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OUR FAVORITE EATS IN MAINE

OUR FAVORITE EATS IN MAINE

Things to eat in Bar Harbor Maine

As promised, I’m back and ready to share our incredible eats from Maine!  Brian and I love food and Maine was straight up a foodie paradise for us!

A little bit of history on how I became such a lobster lover.  Going to seafood restaurants growing up, my parents would scan the menu and say “Laura, order anything you want except the lobster.”  What happens when someone tells you not to do something?  Curiosity gets the best of you and naturally you want it, I was literally 6 years old begging for the lobster.  Most of the time I would get my way, dinners that just had the tail were a breeze.  On occasion as a small child I would order a whole lobster, literally have no idea how to eat it, and I would look up at my parents for help.  My dad would whack away at it, getting whatever meat out he could.  Growing up in North Texas we had no freakin idea how to properly eat a lobster, it was pre-internet, but we tried.  From my memories even the waiters didn’t even fully know how to shell and eat a lobster.

Naturally throughout my childhood and into my adult years if something said it had lobster in it I ordered it.  Ordering lobster was no longer a way to irritate my parents, I had actually developed a true love for the taste of it.

Things to eat in Bar Harbor Maine

Cut to many years later and my cravings for lobster have only intensified and I’ve fully converted my husband into a lobster lover too.  I’ve learned that warm water lobster in my opinion isn’t good and that Maine lobster is the only lobster for me.

Living in Colorado, multiple times a year we have to order Maine lobster and it’s downright heaven.  I’m like a puppy dog wagging it’s tail waiting for UPS to arrive with my fresh lobsters.  I’ll get down my enormous lobster pot (it’s so big I store it in the attic) and we have a lobster cooking party, making our own stock from the shells and making every delicious lobster recipe possible.  Try Ina Garten’s Lobster Pot Pie!

So now that I’ve convinced you that I love lobster, let’s talk about the amazing food we devoured on our trip!  But first if you haven’t yet, be sure to read my Bar Harbor, Maine, and Acadia National Park blog post!

Things to eat in Bar Harbor Maine

For those who love a good fresh lobster smothered in butter but just can’t be bothered wearing the bib or putting in the work then the lazy lobster is for you!  At the Asticou Inn you can order a lobster cooked fresh to order, completely shelled and ready for you.  Shelling a lobster is a fun experience but it’s also a bit messy so this is a perfect option when you want to be fancy.

Things to eat in Bar Harbor Maine

Eating at Stewman’s Lobster Pound was one of my favorite places during our vacation.  The lobster cocktail was similar to the mixture of a lobster roll and the lobster claws weren’t just decorative, they still had the tender claw meat inside, yum!  Claw meat is definitely my favorite, it came with a cocktail sauce and buttery mustard sauce.

We also ordered a whole lobster and we’ve taught ourselves how to easily shell a lobster but we still have had some tricky areas.  When the waitress offered to show us her shelling tricks we were excited.  Previously the tail meat has slowed us down, she showed us a few tricks and we can pop out the tail meat in seconds!  I can completely crack a lobster in 2 minutes like a local!

Things to eat in Bar Harbor Maine

Shortly after arriving I discovered that Maine isn’t just known for their lobster but also for their wild blueberries!  You’ll find lots of blueberry cocktails, ice cream, desserts, and best of all blueberry pie!  Maine blueberries are smaller and richer in flavor and higher in anti-oxidants.  Our waitress told us that blueberry picking is such a big deal the schools will close so the kids can help pick the berries.

Things to eat in Bar Harbor Maine

Feeling adventurous?  Then you definitely need to try the lobster ice cream in Bar Harbor!  It was unusual but all lobster lovers need to try it once!  It tasted like a rich creamy vanilla ice cream with as you probably guessed lobster!  Getting a large bit of frozen lobster mixed in ice cream was a little weird but I really liked the small lobster pieces throughout the ice cream.

Things to eat in Bar Harbor Maine

Of course you’ll find lobster bisque aplenty around the island!  I’m pretty picky about my lobster bisque and I know the true labor of love it is to make a batch from scratch.  The bisque everywhere we went was downright incredible.  This Lobster bisque from Paddy’s Irish Pub had delicious pretzel croutons!

Things to eat in Bar Harbor Maine

When you talk about food in Maine lobster rolls probably come to mind and there are plenty with lots of variations.  Below, this delicious lobster roll was found at the Otter Creek Market and I loved the addition of fresh minced basil!

Things to eat in Bar Harbor Maine

Shh… please don’t spread the word but honestly when it comes to a lobster roll I’m team Connecticut style, served warm and toasted without mayo and dripping with butter.  Having said that, I will never say no to any sort of New England lobster roll.  Below, this roll was toasted and a lot dryer with less mayo but still not a true Connecticut style roll.  Not complaining at all… it is lobster and I am in Maine not Connecticut after all.

Oh I need to give a shout out to all the french fries we ate, they tasted better than I’ve ever had.  Extra crunchy, extra crispy, and extra good in every way.

Things to eat in Bar Harbor Maine

“What’s with all the whoopie pies everywhere?” I asked Brian.  Well it turns out whoopie pies are the official dessert of Maine and freakin good!  You’ll find traditional ones everywhere, and we even had a blueberry one that was to die for!

Things to eat in Bar Harbor Maine

Traditional New England style clam chowder is everywhere along the island and a true classic.  This one here was picked up at a small roadside restaurant and is the best I’ve ever had in my life!

