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Colorado Summer Staycations: Find yourself under the stars this summer seeing Colorado in a new way


Background Art: Laura Haddad and Tom Drugan | Location: 61st and Peña Station, Denver

When March 2020 rolled around, I was fresh off the plane having returned from Trinidad and Tobago, then the world shut down. All my post-graduation travel plans were suspended, and I was miserable. Even if I could get into Ireland or Italy or Japan, half of the things I want to do there wouldn’t be open anyway. I was stuck.

Now that things are reopening and COVID restrictions are being lifted, airfare and gas prices are skyrocketing. Since international travel, or even a road trip, would be expensive, I took a closer look at my home state. I love Colorado. That’s why even with the itch to travel that I have, I’ve never considered moving. There are new experiences in every direction, including marveling at the Milky Way Galaxy above.

North – Fort Collins

My mom is constantly watching Hallmark movies, including the Christmas ones year round. Many Hallmark romances start while staying in or fixing up a bed and breakfast. When my mom and I took off for Edwards House B&B in Old Town Fort Collins for Mother’s Day, my dad texted my boyfriend that they were in trouble — the Hallmark women never end the movie with the boyfriends they start with. Our stay ended without any breakups, so I guess we don’t actually live in a Hallmark movie, we just pretended for a couple of days.

Front of Edwards House. Photo: Ashley Kay Mauer

Edwards House could easily double as a movie set. It was built in 1904 by Alfred Edwards after purchasing a lot from his wife’s sister’s husband, Franklin Avery. The rooms all have fresh flowers, and it’s within easy walking distance of the restaurants and shops of Old Town.

The Avery House was built in 1903 and is directly east of the Edwards House. Tours of the Avery House will be resuming June 5 and will be open on Saturdays and Sundays.

Breakfast is served every morning at Edwards House in the dining room or on the patio. They just ask that you select your seating by 6 p.m. the night before, so they can keep it to two parties at a time for COVID safety. There is a menu in the dining room each morning listing what will be served that day, from pineapple pancakes to breakfast tacos. They are happy to accommodate dietary restrictions and allergies, which was exciting for my gluten-intolerant mother who is accustomed to having to find her own meals.

Fruit Cup and Orange Juice at Breakfast. Photo: Ashley Kay Mauer

In the afternoon, cookies await guests in the entryway, and once again, dietary restrictions were no obstacle. There was a gluten-free cookie for my mom on a separate plate to avoid cross contamination.

Cookies at Edwards House. Photo: Ashley Kay Mauer

My mother and I aren’t coffee drinkers, but we did pay a few visits to their tea station. I fell asleep after a taste of Egyptian Dreams each night. Once we were hooked on Happy Lucky’s Tea, we paid a visit to Happy Lucky’s Teahouse only a few blocks away. They offer tea in-house or loose leaf teas to take home, including an Edwards House blend, so you can relive the flavors of your staycation even after you return home.

Tea Station at Edwards House. Photo: Ashley Kay Mauer

While wandering Old Town, I made my mom stop so I could take pictures of all the murals we came across adorning the walls and utility boxes of the city. Murals often aim to deter graffiti taggers, but in this case, their primary purpose is to bring art and beauty to the city. They are plentiful, and trying to pick a favorite was difficult.

Mural in Old Town Fort Collins. Photo: Ashley Kay Mauer

When our bellies started rumbling, we asked some family and friends who had lived in Fort Collins what they recommended. Blue Agave Grill, The Mayor of Old Town, The Rio Grande, and Stuft Burger Bar made all of their lists. At Stuft Burger, they offer donuts as hamburger buns. Calories don’t count on vacation, right?

When I’m on vacation, ice cream is a must, so we gave Walrus Ice Cream a whirl. The chocolate cinnamon ice cream made me seriously question whether mint chocolate chip is still my favorite ice cream flavor.

Walrus Ice Cream Storefront. Photo: Ashley Kay Mauer

Fort Collins is known as the craft beer capital of Colorado for a reason. Anyone who can’t find a beer they like in this town should probably stick with wine. Odell Brewing Company, Envy Brewing, Horse & Dragon Brewing Company, Zwei Brewing — the list goes on. Just type “brewery” into your map app, and see where it takes you. We enjoyed the outdoor patio at Odell’s, which offered space for my little cousin to run around while we caught up with her parents.

Horsetooth Reservoir is a 15-minute drive from Edwards House and offers boating, hiking, canoeing, stand-up paddle boarding, and swimming. A $10 fee per vehicle grants you access to the park no matter what activity you choose. The first time I tried SUP was at Horsetooth a few years ago. It is so much easier on a lake than the ocean, or maybe I just don’t have much balance.

