Zapata Falls

Zapata Falls is a beautiful hidden gem that can be found in Colorado’s Rio Grande National Forest. Located just 20-30 minutes from Great Sand Dunes National Park, Zapata Falls is an easy hike to a stunning 25-foot waterfall tucked among the rocks.

The trailhead for Zapata Falls is found along Highway 160. Once you turn off the main road to follow signs for the Zapata Falls Recreation Area, be prepared for about three miles of bumpy, gravel road. Our Subaru had no problems at all on this road, and we saw a large variety of vehicles that made it up just fine.

From the parking lot, follow signs to Zapata Falls. The trail is very obvious and well-maintained, and you’ll experience minimal elevation gain over the half mile it takes to reach the falls. As of April 17 when we visited, the creek and waterfall were completely frozen. It was very slick to walk through the crevasse and up to the frozen waterfall, so microspikes are recommended. If you tread carefully, you’ll likely be fine without.

The waterfall is a beautiful sight, especially in its frozen form. During warmer months where the water is flowing freely, you can carefully maneuver your way to the top of the falls as well. Dogs are also welcome, though they must be kept on a leash.

Have you visited Zapata Falls before? Let me know in the comments!

Great Sand Dunes National Park

I recently shared my Colorado Summer Bucket List, and one of my goals was to visit at least one new national park in Colorado. This past weekend, my husband, dog and I hit the road and crossed off that bucket list item by visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park for the first time! We had so much fun exploring the area and the dunes were an amazing sight to see.

Great Sand Dunes National Park is located in the southern portion of Colorado, about 4 hours from Denver. The park is actually home to the tallest sand dunes in North America! We left Colorado Springs super early and arrived a little after 9:00 AM. I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as crowds considering we visited on Easter, but there were only a few other groups in the parking lot when we arrived.

We parked at the Dunes Parking Lot, located just past the Visitor Center, and set off to explore. One of the coolest things about Great Sand Dunes National Park is dogs are actually allowed on a number of trails, as long as they’re on a leash! We saw lots of other pups while we were there, and ours loved exploring the dunes with us.

There aren’t many well-defined trails on the actual dunes, so you can kind of choose your own adventure and wander around. We started heading for the tallest dune we could see, and it was quite a strenuous effort. Even though we only ended up hiking for about 2 miles roundtrip with about 500′ of elevation gain, the sand made it a very challenging hike. We both wore hiking boots which ended up working out just fine, as our pants helped prevent sand from getting in our shoes. Some people were walking barefoot, but I think wearing boots helped prevent our feet from getting super sore.
The weather was also perfect, hovering around the low 50’s with a nice breeze. Over the summer, the sand can get as hot as 150 degrees Fahrenheit, so make sure you plan accordingly!

We really took our time hiking up the dunes and took plenty of water breaks. To reach the top of Star Dune, the tallest dune in the park and North America, you have to hike about 3 miles round trip, with over 700′ in elevation gain. We weren’t feeling up that on this visit, but it would be cool to go back and explore some more!

Aside from hiking, sand boarding is another really popular activity at Great Sand Dunes National Park. We tried to make a DIY sand board from an old skateboard we had lying around, but it was not very effective. You can rent sand boarding gear outside of the park before your visit if you want to give it a try!

All in all, we had a ton of fun at Great Sand Dunes National Park, and I’m so glad we were able to check off one of our summer bucket list items so early in the season. We still have Mesa Verde National Park and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park to explore, so hopefully we can find the time to visit in the coming weeks!

Have you ever been to Great Sand Dunes National Park before? What’s your favorite national park in Colorado? Let me know in the comments!

Colorado Summer Bucket List

The weather is finally starting to warm and the snow is beginning to thaw which means spring is almost here. Before you know it, it’ll be summer and we all know the warm weather never stays as long as we hope! I really want to take advantage of the warmth this season, so I’ve put together a Colorado Summer Bucket List as motivation to try some fun new summertime activities. Colorado is full of activities year-round, but I think the state truly shines in the summer. So here are some goals I have for this summer in Colorado, and some activities I’d love to experience for the first time!

