If you haven’t read Part 1 of our Colorado 12 Day Camping Trip Blog go check it out! We visited Denver, Mt. Evans, Gardens of the Gods, and other awesome places. Part 2 will be here waiting for you ;)!
Day 6: Buena Vista -> Twin Lakes
We arrived early at Whitestar Campground. After setting up our campsite we decided to take a trip to Aspen which was about 1 hour away from the campground. On our way towards Aspen, we had a chance to stop at the Continental Divide Independence Pass which is definitely worth stopping at for a magnificent view of the mountain range. If you are interested in visiting make sure to do so between Memorial Day until late October, early November. The road is closed during the winter months due to landslide risks.
About 15mins outside of Aspen we stopped at the Devils Punchbowl, a natural swimming hole that you can access right from the road. There were a couple of people jumping in, and others taking in the sound of the waterfalls.
The downtown Aspen area was lively and full of shops and flowers. While strolling through the plazas a light rain started of nowhere. Make sure you bring a rain jacket with you if you are planning to visit Colorado. I’m glad we invested in good rain gear since we used it several times during our trip.
After walking around for a bit more with the rain we had built up an appetite so we stopped at Aspen Tap for a late lunch. Their cocktails and beer were pretty good, and the Mushroom Pizza wasn’t groundbreaking but it hit the spot :)!
We quickly wrapped up with lunch and headed back to Twin Lakes for the night, looking forward to going explore the Twin Lakes up close the next morning.
Day 7: Day @ Whitestar Campground
On Day 7 we decided to stay at the campground and enjoy the amazing views of Mt. Elbert and Mt. Princetown. Out of all of our campgrounds, this one had the best view of the mountains. It was a relaxing day of hiking and reading. I was reading Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky which was a very fun read which gave me very actionable strategies to make time for what matters most.
If you are interested in a quick recipe to make at the campsite, one of our favorites is the Spicy Cajun Sausage Skillet . I highly recommend this recipe since it is super easy to make and very filling.
Day 8: Twin Lakes -> Vail -> Grand Lake (Green Ridge Campground)
On Day 8, we said adiós to Whitestar Campground and headed out to Vail. This was yet another beautiful drive across the mountains. Once we arrived at Vail we headed to Mountain Standard, where I had a reservation for lunch. The food was spectacular! We had the Pimento Cheese and a delicious Cod Tartini for an appetizer. We shared a Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich, paired with a Moscow Mule and an Old Fashioned. For dessert, we had the Banana Bread pudding, which was great as well!
Make sure that you have a good parking plan when you arrive. Vail is a beautiful town but finding parking was a bit of a hassle, so make sure you look up the parking options in advance. After our lunch, we took a quick stroll through town and then headed towards Green Ridge Campground in Grand Lake which was about a 2hr drive. Also, make sure to verify if there are any fire restrictions at your campgrounds before visiting. Green Ridge had fire restrictions in place, but we were fully aware and though I love a campfire, we followed the rules and enjoyed the stars instead.
Day 9: Grand Lake Hikes & Huntington Tavern
The next day we walked through the Continental Divide Trail alongside Shallow Mountain Lake and Grand Lake. While making our way through the trail we met a hiker who was on Day 55 of his true-hike from Mexico to Canada. Impressive indeed! Maybe Mr. DMD and I will get there one day! We also saw our first up-close Moose drinking water by the lake!
After the morning hike, we came back for a quick lunch before heading out to Cascade Falls.
When we visited Cascade Falls there were timed entry requirements in place from 9 AM-3 PM, so we went around 3 PM just in case, since we did not have permits. At the time of our visit, due to the pandemic, multiple tourist attractions required time entry permits which had to be reserved the day prior starting at 5 PM at their website. Make sure to check if there is any need for passes before visiting a National Park attraction, especially for Rocky Mountain National Park!
The hike to Cascade Falls took us a good amount (3 hrs) and it was a sight to see. There had been some recent fires and a large portion of the forest was burnt, but this allowed us to better see the landscape and keep an eye for Mountain Lions which though not common have been spotted in the area. The contrast between the burnt trees and new wildflowers sprouting from the black ground was beautiful.
For dinner, we went to the Huntington Tavern. It had a beautiful view of the Grand Lake, and the food was delicious, but the portions were not big enough to fill us up after a whole day of hiking, so make sure to find a place that will meet your caloric needs :)!
Day 10: Rocky Mountains National Park
We had big plans on Day 10. It was our first time visiting the Rocky Mountains National Park, and we had plenty of youtube videos to hype us up. We planned on checking out Bear Lake, Dream Lake & Emerald Lake during our visit, so we woke up early to break camp and head to the park. Less than 15 minutes into the park we were already spotting wildlife. If you want to increase your chances of seeing wildlife going in the morning is a good idea.
The one thing we did not plan well was breakfast. We arrived around 8AM to a lookout point where there was a coffee shop within the park but it did not open till 9 AM, so we were a bit hungry. On the bright side, we saw some Elk while we were there. From there we headed to the trails, and by the time we got to the park (10 AM), it was already rush hour. There was a pretty big line from the Estes Park entrance so plan accordingly.
The hike around Bear Lake was short, but the lake is stunning. There are multiple lookout points where you can take amazing pictures. It is a great little warmup hike!
We then hiked up to Emerald Lake where the trail was filled with waterfalls, wildflowers, and rocky peaks in the distance. We saw our first marmot when we were at Emerald Lake. If you’d like to take good pictures, make your way there as early as possible!
We then headed to The Barrel in Estes Park where we enjoyed a delicious beer with Barbacoa and Al Pastor corn tacos, and some great nachos. The al pastor tacos and the Guava Sour I had were my favorites!
After lunch, we walked around the main street, grabbed some ice cream at a traditional waffle cone creamery that drew us in the smell of the cones alone. I recommend you try the oreo dipped waffle cone with cookie dough ice cream.
Once we were done with dessert we headed to our lovely Airbnb in Loveland, CO to relax in the hot tub with some mimosas. I knew we would love a hot tub after all those days of hiking and camping. I am so glad we made that choice!
Day 11: Loveland, CO -> Omaha, NE
We came back through Omaha and stayed at the Hyatt Omaha Downtown since we ran out of Marriot Bonvoy points to use. We were so happy we stayed downtown on a Saturday night. It was a lively downtown with horses, bachelorette parties, and pedaling beer carts. It reminded me of Nashville, TN.
Day 12: Omaha, NE -> Chicago, IL
The next day we drove from Omaha straight back to Chicago. We spent most of the drive trying to figure out when we’d return to Colorado since we had such a great time. We’ll return at some point, and keep exploring Colorado’s beauty.