Travel Diaries: Colorado + Road Trip Tips

Hey readers! We decided to road trip instead of fly for our latest adventure to Colorado. We headed that way for my best friend’s wedding and had a blast! We made the decision a few days before we left to turn this into a road trip, so there wasn’t a whole lot of planning, and we just made it up as we went. It turned out to be one of our best trips! Buckle in – here we go!

GETTING OUT OF TEXAS

If you live in Texas, you probably know that depending on your location, half of the drive is just getting out of Texas. We live in East Texas so we had SEVERAL hours in the car before we even hit another state line. We stopped in Amarillo the first day so we could pack in as much fun as possible. About 20 minutes from Amarillo is Palo Duro Canyon. Let me just say we had no idea what to expect but we were PLEASANTLY surprised. If you have a chance to stop here you should take it. Even if you just drive through the canyon you will see so much beauty and the terrain was so unexpected when you’re used to places like Houston/Dallas/the Piney Woods etc. We also dropped by the iconic Cadillac Ranch. You can spend a few short minutes here or you could work on your spray paint skills. Either way, it’s a neat art installation that you can leave your design on or just see what others before you have painted.

Palo Duro Canyon – We bought our day passes in advance and thankfully we had because they were full by the time we were leaving! The Longhorns were out when we first arrived (look to the left just after you drive in!) We got to PDC when they opened and snagged a spot in the Lighthouse Trailhead parking area. We finished the hike in just over 2 hours and it’s about 6 miles roundtrip. It was pretty easy the entire way and we saw people of all ages and fitness levels. The very last ascent before you get up near the Lighthouse area is a little harder but it’s short and the views are so pretty!

We saw GIANT spiders. Like run for your life sized. There was also a split off the trail for runners and I think mountain biking as well. This would be great if you stayed in or near the park for a few days and had more time to explore! We lucked out on the weather even though it was the end of June. We had cloudy skies and a breeze most of the hike but I’d definitely bring plenty of water since it is a canyon and gets brutally hot throughout the day. Hubs surprised me with some Astronaut Ice Cream he had packed for the hike…definitely the best reward to enjoy with those views!

Spend a little time reading about the geology before your hike for some interesting facts about the second largest canyon in the U.S. A Petroleum and a Mining Engineer on a road trip stop to look at a bunch of rocks…

Yellow City Street Food – Tacos, craft beer, and a fun mural?! Amarillo did not disappoint. This place was delicious and major bonus they had vegan options! The atmosphere was just what we needed before we started the rest of our road trip to Colorado. And yes, I paired a basket of fries with my tacos. Judge me. Check the menu for daily specials! Hubs had this good looking dish below!

DENVER/ARVADA/GOLDEN AREA

We were fortunate to stay with a friend while we were in town and that meant walking distance to dinner, coffee, and even the train! We didn’t end up taking the train but it was so nice to see how much the area has grown since we left Golden and that public transit is available in all of the places we enjoy visiting in and around Denver. We hiked the Three Sisters Trail in Evergreen (thanks to our tour guide!), walked around downtown Denver taking it all in (we loved seeing everyone out for a walk/run/bike/dog jog), and did an obligatory drive through Golden to feel young again #helluvaengineer before making our way to Steamboat!

Denver Beer Co. (Olde Town Arvada Location) – I just want to brag on Arvada for a minute. The restaurants, breweries, coffee shops and little stores around here were such a neat area. Plus, I’m a sucker for breweries with outdoor seating. Perfect place to grab a beer before or after dinner or just to hang out and catch up with friends!
New Image Brewing – Whether you want an IPA, Stout, Barrel aged, Sour, etc. there’s something for everyone here! Plus, I just like reading all the names of their beers. I will absolutely try a beer based on a great name.
New Terrain Brewing – A great place to have some beer and hang out with friends…while you’re sipping a Mount Mojito. We had to buy a few packs to bring back to Texas!
So Radish – A plant-based restaurant is ALWAYS a must-try for us when we travel. The cocktails, appetizers, and entrees did not disappoint! Cauliflower tacos are one of my faves so I was extra excited about this meal!!

So Radish

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS

We managed to squeeze in 3 more hikes while we were in Steamboat! By the end of the trip, my legs were TOAST.

Rabbit Ears Peak Trail – This hike was absolutely beautiful. We saw wildflowers, the trail is wide which was great during social distancing, it was relatively low traffic and overall a fairly easy hike. The top near the Rabbit Ears was pretty steep and a lot of the rocks were loose but I’m so glad we kept going. The views were amazing! There was also still a little bit of snow in some parts which was highly entertaining to my husband. Wear plenty of sunscreen though as there is hardly any shade on the trail.

I also did a hike at Fish Creek Falls with my best friend (this one was rockier and steeper for a Texan at elevation) but the falls are beautiful! Bonus: if you’re just looking for some pretty views with a short hike, the falls are about 1/4 mile from the parking lot. You don’t even have to take on the steep trail to get some great views!

We rounded the week out hiking down Thunderhead, after taking the gondola to the top.

Steamboat in the summer is great as far as weather. It’s cool in the mornings and evenings and warm during the day. The temperature swing can be pretty significant so definitely plan to bring a light jacket and a rain coat for any outdoor activities. We love the gondola and doing the short natural trail at the top of the mountain. If you’re in town during rodeo that’s a pretty fun experience, too! We’ve also enjoyed touring the botanic garden during a run or walk along the Yampa. And don’t forget to look up – plenty of hot air balloons to see!

Here are just a few of the places we ate at, and some of the breweries we stopped by! Highly recommend all of them and if you follow the blog gram (@veggiesoles) I’ve included specific posts about some of the restaurants we visited on this trip!

