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Travel Guide: 3 Days in Rocky Mountain National Park, Denver and Boulder

Yes, you read that right. Three days. One National Park. Two cities. If it wasn’t already clear, I don’t really do much relaxing when I travel…

There are two important lessons I’ve learned in my 28 years of life:

  1. Travel often
  2. Find good travel friends

Luckily, I found a great one – my friend Margaret who joined me on my impromptu Big Sur trip last year and Austin this year. So, when Margaret Instagram Storied that she was thinking of going to Denver, I did my best Liz Lemon and immediately replied “I want to go to there.”

A couple days of checking calendars later and we were booked, Google Map and everything. How did people travel before color-coded Google Sheets and Maps?

Resting on vacation is overrated so we obviously packed two cities and a National Park into three days. Here’s the complete day-by-day guide, with hikes, addresses and hotels. Hope you enjoy!

Day One: Denver

We arrived in Denver around 11:30. After the rental car we went to Acorn for lunch. We look so happy because I waited on the runway for two hours in Chicago and Margaret had already arrived in Denver (from Dallas) before my plane even took off so had to roam the airport for 2.5 hours. Actually driving in the car was pretty much the best. Also, Acorn was great! Highly recommend.

RiNo Art District

Per many recommendations, we then wandered around the River North Art District for a while. There are a ton of really cool murals. Walk around and explore!

Denver Central Market

The Denver Central Market is in the RiNo Art District: 2669 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80205. We went for the Ice Cream Flight at High Point Creamery. There are a ton of great vendors in the market, a must see.

On the way to our hotel we found this mural:

We stayed and ate in downtown Denver so we had to take pictures with this bear when we found him.

Hotel: Grand Hyatt Denver, 1750 Welton Street, Denver, Colorado, USA, 80202

Day Two: Rocky Mountain National Park

I couldn’t go to Denver and NOT go to the Rocky Mountains. Rocky National Park was officially park number 14 on my list. Woo! We left for Rocky Mountain National Park around 9:30am. Whenever I go to a National Park, I always go to the Visitor’s Center first and ask for recommendations. We told the Park Ranger we would be there all day and were staying overnight. Since it was around 11:30, and really busy, he recommended driving to the opposite side of the park. Most people only go to the Bear Lake area and that’s it. The Bear Lake area was already closed to parking and crazy crowded. The Park Ranger recommended a couple trails on the other side of the park and that we come do the Bear Lake hike before 7am the next day. We listened.

Trail Ridge Road

Trail Ridge Road will take you all the way through the park. It takes about 2.5 hours (factoring in stopping, which you will do) to drive from one end to the other. You’ll go all the way to the highest altitude and down to the valley. Easily one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever done.

Green Mountain Trail

We stopped at the Green Mountain Trail for our first hike. It was 1.8 miles to the Big Meadows. We saw buffalo!

Alberta Falls

We drove down to the Grand Lake area for the quick Alberta Falls hike (I think only 0.3 miles to the falls).

By the time we got back to the Estes Park area, it was evening. We checked in to our hotel and grabbed dinner at Smokin’ Daves BBQ and Tap House (820 Moraine Ave, Estes Park, CO 80517).

Hotel: Alpine Trail Ridge Inn, 927 Moraine Ave, Estes Park, CO 80517

Day Three: Rocky Mountain National Park, Boulder, Denver

Bear Lake, Nymph Lake, Dream Lake

We listened to the Park Ranger and got up early and in the park before 7am. We walked around Bear Lake first (about 0.5 miles around), then hiked up to Nymph and Dream Lakes. Emerald Lake would have been a bit further but we were pretty tired and had a lot left to do that day, so we decided to turn around at Emerald Lake.

Bear Lake:

Nymph Lake:

Hike to Dream Lake:

Boulder

After the hike, we drove to Boulder to see the city. We stopped at Boxcar Coffee Roasters for coffee, tea and sandwiches (1825 Pearl St B, Boulder, CO 80302). It is on Pearl Street, the heart of downtown Boulder. Of course, we found some more murals.

Denver

After Boulder, we drove back to Denver and checked in to our airport hotel (7am flights the next day) an relaxed a little bit. Then, we headed back to the city for dinner at Avanti (3200 N Pecos St, Denver, CO 80211).

We also found a couple more murals. This one is located at Denver Beer Co:

This one is right by the Denver Art Museum. You’ll have to walk around the museum to find it. Artist: Pat Milbery.

Hotel: Quality Inn & Suites Denver Airport, 6890 Tower Rd, Denver, CO 80249

… and, that’s a wrap! Three full days in and around Denver. Until next time!

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