Things to eat in Bar Harbor Maine

Inside Acadia National Park near Jordan Pond you’ll find the adorable Jordan Pond House Restaurant.  If it’s a nice day ask for a table outside with lakeside views.  They’re famous for their afternoon tea and popovers.  Who doesn’t love a good popover?  They also serve seafood and many other meals.

A bit of a warning, as of July 2021 they do not take reservations and the line to get in was the longest I’ve ever seen in my life at 11 am, right at their opening time.  The line actually went all the way down the stairs by the trailhead.  Available parking was also non-existent, nearby full parking lots were full on traffic jams.  We returned later in the day at 3pm and it was much calmer and we luckily found a good parking spot.

Jordan Pond Restaurant Popovers

Feeling like some tacos?  Have no fear lobster lovers, you can find lobster tacos too!  We enjoyed these delicious tacos at the Nor’Easter Pound and Market.

Things to eat in Bar Harbor Maine

I don’t know about you but I love a good eggs Benedict!  Of course, in Maine you can get an amazing eggs Benedict with lobster on it at The Looking Glass Restaurant while looking at panoramic coastal views!  It’s the ultimate breakfast luxury and was walking distance from our hotel.

Things to eat in Bar Harbor Maine

Craving something lighter like a salad?  You can get a variety of garden and cobb salads with a delicious stack of lobster.

Things to eat in Bar Harbor Maine

Move over crab cakes, lobster cakes are here!  At the Terrace Grill you can have lobster cakes topped with grilled pineapple and a horseradish scallion remoulade… you’ll forget crab cakes ever existed.

Things to eat in Bar Harbor Maine

Besides lobster, Maine is also home to lots of fresh fish including haddock.  Another favorite from the Terrace Grille, these fish tacos include the freshest caught haddock with a cilantro lime slaw.

Things to eat in Bar Harbor Maine

They add lobster to everything here, so be sure to try lobster pizza!  This delicious lobster, smoked bacon, and jalapeño pizza was from Getty’s.  You can dine indoors or grab it to go.

Lobster pizza in Bar Harbor Maine

Things to eat in Bar Harbor Maine

Did you know there is soft shell and hard shell lobster?  I did not know this and it blew my mind!  Hard shell lobster is much more common, so if you’ve ever eaten lobster it’s probably been hard shell.  Hard shell meat is firmer and contains about 20% more meat, and they’re also sturdier lasting much longer outside of the water.  If you’ve ever ordered Maine lobster online it’s 100% been hard shell.

Soft shell lobsters have recently molted and are growing a new shell, which tends to happen July-September.  Soft shell lobster has less meat but it is softer and a bit sweeter.  They’re also more fragile, and even shipped during ideal conditions they have a high mortality rate.  I held a soft shell lobster for the first time during this trip and I although it looked the same I could feel the shell was much softer and bendy, almost like a fingernail.

Things to eat in Bar Harbor Maine

Soft shell is much easier to crack open too, I was able to crack open the claw with my fingers.  This soft shell lobster at Thurston’s was the best we’ve ever eaten in our lives!  This rustic restaurant is right along the water and has an incredible variety of seafood to choose from, and the best whoopie pies!

Soft shell Maine lobster

This was my first time eating lobster stew, I was expecting something tomato based with potatoes and vegetables.  So I was quite surprised to find lobster stew to be creamy and rich, with just lobster meat and a splash of sherry.  We tried it at several locations and Thurston’s won for our favorite lobster stew!

Things to eat in Bar Harbor Maine

If this hasn’t got you in the mood for lobster or wanting to travel to Maine then I don’t know what will!  As I sit here writing this blog post in my Colorado home my mouth can’t help but thirst for the taste of lobster.  Dear sweet Maine lobsters… steamed, boiled, and dipped in butter, I will think of you every day until we meet again on my plate.

 

OUR TRIP TO BAR HARBOR MAINE & ACADIA NATIONAL PARK

OUR TRIP TO BAR HARBOR MAINE & ACADIA NATIONAL PARK

Visiting Bar Harbor, Maine

We just returned from a fabulous week in Maine and I’m so excited to share it all with you!  I’ve always wanted to visit Maine, not just for its beautiful rocky coastline but also as you probably guessed, the lobster!  For our week long vacation we decided to fly into Portland, rent a car, and head north where we would explore Mt. Desert Island.  Pronounced “dessert” because the island is French, Mt. Desert Island is home to many scenic and popular spots including Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.

Lobster his and her outfits

Once we were settled in we made a promise to each other to eat as much lobster as possible, I mean it is lobster season after all!  A few other seafood items did slip in but for the majority we stayed true to lobster based entrees.  Can you tell how excited we were to eat our first lobster meal in Bar Harbor?  Our waitress loved it!  You can find my sweater here and Brian’s shirt here.  If you’re curious about what all we ate don’t worry, my next blog post is going to be entirely dedicated to the amazing food we ate in Bar Harbor and the surrounding area.

Visiting Bar Harbor, Maine

Bluenose Inn

For this trip we stayed at the Bluenose Inn, a charming hillside place with panoramic views of the ocean and islands.  The sun rises early on the east coast so most mornings we were up at around 4:30 am drinking coffee to watch the sun from our balcony.  Watching the sun create a beautiful orange glow onto the water was an unforgettable experience and totally worth waking up early for.

