After traveling through North Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas, we were finally approaching one of the main destinations of our “USA by RV Trip”: Colorado. We entered via Hwy 36, drove through the impressive Thompson Canyon and arrived Estes Park. It was the first stop of our 500+ mile journey across Colorado, where we spent about three weeks in total.
USA by RV: Estes Park, Colorado
Estes Park is a small mountain resort town, nestled right at the entrance to the Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s known for its spectacular views and abundant wild life. You can see elk and deer right on the streets! Additionally, you will find lots of fine restaurants and luxurious boutiques.
Where We Stayed in Estes Park
Estes Park is super-popular with RV campers. There are multiple campgrounds around the area and most of them are often full. We found a place at a campground called Elk Meadow RV Resort. And yes, they don’t call it Elk Meadow for nothing! One evening we had a privilege to watch about thirty elk, peacefully grazing right in front of the RVs! What a beautiful sight! In a while, the big bull with a huge rack of horns rounded them up and took them away for the night. Like all the prime tourist locations, Estes Park campgrounds can be pricey, but it is a lot better deal if you pay weekly.
What to Do in Estes Park
- Hike trails at the Rocky Mountain National Park. There are many hiking trails in the park with different lengths and difficulty levels. We tried a couple of short and easy ones such as Bear Lake Nature Trail and Sprague Lake Trail. Later we conquered intermediate Dream Lake Trail. The Dream Lake Trail was only 1.1 mile one way, but you had to go up the mountain most of the way. However, the faraway views and serene beauty of this magnificent mountain lake were definitely so rewarding!
TIP: for hiking, we use AllTrails app. It allows you to find over 100,000 hiking trails and biking routes, learn about their length and difficulty levels and read reviews. You can download AllTrails for iPhone or Android.
- Drive the Trail Ridge Road at the Rocky Mountain National Park. The long and winding road around the fur tree covered and ice capped mountains offers many interesting stops and overlooks. It’s quite exhilarating to drive it at times, with no fence or shoulder on the cliff side, but I’d say it is pretty safe if you are careful. One of the stops has a Trail Ridge Store where you can buy souvenirs and have a cup of coffee. Another interesting stop is the Continental Divide.
- Visit the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Denver. It takes a bit over an hour to get there, but is definitely worth it. If you are lucky, see a concert at this one of the most beautiful concert venues of the world! But even with no concerts in sight because of COVID-19, it’s a great place to visit, because there is a big park around the venue with walking trails.
- Hang out in Downtown Boulder. Boulder is a really hip and modern town. It reminded me of a European town somewhere in the Alps. Downtown has a walking area with shops and cafes, filled with flowerbeds and bright colors.
- Have a fun day in Estes Park. Downtown Estes Park has its own small trail, leading along a creek. You can see local arts and crafts and have a coffee at one of the local coffee shops. Besides, the town offers fun activities such as trout fishing and some historical landmarks such as the Stanley Hotel, which inspired the famous novel by Stephen King “The Shining”.
TIP: If you are over the age of 62, I strongly encourage you to purchase an America the Beautiful Lifetime Pass. It costs $80, but it will give you access to all the National Parks and National Monuments of the country for the rest of your life. Also, with this pass, you don’t have to do it all in one day. You can enter the parks and do a trail at a time and then return the next day, so it greatly reduces the stress! The one-time entrance for a car to the Rocky Mountain National Park costs $25, so we paid off the cost of the pass after several visits. You can order the pass online, but it takes a while to receive it. Instead, buy it directly at the gate of the Rocky Mountain National Park (or any other National Park).
USA by RV: Colorado Springs
To get to Colorado Springs from Estes Park, you need to cross Denver. If you have a choice, try not to cross Denver during rush hour. Colorado Springs is a rather large city, but all the fun tourist activities are concentrated in its suburb, called Manitou Springs.
Where We Stayed in Colorado Springs
We stayed at a small family-owned campground called Foot of the Rockies RV Park. The best two things about this park is its central location and very friendly staff. Estes Park campgrounds didn’t accept any packages and we needed to order Amazon. We were afraid to order it after we get to Colorado Springs, because the arrival day was not guaranteed due to the pandemic. And we only planned to stay for two days. The personnel of the Foot of Rockies RV Park agreed to hold the packages for us, which allowed is to order in advance! There are all the necessary amenities such as full hook-ups and a laundry room.
What to Do in Colorado Springs
- Visit Garden of the Gods. The Garden of the Gods is a natural park, created by unique red sandstone rock formations. There are many hiking and driving trails. Don’t forget to stop by the Balanced Rock!
- Explore Manitou Cliff Dwellers. The area of Four Corners, which is the region where Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico meet, is famous for the cliff-dwelling Anasazi (or Pueblo) Indians. These people made their houses right inside the cliff walls! This open-air museum in Manitou Springs is an actual pueblo village, carefully relocated here from different parts of Four Corners for preservation and education. You will learn a lot about this mysterious civilization and get a good taste of it before visiting the actual locations, such as Mesa Verde.
- Have fun at the Flying W Ranch. If you’d like to experience the real spirit of the Old West, spend an evening at the Flying W Ranch. You can see Native American dancing, play with farm animals (miniature donkeys and pigs are so cute!), ride a horse carriage around the property and enjoy a real Chuckwagon dinner (smoked meats and country comfort sides). The meats are incredible: the ranch has the second largest smoker in the country! To top it all, you will be entertained by an excellent Wrangler band.
- Go up the Pikes Peak. If you are not yet tired of mountain roads, you can drive up the Pikes Peak Highway and enjoy magnificent views from the 14,115ft summit of the mountain.
