When the snow melts and winter crowds leave, these Colorado spots are the coolest

By: Mauri Elbel
April, 2021

The idea of a 15-hour road trip with three kids didn’t initially scream vacation. Like many parents last summer, we’d been the sole entertainers, on-call teachers, meal-makers and mediators for our 12-, 9- and almost 6-year-old since the onset of the pandemic – and we were well aware of the uncanny decibel levels they can achieve in contained spaces.

But after months of staying at home, our quarantine-induced wanderlust was at an all-time high. We were craving an adventure beyond the confines of our own walls and yearning for that sense of joy and wonder only travel can bring. At the same time, we remained cautious given the current climate and wanted to travel as responsibly and safely as possible. Brimming with opportunities for outdoor adventure and offering a much-needed reprieve from Texas’ stifling summer heat, Colorado offered the solution to our stir-crazy spirits.

Early one morning as the sun began to cast its melon glow onto the coal black night, we loaded our luggage, three sleepy kids and plenty of snacks and hand sanitizer into our rented suburban and headed toward the cool, colorful mountains of Colorado. Despite it being the longest straight-through road trip we’ve ever taken, Colorado proved to be the perfect escape for our family, completely worth every “are we there yet?” it took to get there.

We divided our Colorado trip between two destinations that are as diverse as they are breathtaking: Breckenridge and The Broadmoor’s Cloud Camp in Colorado Springs. If a late spring or summer road trip is on your radar, set your sights on Colorado as the snow melts away and the ski crowds disappear.

Beloved Breckenridge

If you’ve been to Breckenridge, there’s a good chance this former gold rush town sitting at the base of the Rocky Mountains’ Tenmile Range has secured a spot on your list of favorites. Known as a playground for year-round alpine adventures, a vibrant arts district and dining scene and endlessly sunny days sprinkled with spontaneous afternoon showers, Breck’s unique charm lies in its rich and colorful history that predates its popularity as a ski resort town.

Since hiking away from crowds in cooler weather ranked high on our Breck bucket list, we downloaded the AllTrails app and had our pick from hundreds of miles of trails ranging from family-friendly to challenging. A favorite was Peaks Trail, weaving in and out of lodgepole pine forest pockets and sprawling wildflower meadows punctuated with stunning mountain vistas. Along the well-shaded path, we crossed wooden bridges over babbling streams and caught glimpses of chipmunks, a few deer and one sleek red fox. While Peaks Trail is long – more than 8-miles each way – the out-and-back hike is doable for families because you can turn around and head back whenever little legs get tired. Our kids loved the short and easy in-town trek along the Trollstigen Trail which leads to Isak Heartstone, a towering 15-foot troll who silently peeks through the pines. Originally created by Danish artist Thomas Dambo as part of the annual Breckenridge International Festival of Arts, Isak has become a beloved Breck attraction, winning over troll fans like our daughter, who insisted on leaving Isak dinner before we left – a pinecone nature soup she stirred up in the nearby stream.

From our sprawling four-bedroom Colorado residence at Grand Colorado on Peak Eight, complete with postcard-worthy mountain views, we had the best of Breck at our fingertips. As our first hotel stay post-COVID, I was slightly apprehensive, but everything from the resort’s focus on social distancing and mask-wearing to curbside check-in and rigorous cleaning procedures, made our stay feel safe and unstressful. Conveniently located at the base of Peak 8, we captured summer mountain thrills right outside our door riding Breckenridge Ski Resort’s scenic chairlift, winding Alpine Slide and hair-whipping Gold Runner Coaster. Relaxing came easy by reserving one of the resort’s private movie theaters or a spot at the outdoor heated pools set against a majestic mountain backdrop.

Getting to town was as simple as stepping out of our door and onto the BreckConnect Gondola, a fun-filled, free aerial commute that transports passengers to and from Walkable Main – Breck’s iconic Main Street, which was closed down to vehicles for the first time last summer in response to the pandemic. Dozens of restaurants, bars and shops stretched along Main featured expanded outdoor areas that spilled into the street, transforming the popular historic district into an open-air pedestrian mall to create some extra breathing room, which, combined with the Mandatory Mask Zone in town, made dining, drinking and shopping a more physically-distanced, safer experience.