Bar Harbor, Maine sunrise

In Bar Harbor you’ll find dozens of boat rides and other excursions but we wanted to take this trip at a slow pace.  We’ve had trips before where we were nonstop going, and for this vacation we wanted to relax and just wander.  Action packed trips are amazing but slower ones without schedules are just as amazing.  Besides eating the delicious food probably our favorite thing was just to grab a comfy chair and stare into the sea, watching the boats and the gentle waves.

Visiting Bar Harbor, Maine

Being early July we had a mix of sunny warm days and cloudy cool days and surprisingly only one day of rain with Tropical Storm Elsa.  Below is the view from Stewman’s Lobster Pound, I highly recommend this restaurant!  More on that in my next blog post.

Visiting Bar Harbor, Maine

Visiting Bar Harbor, Maine

Watching the tides change was a really neat experience as well.  During low tide you can see the rocks and pebbles of the ocean floor and even dip your toes in the water in certain places.  The water is definitely cold though!

Visiting Bar Harbor, Maine

You’ll have no problem finding fresh lobster anywhere on the island, you’ll find everything from upscale restaurants to small roadside places with the most delicious food.  I’ve been a lobster fan since I was a child, but to my surprise I learned there is a hard shell lobster and a soft shell lobster.  This was my first time holding a soft shell and I definitely felt a difference.

Fresh Maine Lobsters

We spent 2 days of our trip exploring Acadia National Park, and it is stunning!  To enter the park you’ll need to pay a daily admission or have a National Park Pass like we did.  Below is the summit of Cadallic Mountain and as of now July 2021 it is a timed-reservation system with a 30 minute entry window and a separate admission price.

It a gorgeous drive to the top with curves and steep drop offs.  Living near Rocky Mountain National Park I’m used to steep mountain roads but I can see how some might find this drive to the top a little scary!

Cadillac Mountain Summit

The scenic Park Loop Drive was my favorite, this one-way road takes you along the scenic views of the coastline, to the sand beach, the famous Thunder Hole, and many other popular spots!

Visiting Acadia National Park

Visiting Acadia National Park in Maine

With any National Park in the summer time you’ll find high crowds.  The first day we came to the park at 11 am and it was already packed with no parking and traffic jams everywhere.  The next day we arrived at 5 am and it was pure bliss!  We enjoyed many popular spots like Sand Beach and Thunder Hole all to ourselves!  We did see other people here and there but for the majority of the early morning the park was quiet.

Sand Beach in Acadia National Park

The entire trip was a dream and I was tearful when it was time to fly home.  We are definitely planning on returning to Bar Harbor and Acadia in the future to explore other activities.  In this blog post I wanted to focus on the simple beauty of the land on Mt. Desert Island in Maine and keep the food separate so it wouldn’t overshadow the beauty, but I’m so excited to share with you our delicious eats!  Maine has so many wonderful things to eat besides lobster!

 

ESTES PARK COLORADO SUMMER GUIDE 2021

ESTES PARK COLORADO SUMMER GUIDE 2021

Summer is nearly here and that means it’s time to start making travel plans!  Last summer I really wanted to write an Estes Park summer guide but the reality was we were deep in Covid.  We’ve lived in the Estes Park area for the last two years and before that we visited here every year for a decade, and I have learned a lot of information during that time.

If you’re familiar with North Colorado or Rocky Mountain National Park odds are you’re familiar or you’ve at least heard of Estes Park.  Summertime in Estes is always busy so I thought I would put together a summer guide since COVID to help people with their travel plans.  Notice I said the words since COVID.  Colorado is cautiously opening up but COVID has still affected some businesses, restaurants, and activities.  Things have been rapidly changing here and I’ll give you the most up-to-date information I know of, but it’s probably wise to double check things before you visit.

Below I’ll share with you my favorite things to do, Rocky Mountain National Park updates, favorite restaurants, and a few other helpful tips.

Estes Park Colorado 2021 Summer Guide

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

If you’re coming to Estes Park in the summer then chances are you have plans to visit RMNP at least once while you are here.  Whether this is your first time or you’re an experienced visitor, there has been one significant change that you need to be aware of – the timed entry reservation system.  This was implemented for the first time last year because of COVID, but had been in the works for several years due to overcrowding in the park.  Park visitation has been drastically increasing year after year for the past decade (not counting COVID in 2020), and this is the solution that park officials came up with to alleviate crowded parking lots and roads.

Estes Park Colorado 2021 Summer Guide

Let me stress this important point, the timed entry reservation system is completely separate from admission fees.  You still have to pay a fee or have an annual pass to get in during guard station hours, which I believe are something like 5 am to 6 pm, but I am not sure about that.  The reservation system requires that you also have a timed entry reservation during the hours of 9 am to 3 pm.  Before or after those hours you don’t need a reservation to enter, but if the guard stations are open then you still have to either pay a fee or have an annual pass.

Now, here is another new change…this year they divided the park into two zones, the uber-popular Bear Lake Corridor, and the rest of the park.  When making your timed entry reservation you can choose either zone, but if you don’t have a Bear Lake reservation then you can’t enter that area during reservation hours.  On the other hand, if you do have a Bear Lake reservation you can access the main park also.  Also please note that the Bear Lake Corridor requires a timed entry reservation all day (from 5 am to 6 pm).  One last point to be stressed is that once you have entered the park using your timed entry reservation and paid your admission fee, you are free to enter and exit the park as much as you want the rest of the day.  This is different from some other parks where once you’re in you can’t leave and re-enter.  At RMNP you can.  Go HERE to read about various entry fees and passes and to make your purchase, and go HERE to read more about the timed entry reservation system and to purchase reservations ($2 per daily reservation).

