Travel – Colorado (In the Mountains)

Vail back bowls

So I’ve been back for a little while after having a terrific week away on vacation.  Baby girl slept pretty well, the bigger girls didn’t tear each other to shreds.  I was relaxed, and the Boy was happy.  We got to do some fun things, and we didn’t try to do too much.  I think this is my new lesson with vacation – especially with small children/babies – don’t over-plan.  Especially if you’re trying to get a baby to nap during the day, perhaps make sure you leave yourself some extra time in the afternoon at home/the hotel to let that baby sleep, and to relax (and maybe even nap yourself!) because vacationing with kids is nothing like being by yourself.  So that’s tip number one.

Tip number two is thinking ahead.  For this trip, the Boy wanted to go white water rafting with all his big girls – me included.  That meant coordinating babysitting with my aunt who lives out there, and booking the trip ahead of time with reputable river guides.  We made it happen, and it was perhaps one of the most memorable things from our trip.  But beyond this, I made sure we were prepared with all the baby and food items we would need ahead of time.  My aunt also grocery shopped for us, including the solid baby food that B has begun to eat, and I had Amazon ship a package of diapers out ahead of time so I wouldn’t need to pack however many in my already-stuffed suitcase.  This was a genius move.

Tip number three is that the mountains of Colorado are the perfect place to take a baby in the summer.  The temperatures are slightly cooler and MUCH less humid than the East Coast, but even if it’s hot during the day, it will cool down a LOT at night, and be very pleasant in the morning.  Since most babies will wake up early, you can take advantage of this perfect morning temperature, and do whatever outdoor activities before the sun gets too hot.  The mountains also have a tendency to have wildfires (low humidity also means things will catch fire more easily), and the afternoon is when the smoke tends to be heaviest.  If you can plan things for the morning, do it.

Now that those tips are out of the way, let’s get to what we did, and what was good.

Our first full day, we decided to go up to Piney River Ranch.  Piney River is a (I believe) privately owned ranch that sits nestled in a valley with a small lake high in the mountains.  It is breathtakingly beautiful.  It’s a pain in the butt to get to (not great for those of us with phobias of driving on winding mountain roads), but when you are there, it is definitely worth it.  There is hiking (though keep on the path to the left like us if you don’t want to spend the entire hike trudging through the valley), canoes and SUPs for rental, horseback riding, and fishing.  The restaurant is also not bad, and since you can’t bring a picnic lunch with you, it’s a very pleasant meal for after a long hike or other activity.  We were going to do the hike to the waterfall, but I took us down the wrong path, and it was still very beautiful.  I think if you didn’t have a baby, and could spend an entire day it would be a terrific outing.  I wish I could have gone paddleboarding – that lake was so still!

That night we wanted to do something quick and easy for dinner.  We mentioned to my cousin that we wanted to do something low-key for dinner, like sandwiches from Subway. “Oh no,” he said, “You could do Subway, but you should really go to this other place down the hill that does sandwiches, and it’s so much better.” And that’s how we ended up at the Smiling Moose. I’m glad he made this suggestion becuase we do like to try and find more local options instead of big national chains when we can, and this was exactly what we wanted. The food was good, the menu a little more creative than your standard Subway fare, and not too expensive. That first night since we were having challenges putting the baby to bed, we decided to get our food to go. It all ended up being very delicious (I had the [SANDWICH], but don’t make my mistake of putting it on [CIABBATA?] – get a sturdier [BREAD]), and was exactly what we were looking for that night.

Our next big morning outing was with the Lakota Guides. The Boy had done the research, and reviews all seemed to indicate that this group of river guides were amazing. In fact, when we booked the trip, we had initially chosen something a little more staid, and since their online form asks you to put in the ages of any child members of the party, they were able to call us back and say, “Listen, I think your kids would have more fun on this other trip.” And they were right – we did the [TRIP], and it was so much fun.  The perfect white water introduction to a weenie like me who has a tendency to be scared of her own shadow.  Instead, it was the exact right amount of thrilling followed by relaxing, and now it makes me want to go back and do MORE rafting, but with more rapids!  Not only were the guides terrific, but the “gourmet snack” that was provided to us on the ride back into town ended up being a half sandwich, chips, orange, and a cookie – or as we call it, LUNCH.  So that was awesome.  We are already making plans for the next time we can get out there and do more rafting, and figuring out how young is too young to put a baby in a raft. Don’t worry – B won’t be taking down Class IIIs anytime soon – but apparently there are some very gentle float trips that the guides will do with children as young as 2!

Fried chicken banh mi (drool!!!) and a blueberry Gose.

