It used to be that, at least once a year, I’d leave the country. This past year I spent a few weeks of summer vacation in Tamarindo, Costa Rica. #PuraVida, as they say. Before that I spent two years in Amsterdam, enjoying the small communities of the Netherlands and becoming a bit more International.
But let’s be real, not everybody has the ability, or inclination, to travel abroad. Not everyone can actually afford that kind of travel. Who even has the time, given the American work week. America, as backwards as we are when it comes to workers rights, doesn’t afford vacation time to all of its workers, which means we have to find other ways.
How does one vacay like a pro without jet hopping? Glad you asked. The most popular, the easiest, and quite possibly the most fun way is the staycation. What is a staycation, you ask, already packed up with a babysitter scheduled and Cottonwood Kennel on the phone and you *cough* call in to work sick?
If you’re asking, this article is definitely for you. A staycation is when you leave home, travel to a vacation destination in your local vicinity, and enjoy your weekend, or the week (why not, treat yo’ self), away from the tedium, the drama, the madness, the grind, and – hopefully – the kids. It’s a great way to have a romantic getaway, to get that oh-so-needed refresh and re-energize the spirit, and an amazing way to explore your own region.
We would recommend staycations across the state, as there are incredible places to visit from the Four Corners region of Southwest Colorado, through the Front Range and the entire Rocky Mountains, and here across Boulder County. In this humble little travel article we will look at a few of our favorite places to stop in for a couple of days of soft slippers, excellent eats, room service, and local fun. Follow us along as we staycation from Boulder to Denver to Grand Lake and a few places in between. It’s summertime, BOCO; time to get out and enjoy your world. Check these places out for a quick break in the middle of your busy life.
The St. Julien Hotel is located in downtown Boulder at the base of Boulder Canyon Drive. It fronts Walnut, but includes views of Boulder’s famed Flatirons (from some rooms) as well as that small winding road that heads up into the canyon where one can find all the beauty of Boulder outdoors in areas like Whispering Pine, Nederland, Boulder Creek and Mt. Sanitas trailhead, and even the internationally sought out Adventure Lodge. The St. Julien puts it succinctly: casual elegance with hiking on the left and shopping on the right.
With amazing restaurants like Jill’s, the T-Zero Lounge in the lobby, and the Redgarden Terrace (with some of the best Flatiron views in Boulder), you’re always ready to be wined and dined as you staycation right in the heart of Boulder. If stepping out for a quick bite or a drink is more your style, St. Julien is an actual stones throw from a number of excellent Boulder hot spots, including The Met (literally next door), the Chophouse, Arcana, the Bitter Bar, Brasserie Ten Ten, and Rio Grande (which is glorious after their recent renovations: See our recent article, The Rio Rides Again for more on that).
St. Julien also has, in most estimations, the best spa in the entirety of the Boulder County region. Just thinking of it makes us want to go back for a scrub, rub, and sip in absolute luxury. St. Julien is a standout location – in our own backyard – for your well earned staycation.
Our short stay was absolutely decadent, with a charcuterie board that included chocolate dipped strawberries waiting for us upon arrival, gorgeous little slippers for navigating the luxury of the room, a lobby that beckons you to bring out the cocktail you grabbed from the lobby bar to relax, and staff ready to make every moment perfect. It would be impossible to recommend a better staycation location in Boulder, even if you could find older ones, like Boulderado, in the area. Stop in and let the world keep spinning without you.
Denver is the big city next door for BOCO locals, and we all know it. While we love our local tranquility, the trails, the general calm, and the less crowded streets, getting out to Denver on the regular is a must and – this is true – a staycation in the big city is oftentimes just what the doctor ordered. Not all vacations are created equal, and not all need to be had in a quiet beachside resort or tropical getaway. Denver has so much to offer – including excellent places to hide from the kids – like The Art, a hotel.
The Art, a hotel is, quite possibly, the most interesting hotel in Denver (no, we haven’t been to them all, but give us time. We’re working on it). This is a hotel bought by a group of friends with the idea of making a living museum of every floor, every hallway, every public room, from meeting spaces to the gorgeous restaurant, and even the exterior. The entirety of the hotel is adorned with unique, commissioned art (and a few standouts on loan). From the moment you drive in to the valet bay where you’ll be wowed by Leo Villareal’s undulating and never-repeating art installation created from 22,000 LED lights, to the moment you fall back onto the softness of a bed meant for the best sleep of your life, the Art is sharing their art with you.
In a world with hotels full of canned art and replicas, it is truly invigorating to stay in the warmth and goodness of fresh imagination, from splash canvases to textiles to sculpture. With a rooftop patio that can be used as a wedding venue or gathering space, and even a wedding portraitist on site for unique art to commemorate your big day, you’ll never be in need of things to do. Additionally, the level of culinary expertise in their on site restaurant, Fire, which also has a living room lounge and terrace, is beyond good. Eating over the bustle of downtown Denver is another gorgeous perk.