Meandering along Main, we delighted our kids with artisan, hand-crafted ice cream cones from Higgles one afternoon before sipping cold Colorado drafts beneath the sunshine from the patio at Breckenridge Brewery. For dinner, we tucked into the massive calzones and deep-dish pies served up at Giampietros – taking it to-go for an al fresco dining experience complete with slopeside views from our balcony. You can pick up food to-go from any restaurant in Breckenridge. Pro-tip: Order take out and enjoy a picnic on the Riverwalk Center’s soft green lawn while the kids dip their toes in the icy Blue River. For a memorable foodie-worthy dining experience, reserve one of Aurum Food and Wine’s private outdoor yurts to cozy up with your group and indulge in a creative, seasonally-inspired chef’s multi-course menu. Wine pairings and bottle service are available, and children’s palates are gladly accommodated with advanced notice. Just be sure to take our kids’ advice and save room for the warm chocolate chip cookies for dessert, aptly served with milk jam for dipping.

Fueled by hot coffee and hearty breakfast sandwiches from Clint’s Bakery and Coffeehouse the next morning, we embarked on an unforgettable summer dog sledding experience at Good Times Adventures. After getting to know around 150 cleverly-named Siberian Huskies like Arendelle (Frozen) and Vader (Star Wars) during an hour-long kennel tour, we got a glimpse of how these friendly four-legged athletes train for the winter season by piling into a golf cart as they pulled us two miles through the picturesque Swan River Valley. It was an experience that left our family with a lasting memory and our three children begging for a dog. Craving more summertime adventures? Breckenridge has you covered with everything from mountain biking and whitewater rafting to fly fishing and horseback riding (gobreck.com).

Escape crowds above the clouds at Cloud Camp

Just over two hours from Breckenridge and that much closer to home, we embarked on the second part of our Colorado trip. After arriving at The Broadmoor, the exclusive five-star resort sitting at the foothills of Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs, we began our journey to Cloud Camp (broadmoor.com/cloud-camp) – The Broadmoor’s highest wilderness experience hovering some 3,000 above it. Perched atop Cheyenne Mountain at an elevation of 9,200 feet, getting to Cloud Camp is part of the adventure – guests choose from riding a mule, braving the steep and strenuous three-hour hike or being chauffeured in a Cadillac Escalade. Navigating the narrow dirt road’s precarious switchbacks winding to the summit, I became increasingly appreciative we opted for luxurious leather seats and air conditioning. We caught glimpses of giraffes and elephants as we cut through Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and, as we continued upward for another half-hour, we marveled at one jaw-dropping view after the next revealed with each hairpin turn.

Once we climbed out of the vehicle, it was as if we’d entered a dreamland that only existed above the clouds. Built on the footprint and philosophies of Cheyenne Mountain Lodge, the original private retreat created by Broadmoor founder Spencer Penrose in 1926, stands the reimagined Cloud Camp wrapped by 360-degree views of the Colorado mountains and plains spilling out below. Guests at this luxury-meets-wilderness retreat remain connected to The Broadmoor’s flawless service, amenities and culinary offerings – they just get to experience them in a more intimate setting at a much higher altitude.

We are greeted with icy glasses of fresh-squeezed berry lemonade as we toured the main lodge, a soaring space featuring hand-hewn beams, indigenous stone fireplaces and ceilings and walls adorned with authentic Western and Native American art and artifacts. As our luggage was taken to our cozy two-bedroom log cabin tucked in the trees, we joined two other families on the wraparound deck for Cloud Camp’s evening Cooking Club. My husband and I swapped our lemonades for signature cocktails while Chef Randi expertly sliced and diced crudité and wowed the group by pushing avocados through a cooling rack to create uniform cubes perfect for guacamole – a skill we’ve brought back to our own kitchen.

At this all-inclusive mountaintop hideaway, seasoned chefs prepare three meals a day – hearty breakfasts that always begin with a heaping plate of baked in-house sticky buns and pastries, casual lunches, and a rotating menu of locally-inspired three-course dinners featuring mains such as Colorado lamb chops or seared diver scallops. For our family, dinner was always followed by nightly s’mores roasted around the firepit and some stellar star-gazing before we drifted off to sleep in our storybook log cabin.