  1. Whitewater rafting – I’ve whitewater rafted a number of times before in the Southeast, and I’ve loved every experience. Colorado is known for having some great whitewater rafting, and there are tons of companies that offer trips ranging from beginner-friendly to advanced. Since I haven’t been whitewater rafting in a few years, I’ll probably aim for an intermediate trip, but I can’t wait to escape the heat by hitting the river this summer!
  2. Go on an overnight backpacking trip – I did a good amount of hikes last year, but due to my husband getting shoulder surgery at the beginning of the summer, we weren’t able to go camping or backpacking at all. This year, I’m determined to go on at least one overnight backpacking trip! I’d love to do one in May at a lower elevation spot, and then work up to a really epic and challenging overnight trip later in the season. Let me know in the comments what your favorite beginner/intermediate Colorado backpacking trip is!
  3. Take a scenic train ride – there are a bunch of scenic train rides throughout the state of Colorado, and I’d love to experience the state’s natural beauty this way. I haven’t been on a train ride in several years, but I always love sitting and watching the changing scenery go by.
  4. Spend a weekend in New Mexico – I’ve never been to New Mexico, and Santa Fe is only about a 5-hour drive from Colorado Springs! I figure this may be one of the only times in our life we’re living near the Southwest, so I want to take advantage by spending a weekend in a new state. My husband and I also haven’t had the chance to travel somewhere new to both of us in a few years, so I think it would be a really fun time.
  5. Visit another national park – like I mentioned in by Top 5 Things to Do in Colorado post, the state is home to not one, but four national parks! I’ve only been to Rocky Mountain so far, but I’d love to visit at least one, if not all, of the other three (Mesa Verde, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and Great Sand Dunes). Great Sand Dunes is only about a 3-hour drive from us, so I’d love to spend a day exploring it sometime over the summer!

And there you have it folks! What’s on your Summer Bucket List for 2022? What are your favorite Colorado Summer activities? Let me know in the comments!

Top 5 Things to Do in Colorado

I’ve called Colorado home for a little over a year now, and I’ve embarked on some pretty amazing adventures since moving to the Centennial State. Colorado is known for being an outdoor-lover’s paradise, and there are tons of activities to enjoy year-round. Today, I want to share my list of the Top 5 Things to Do in Colorado. This list is definitely not comprehensive, and I’d love to do an even more in-depth post in the future, but it can be a great starting point as you plan your next visit to Colorado! This guide is also especially helpful if you have limited time to visit and want to hit some of the most unique and iconic Colorado activities that the state has to offer.

  1. Hit the slopes – first up on my list of Top 5 Things to Do in Colorado is hitting the slopes! Colorado is home to some incredible ski resorts and is known as one of the best destinations for winter sports in the U.S. I think everyone should try skiing or snowboarding at least once in their life, regardless of age or background! I’ve skied at Monarch Mountain, Breckenridge, and Keystone, and thoroughly enjoyed my time at each. Skiing and snowboarding can be pretty intimidating as a first-timer, but once you get the hang of it, you’re going to have an amazing time! I recommend researching ski schools or lessons if you’ve never been and want a professional to show you the ropes.
  2. Visit all 4 national parks – did you know Colorado is home to not one but four national parks? Rocky Mountain National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Great Sand Dunes National Park, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park can all be found in the state of Colorado. I’ve only been to Rocky Mountain myself (click here to read my post about Dream Lake) but I definitely plan on visiting the other three while I still call Colorado home. All of the parks are uniquely beautiful, and I can’t wait to fully explore them so I can check this off my list of Top 5 Things to Do in Colorado!
  3. Soak in a hot spring – next up on my list of the Top 5 Things to Do in Colorado is visit one of the state’s many beautiful hot springs. There are a bunch of hot springs throughout the state of Colorado that vary in price, aesthetics, and amenities offered. From low-key resorts to luxurious mountain spas, there is definitely a Colorado hot spring for everyone to enjoy. My personal favorite so far has been Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort! This is one activity that is great year-round, and a good option if you want to enjoy Colorado’s natural beauty without embarking on a physically strenuous activity.
  4. Catch a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater – this is one item on my Top 5 Things to Do in Colorado list that I have yet to experience, but am really looking forward to. Red Rocks Amphitheater is known for having awesome acoustics and being a super cool concert venue in general. I have tickets to see a show at Red Rocks Amphitheater in April and I cannot wait to check it out for myself!
  5. Summit a Fourteener – last but certainly not least on my list of the Top 5 Things to Do in Colorado is summit a Fourteener. Colorado is home to a whopping 58 Fourteeners, aka mountains with a summit above 14,000 feet. Each Fourteener is a challenge in and of itself, but there are definitely some mountains that are more beginner-friendly than others. I personally have summited Mount Bierstadt (14,065′), Mount Sherman (14,043′) and Pike’s Peak (14,115′), and they were all incredible experiences. Check out my video “How to Summit Your First 14er” for a ton of info on how to train and prepare for your first Fourteener!

I hope this list of the Top 5 Things to Do in Colorado is helpful as you plan your next Colorado trip! What activities and experiences are on your list of the top things to do in Colorado?

Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Dream Lake, located in Rocky Mountain National Park, is a great day hike, perfect for those with limited time to explore the park. At 2 miles roundtrip, the hike to Dream Lake is relatively easy and great for hikers of all experience levels.

The trail to Dream Lake starts at the Bear Lake Trailhead, just about 20 minutes from the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station. At the first fork bear left and follow the signs to Dream Lake. You’ll gradually gain elevation as you make your way through the woods. After about a half mile, you’ll arrive at Nymph Lake.

Continue pushing on and you’ll soon arrive at Dream Lake. Dream Lake is an expansive lake that offers beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. During the winter, the lake will freeze over, giving you the chance to walk across its surface. Depending on weather conditions, microspikes may be helpful for navigating the snow and ice.

Have you made the hike to Dream Lake yet? What are some of your favorite hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park?

Best Day Trips from Colorado Springs

Colorado is a beautiful state with so much to see and do, and Colorado Springs is a great area to have as a home base if you’re planning a trip to the state (check out my ultimate guide to Colorado Springs here). I’ve already shared recommendations on day trips from Seattle, Washington and Atlanta, Georgia, so now it’s time to share my favorite day trips from Colorado Springs!

Boulder – 1 hour 30 minutes

Image courtesy of Unofficial Networks

Boulder is well-known for being the home of the University of Colorado Boulder campus, and the whole town has a very laidback, college-town feel. Pearl Street Mall is a popular destination in the city for shopping and eating, encompassing four whole blocks in the heart of the city. The Flatirons, an iconic formation of rocks, is a short drive from downtown, and offers a number of hiking areas and rock-climbing routes. The world-renowned Red Rocks Amphitheater is also only about 30-40 minutes from Boulder, making it an easy side trip as well.

Breckenridge – 2 hours

Breckenridge is one of my favorite towns in Colorado, and it’s only a 2-hour drive from Colorado Springs. During the winter, Breckenridge is known for awesome skiing/snowboarding, and the town is truly magical around the holidays. Summer, meanwhile, is a great time to visit if you’d like to try some hiking or mountain biking. Breckenridge is full of shops and restaurants and the whole area is incredibly beautiful, so I always bring friends and family when they visit from out of town. For more recommendations, check out my guide to Breckenridge right here!

Mount Princeton Hot Springs – 2 hours

It wouldn’t be a proper visit to Colorado without taking a dip in one of the state’s many hot springs. Mount Princeton Hot Springs is a great option because it’s only 2 hours from Colorado Springs, and the resort is simply gorgeous. There are a few options for enjoying the hot springs, ranging from soaking pools to a waterslide and creekside pools as well. We visited over the summer and had an amazing time, but I’d love to do a winter visit as well.

Estes Park/Rocky Mountain National Park – 2 hours 15 minutes

Estes Park is a fantastic day trip with lots of activities for visitors of all ages. Estes Park is known as a gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, which is well-worth a visit itself. Rocky Mountain National Park is stunning and offers all kinds of hikes ranging in difficulty and length. If you’d prefer to stay in town, Estes Park is full of shopping and dining options, making it a great place to wander around and explore. For any horror fans out there, Estes Park is also home to the Stanley Hotel, the infamous setting for Stephen King’s The Shining. You can stay at the hotel, book a tour, or just visit the lobby area and grounds for free.

Have you visited any of these areas yourself? What’s your favorite day trip from Colorado Springs?

The Ultimate Guide to Colorado Springs, CO

Colorado Springs is an outdoor-lover’s paradise, with countless activities and restaurants to enjoy. I’ve called Colorado Springs home for the past year now, and I love discovering new areas in the city to explore. If you find yourself in Colorado, you must take the time to visit this mountain town and enjoy everything it has to offer.

Where to Stay

Staying in an Airbnb is always a great to way to explore a new city, and I recommend looking in the Old Colorado City and downtown areas. Old Colorado City is a very charming part of town with lots of little shops and restaurants, making it very walkable and great for families. Staying in downtown, meanwhile, will put you near a lot of activities and nightlife, which may appeal to younger crowds and couples.

Another option is to stay in the nearby town of Manitou Springs, a quaint mountain town nestled among the foothills of Pike’s Peak. Manitou Springs is very artsy and quirky, offering lots of art galleries and cafes. If you love history and unique shopping/dining experiences, Manitou Springs is the way to go.

What to Eat

– Breakfast –

Denver Biscuit Company is a decadent breakfast option with all kinds of biscuit sandwiches and platters, ranging from savory to sweet. I highly recommend The Lola or The Beeler! They also have great cocktails, making it an awesome option for brunch.