Horsetooth Reservoir. Photo: Ashley Kay Mauer

There are multiple places to rent kayaks, canoes, or SUPs like FOCO Adventures at Little Big’s Lakeside Market or What’s SUP. If you prefer a do-nothing kind of soaking in the sun, there are swim beaches where you can lay out. At night, the reservoir is away from the light pollution of the city, so you can marvel at our breathtaking solar system, provided the clouds cooperate of course.

Rent a Canoe or Kayak Sign. Photo: Ashley Kay Mauer

South – Colorado Springs

Holden House Bed and Breakfast Inn has been open for 36 years and has expanded over time. Originally, it was just two bedrooms in Holden House, but then the Carriage House was added with two more rooms, followed by the addition of the Rose Victorian with another two rooms.

Living Room at Holden House. Photo: Ashley Kay Mauer

Sallie and Welling Clark, the owners, went through an extensive renovation process to turn the Victorian houses into a functioning, modern B&B. Holden House is more modern than it would have been when Isabelle Holden had it built for herself and her six children, but it has a homey vibe that was probably similar.

Every evening from 5 to 7 p.m., Holden House hosts a wine social complete with snacks. You can get to know the other guests staying at the inn, swap travel stories, and exchange recommendations. After you’re done socializing and have turned in for the night, you can look up at the stars as the rooms in the Carriage House have windows above the beds.

Wine Social Snacks at Holden House. Photo: Ashley Kay Mauer

While checking in at Holden House, eating breakfast, socializing, or checking out, keep an eye out for Mingtoy. She is the inn cat with green eyes and black fur and is more than happy to have her head rubbed or her back scratched. I love cats and was missing my Sugar and Spice at home, so my mom had to wait while I played with the cat.

Mingtoy the Inn Cat. Photo: Ashley Kay Mauer

I never knew much about the history of Colorado Springs or even that it was much different from Denver. A trip to the McAllister House Museum changed that. Not to be confused with the McCallister House from Home Alone (1990), the McAllister House is a window into the foundation of Colorado Springs, the people who lived there, and the time period. You’ll learn about the McAllister family, their connections with General William Jackson Palmer, and Winfield Scott Stratton, a carpenter and millionaire philanthropist who helped grow Colorado Springs.

The McAllister House. Photo: Ashley Kay Mauer

Unlike the way we select our houses today, Henry McAllister would have gone through a guide of house blueprints and selected the layout he wanted for his home. If you compare the house to the picture in the guidebook, they are clearly the same.

This sort of history was probably only of interest to me, but The Gazette has their own history displayed in the windows facing the street of downtown Colorado Springs. It was fascinating to me to hear about the history of the publication, but that might just be the weird writer side of me.

Hands down, my favorite thing in Colorado Springs was learning about the sport of kings with a falconry lesson at the Broadmoor. Roger Tucker is a falconer, and in addition to caring for the birds at the Broadmoor, he has birds of his own. The beginner falconry lesson is primarily educational whereas the intermediate lesson gets to be more hands on. The difference between hawks and falcons is demonstrated on live birds of different varieties from all over the world one at a time while they are out weathering (spending time outside). Later, participants get the opportunity to hold a falcon and go for a walk while one of the birds is flying free. Many common English phrases like “fed up” and “wrapped around his little finger” originated as falconry terminology, which fascinated my English-loving brain.


I was shocked at the size of Layla the Eurasian eagle-owl. She must have been nearly three feet tall, and when she flew around the room, her wingspan was something to admire. Cupid, a barn owl, was much more the sort of owl I’m accustomed to seeing in the open space around my house, except for his white feathers.

After learning about the birds, we got to hold Lancelot, a Lanner falcon. He was so calm sitting on my mother’s and my arms, never mind that we were strangers.

Maverick is a Harris hawk who loves to play in the wind, so he was quite happy the day we were there (and many of the days so far this year — who invited all the wind?). Tucker put a tracker on him, just to be safe, and Maverick flew free while we went for a walk. He would fly up ahead and come back when Tucker whistled. Then he’d fly off behind us to circle back again at the next whistle. He even flew right between my mother and me standing only a few feet apart.

The morning after our falconry lesson, we were supposed to try paddleboard yoga. At Dragonfly Paddle Yoga, that’s exactly what you do — yoga on a paddleboard in the middle of a lake. They have specially made paddleboards to increase stability; you could fall in, but it’s less likely than you would think. The boards are also equipped with anchors so the class isn’t drifting away in downward dog. What a way to start the day, or so I imagine. That pesky wind from the day before was still hanging around, so paddleboard yoga was cancelled.