During the day, we had our pick of a slew of activities ranging from mule rides and archery to lawn games and hiking. One of our favorite hikes was the steep and scenic MacNeill Trail – a four-mile one-way trek linking Cloud Camp to The Ranch at Emerald Valley. Nestled in the 100,000-acre Pike National Forest, this rustic retreat is part of The Broadmoor’s trio of Wilderness Experiences open seasonally from April through October where guests can go horseback riding, fly-fishing in the mountain lake or hiking and biking along unspoiled trails.

Back at Cloud Camp, we spent our down time playing family card games in our cozy wooden cabin – one of only 11 guest cabins scattered throughout the property – or soaking in the splendid views by day and starry skies by night from the private hot tubs just beyond. At a time when many of us find ourselves trying to balance our desires to travel with the realities of doing so during a pandemic, this exclusive mountaintop escape away from the crowds and the stresses of the world below was exactly what we needed.

On our last morning, my husband took our kids to explore the giant boulders and curious caves they discovered on a hike the day before while I made a bee-line to an outdoor morning yoga session. Fanned by cool Colorado air and surrounded by emerald peaks cutting into an impossibly blue sky and sunbeams slicing through fluffy lavender clouds floating on the horizon, our yoga instructor led myself and two other women – coincidentally from Austin – in deep breaths and stretches. When the session ended, I was filled with gratitude for our time at this high-altitude escape where we somehow felt more grounded and carefree than we had in months, despite the seemingly unending stream of uncertainty and chaos unfurling below. As we departed from Cloud Camp, I felt much lighter than when I arrived and had just enough Zen to brave the long – and inevitably loud – road trip back home.

If You Go: Breckenridge

Getting there:

Breckenridge is a 15.5-hour drive from Austin. Rather fly? Two airports offer access to Breckenridge––the more popular Denver International Airport, located 95 miles east of Breckenridge, and the smaller Eagle/Vail Airport, located 60 miles east of Breckenridge.

Stay:

We stayed at Grand Colorado on Peak 8––a posh and perfectly-located lodging option that provides convenient access to the best of Breck, from the BreckConnect Gondola that will take you down into town to mountaintop adventures unfolding right outside your door www.grandcolorado.com.

Do:

Summertime in Breck means hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, fly fishing, ziplining, summer dog sledding, paddle-boarding, kayaking and al fresco picnics.

Eat and drink:

Fuel up for a big day in Breck with take-out coffee and breakfast at Clint’s Bakery www.clintsbakery.com. Fill up the whole family with legendary pizza and hearty Italian dishes for lunch or dinner at Giampietro’s www.giampietropizza.com. Treat yourself to an unforgettable culinary experience at Aurum Food & Wine––you can order your dinner to go, reserve a table for a safe dining experience, or dine in an outdoor yurt www.aurumbreckenridge.com.

Pro tip:

Public health orders are continuously changing and you can check out the latest before your visit at www.summitcountyco.gov/1326/Public-Health-Orders. Currently, there is a Mandatory Mask Zone in Breckenridge and lodging and capacity restrictions are in place.

Info:

If You Go: Cloud Camp at The Broadmoor

Getting there:

Getting to the Broadmoor’s Cloud Camp in Colorado Springs is a 13-hour drive from Austin. You can also fly into Colorado Springs Airport.

Stay:

Choose from 11 one- and two-bedroom standalone cabins sprinkled throughout the property like we did, or book one of seven rooms in the main lodge or the Fire Tower Suite. All-inclusive package prices start at $900 per night, and the season opens April 30, 2021.

Do:

Yoga, hiking, mule rides, archery, crafts, cooking club, horseshoes, lawn games, disc golf, pickleball, hot tubs, birdwatching and stargazing.

Pro tip:

While in Colorado Springs, plan a visit at nearby Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the highest zoo in America located on the side of Cheyenne Mountain (currently operating with limited capacity; advance reservations required) www.cmzoo.org. Or carve out a day to explore the breathtaking sandstone formations at Garden of the Gods www.gardenofgods.com (go on a weekday to avoid weekend crowds).

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