Weekend Getaway to Grand Lake & Rocky Mountain National Park

It’s getting to be that time of year where things feel bleak. I’m over the gray skies, chilly walks to work, and ever-present feeling that I’m about to slip on ice. One of the best remedies is to just get out of town. I ventured out (sans husband since he was sick) on a three hour drive for a weekend getaway to Grand Lake & Rocky Mountain National Park with my sister and brother-in-law over President’s Day.

Scenic Byway

I’m a self-proclaimed serial information seeker (which makes working in libraries a great fit!) I want to know as many details as possible before doing something or going somewhere. Yet, I took off on my weekend getaway to Grand Lake without really closely studying my route. Unbeknownst to me, the 32 miles on CO-1 between State Bridge (just north of Wolcott) and Kremmling is almost completely unpaved. My rickety Honda Accord took it like a champ, though I’m sure I garnered some weird looks from the drivers of large Jeeps and trucks I passed. I traveled the entire length (80 miles) of the Colorado River Headwaters Scenic Byway from Stage Bridge to Grand Lake. There are many small recreation areas off this road and this looks to be a beautiful area for some exploring in the summer. This was a much more exciting route than if I had driven I-70 all the way past Georgetown and then north through Winter Park (and I avoided all that ski traffic!)

Lodging

We rented a cozy Airbnb cabin in downtown Grand Lake, which is a cute, bustling recreation town. It serves as the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park and two large lakes: Grand Lake & Shadow Mountain Lake. Seeing snowmobiles drive around town and having such large bodies of water surrounded by pine trees reminded me of some spots in upper Michigan where I went snowmobiling as a kid. Definitely not as developed (or busy) as its cousin on the east side of RMNP (Estes Park), but this area is big for boaters in the summer.

Hike to Big Meadows

Our big hike on this trip was just beyond the west entrance of RMNP at the Green Mountain Trailhead. The hike to Big Meadows was recommended to us by the ranger at the visitor center who I’m thankful to for steering us to this trail. We were just going to randomly pick a trail to go on. The ones we were thinking of heading to were either high avalanche risk or would have required us to break trail the entire time (an exhausting prospect). There were two other cars at the parking area on late Sunday morning and it was just starting snow. Hard. This trail is definitely for folks who are looking for a good cardio workout. We gained almost 1000 feet in elevation over the course of the hike. Trail conditions were good with hard pack snow and some evidence of people not wearing snowshoes causing some post-holing about a foot down. I recommend some sort of traction due to the steep grade in some parts. Loved wandering through this forest of super tall pine trees!

Rocky Mountain National Park Big Meadows Green Mountain Trailhead hike snowshoeing winter

We went a little over a mile north on a fork of the trail that followed the meadows for a ways. More uphill into the forest! This was a lot harder of a hike since not many people had visited this far. This area would be a lot of fun for summer backpacking since there are many trails that split off of this one. Round trip mileage for this out and back hike was around 5.8 miles. We could have cut it short by turning around at 1.8 miles (the stopping point for Big Meadows), but the quiet, snowy terrain beckoned us onward.

If there are any takeaways I hope you pick up from this blog post, let it be this: if you have numerous options for lodging and one has a hot tub available…ALWAYS GET THE HOT TUB. Hot tubs in the dead of winter are the greatest, especially after a long hike. Snow falling, rumbling water jets, and a cold ginger beer–what more could you want?

Driving back to Rifle proved to be rather tricky. A heavy storm was rolling through and yet, I still chose to take my original route back. Admittedly, if the weather had just been a smidge worse, this probably wouldn’t have been a brilliant idea. Visibility was near zero with strong gusts and snow drifts all over the place, but of course, that didn’t stop me from snapping a few photos. Snow tires are a wonderful thing to have in Colorado.