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Colorado Vacation Destinations - Not Quite So Crowded, But Still Cool


Dbeasy

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I'm taking the extended family (adult kids, grandma, grandkids) to Colorado next summer because we have a wedding to attend at the end of June in Winter Park. For you Colorado experts, do you have any thoughts where we could go for a week beforehand.  We have a mix of ages (79, 60, 60, 33, 30, 28, 2, 1). The group likes the following types of activities:

High Priority - Hiking; Fly fishing

Medium Priority - Historical ‚Äď Monuments, Parks, etc.;¬†Special Activities ‚Äď Train rides, etc;¬†Foods/Restaurants; Breweries/wineries; Fishing;¬†Water/Lake/Beach/Swimming;¬† Rafting; Kayaking; Cool town; Shopping; Biking; Alpine slides; Cool drives

Low Priority - Golf, Museums, Concerts, Boat Rides

I'm leery of places like Estes Park because of crowds. Any ideas would be appreciated.

 

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Estes Park, it’s crowded but meets everything you want.  Any place that meets all that list will be croweded, Estes just does that whole list better even if it’s a few more people.  Estes doesn’t have huge resort type lodging places really so it’s not that bad really. I’d say Breckinridge is more crowded with less options for that reason.  

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1 hour ago, Butch Had Not said:

Durango

Yeah we just did the drive a couple days ago from Montrose to Ouray to Silverton to Durango to Pagosa Springs. Whole area is beautiful and between all those places you can find any mountain activity you want.

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I forgot to mention we did Durango in 2021. And we don’t need to do everything on the list, just a sample listing of stuff we like. 

What about Winter Park itself? What’s it like? My BIL stayed at Grand Lake and liked it but it seemed like there wasn’t a lot to do around it other than access to RMNP. 

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12 hours ago, 6th Street said:

Not a fan of Estes Park. Too many fat Texans waddling around 

Recommend the Vail/Beaver Creek area - so much to do there between fly fishing, golf, dining, boozing, etc.  

We are a very svelte family. What if could could bring that percentage down?

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One day kayaking/paddle boarding in Grand Lake and one day on the west side of RMNP is plenty. Winter Park has Trestle for mountain biking the mountain in the summer otherwise better to visit in  ski season.

Vail is only 1.5 hrs from Winter Park so would be my suggestion to change things up. 
 

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What is creede looking like these days?  Was there 25 years ago so that information is probably not accurate. Did a long hike, rafted the rio grande headwaters, fly fished. 
 

drove up from Albuquerque I think. 
 

I wonder if ft Collins would fit here as well. But I guess Estes is right there and actually in the mountains. 

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16 hours ago, Dbeasy said:

I'm taking the extended family (adult kids, grandma, grandkids) to Colorado next summer because we have a wedding to attend at the end of June in Winter Park. For you Colorado experts, do you have any thoughts where we could go for a week beforehand.  We have a mix of ages (79, 60, 60, 33, 30, 28, 2, 1). The group likes the following types of activities:

High Priority - Hiking; Fly fishing

Medium Priority - Historical ‚Äď Monuments, Parks, etc.;¬†Special Activities ‚Äď Train rides, etc;¬†Foods/Restaurants; Breweries/wineries; Fishing;¬†Water/Lake/Beach/Swimming;¬† Rafting; Kayaking; Cool town; Shopping; Biking; Alpine slides; Cool drives

Low Priority - Golf, Museums, Concerts, Boat Rides

I'm leery of places like Estes Park because of crowds. Any ideas would be appreciated.

 

Golden would meet your needs. You will run out of stuff to do in Golden proper after a day or 2 but downtown is walkable and there are several restaurants. The location is awesome. Easy fly into DIA, Red Rocks for concerts, tons of  hiking all through the area. Rafting is close by in Idaho Springs. Genesee Bison outlook is close. You can go for a scenic drive up Mount Evans. Boulder is 30-45 min away/Estes Park is a 4 hr drive. Colorado Springs is a little over an hour (Pikes Peak/Manitou Springs). Fly fishing is available in the area too. 

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Telluride is my default for most of these questions. Awesome town, rarely crowded in the summer, directly in the mountains with plenty of hiking options, and they have guided fly fishing. So that already checks your high priority boxes. They have a wide range of good restaurants, one brewery, no winery that I know of. Not much in the way of monuments, although if you drive up near Montrose there is a lake with boating available and there is also Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP.

Breckenridge would be another solid option that checks a lot of your boxes and it’s drivable from Denver and Winter Park, if that’s important to you. It will be more crowded though. They have easily accessible hiking. I did a fly fishing trip with their fly shop this year and it was fun, but we did have to drive about an hour from town to reach the river. There is of course Breckenridge Brewing, which isn’t my favorite beer but it is a cool spot to visit. They have several nearby wineries, a distillery in town, and the town has a cool main street with lots of shops and restaurants.