But besides Rocky Mountain National Park, there are many other things to do and see in Estes Park…

THE STANLEY HOTEL

Rich with history, you’ll find The Stanley Hotel with lots of fun stuff to do.  This spooky historic hotel is known to be haunted with a few spirits, and after Stephen King stayed a few nights in Room 217 he was inspired to write The Shining (we’ve stayed in that room too!).  Outside you’ll even find a Shining inspired hedge maze to walk through.  History and ghost tours run daily and you can’t miss Aiden Sinclair’s incredible live shows!   If you happen to be hungry there is also a restaurant there (dinner reservations recommended), a bar, and a coffee and ice cream shop in the basement.

SNOWY PEAKS WINERY

Estes Park Colorado 2021 Summer Guide

Snowy Peaks Winery has award winning Colorado wines with indoor and outdoor seating along with a super friendly and knowledgeable staff.  Wine flights (seen above) are just $9 and a fun way to sample the amazing wines!  A variety of cheeses, meats, crackers, and chocolates are available for purchase too.  Snowy Peaks is open daily from 11-7 and they have live music every Friday on the patio in the summer.

MUSTANG MOUNTAIN COASTER

Estes Park Colorado Mustang Mountain Coaster

The Mustang Mountain Coaster is the newest addition to Estes Park.  This alpine coaster has gorgeous views and lets you control the speed of your ride, fast or slow!  Riders of at least 3 years old can ride with an adult.  A single ride is $20 per person and a three pack ride is $35.  Go for the three pack ride, it’s a great deal!  Video of the experience is available for $10.

LAKE ESTES MARINA

Estes Park Colorado 2021 Summer Guide

Come to the Lake Estes Marina while you’re here and rent a boat, kayak, or canoe to cruise the lake in comfort and style.  You can also bring your own boat and launch here for a small fee.  Swimming and power sports are prohibited, but this makes for a more quiet and relaxing time on the water.  Plus, we don’t want to scare the fish away!  Fishing is available from your boat, the dock, or the shore, but be sure to get a license first.  The marina also rents bikes and pedal carts for use on the Lake Estes Trail, and there are picnic tables and a pavilion nearby.

ESTES PARK AERIAL TRAMWAY

From late May to early September the Estes Park Aerial Tramway is open from 9-6.  Covid restrictions have now been lifted and this tram is a great experience.  You’ll take a 5 minute ride to the top with sweeping views of the mountains and the town, but once your ride ends the fun isn’t over!  There is plenty to see and do at the top of the mountain.  There is a gift shop, cafe, and plenty of mountain terrain to explore.  The gift shop sells peanuts to feed the very friendly and chubby chipmunks that are around.  They’ll come right up to you and some may want to eat out of your hand!

Estes Park Colorado 2021 Summer Guide

OTHER THINGS TO DO

Estes Park Colorado 2021 Summer Guide

Horseback riding – Sombrero Stables offers rides for those 6 and up.  Whether you choose the 30 minute, 1 hour, or 2 hour ride you’ll see gorgeous views from your ride.

Main Street – A visit to Estes Park would not be complete without a walk down the main strip, Elkhorn Avenue.  Here you will find many clothing and souvenir shops featuring Estes Park items and gifts, restaurants, candy and ice cream stores, and even a few Christmas stores.

Estes Park Historic Theatre – This historic theatre is the oldest single motion theatre still operating in the United States.  Inside you’ll be swept back in time while watching today’s new and classic movies.  A cafe is also available for drinks and snacks.

Rapid Transit Rafting –  From June to September rafting trips are available from Estes Park for those 7 years and up.  Half day trips are available on the Cache la Poudre and full day trips are available on the Colorado River, with lunch included.

Trout Haven Pond – This pond is regularly stocked with rainbow trout and a fun way to test your angling skills.  Rods are available for rental and you pay for what you catch.  They will also clean and pack what you catch.  No license is required.

Coffee on the Rocks – Coffee, wine, beer, and snacks are available at this cute little coffee shop.  There is plenty of outdoor seating along the pond with lots of friendly ducks and geese and it’s really fun to feed them!  Cups of food are available for $1.

Green Jeep Tours – This tour company has a variety of tours to offer!  Safari tours, hiking tours, brewery tours, and Grand Lake tours are available.  This is a great way to explore Estes Park and the Rockies all while taking in fresh mountain air.

Estes Park Trolleys – This 3 hour tour is open from May-October and takes you up to some of the most amazing natural wonders in the lower level of Rocky Mountain National Park.

YMCA of the Rockies – Inside the beautiful YMCA camp you’ll find hiking trails, playgrounds, sports, arts and crafts, and even more family friendly activities available.  Day passes are available for those staying off-site.

Golfing – Whether you are into mini-golf or the real thing, Estes Park has several courses to meet your needs.

Watch the elk – The Estes Park elk herds are world famous so be sure to take some time to drive around and look for them.  In the summertime they tend to move up a little higher in the mountains to stay cool and avoid the crowds, but if you’re looking for them you’ll probably find them.

SHORT DAY TRIPS FROM ESTES PARK

Estes Park Colorado 2021 Summer Guide

If you’re looking for a quick get-away from Estes Park there are many of great options!  Fort Collins, Boulder and Denver are easily doable in a day with plenty to do.  But odds are you’re wanting mountain charm.  Glen Haven is just a short drive down County Rd 43 switchbacks.  There isn’t a lot to do in Glen Haven but the views are incredible and it’s a must to stop at the Glen Haven General Store for their famous cinnamon rolls!  The Crosier Mountain trailhead is located near the General Store, depending on your skill level it can be a tough hike but the views are worth it!