For those seeking vegan/vegetarian breakfast options, Adam’s Mountain Cafe is the way to go. They offer an extensive menu of classic breakfast dishes and allergy-friendly versions as well.

Although it’s a chain in the midwest, Urban Egg is well-known for offering up one of the most delicious breakfasts in town. From rich pancakes to hearty hashes, Urban Egg has a great variety that everyone is sure to enjoy.

– Lunch –

It’s no secret Colorado Springs is full of amazing Mexican restaurants, but one of my favorites for lunch is Vaqueros. The menu is extensive and everything I’ve tried there has been fresh and delicious. Plus, they make excellent margaritas!

Although I’m including an entire section on breweries since there are so many awesome ones in town, Trinity Brewing stands out as a lunch option thanks to their delicious food menu. From pizzas to sandwiches and massive salads, everything at Trinity Brewing is delicious, and they have lots of vegan options as well!

Alchemy Pub is an awesome lunch spot in the heart of Old Colorado City. The pub features classic Irish offerings, like fish and chips and beer cheese soup, and a wide variety of drink options. The atmosphere is very rustic and casual, and it’s a great spot to grab a bite to eat during a day of shopping and exploring.

– Dinner –

The Rabbit Hole is a super unique dining experience themed after Alice in Wonderland. The restaurant is located underground, accessed via a fake subway station entrance in downtown Colorado Springs. The food is delicious and their drink menu offers some whimsical cocktails that make Rabbit Hole a fun, more upscale option.

For all my pizza-lovers out there, Fat Sully’s is a must-visit spot. You can order by the slice or take on the challenge of a 26″ pie which is so large it’s only available for dine-in! Their NY-style pizza is straight up delicious and Fat Sully’s is an awesome spot to hit at the end of the night after enjoying some drinks downtown.

Don’t let the name deceive you – Colorado Mountain Brewery is an excellent restaurant as well as a fantastic brewery. Even if you’re not a fan of beer, their food menu is delicious enough to warrant a visit. You have to try their bison queso appetizer (seriously life-changing) and you can’t go wrong with any of their burgers or sandwiches.

– Breweries –

For more brewery recommendations, check out my guide to the best breweries in Colorado Springs!

A visit to Bristol Brewing Company is unlike any other: the brewery is located inside Ivywild, an old elementary school that has since been converted into a food and drink hall! Grab a few beers from Bristol and some food from one of their four in-house restaurants and you’ve got everything you need for an awesome experience.

Cerberus Brewing Co. is a popular brewery in town thanks to its delicious food and beer menu and dog-friendly outdoor space. Cerberus has a very welcoming and laidback atmosphere, making it a well-loved spot by locals and tourists alike.

Phantom Canyon Brewing is another great option that combines delicious beer and food, making it an awesome lunch or dinner spot. Phantom Canyon Brewing is located in a historic building in downtown Colorado Springs, and even features a billiards hall if you want to shoot some pool.

What to Do

A visit to Colorado Springs wouldn’t be complete without exploring Garden of the Gods. The garden is a beautiful spot year-round and features some incredibly striking rock formations. Whether you choose to just drive through or stop and do some hiking, biking, or horseback-riding, you’re sure to be amazed by the natural wonder of Garden of the Gods.

Depending on the time of year you plan your trip, you may also be able to pay Pike’s Peak a visit. Though hiking to the summit is an option, driving or taking the iconic Cog Railway are also great ways to experience the mountain. A new visitor’s center recently opened at the summit, educating visitors on the history of the mountain and surrounding areas, and make sure to grab some fresh donuts!

A visit to the Manitou Cliff Dwellings is a great way to learn firsthand about some of the first Native American tribes who called this area home. The ruins are reconstructions of authentic cliff dwellings, and there’s also a small museum to explore as well. As a bonus, dogs are welcome to visit, too!

North Cheyenne CaƱon Park is a popular hiking destination in Colorado Springs, offering lots of trails ranging in length and difficulty. Seven Bridges Trail is a well-known option rated moderate in difficulty.

Did you know Colorado Springs is called the Olympic City USA? The city is home to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committees and Training Center, and you can learn more about these organizations and their history by visiting the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum. Located in the heart of the city, the museum is huge, offering a variety of exhibits and interactive experiences.

The Manitou Springs Penny Arcade is a quirky spot that offers fun for both kids and adults. The arcade is home to hundreds of old games, like pinball and skeeball; some of them date as far back as the 1930’s! Manitou Springs in general is a must-visit destination, and the Penny Arcade is just one of the unique offerings you’ll find strolling through town.

