Several weekends ago, we headed to Grand Lake, Colorado, for Ryan’s birthday. We were warned that the town would be quiet. Grand Lake had a busy summer, and with the staff shortages owners needed a break, especially restaurant owners who’d been working 7-days a week. Many shut down at the beginning of November, until Thanksgiving, and I don’t blame them.
We are not new to Grand Lake or to a quiet Grand Lake. Having spent various birthdays here over the years, and with both those birthdays landing in the fall, the town tends to be tranquil during our visits, and we like it that way.
Grand Lake, with its wooden sidewalks, ice cream stores, and miniature golf courses downtown, is a retro delight. While it is a happening place in the summer, in the fall and winter it’s a throwback to a quieter time in Colorado; a time when people knew their neighbors and cups of sugar were borrowed and lent.
In the fall, the wind sweeps across the lake, and snow is imminent. We’ve spent damp birthdays in town and snowy birthdays. This time, the weather was crisp and sunny.
From our Lakeside Cabin by Western Riviera Lakeside Lodging, we had a picture-perfect view of the lake.
Each morning, the houses on the far side of Grand Lake sparkled on the lake’s smooth surface, and the trees on the hillside were mirrored in the glassy water. Waking with a cup of coffee each morning, curled snuggly on the couch, we’d watch the morning sunlight move across the lake.
On the evening of Ryan’s birthday, we braved the chill and sat on the patio, sipping champagne and watching the sunset. As the shadows lengthened, alpenglow was visible on Mt. Baldy, one of my most favorite views in Colorado.
For those who don’t know, Grand Lake is the central attraction of the Town of Grand Lake no matter the time of year. In the summer, it’s a watery playground for canoes, kayaks, motorboats, water skiers and fishermen. In the winter, ice fishermen from all over the country compete in tournaments held on the lake’s thick ice.
It is the deepest and largest natural lake in Colorado with the town of Grand Lake wedged between it and Rocky Mountain National Park. Those of us who live in Colorado vividly remember the East Troublesome Fire in Grand County in 2020, and there is a current exhibit called “Troublesome Stories” at 315 Pitkin Street in downtown Grand Lake. I encourage everyone to visit the exhibit, especially Coloradans. It’s a painful reminder and hopeful look at the second-largest wildfire in Colorado.
We also drove into Rocky Mountain National Park to survey the fire damage. It’s a stark reminder of the havoc fire wreaked on this area, but please know that only 10% of the park was damaged, leaving 90% without injury.
If you visit Grand Lake in the off-season, here are some helpful tips for staying in town. If you book a Lakeside Cabin, it’s a good idea to stop at the City Market in Granby for coffee and breakfast groceries. Granby is only about 20 minutes away. By the way, everything in Grand Lake is within walking distance of all Western Riviera properties.
White Buffalo, which I knew as Grumpy’s Saloon, is still a bar, but now they serve delicious pizza. We got a Greek Goddess to go. Delicious and loaded with ingredients, this is a good one.
We ate two meals at Sagebrush BBQ & Grill because it was one of the only places open during this visit, but I can say truthfully write from multiple experiences, the food is hearty and appetizing. We watched the Broncos game here with avid local fans. Happily, they serve beer in pitchers, rare in Colorado, and the staff was noticeably nice, which was pleasantly surprising after the crazy tourist-laden summer they had.
There are two places I want to try in town, but they were closed during our stay. Pancho & Lefty’s, a bar and grill where we’ve watched a number of Broncos games over the years, is now Charlie’s Sports Bar & Grill. And, Grand Lake has pho. That’s right, this little town in the Colorado Rocky Mountains now has a restaurant called El Pacifico Pho. As the owner and writer at TacosandPho.com, I gotta go! Sadly, they too were closed during our visit.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to Fat Cat Cafe in Granby. We first visited when it was located in Grand Lake, but it is now on the main drag in Granby. We stopped in for the buffet on Saturday and it is unlike anything you’ve seen. It includes fat sausages, the best green chile west of the divide, homemade pies, and Scotch Eggs, a food item that should be on every menu. If you haven’t eaten at Fat Cat Cafe, you are missing out on a genuine Colorado experience.
Despite the quietness of Grand Lake during our visit, we had a great time. We don’t need much to make us happy. Just a place to watch the game, a good pizza, a pitcher of beer, and a view of the water. Of course, in Grand Lake, we had all of those things, plus each other.
Happy birthday, Ryan! You are the best road trip partner a girl could ask for and a pretty amazing husband.
Thank you to Western Riviera Lakeside Lodging for hosting us at the Lakeside Cabin. We count your owners and wonderful employees among the wonderful citizens of HeidiTown.com!