Allenspark is a short drive and you’ll see amazing views of Longs Peak on the way.  Similar to Glen Haven it’s a very small town, aside from the scenic views you can stop by Saint Catherine’s Chapel on the Rock, which is absolutely stunning and you can pick up a slice of delicious pizza at the Rock Creek Tavern & Pizzeria.  The Pizzeria is really charming and fun, however I highly suggest you call or check their Facebook page before heading that direction.

Lyons is a larger town with lots of quirky shops and restaurants, located down Hwy 36.  Mojo Taqueria has some of the best tacos I’ve had!

If you take Trail Ridge Road (US 34) through RMNP and over the Continental Divide, the first town you will come to is Grand Lake.  There you will find more shops and restaurants as well as more hiking trails and a beautiful lake with a couple of marinas that offer boat rentals.  I could probably write an entire blog post just on Grand Lake, which I’ll probably do next!  For now, though I at least want to recommend the Grand Lake Lodge for their restaurant and bar, Huntington House Tavern, which has stunning views and delicious food, and another delicious restaurant that we love called The Rapids.

FAVORITE RESTAURANTS

Estes Park Colorado 2021 Summer Guide

Bird and Jim – Shown above, this gorgeous restaurant is my favorite in Estes Park.  The upscale food features lots of locally sourced ingredients.  Everything is amazing, from the ahi tuna tacos to the pheasant chowder, it’s all delicious!  Sunday brunch is a treat too, be sure and try a bacon bloody Mary!  During peak hours this place gets really busy.  Reservations are encouraged but walk-ins are welcome.

Dunraven at the Estes Park Resort – This restaurant moved from it’s previous location to beautiful Lake Estes.  You’ll get the same delicious Italian food plus sweeping views of the lake.  The new location features breakfast and lunch.  We love having breakfast and mimosas on the outdoor patio along the lake.

The Rock Inn Mountain Tavern – Quirky, great mountain food and full bar, and live music.

Hunter’s Chophouse – With rustic wooden walls and antler chandeliers, Hunters features old fashioned mountain charm.  They have a wide variety of unusual meats to choose from and an extensive wine list.  Be sure to try the wild game brats sampler or the smoked elk carpaccio!

Twin Owls Steakhouse – Twin Owls recently moved into a new location too that includes indoor and outdoor dining with gorgeous mountain views.  With an extensive menu you’ll find some of the best steaks and seafood around.

Smokin Dave’s BBQ – Definitely the best barbecue in Estes Park!  Try my favorite, the pork green chili, or my husband’s favorite burger to tackle, the Manhandler!  It’s definitely a popular place, so be prepared for a wait during peak dining hours.

The View – This restaurant is inside the Historic Crags Lodge and has beautiful views of Estes Park and the mountains.  They shut down due to COVID but told us they plan to reopen in late June.  The food was amazing and it’s the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion.  Definitely call to verify they’ve reopened and to check availability, I’ll update as soon as I hear more info!

Ed’s Cantina – Ed’s has a great riverside patio, and the best Mexican food we have found in Estes Park.

Cascades Restaurant & Lounge – Located inside The Stanley Hotel, the Cascades offers fine dining, the menu however is still limited due to COVID.  Reservations are available at www.opentable.com.

Antonio’s Real New York Pizza – Hands down the best pizza in the area!  They have so many creative pizzas to choose from!  If you’re extra hungry try their 26 inch pizza!  Dine in or pick up is available.

Burger’s and Gyros – Don’t let the shabby exterior of this building fool you, they have some of the best elk burgers, sides, and gyros!  There is a drive-thru and also indoor dining available.

Nicky’s Steakhouse is another great favorite, but unfortunately it is temporarily closed due to a recent fire.

Estes Park Colorado 2021 Summer Guide

I didn’t review lodging because honestly there are too many incredible places!  Whether you’re looking for a romantic place or a rustic cabin Estes Park has it all.  If you’re thinking about booking a trip what are you waiting for?  Not a summer traveler?  Estes Park is also a great place to visit in the off season as well.  VisitEstesPark.com has a year-round calendar of festivals and events you can see.

Be sure to check out my blog post on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park and my tips on how to beat altitude sickness.  Happy trails!

 

VISITING OURAY COLORADO IN THE WINTER

VISITING OURAY COLORADO IN THE WINTER

Visiting Ouray Colorado in the winter

Ouray, Colorado, known as the Switzerland of America, is such a beautiful and unique place to visit.  We always like to take a winter vacation after Christmas and I discovered this little gem last minute while searching for hot springs.  Pronounced “you-ray”, this winter paradise is surrounded by 13,000-foot snowy peaks from the San Juan mountain range, and has lots of relaxation and adventure to offer.

The town of Ouray seemed especially quiet after Christmas, which we loved.  Having no traffic lights just made this snowy town all the more charming, and as long as you’re bundled up nice and warm a large majority of the town is walkable.  There is so much to see and do, and I’m really excited to share all our hot and cold adventures with you!  Ouray instantly has become one of my favorite Colorado towns.

Visiting Ouray Colorado in the winter

In 2021, we’re still dealing with Covid, so of course not everything was open and that was fine with us.  Just keep in mind if you’re reading this post-Covid there should be even more things available.