Truthfully, there is so much more that Colorado Springs has to offer, but my list would be a mile long if I tried to write it all out. Let me know in the comments what activities or restaurants I may have missed, and thanks for reading!

Diamond Lake in Indian Peaks Wilderness

Diamond Lake Trail, located in Indian Peaks Wilderness, is a moderately challenging out-and-back hike with beautiful views of Diamond Lake and the surrounding peaks. Altogether, the hike is about 5.4 miles in length and gains roughly 1,220 feet in elevation.

Pro tip: make sure to check the weather frequently, as it can change very quickly in the mountains. The forecast the night before we hiked was clear but we ended up getting rained on about a mile into the hike and again during the last quarter mile! Which reminds me…

Pro tip: ALWAYS pack rain gear (if space/weight in your pack allows) – even if the forecast is clear.

The hike begins on Arapaho Pass Trail which departs from the end of Fourth of July Road, just past the town of Eldora. The trail will lead you gradually uphill through dense forests, until you reach a junction at about 1.2 miles, where you’ll bear left to begin on Diamond Lake Trail.

From here, the trail gradually descends, leading you over a creek crossing. After the creek, you’ll begin ascending once more until you reach Diamond Lake after about a mile. Diamond Lake offers lots of options for walking around and exploring the surrounding meadows!

Lake Isabelle

After a few days of haze, the smoke has finally begun to clear and reveal the beautiful views Colorado has to offer. In celebration, I decided to venture over to Indian Peaks Wilderness for the first time and hike to Lake Isabelle.

Pro tip: the Brainard Lake Recreation Area that this hike is located in requires a timed entry reservation which you can acquire here.

Indian Peaks Wilderness is located along the Continental Divide and offers some of the most beautiful hiking in Colorado. Located about an hour west of Boulder, Indian Peaks Wilderness offers some fantastic day hikes and backpacking areas.

Indian Peaks is located about 2.5 hours from where I live in Colorado Springs, so I left town around 5:45am and made it to the parking lot just after 8am. The ranger at the entrance instructed me to park at the Brainard Lake Trailhead, though I later learned I could have continued on and parked at the Long Lake Trailhead. I didn’t mind parking at Brainard Lake because the walk from Brainard Lake to the Long Lake Trailhead was a good warmup, but it did add 2 miles roundtrip.

Long Lake was another beautiful sight as well, and I was hoping to see some moose or even a bear as the park ranger said there had been recent sightings, but I suppose they were all taking the day off because I didn’t see any wildlife.

The proper hike to Lake Isabelle, which begins at the Long Lake Trailhead, is fairly moderate, meandering along the edges of Long Lake before veering right and uphill to reach Lake Isabelle. The last half mile or so of the hike is fairly steep, though the views that soon emerge make it well worthwhile. Lake Isabelle itself was absolutely stunning, and you have plenty of options for exploring the shore of the lake and the surrounding meadows. The lake is framed by stunning peaks and the area was one of the most beautiful I’ve seen in the state.

The lake wasn’t too crowded by the time I arrived, but after stopping to rest and take some pictures, the hike back was fairly busy. All Trails reports the hike to be about 5.5 miles roundtrip with about 550 feet of elevation gain. I would say this hike is appropriate for new and experienced hikers, and there were lots of families when I went! Because of how popular this area can be, I would recommend visiting during the week or earlier in the morning on the weekend.

Pro tip: dogs are welcome but must stay on leash – there were lots of dogs when I went, and I even brought my own, Willie, but if you’re doing the same, please abide by the leash rules! There were several times unleashed dogs approached Willie and I, and though Willie is friendly, not every dog is. Plus, there’s always the chance you’ll see some wildlife, and even well-behaved dogs have been known to take off after other animals.

Overall, this was a gorgeous hike and I hope to return again soon. Let me know if you’ve hiked to Lake Isabelle yourself, and drop your recommendations for hikes in Indian Peaks Wilderness!

Mayflower Gulch Trail

I’ve been wanting to get out and take advantage of the warm weather before Colorado goes full fall mode, so I decided to explore the Mayflower Gulch Tail. This trail is located near the town of Breckenridge and will lead you along an old wagon trail to the abandoned Boston mine camp where you can roam among old cabin ruins. The trail itself is about 6.1 miles out-and-back, though you can add mileage by hiking around the gulch once you reach then cabins, and gains about 1,500′ of elevation. The trail gains elevation at a fairly moderate rate but once you reach the cabins it makes the whole hike worthwhile! Unfortunately, it was still pretty hazy from the wildfires when I took on this hike, so I’d love to return when the weather is a bit clearer.

Check out All Trails for all the info!