Fort Collins is also good, but not directly in the mountains. I did fly fishing up there last year and really enjoyed it. The town has lots of breweries - Odell, New Belgium, Funkwerks, just to name a few. There are lots of nearby lakes for those activities, but being slightly removed from the mountains, I would assume you need to drive a bit for the best hiking.

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23 hours ago, 6th Street said:

Not a fan of Estes Park. Too many fat Texans waddling around 

Recommend the Vail/Beaver Creek area - so much to do there between fly fishing, golf, dining, boozing, etc.  

Vail/Beaver Creek is great if you want to look outside, see I-70 and hear the semis driving by at all hours of the day and night.

Breckenridge is my personal favorite.   Lots of hiking in/near town with side trips over towards Keystone and/or Leadville.  Besides the Breck Brewery, there is also Broken Compass and the Breckenridge Distillery.   There is a great bike ride down Vail pass that the (semi)-adventurous can do plus a short train ride back up I-70 in Georgetown.   The Breck Fun Park is a good one but not ideal for 1 or 2 year olds.  

Leadville is a good place to explore but I don't know that I would stay over there.  

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Ok....  Some of this is outdated but here's something I wrote up a few years ago:

Skip Vail and stay in Breckenridge.

Vail is basically just three shopping/condo areas along I-70.   If you're really lucky you can even look out your window and see the freeway.

We've stayed in Breckenridge and Vail but really prefer Breckenridge.   Vail is spread out along I-70 and doesn't really have a decent "downtown."   Breckenridge is also close to Frisco, Dillon and Silverthorne.   These are more residential and not near the ski runs.   They have stuff like a Wal-Mart, Lowe's and other shopping.   Breckenridge has a decent grocery store so for the most part there's not much of a reason to be in Frisco.  Other than excursions, we have found ourselves content to hang out in Breck and relax at the house or go for a walk in the afternoon.  

Make sure to check the calendar before/when deciding to go.   There are festivals at different times and can cause traffic/congestion.   There is only one road from I-70 through Breck and one out the other direction (Colorado 9).   Westbound I-70 on Friday night and Saturday mornings is a beating.   Eastbound is bad on Sunday.   There's a beer festival in July.   Never been but have heard it draws a crowd.   There is also a fairly nice art festival in late July.   That doesn't shut down parts of town like the beer festival does.  

Main Street, as the name implies, is the main drag with restaurants, art galleries, t-shirt shops, etc.   It's a decent stroll with some stuff to look at/window shop.    

The area we've stayed in twice now is right at the south end of "downtown" in a three bedroom house.  Look up stuff on VRBO/Home away.   It's pretty easy to find a good 1 bedroom condo either just south of downtown or on the west (slope side).  There are some really good restaurants in Breck but they are pricey.   There is zero fast food in Breck.   You have to drive back to Frisco.   The main grocery store (called City Market but it's really a Kroger) has everything you'll need.  It's on the north end of town and not within walking distance of the neighborhood we stay but it's only a few minutes by car.   There is another grocery store within walking distance but it has Whole Foods vibe and is kind of over priced.   They do have a decent liquor store next door (as does City Market).   Friday afternoon and Saturday morning are the worst times to hit the store since Denverites are in town for the weekend.

Breck is within a 20-30 minute drive of several different hikes of various difficulties.   If you drive up to Boreas Pass there's a good hike from an old train stop.   BUT.... the drive up there is  little hairy.  About 2/3 of it is on a single lane road with occasional pull outs or wide shoulders for passing.   So you might end up having to back up or pull over to let a car pass.   If anyone is a white knuckle driver/rider, this may not be worth it.   Right at the edge of town is an old mining area (Iowa Hill) with a hike through the old equipment.   Pretty easy to do.   There is also Continental Falls.   This is a pretty hike and the falls are awesome but it's a trek.   A lot of the hiking will depend on what kind of shape your in.  McCullough Gulch is south of town and a pretty hike too.    From the Fun Park, you can take a ski lift up some trails.   One of these is a fairly level trail along the Ten Mile Range.   If you want to really wear yourself out, you can hike to the top of Peak 9.   The view is amazing.   You can see Rocky Mountain National Park to the north and look down into Copper Mountain.  Word of warning...  this was the hardest hike I have ever done and it's not really that far.   It up hill the entire way.   And the descent is a pain.   But the view is more than worth it.   

If you're really adventurous, the drive up Independence Pass toward Aspen is breath taking.   But other than the Maroon Bells hike (which is spectacular) there's not a lot to do over in Aspen and it's a good 2 hour drive each way.   The Independence Pass route, while two lane and in good shape, has some sheer drop offs that are a little scary.   I don't mind windy roads but I wouldn't drive this in the dark.   You can come back on I-70 from Aspen but that adds some time.

As with everything in a ski town, the paid activities can be a little pricey but the ones below are worth it in my opinion.  Weekends will be busier and more hectic since everybody from the Denver area flocks to the mountains then.        