THINGS TO DO

things to do in ouray

SHOP ON MAIN STREET

Visiting Ouray Colorado in the winter

I really enjoyed Khristopher’s Culinaire and the Ouray Bookshop was another favorite.  There are lots of quirky stores and souvenir, clothing, and gear shops to choose from.  There is also a small grocery store if you need to pick up a few items.

SOAK IN THE HOT SPRINGS

Wiesbaden private hot spring pool in Ouray Colorado

I’m definitely addicted to hot springs!  Soaking in a 104-degree mineral pool is just heavenly.  There are many hot springs to enjoy in the area including the Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa, where we stayed.  They have a main hot spring pool and a private hot spring that is available by reservation.  They also have a vapor cave which sounds amazing (but it’s closed currently due to Covid) and a spa below.  Orvis Hot Springs is just a short drive to Ridgeway and gorgeous.  There’s also the Ouray Hot Springs, which is perfect for the entire family with several pools to choose from and waterslides.  The Twin Peaks Lodge also has a hot spring on site.

GO ICE CLIMBING

Ouray ice climbing park

Ice climbing was another thing that excited me about visiting Ouray, they’re known for some of the best ice climbing terrain around.  Seasoned ice climbers can climb for free at the Ouray Ice Park.  If you’re a beginner like me have no fear.  You can take a lesson from the San Juan Mountain Guides and have fun climbing the beginner route.   It’s really fun to watch others climb too.

Ice Climbing in Ouray

Ice climbing was actually easier than I thought it would be, that is once you get the moves down.  It’s fun, but also a bit exhausting… and cold.  The day we climbed was one of the coldest days, and it was heavily snowing.  Having said that, Brian and I both loved it and can’t wait to do it again.

Beginner ice climbing in Ouray Colorado

Beginner ice climbing in Ouray Colorado

HIKE TO THE FALLS

Cascade Falls in the winter, Ouray Colorado

I just love waterfalls, even if they’re frozen.  Cascade Falls is an easy walk from the parking lot, even in the snow.  Those who have hiking poles can walk up a little farther like we did.  There is a surrounding trail nearby too.  Box Canyon Falls is located near the Ouray Ice Park and quite impressive from what I hear but sadly it was closed the day we tried to visit.  That’s okay, it’s just another excuse to visit again, right?

ADMIRE THE GORGEOUS ARCHITECTURE

Visiting Ouray Colorado in the winter

There are lots of beautiful and unique historic homes and buildings all throughout Ouray.  I just couldn’t get enough, I took photos of so many places!  Driving and walking around the town looking at all the gorgeous architecture was really fun.

Visiting Ouray Colorado in the winter

OTHER THINGS TO DO

Telluride Colorado gondola

Telluride is a little over an hour away and makes a great day trip to ski, dine, or shop.  Be sure to take the free gondola to Mountain Village it was the best gondola rides we’ve done.

The Wright Opera House is currently closed due to Covid but they plan to re-open when it’s safe.  There are a few interesting museums in the area, and plenty of spas available too, which we didn’t have time to enjoy.

WHERE TO EAT

Visiting Ouray Colorado in the winter

We had so many delicious meals, here are our favorite places where we ate.

Bon Ton Restaurant – Delicious Italian food with a neat underground location.  Try the scallop pot pie appetizer!

Artisan Bakery and Cafe – Yummy breakfast and lunch sandwiches.  Try the turkey salad sandwich!

Thai Chili Restaurant – Great views out the restaurant windows, food was great too.

Ouray Meat and Cheese Market – A lovely place to shop and grab a quick meal.

Colorado Boy Southwest Pub – Locals say they have some of the best pizza in Colorado.  We agree it was delicious!

Brickhouse 737 – Okay, we didn’t get to eat here but locals say it’s one of the best restaurants so I had to include it.  Next time we visit (can’t wait) we’ll be sure to eat here.

WHERE TO STAY

Wiesbaden in the winter in Ouray colorado

We stayed at The Wiesbaden to take advantage of their private hot spring pool.  The rooms were charming and sweet and the water felt amazing.  Currently there is no breakfast or coffee due to Covid.  The Artisan Bakery and Cafe was a short walk from our hotel, there is also another nearby coffee shop as well.

I can’t really speak for other lodging in the area since we only stayed at the Wiesbaden, but the Beaumont Hotel and Spa looked wonderful, as well as the St. Elmo Hotel.  The Twin Peaks Lodge also has their own hot spring on site so that’s a bonus.  When it’s possible we love to book through Hotels.com because you find the best price and you earn points for free nights.

Have I convinced you to visit Ouray?  It’s such a unique charming town to visit in the winter and we can’t wait to visit again!

 

EXPLORING THE ICE CAVES IN RIFLE MOUNTAIN PARK

EXPLORING THE ICE CAVES IN RIFLE MOUNTAIN PARK

Ice Caves in Rifle Mountain Park Colorado

Winter is one of my favorite times to travel and explore Colorado.  I love the crisp, cold air and the beautiful snowy mountains and trees, it’s a frozen winter paradise!  After 2020 ended I was determined 2021 would be an amazing year full of fun and adventure.  I know we’re still dealing with Covid and everyone needs to be careful so a road trip to explore the Rifle Mountain Park was perfect for us, and I was able to check off another Colorado bucket list item, exploring ice caves!