Cafe Diva – So convenient to the base of the mountain and a fabulous menu and wine list! The food was phenomenal and I’m still drooling over the desserts we had.
Aurum Food & Wine – Sit on the patio so you can see the Yampa! Amazing kale salad and an out of this world vegetarian dish Tom Kha Khala made for a perfect dining experience!
Storm Peak Brewing Company – We always enjoy trying out local beers when we travel!
Mountain Tap Brewery – This atmosphere is great and near the Yampa so it has such a great vibe! Plus, they had food. We were stopping in for a beer before dinner somewhere else but the plates coming out looked delicious!
The Barley – Y’all. The beer menu is good enough on its own. BUT their small bites include Puppy Chow…which was basically the best bar experience of my life. If you haven’t had this delicious treat before, it’s a staple in easy powdered sugar chocolatey goodness. Pair it with a beer or a cocktail? DEAL.

Cafe Diva
Aurum

ROAD TRIP TIPS

We haven’t done a road trip in a while so when we decided last minute to turn this into one, I hadn’t packed and hadn’t planned on what to bring. If you know my stance on flying I am STRICTLY a carry on person. However, with the road trip we decided to bring a cooler, pack some snacks, and I dedicated an entire bag to hiking/workout apparel and shoes for an excessive amount of the great outdoors. Side note – I wore everything I brought except for 1 dress and 1 top.

  1. Snacks are your friend on a road trip. We packed a case of bottled water, stuff to make PB&J’s, candy, trail mix, crackers, pistachios, and sunflower seeds. All the makings of a road trip. Fact: We bought a giant bag of Swedish Fish before we left. It never even made it to the car. They were good. Oops. Also, we beg to differ on “family size.”
  2. We brought a Ziplock with napkins, paper plates, plastic silverware and straws for all our side of the road snacks. The bag made it handy to find everything when we dug through the food box and easier to keep things organized.
  3. Bring plastic bags to put your trash in so you don’t end up with a disaster happening at your feet in the car.
  4. Since we were traveling just before July 4th and corona virus restrictions were in place in several towns we kept hand sanitizer ready for after every fill-up and stop we made.
  5. Depending where you are, some rest areas and state welcome centers are significantly nicer and WAY CLEANER than a gas station when you need to stop. This was true in Colorado but we saw several nice rest stops/welcome centers all along the way.
  6. Be sure you’ve taken care of all your routine car maintenance before your trip. This includes wiper blades. We ended up in a terrible rain storm with worn out wipers. Yikes.
  7. Be smart about how you pack your car. If there are items or bags you don’t need until you reach your destination, put those in first. This seems obvious but our pillows accidentally ended squished in the trunk towards the seats.
  8. Have a backup plan. We don’t take our nicer vehicle on road trips. Wrecks, dings, break downs etc. are always a possibility and it’s good to have a plan if those things happen. We (half) joke that we would have left the car in Colorado if something had happened and got a rental car to get back home. AAA? Spare tire? Flares? Just be prepared for whatever the open road might throw at you.
  9. Another seemingly obvious tip? Put your chargers in the console. I am constantly forgetting to put my phone and watch charger somewhere handy and then I have to dig through a bag outside of Buc-ee’s while I snack on a bag of gummy bears. It’s a whole process. Put stuff where you need it.
  10. Quarters. Dollars. Fives. Y’all. Some toll roads are still change & cash only for exit/entrance if you don’t have a toll tag. I’d guess the majority of them have a tag system where they can bill you but if not, keep a roll of quarters for your trips. You never know when you might need to take a toll road. Or for a tower viewer. Or to put air in your tires. THE LIST GOES ON.
  11. Look at the map and familiarize yourself with your general directions before you set off an an adventure. Sure, between our cars and our phones it’s hard to believe people ever could navigate cross country with a hard copy of a MAP. However, we hit a few spots where we lost signal completely. While trying to find a turn off that was not well marked. So, do as I say, not as I do.
  12. Gas stations tend to thin out in some parts. Usually, it’s when you weren’t paying attention to the sign that told you to stop and get gas at the teeny tiny exit because you won’t have another stop for XX miles. Road trips aren’t the ideal time to see how many miles your hunk of metal can make it on fumes. In the middle of nowhere.
  13. Playlists, podcasts, books on tape! Maybe you’re more of a road trip games “I Spy” and license plates and punch buggy. Whatever your jam, there are plenty of ways to entertain yourself/passengers along the way. Keep in mind some places may be spotty on signal and you might end up listening to your Husband’s current favorite song 4 times in an hour. “I am a lineman for the county, and I drive the main road…” #onrepeat
  14. Be flexible! Road trips give you a bit more flexibility but things like construction, missed exits (a friend missed a turn visiting me in college and drove the wrong way for HOURS), and unexpected detours might happen. BUT you may also find time to stop in all the neat towns along the way, change your route entirely to visit a city you’ve never been to, or enjoy a sunrise or sunset without being rushed. Take full advantage of the opportunity to slow down a little and enjoy the beautiful places along the way.

There are certainly more places we dined at, coffee shops we refueled for early morning hikes, and neat places we found along the way. I highly recommend leaving some portion of your trips unplanned to discover all the fun finds! Those ends up being some of the best memories.

A huge thanks to all our friends that were fabulous hosts, took us on great hikes and made awesome recommendations for things to do/places to eat…oh, and hung out with us for a week! We had the best time with all of them and can’t wait for our next visit!

Do you have any road trips coming up? Let me know where some of your favorite road trip destinations are!

Thanks for stopping by!

Taryn

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