The USA by RV: The UFO Watchtower in Hooper, Colorado
Ever since Native Americans occupied the San Luis Valley, there were multiple accounts of strange lights, metallic objects that moved defying all laws of physics, and even abductions! Ute and Navajo Indians believed that Blanca Peak, the highest peak of Sangre de Cristo Mountains, is sacred. It is not the first time that sacred spots of the Native Americans have elevated UFO activity. Something must have been going there for centuries.
So, in the midst of it all, in Hooper, Colorado, there is a cool place with a campground, called the UFO Watchtower. Judy Messoline, the creator of the UFO Watchtower, was skeptical when she first moved to the area. In fact, she didn’t think about UFOs at all. She came here to breed cattle, but the business didn’t have success. In the meantime, while living in the area, she experienced multiple sightings herself! So, after talking with multiple tourists, she had the idea to build something that could connect UFO enthusiasts , as well as make use of her land. So, in 2000, she built a large platform and called it the UFO Watchtower. It immediately became a popular place and it is definitely worth visiting, especially if you are into the UFOs!
Where We Stayed At the UFO Watchtower
The UFO Watchtower Campground costs $15 a night on a first-come first-served basis. The land at the foot of the tower is separated into individual sites. There are no hookups, but the sites are large and leveled. Each site offers a table and a fire barrel, and some spots have fire rings. For primitive campers there are several port-a-potties installed on the premises. One thing for sure, it is definitely a no-judgment zone. No matter what you believe in, whether you are human or from Sirius, you will be welcomed with open arms.
What Else to Do in San Luis Valley
At night you will be busy spotting UFO craft, but during the day go and visit the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It is located within a short 30-minute drive from the UFO Watchtower. Great Sand Dunes National Park was formed with the sand deposited by a giant lake. It occupied the territory where the town of Alamosa is situated today. Over thousands of years, the sands were gradually shifted towards the Sangre de Cristo Mountains by predominant southwest winds. It’s a real desert in the middle of the USA! Try some sand surfing! It made me really nostalgic about our trip to Huacachina, Peru. What fun!
Additionally, check out Colorado Gators Reptile Park , Alamosa National Refuge and Zapata Falls.
The USA by RV: Mesa Verde, Colorado
After a tiring, but amazing drive through colorful hills, hairpin turns and mountain rivers, we were at our next destination: Mesa Verde. Mesa Verde National Park offers a fantastic journey into the world of the mysterious Pueblo Indians, or Cliff Dwellers. Here you get the real deal: thousands of archaeological sites, panoramic overlooks and canyon views.
Where We Stayed At Mesa Verde
To maximize our time and experience of this amazing park, we chose the Ancient Cedars RV Park, located right at the foot of the Mesa Verde Entrance. Besides tight, but comfortable sites, the resort offers a pool with a hot tub, miniature golf field and a luxurious family room with games and a large TV. Once again, we took advantage of the lower weekly rate and our Lifetime Park Pass came in handy, allowing us to break our activities into several visits.
What to do at Mesa Verde, Colorado
- Learn about Anasazi. Anasazi is the Navajo word for Ancestral Pueblo Indians who lived in the Four Corners area since as early as 1500 BC. Probably the most known descendants of Anasazi are Hopi, but there are actually several different tribes today who share Anasazi as the common ancestor. There are two major dwelling types that Anasazi used: underground houses and cliff dwellings. No one really knows why they went through the trouble creating their villages in such hard-to-reach places. Perhaps it was for protection from other tribes, or simply because it was no big deal for them to climb these rocks. These people were small (men a bit over 5ft and women a bit over 4ft) and very agile! Here in Mesa Verde, Anasazi resided for about the last 600-700 years of their existence, until for some unknown reason in about 1300 AD they just got up and went away, leaving everything behind. Of course, there are speculations about why they left (drought might be one of the reasons), but no one can really give any definite answer.
- See the early Pueblo Villages. There are several locations of the park where you can explore the ruins of Pueblo Villages. Start with the earliest discovered underground dwelling and then make your way to the others. You will see a lot of ever-present spirals! Every village is just a short easy hike from the road.
- Visit The Cliff Dwellings of the Anasazi. The Pueblo Indians left us amazing legacy: the famous Cliff Dwellings, which we can enjoy today. They are a lot bigger than they look, because a lot of rooms go deep into the caves. Some dwellings have as many as 150 rooms! Anasazi grew their crops (corn, beans, squash, etc.) on top, so they had to climb those rocks pretty much every day. You can see several Cliff Dwellings in the park, including Long House, Spruce Tree House, Square Tower House, Step House and the biggest of all, Cliff Palace. Before COVID-19 visitors used to be able to descend to the Dwellings and explore them from the inside, but when we were there, it was not possible. However it was a rare opportunity to view them empty without hundreds of tourists.
- Hike the Petroglyph Trail. The Petroglyph Trail is a moderate trail along the canyon. I wouldn’t call it very strenuous, but you need good balance: every now and then you literally need to climb or jump from rock to rock. At the beginning of the trail don’t forget to lend or buy (50c) a small, but a very informational guide book. It will teach you about flora and fauna of the region and, of course, of the biggest reward at the end of the trail: the Anasazi Petroglyphs. The last stretch of the trail is a leisurely walk through a forest of juniper trees.
- Drive to the Park Point. Park Point is the highest point of the Mesa Verde National Park and offers breathtaking panoramic views of the valleys below. You can even see the Sleeping Ute, still there on his eternal resting place!
If you have more time in Colorado, drive the Million Dollar Highway that starts in Durango and goes to Ridgeway, through Silverton and Ouray. It is the most scenic road with jaw-dropping views, but it can also be pretty dangerous, especially with a travel trailer. So, we decided to leave it for another time and proceeded south: to New Mexico. But if you experienced it, and also if you know of other cool things you can do in Colorado, please share in the comments!
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