The ice caves are formed after several cycles of freezing and thawing and typically take their shape from December to February.  Each ice cave is uniquely beautiful with hues of aqua throughout the ice.  It’s a true winter gem.

Ice Caves in Rifle Mountain Park Colorado

Rifle Mountain Park is located just north of the town of Rifle, about an hour from Glenwood Springs (another favorite place of ours).  Some people opt to park by the entrance sign and walk in, while others prefer to drive closer to the caves.  The park road follows the East Rifle Creek through the canyon, and on the other side of the creek is Koper’s Trail.  There are small parking areas along the way, with bridges to cross the creek to allow cave access.  You can also park at the Koper’s Trail trailhead and hike along the creek to all the caves.

Admission to the park is $5 per vehicle.  You pay at a kiosk just past the entrance sign.

Ice Caves in Rifle Mountain Park Colorado

The drive into the park is nothing short of stunning.  The road parallels the trail and creek so if snow or terrain is ever too difficult you can cross over a bridge and walk on the road.  In the summer rock climbing is popular in Rifle Mountain Park, and in the winter you may spot some ice climbers as well.

Ice Caves in Rifle Mountain Park Colorado

Ice Caves in Rifle Mountain Park Colorado

The trail is a mixture of snow, ice, and dirt.  Inside the caves the ground is solid uneven ice.  It’s crucial to wear microspikes – or even better crampons – to avoid falling.  Poles are helpful when navigating around rocks and terrain on the trail, but poles alone will not help you in the cave.  If you don’t have a solid traction device on your feet please don’t enter the cave.  Also it’s winter in Colorado so remember to wear a warm synthetic or wool base layer, possibly a mid layer (I usually don’t need one if I’m active), waterproof pants, a jacket, gloves, hat, and waterproof snow boots.  Don’t forget to pack some water and snacks too!

Ice Caves in Rifle Mountain Park Colorado

Ice Caves in Rifle Mountain Park Colorado

The first cave is a a short hike from the beginning of the Koper’s Trail.  Upon entering I was in awe of this beautiful icy fantasy land, it’s like walking behind a blue frozen waterfall.  Inside, the ground was a frozen thick sheet of ice with icicles hanging from the ceiling.  You could hear and see water trickling beneath the ice in some areas but the icy ground was solid.

The caves are large enough to walk around in, and although they can be dim in certain areas you do not need a flashlight to see inside.

Ice Caves in Rifle Mountain Park Colorado

Ice Caves in Rifle Mountain Park Colorado

Ice Caves in Rifle Mountain Park Colorado

Ice Caves in Rifle Mountain Park Colorado

Ice Caves in Rifle Mountain Park Colorado

Someone on Instagram mentioned how cute it was that I matched the ice caves.  Haha… it was unplanned I promise!

Ice Caves in Rifle Mountain Park Colorado

The second cave is a little farther down the trail, with a little elevation but nothing extreme.  Poles can be helpful here, remember you can always exit and walk along the road where it’s easier.

Ice Caves in Rifle Mountain Park Colorado

Ice Caves in Rifle Mountain Park Colorado

The second cave is a bit larger, with a narrow opening on one side and a larger one on the other end.

Ice Caves in Rifle Mountain Park Colorado

Ice Caves in Rifle Mountain Park Colorado

Ice Caves in Rifle Mountain Park Colorado

Below is one of the bridges connecting the road/parking lot to the Koper’s Trail that leads to the caves.  The creek is warmed by the groundwater with beautiful green aquatic plants growing inside it, even in January.

Ice Caves in Rifle Mountain Park Colorado

We had heard that there are more ice caves farther up the trail, but by the time we exited the second cave it had started snowing really hard so we decided to head back.  Based on our research, though, we heard that the first two caves were the best.

Ice Caves in Rifle Mountain Park Colorado

Crampons | Poles | Base-layer | Hat (so many fun colors!) | Down Jacket (runs small so order a size up)

I think everyone should explore this beautiful frozen trail, and especially the ice caves.  After exploring the caves we went back to Glenwood Springs for a nice quiet hot spring soak which was fantastic, and then the next day we ventured a little farther to Ouray, Colorado, where we had more frozen fun.  I’ll be sharing our Ouray trip on the blog soon.  Happy winter!

 

5 EASY WINTER HIKES IN ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

5 EASY WINTER HIKES IN ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

5 easy winter hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Since moving near Rocky Mountain National Park we’ve developed a huge love for hiking, and our favorite time of year is winter.  Once upon a time I used to find winter hiking very intimidating, it does take more planning, but winter hiking is a true gem.  The crowds thin out, the cold crisp air is invigorating, and the views are just incredible, it’s like hiking in a snow globe!

There are lots of amazing trails for all fitness levels throughout Rocky Mountain National Park but today I’m going to share with you my five favorite easy winter trails on the east side of the park.  I’m also listing some of our favorite AFFORDABLE winter essentials for hiking.

5 easy winter hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

RECOMENDED ITEMS

  • Micro-spikes – These are our favorite, so lightweight and easy to put on.  They are essential for traction in ice and packed snow!
  • Hiking poles – These are our favorite, and come in lots of fun colors, and they work for all seasons.
  • Map or GPS – We use and love the Alltrails.com Pro app, but we also keep a map handy if our battery dies.
  • Base-layer top and bottoms – To insulate the body and wick away sweat, this is my favorite pair and Brian’s.
  • Mid-layer – Such as a fleece top.
  • Waterproof Insulated pants and jackets
  • Warm socks
  • Waterproof gloves 
  • Insulated waterproof hiking boots
  • Hat and neck warmer – or this combo one.
  • Sunglasses Ski googles are a lifesaver on extremely windy days!
  • Sunscreen – Winter sun is intense!
  • Water in an insulated container – Regular water bottles can freeze during winter hiking.
  • Snacks
  • Whistle

Winter weather in Rocky Mountain National Park can be quite unpredictable.  You may not need all of the items above, but it’s a good idea to have them handy just in case.