They’re located right in the heart of the Cultural District and minutes away from the Central Business District, in addition to being walking distance from the Denver Art Museum, the Denver History Museum, and numerous other local amenities. Our favorite perk? The coloring book and tube of colored pencils in the room, nailing the art vibe and reminding us to play a little bit. The Art, a hotel is a definite go-to for those looking to staycation in Denver for the weekend.
333 E Wonderview Ave, Estes Park
The Stanley was originally built to bring European hunting lodge luxury to Colorado. This place is glorious, and also extremely famous because of its role in inspiring the infamous Stephen King thriller The Shining. The Stanley offers four different Estes Park accommodation experiences including historic rooms, modern apartment-style residences for extended stays, and expansive condominiums on the legendary grounds overlooking Rocky Mountain National Park. If you’ve never been to Estes Park, downtown is cute and kitsch, Estes Park Brewery is around the corner for local brews, and Snowy Peaks Winery is the kind of winery that makes us wanna drive up for an afternoon sipping.
The Stanley’s new Pavilions is open, which is an amazing event and wedding venue. While we were there we saw the famed East LA Chicano funk band Ozomatli, who were as badass as expected. The hotel offers numerous other amenities, including day and night tours (for the less faint of heart), and seasonal adventures; they work with Kent Mountain Adventure Center to curate epic Rocky Mountain National Park Adventure activity packages, which means you can staycation and adventure at the same time.
The Stanley is located in Estes Park, right up the 36 from Boulder past Lyons, less than two hours drive. They are also home to the world famous Cascades restaurant, which will almost definitely require reservations, but you’ll be treated to excellent once you’re in there. The whiskey bar is another amazing perk of this hotel, with absolutely unparalleled luxury to relax in.
Let me be clear: the place was a little spooky, to be honest, but I’m pretty sure that’s just the lore that follows after the Shining. Of course, it was creepy enough for Stephen King to inspire the horror that became the Shining, so maybe there’s something to it? Either way, we ain’t afraid of no ghosts, and we absolutely live for a staycation. Pop in here for the rustic elegance, stay for the adventure.
9494 Federal Drive, Colorado Springs
Embark on adventure and fantasy as you build and gain power while enjoying magical quests. MagiQuest is fun for all ages, letting you take a magical journey to befriend treetop pixies and battle an evil dragon. With Multiple levels of difficulty and several quests to choose from, MagiQuest is a great way to keep everyone in your group active and engaged.
If this doesn’t sound like your thing, head over to the indoor water park to swim, slide, and splash your way to fun. The Wolf Tail, Howlin’ Tornado, and Fort Mackenzie are just a few of the slides and attractions that await you inside the 50,000+ square foot facility. Yes, that’s big.
If you don’t know by now, you have ventured into the Great Wolf Lodge in Colorado Springs. We enjoyed 3 days and 2 nights at the resort during spring break and were not disappointed.
Upon checking in, every member of your party receives a RFID (Radio Frequency Identification Device) wristband. This special wristband is used to open the door to your suite, purchase food or beverages, access the water park, and even check out towels. The best part: you can decide who in your group is allowed to use it for purchases. If you choose to bring the kids (this is probably the most family friendly place we stacationed in, you can rest easy that the little ones won’t load up your credit cards).
Great Wolf Lodges are known for their indoor water parks and the Colorado Springs location is no exception; yes, this is a chain, but everything can’t be boutique hotels, can it? The water park has several areas that appeal to all ages. Our favorite was the Mountain Edge Raceway, where four people race head first on mats through twists and turns to the final drop and long straightaway. Make sure to check out your time after you finish. For the really adventurous, try the Wolf Tail. This is where you will stand in the “launch pod”, wait for the floor to drop beneath you, and then go plummeting 20 feet straight down and into a 360 degree loop. We’re still dizzy.
Don’t worry, there are several areas of the water park for the younger (or less adventrous) members of your pack to relax. The Cub Paw Pool has a zero depth entry with a “deep” end of only 18 inches. It has tiny slides and other interactive water toys to play with. Fort Mackenzie is a water fort tree house with multiple levels of water splashing fun and small body slides for the little ones to enjoy.
Feeling a little water logged at this point? Dry off and head to the Great Wolf Adventure Park. There are quite possibly more opportunities to play and have fun here than there are in the water park. Seriously. Oliver’s Mining Company lets you search for minerals and gemstones. Ten Paw Alley is a small bowling alley where even the toddlers can easily roll the ball. Howl In One Mini Golf will test the putting abilities of even the most advanced golfers. You also have the Rustic Ridge Climbing Wall and the Howlers Peak Ropes Course. Other fun areas include the Northern Lights Arcade and a Build-A-Bear Workshop
Most of these attractions are included when you purchase a “Paw Pass”. There are different versions with different price points. Make sure to look at all of the options based on your preferences. No matter what way you choose, there are still loads of free activities every day. Character appearances occur throughout the day around the lodge. You can even collect “trading cards” of the different characters. Yoga Tails allows kids to enjoy a yoga class tailored just to them. Can you say stand like a tree or flutter like a butterfly? Other activities include Story Time, Wolfercise, and the Forest Friends Show.