Photo: Dragonfly Paddle Yoga

Garden of the Gods is a no brainer stop for me because the park is free, which is how Charles Elliot Perkins wanted it to be. After his death, his seven children followed through on his wishes. They donated the land to the city of Colorado Springs under the condition that it, “remain free to the public, where no intoxicating liquors shall be manufactured, sold, or dispensed, where no building or structure shall be erected except those necessary to properly care for, protect, and maintain the area as a public park.” I like traveling as economically as possible, so how could I pass up free hikes with beautiful scenery?

Rocky Mountains and Garden of the Gods. Photo: Ashley Kay Mauer

East – Pawnee National Grasslands and Jackson Lake State Park

When I want to hike or camp, I typically head for the hills, or mountains in our case. In the opposite direction however, there are still opportunities for such activities. Pawnee National Grasslands has campsites and allows dispersed camping anywhere on the grasslands. Be sure to remember your sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses, because there are no trees or shade to speak of. If you burn like I do, these are must-haves, and even if you don’t, it’s best to protect your skin.

Pawnee National Grasslands. Photo: Ashley Kay Mauer

If you need a reprieve from the heat, pile into the air-conditioned car and drive the Pawnee Bird Tour route. The grasslands are home to a larger selection of birds than some people would guess we have in all of Colorado. When night falls, stop looking for birds, and start counting the stars. With no building in sight for miles, there is no air pollution or other obstructions, just a beautiful view.

If you’re feeling a little rusty and want to brush up on your aim or if you’re new to shooting you can practice at the Baker Draw Designated Shooting Area. It has 25-, 50-, and 100-yard shooting opportunities. The whole time you’re at the shooting area, or anytime you’re handling a gun, remember to practice gun safety. There is no faster way to ruin a vacation than with a trip to the emergency room.

If too much sun and no shade makes you grumpy like it does me, Jackson Lake State Park is a bit more hospitable. Their campgrounds have trees and a view of the lake. If you have a boat, the boat ramp is already open for the year. Boats are subject to an aquatic nuisance species inspection. ANS stations are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, so you can squeeze one in before getting on to the fun.

Jackson Lake State Park. Photo: Ashley Kay Mauer

Fishing is allowed with a Colorado fishing license, which can be purchased at designated locations, over the phone, through the myColorado app, or online. Try to keep your line from tangling with that of your neighbor and what could go wrong?. 

Right next door to Jackson Lake is Andrick Ponds State Wildlife Area. Spring turkey and waterfowl hunting is allowed with a permit and a reservation, made online or over the phone. 

West – Estes Park

Estes Park offers many places to stay, haunted or otherwise, but my boyfriend and I stayed at Aspen Winds on Fall River. Their condos are incredibly spacious and, as its name implies, they back up to a small river. There are two-person swings behind the condos overlooking the water, so you can swing, listen to the running water, and relax. At night, it’s a wonderful spot to stargaze. Sitting outside at night swinging with my boyfriend was a romantic moment I hadn’t anticipated, making it all the more sweet.

Swings at Aspen Winds. Photo: Ashley Kay Mauer

For travelers 21 and over, there is moonshine for sale and for sampling from Estes Park Distilling Company downtown. The moonshine is sold in mason jars, with easy-pour spouts also available. One of the distillery’s best sellers is its Expresso Moonshine. It is caffeine-free, so you can drink it late at night without losing any sleep. I was partial to their peppermint moonshine and have plans to try it in hot chocolate; my boyfriend went home with some sweet tea moonshine. In the same building is Bob and Tony’s Pizza. Who doesn’t love pizza with their booze?

For dessert, I had to take my boyfriend to try some saltwater taffy — it is everywhere in Estes. The taffy pullers in the windows of The Taffy Shop and Purple Mountain Taffy Company never fail to mesmerize, but I dragged him away and into the store. The shops have an overwhelming number of flavors (The watermelon was delicious.), but they allow sampling to help you make your choice.

While you explore downtown, keep an eye out for wildlife. It is not uncommon to see deer or elk trotting down the appropriately named Elkhorn Ave. We were taken aback by the sound of hooves on concrete behind us and across the road. Be sure to maintain a respectful distance, just because they are in town does not mean they aren’t wild animals.

Elk on Elkhorn Ave. in Estes Park. Photo: Ashley Kay Mauer

If you’re not seeing enough wildlife in town, Rocky Mountain National Park is a four-minute drive from Aspen Winds or an eight-minute drive from downtown. From May 27 through Oct. 10, 2022, timed entry reservations are required. Day passes, weekly passes, or annual (yearlong) passes are available. There are more trails than you could dream of hiking in a single summer, so you’ll never have to do the same one twice, unless you want to of course. My family is partial to any hikes where there is water — lakes, rivers, waterfalls, you name it.

Sprague Lake. Photo: Ashley Kay Mauer

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