Essential winter hiking gear

SPRAGUE LAKE

  • Distance 0.9 miles round trip
  • Elevation gain: 10 feet
  • Directions: Enter Rocky Mountain National Park on highway 36, turn left on Bear Lake Road, go about 6 miles and turn left at the sign for Sprague Lake.

Sprague Lake in the winter

Sprague Lake is the perfect easy winter warm up hike for all ages, there is very little elevation gain so it’s wheelchair and stroller friendly too.  Here you’ll see dreamy views of the continental divide, cross bridges, read historical information about the lake, and see children playing on the frozen snow covered lake.  You’ll probably see trout in the babbling stream too.

Sprague Lake in the winter

BEAR LAKE

  • Distance 0.8 miles round trip
  • Elevation gain: 45 feet
  • Directions: From highway 36 enter Rocky Mountain National Park, turn left on Bear Lake Road, go all the way to the end which is a little over 9 miles.

Bear Lake in the winter

Parking at Bear Lake is the summer is a nightmare, you may wait a little bit in the winter for parking depending on the time of day, but overall it’s much easier.  This popular lake trail always has a crowd but don’t let that keep you away.  The views all around the lake are stunning!

Bear Lake in the winter

Walking around Bear Lake is like a true winter wonderland, you’ll see stunning mountain views, gorgeous snow covered pine trees, icicles, and a snowy view of Hallet Peak.  This trail is perfect for all ages.

DREAM LAKE

  • Distance 2.2 miles round trip
  • Elevation gain: 450 feet
  • Directions: The trailhead is at Bear Lake.  From highway 36 enter Rocky Mountain National Park, turn left on Bear Lake Road, go all the way to the end which is a little over 9 miles.

Dream Lake in the winter

Starting at Bear Lake, the hike up to Dream Lake is incredibly stunning in every direction.  Staying on the trail can be tricky at times, especially after fresh snow because people go off the trail a lot.  Pay attention to signs, and it’s a good idea to bring GPS if you’re unfamiliar with this trail.  You’ll start gaining some altitude with this trail but it’s an easy trail as long as the weather cooperates.  Dream Lake can have very bitter cold winds in the winter so dress very warmly, also be prepared for deep snow in spots.

Dream Lake in the winter

The close views of Hallet Peak are absolutely incredible and make any extreme weather worth it.

Dream Lake in the winter

CHASM FALLS

  • Distance: 4.6 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 640 feet
  • Directions: From highway 34 enter Rocky Mountain National Park, turn right at the Old Fall River Road sign and park in the West Alluvial Fan Trailhead parking lot, and continue hiking west along the road past the winter gate.

Chasm Falls in the winter

In the summer Old Fall River Road is a one way road that takes you up to the Alpine Visitor Center.  In the winter the road closes to all vehicles  and it becomes a great hiking trail.  The trail starts out flat, walking through groves of sleeping aspen trees and beautiful snowy mountain views in the distance.  As you near the waterfall you’ll get the heart pumping with a few switchbacks but it’s nothing that in-shape older people or enthusiastic kids can’t handle.  You’ll see a sign for Chasm Falls to the left and follow steps down to the waterfall.

Chasm Falls in the winter

Partially frozen, the waterfall is beautiful!  You can hear and see the water dropping 25 feet under a veil of ice into the icy pools below.  There is railing everywhere so it’s safe and a beautiful photo taking spot!  We usually see only a few other hikers on this trail, which is a nice bonus.

Chasm Falls in the winter

BIERSTADT LAKE

  • Distance 4.4 miles round trip
  • Elevation gain: 630 feet
  • Directions: From highway 36 enter Rocky Mountain National Park, turn left on Bear Lake Road.  Go about 7 miles to the Bierstadt Lake sign and parking lot on the right.

Bierstadt Lake in the winter

Bierstadt Lake is a favorite trail of ours any time of year, but the winter season has a completely different feel from the summer.  Bierstadt Lake has low crowds in the winter making it a quiet peaceful trail.  You’ll begin this trail walking through pine trees, then transition into switchbacks with sweeping views of Long’s Peak and the Continental Divide.  The trail is narrow and often ice packed so traction devices are extremely helpful.

Bierstadt Lake in the winter

Bierstadt Lake in the winter

Once you reach the top you’ll be greeted by a quiet forest of pine trees surrounding the lake.  You can turn around and go back at this point or continue the loop around the lake following the orange tags on the trees to stay on trail. There are clearings along the trees to allow access to the lake.  On a clear day you’ll be able to see sweeping views of the mountains behind the lake.  I love walking around the lake being surrounded by snowy pine trees.  Snow can be quite deep in some areas around the lake, it’s a great spot for snowshoeing too.  We see older kids do this trail all the time, it depends on their comfort level.

Bierstadt Lake in the winter

If you’re visiting Rocky Mountain National Park during the wintertime I hope I’ve convinced you to go on a winter hike.  It’s truly a magical time of year.  Bring sure to bring an insulated pot of hot cocoa to enjoy after your hike!