Our dinner that night was “picked for us” by the guide from the raft earlier in the day.  When asked where we should go in town that was a) open early (because: baby), b) had good food, and c) good beer, he pointed us towards Craftsman.  This ended up being another sandwich-type establishment (we ate a LOT of sandwiches this trip!), but as advertised, had great beer, and once again the sandwiches were not your ordinary fare.  In fact, as I figured out later, the night we went was actually their ramen special night, and we could had done that, but hot soup with a baby is always a challenge.  The restaurant was super chill, the beer was great, and food terrific.  Would definitely go back.

Day three was our biggest and most exciting day.  It was the day we spent on top of Vail mountain.  Vail is obviously a big deal ski resort in the late fall-winter-early spring.  But in the summertime, it is BEAUTIFUL – lush and green, and perfect for making a day.  The top of the mountain has all kinds of adventure activities like tubing, zip-lining, ropes courses, bungee trampolining, a mountain “coaster” and more on top of the hiking and mountain biking.  Additionally, to get to the place where all this awesome happens you’ll need to ride the gondola up to the top, and that in and of itself is a wonderful experience.  The mountains are beautiful and the ride is pleasant.  Granted, all the adventures on the top of the mountain are not cheap, so the best way to do this is to get an adventure pass for as many members of your family as will take advantage of it.  That’s what we did, and boy, did we take advantage of “unlimited rides” on the ones we could.  We added on the zip-lining (once per visit), but went down the tubing hill at least 3 times each, and the girls went on the mountain coaster 4 times each, while the Boy and I got two rides each due to trading off baby time.  If you were to do the math and figure out how much individual rides would cost, we definitely got our money’s worth from the that mountain coaster alone.  And how often can you say that you’ve done flips on a bungee cord as you bounce next to your stepdaughter?  As a note, dining options on top of the mountain are limited and expensive (though good!), so keep that in mind.

That night we met my Aunt and Uncle for dinner at the Gore Range Brewery.  This was a great dinner out because it was close to where we were staying, had interesting local beer for us to try, and was very family friendly.  The girls both were able to order interesting foods (not from the kid menu!), while B happily in a high chair and messily scarfed Gerber green beans.  I had some super yummy fish and chips with brussels sprouts on the side, and I know the Boy ordered fish as well (he was at the other end of the table).  I think we were both just happy to have a non-sandwich option!

The next day we drove back to Denver so we could be there for the weekend, and had one last day in the mountains.  On the drive east, we took the advice of my uncle, and since it was a beautiful day drove over the Loveland Pass instead of taking the tunnel through the mountains.  It was gorgeous up there, and was also a great opportunity to explain to everyone else in the car what the Continental Divide really is (it’s the place where the watershed changes – on the western side it all ends up in the Pacific, and on the eastern side, will eventually end up in the Atlantic).  We took a bunch of pictures, and then headed out.  If you want to do this as well, check the weather, because if it’s too overcast, it isn’t as pretty, and can potentially be treacherous if the weather is bad.

After I ate out most of the meat and noodles!

We had planned to stop for lunch at Subway (there it is again!) on the other side of the mountain, but as we pulled off the highway, we noticed a sign for Pho.  Since we all love noodle soup, we decided to take a chance after checking reviews online for the restaurant – Pho Bay III in Georgetown.  The consensus was that it was pretty good, and after having lunch there ourselves, I can safely say that I was surprised at how tasty it was myself.  So if you’re ever driving west from Denver on I-70…consider stopping for a bowl of pho!

Our final stop pre-checking into the Denver hotel was one last hike on Mt. Evans.  Mt Evans has the highest paved road in North America.  We didn’t make it all the way up to 14K feet, but we did an easy hike on Echo Lake Trail just to make sure we stretched our legs enough during the day and appreciated the place that we were in.  The hike was very easy – about 1.5 miles, and flat – but from the starting point, if you go to the left, the trail goes along the side of the road until you get to the top of the lake, when it goes off the road and into the trees.  This road portion was not great, and we were very cautious about cars.  Once you get into the wooded portion though, it’s lovely.  The trees are dense, and there are nice little areas to step out next to the lake and get beautiful views.  I’m actually glad we did the roadside portion first, because it allowed us to appreciate the wooded portion more afterwards.

And that’s it.  After we got in the car, it was time to check in to the hotel.  And I’ll leave the Denver portion of our adventures for another day.

Piney River Ranch, 700 Red Sandstone Road, Vail, CO.  Open seasonally, June 21st through the last weekend in September; 9am – 6pm daily.
Smiling Moose, locations in Denver, and Edwards, CO.
Lakota Guides, 411 Metcalf Rd, Avon, CO.  Reservations required.  We did Glenwood Canyon/Shoshone.
Craftsman, 56 Edwards Village Blvd Unit 112, Edwards, CO.
Vail Mountain
Gore Range Brewery, 105 Edwards Village Blvd, Edwards, CO.
Loveland Pass, Rt 6 between Silverthorne and the Loveland Ski Area.
Pho Bay III, 1025 Rose St, Georgetown, CO.
Echo Lake Trail

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