to the hotel.

I managed to stay awake through the basketball game but just barely.

| Day 2 >>>>

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