Grand Lake, Colorado

Downtown Grand Lake, Colorado

Downtown Grand Lake, Colorado (Photo by H.M. Kerr-Schlaefer, all rights reserved)

My birthday is in early October, and every year my husband takes me on a weekend get away to a new place within driving distance. We’ve been all over the state and during this time of year the weather can be unpredictable, but we have fun no matter what. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to highlight three of the places we’ve traveled.

First up, Grand Lake, Colorado. Located at the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, the charming town of Grand Lake has long been a tourist destination. During the summer the town is buzzing with families, but on our visit tourism season had faded and we were greeted with wet, empty streets and a steel gray sky and slight drizzle.

We had planned to cross Trail Ridge Road to Grand Lake, but our plans were thwarted by snowstorms that closed the road. Like I mentioned above, the Colorado fall weather can be a bit erratic.

Elk in RMNP

Fall is a good time to see elk in Rocky Mountain National Park. (Photo by H.M. Kerr-Schlaefer, all rights reserved)

When we arrived in town we hit up the Visitors Center. We find these places are very useful when we are traveling and you can usually glean information from the people behind the desk. It was too early to check in to our hotel so we decided to drive into Rocky Mountain National Park.

I’d never been in this side of the park, and I’d never been to the park when it was so deserted – by people that is –  elk were everywhere. We stopped at the Holzwarth Historic Site (aka The Never Summer Ranch). We parked and decided to explore and we were glad that we did. This site is worth the small hike into the ranch, which is a collection of buildings erected in the 1920s as a rustic dude ranch.

As we explored the deserted buildings we were started by bugling elk. They sounded like they were literally right next to us and it was slightly unnerving. If you’ve never heard an elk bugle, it’s really, really loud. It’s definitely not an experience we’ll ever forget.

Grand Lake Brewery

The taps at Grand Lake Brewery. This place is Mayor Approved! (Photo by H.M. Kerr-Schlaefer, all rights reserved)

Back in town, we had reservations at the Terrace Inn, a nice little boutique hotel with a restaurant in downtown. Fortuitously the bowling alley was across the street so to escape

the rain we decided to bowl. You have to keep your own score, but despite being a bit old fashion the place was kept up meticulously and had a small bar. There was even a video rental store attached – a bit of a novelty today.

The town was quiet as we browsed a few shops. I bought a book at Cascades of the Rockies bookstore, and we had a beer at the Grand Lake Brewery, which is basically a brewpub stuffed in a hallway, but I love it – it has character. I highly recommend stopping in for a pint when you visit Grand Lake.

We had reservations at the posh little restaurant at our hotel. It was a five-course dinner and it was absolutely incredible. If you want to splurge in Grand Lake, I recommend splurging on dinner at the Terrace Inn. We also had a large, lovely room overlooking Grand Ave.

Adams Falls, Grand Lake, Colorado

Adams Falls in Grand Lake, Colorado (Photo by H.M. Kerr-Schlaefer, all rights reserved)

The next day, despite the still dreary and damp weather we decided to hike up to Adams Falls. It’s a short drive out of town and a short walk. Even on a slightly dark day, cascading through the autumn scenery the falls were gorgeous and photogenic.

After our brief outdoor adventure we headed back to town. We’d learned from locals the day before that Pancho & Lefty’s was the place to go to watch the Bronco game. It turned out to be a great decision. The restaurant is large with lots of tvs and a laid back vibe. You can see the lake from the large windows, but on the day we were there the rain and fog nearly obscured the view.

The Broncos won, so we drove home that afternoon in a good mood. Trail Ridge Road was still closed, so we drove back via Winter Park. Our trip to Grand Lake proved that even during the off-season a touristy town can be a lot of fun.

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