The lodge has several dining options from buffets to sit down restaurants. There are quick serve counters to get your burgers, hot dogs, or pizza from. Oh, I can’t forget Dunkin’ Donuts, Ben & Jerry’s, and the Great Wolf Candy Company. You can head to the Iron Horse Fitness Center; weight training and cardio equipment can be used while you catch up on your favorite shows on the flat screen tv’s.
Most of us know that Colorado Springs offers many exciting opportunities for families to enjoy. Now you know that you can get everything a family needs in one location: the Great Wolf Lodge.
Half the fun in going somewhere is the adventure of getting there. It’s even better when the destination is an adventure as well. When I drove up the Grand Lake Lodge, the only historic registered Lodge a few hundred feet above the West shore of Grand Lake Lodge, from which you can see the glory of Grand Lake, Shadow Mountain Lake, and Granby Reservoir, Trail Ridge Road was still closed. This meant a longer drive South through Denver and up the 70, then on to Grand County. The drive is beautiful in and of itself.
One of the great things about Colorado is the ability to drive places just for the drive and just to enjoy the views from the window. I come from a driving family and that, I can assure you, is something many Americans love to do. Shout-out our history of appreciation of road trips.
Arriving at Grand Lake Lodge was a little confusing because you have to drive past the town of Grand Lake, up around the bend of Trail Ridge Road, before you get to the lodge entrance. That extra few minutes in the car is totally worth it because when you pull out onto the overlook and see the sun shining down on Grand Lake, the majesty of Shadow Mountain and the surrounding Peaks, and pull up to the antique cars parked out front of the lodge, you know you’ve just arrived at exactly the right place for a real Colorado #staycation.
As beckoning as the surroundings are, with all new refurbished rooms and cabins – we stayed in Owl 1 – you’re sure to figure out that it’s much more difficult to get out to enjoy the beauty of Grand Lake when you’re sleeping in a place like this. Laying down for a little relaxation and concrete plans to get out and explore, we definitely dozed off and woke up at 1 in the afternoon the next day. The comfort is real.
The lodge itself is the central hub for activity at Grand Lake Lodge. When I first arrived and checked in there were people playing pool and ping pong, drinking at the very excellent and glorious bar that backs up to glass windows overlooking the lake, and enjoying dinner in the restaurant. It’s important to note that Grand Lake Lodge is only open part of the year, because winter travel up there is pretty sticky, and the restaurant had only been open a few days when we arrived. We never would have guessed because the food was excellent – and we’ve never even had elk chops – and the service was perfection: kind, attentive, personable, and as quick as an elegant eatery in a mountain lodge should be. I was even talked into a skillet cooked brownie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream that absolutely made my night.
Adventuring down into the town of Grand Lake, you find that houses scattered about and lots of regular businesses, though most of the activity – and yes, this is a tourist town – is on the main drag. I was able to stop into several very excellent local places including Sagebrush BBQ and Grill, El Pacifico, which offered very excellent Mexican food and will, if you ask just right, provide even hotter hot sauce than their table salsa. We like it spicy.
We also stopped by Miyauchi’s snack bar for a cup of coffee and we were given one for free because, as the owner put it, “if I don’t get rid of this coffee I’m going to drink it all myself”; a woman after our own heart. She also threw a dab of soft serve in the bottom of the cup, which is now my preferred method of sugar and cream for coffee. These folks are so nice, so make sure to stop in for a hello and a snack. They’re located right across from Headwaters Marina, where we went later for a boat toar.
Speaking of which, while the weather was a bit testy on the way up and chilly while we were there, including a few sprinkles, our boat tour out of Headwaters Marina with Captain John T Hall featured perfect weather (note that cruising along under Shadow Mountain side of the lake is colder and more windy than the rest). Let us just say this: the beauty of Grand Lake can really only be experienced from on Grand Lake.
The boat tour was $20 for an adult and our boat was full. We learned about the history of the lake, the first pioneers, saw the original (and still in use) cabin and boat house, and heard about the current competition for biggest house on the lake. Did you know that there are eleven families that live on the lake year-round while there are over 200 homes on the lake itself? Such an interesting history. We are already considering going up for the 4th of July when they light off fireworks from the GLS Doris barge; it’s named after the woman who operated the fireworks barge for over 30 years. Legend tells that her ashes were used in the fireworks and shot up in the sky over the lake when she passed away.
Grand Lake also has multiple entrances to Rocky Mountain National Park as well as views of Arapaho National Park, the Never Summer mountain range, Mount Cairn, and a whole host of elk, a pack of five beers that regularly “terrorize the town” according to Hall, and moose aplenty. Apparently there’s a very large moose named Bruce who is a regular visitor and goes wherever he wants because of his size. We didn’t get a chance to meet Bruce, or any of the other wildlife, but we still enjoyed our visit.
Grand Lake Lodge is a wondrous place to get out of the city, enjoy the mountains, enjoy nature, and enjoy small town life. The town of Grand Lake has refused, thus far, to put in concrete sidewalks and is instead still using boardwalk. That’s epic. Head up while it’s nice out. We highly recommend this staycation.