Garden of the Gods
Garden of the gods is a beautiful national natural landmark and the best part is it's entirely free. The museum is interactive and informative so I recommend a quick stop in before your hike. The front desk on the second floor has trail maps that are color coded with trail names. The park is easy to navigate and has mild to moderate hiking options. If you are a technical climber you can also get a permit to climb the rock formations, otherwise it's illegal to climb on the marked structures. If you are traveling with your dogs this park is dog friendly as long as they are on a leash. Make sure to bring lots of water with you as most of the trails are not shaded and it can get hot very quickly.
Pikes peak is one of the 14ers in Colorado and has a beautiful 19-mile scenic drive up to the top of the mountain. It costs 12 dollars per person to head up to the top of the mountain. This is collected at a tollbooth at the start of the highway. Just after mile marker 3 there is a big foot crossing sign. Apparently park goers have spotted big foot here. I wasn't lucky enough to get a climbs of the mysterious creature but maybe you will! As you make your way up the mountain the air temperature drops significantly and the trees will start to thin out. Keep an eye out for any animals; especially big horn sheep that like to hang out on the cliffs. There are lots of pull offs on the way up and down the mountain so you can get out and take pictures or just stare at the magnificent view before you. Once you reach the top the air is going to be very thin and it's going to be very cold so I would recommend a jacket. You may get lightheaded at the top so walk slowly. There is a store and cafe at the top of the mountain so you can grab a coffee or souvenir. You made it to the top of Pikes Peak and that's a big deal! So make sure to get a photograph at the sign as proof you were above 14,000 feet.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain is a beautiful nation park with a tremendous amount of wildlife. Of all the parks I have been to this one certainly has the most wildlife. I highly recommend driving the trail ridge road, which connects Estes Park to grand lake. It takes roughly two hours to do the entire drive with some stops along the way. Driving from the east to the west side of the park you will go through three different environments including alpine (above 11,400 ft), subalpine (9,000-11,4000 feet) and montane (below 9,000 ft). While driving the alpine, home to a very delicate tundra ecosystem, be on the look for elk, deer, marmot and rabbits. The elk and deer mostly hang out in the open fields and marmot and rabbit tend to be located in rocky areas. As you continue your drive through the subalpine be on alert for all types of animals. This area is a great location for spotting but it can be hard to stop since there are limited numbers of safe pull of sites. Moral of the story, have your camera ready at all times. As you continue towards the east side of the park be on the look out for moose. I cannot emphasize this enough. A mother and her calf tend to hang out around the entrance of the park. I have been to this park three times and seen moose in this same location every time.
There are a couple of campsites in the park but they fill up pretty fast so if you don't want to take a chance on getting a site make sure to reserve one early. I decided to go for it and headed to Longs Peak campsite, which doesn't allow reservations online. I got lucky and ended up with a campsite. This campsite is tent only and tucked away off the road, which is exactly what I was looking for. If you get a spot here just take a self registration card from the information booth, write the dates your staying and license plate number of your car on it and then hang it on the campsite post. When I was there it was free to camp, making this site that much better. Just be sure to bring water (since the sites don't have any) and cash for wood bundles (6 dollars each).
If you are going to be camping in the park and either don't have gear or don't want to cart it with you on a plane then I would recommend checking out the Outdoor Geek store. This place rents all kinds of camping gear from car camping to ultra light primitive camping. You can pick up the gear from their store in Denver or they will ship it to you. I rented a tent and sleeping pad from them, which were in great condition and worked perfectly.
Estes Park is a quaint town on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park. The downtown area has lots of cool shops and restaurants. If you’re up for a mom and pop place try out Babas. They have bison burgers and a view of the mountains from the outdoor patio.
While in Estes I decided to try my hand at fly-fishing. I'm just warning you that this is a highly addictive sport so be prepared to want to do more of it when your done. If you’re already a fly fisherman you know exactly what I'm talking about. I used Kirks Fly Fishing Shop and they were awesomeness! The shop had everything you could ever need for fishing and they supply you with your gear and a guide for your excursion. I got super lucky and ended up with Kirk as my guide. He was awesome and knew some super secret spots on the river. We ended up doing a quick hike to Big Thompson River in the national park and then started fishing. I had never fly fished before and I ended up with 12 fish! Of course my prized fish was a greenback cutthroat. Totally worth the trip and the money!
St. Marys Glacier
St. Mary’s Glacier Lake is located in Idaho springs about 45 minutes outside of Denver. This hike climbs about 1000 feet over the course of about a mile. It is not a well marked trail so anywhere it seems there is fork make sure to stay to the left. As long as your headed up and not down your going the correct direction. It's a pretty rocky trail so I recommend breaking out the hiking shoes for this one. When you reach the top you will see the glacier and lake. If you continue walking around the lake there will be a trail that leads up to the glacier. Be careful walking on this trail and be extremely careful if you step onto the glacier. It's very slippery, especially if it rains. This hike is absolutely beautiful and totally worth the uphill climb. This is also a popular spot for bringing your four-legged friend so if your traveling with your best friend be sure to bring them along.
Indian Hot Springs
After hiking you can head over to the Indian hot springs, located off the downtown district of Idaho springs. It's a low-key hot spring with a pool, cave springs and a mid room. I used the cave springs and mudroom. The springs are underground in caves which makes the experience that much cooler. The springs are separate into women and make sides since clothing is optional. The cave springs are VERY hot so make sure to bring water and keep hydrating while your socking in them. The mudroom makes you feel like a little kid again as you smear yourself with mud. After you get the mud all over you grab a lounge chair and relax while it dries. I was there on a Monday for about 3.5 hours and spent a total of 32 dollars. I did not use the pool but if you don't want to go into the caves you can use a pool fed with spring water. It stays around 90 degrees as opposed to 120 degrees.
Below is gear specifically for camping, which is not provided if you are renting.
Camping Gear if you are not renting.