Check out the Breck Fun Park.   In the summer this has a couple of fun things to do.   We normally only do this once and avoid going on a weekend day as that will be busier.  You can walk to the Gondola from town and ride that it up.   Some of things are more geared toward younger kids but the coaster, Alpine slide and zip line are a lot of fun for everybody.  You can also rent bikes and ride the trails.   I did that last time we were there and it was a blast.  But keep in mind, these are dirt paths and some times single track.   The last run of the day, I went down the hardest one and ate it several times before I decided that I was going to have to walk down a ways.   The other runs back toward the Fun Park are much easier. 

There are bike rentals places who will take you up to Vail Pass.  You ride down the pass back  to Frisco, Dillon, or if you're really ambitious, Breck or Keystone (depending on where you rented your bikes from.)   If you decide just to stop in Frisco, they'll pick you and take you back to where you rented from.   This is one of my favorite things to do.   It's almost completely downhill, paved and more than wide enough for passing.  Nothing stupidly dangerous but there are a few places where your going to use your brakes.  I've had my youngest on a tandem with me each time and it wasn't hard all.   There's a stream that runs along the path for a ways and some beaver dams.   We've seen big horn sheep and elk.    Overall, it's just a fun ride.   Highly recommended.  

There's an old mine that you can tour.   It's 10-15 minutes from Main Street by car.   Also a little pricey.   Just looked at the prices and I don't remember it being as high but it's kind of cool and you can try your hand at gold panning at the end.   This is actually a good thing to do if it's a rainy day.  

Speaking of rain, in the summer they have afternoon thunderstorms but it almost never rains all day.   But pay attention to the weather.   You do not want to be stuck out on a hike or somewhere outside when one comes in.   Been there, done that and it was one of the scariest moments of my life.  Weather forecasts are pretty spot on so if there's a chance of afternoon showers, plan your activity around it and you're good. 

There are power and pontoon boat rentals on Lake Dillon.   We brought lunch and drinks and rode around the lake.  There's no swimming (and the water is pretty cold any ways) but it was relaxing and every now and then we just cut the motor and drifted for a while.   

There's no white water rafting in Breck but there are several places within 60-90 minutes to go.   If you have never done this, I highly suggest it.   How much white water will depend on when you go.  By late July it's fairly tame but still worth it.   We've done Brown's Canyon and the Colorado River.  Brown's Canyon had more rapids but was not a massive amount of work.    

The Breckenridge Backstage Theater puts on some really good plays and musicals.  They're doing Monty Python's Spamalot and Annie this summer.   We've seen The Full Monty, Chicago and a couple of other things and enjoyed it.   They use two facilities; the theater and the Riverwalk Center.   The theater only has about 100 seats and is fairly intimate.   The Riverwalk Center has several hundred seats.   Tickets range from around $25 to $45.   There are also classical music performances ranging from string quartets to orchestra sized.   

There's a pizza place in town called Downstairs at Eric's.  They have a decent arcade with video games (classics like Galaga and Pacman), skee ball, pin ball and other stuff like that.   We probably do it 2-3 times during each trip.   You can play at the arcade without having to eat.   They have a fairly good beer selection too.   They advertise 30 beers on tap and probably 10-12 are local Colorado things or stuff you wont find down here.   

Broken Compass Brewing is on the north end of town.   They have a small tap room and brew some "different" things but it was all good.   Most of the places around town carry their stuff.  They also have a smaller tap room on the south side near the Breck Brewery.

The Breckenridge Brewery has pretty good food and I like their beer even if they did sell out to Bud.   They have some stuff on tap that you wont find anywhere else.  

The Breckenridge Tap House may have the best beer selection in town.   They also have fairly good street tacos and is reasonably priced.  

The Canteen has kind of a pub feel but good food and decent beer selection.  

South Ridge Seafood.   This is very good.  Pricey.   

 

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10 hours ago, Macanudo said:

Vail/Beaver Creek is great if you want to look outside, see I-70 and hear the semis driving by at all hours of the day and night.

Breckenridge is my personal favorite.   Lots of hiking in/near town with side trips over towards Keystone and/or Leadville.  Besides the Breck Brewery, there is also Broken Compass and the Breckenridge Distillery.   There is a great bike ride down Vail pass that the (semi)-adventurous can do plus a short train ride back up I-70 in Georgetown.   The Breck Fun Park is a good one but not ideal for 1 or 2 year olds.  

Leadville is a good place to explore but I don't know that I would stay over there.  

Can't hear the semis from I-70 in a 8 bedroom house you rent overlooking the Vail Golf Club.  If you settle for a Four Seasons non mountain view room then yes, you will have that.  

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About the only thing Mac didn't say about Brek is they have one of the best 4th of July parades you'll ever see and the ski lift to the top of the mountain is free during the summer.

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2 hours ago, Scheiss Meister said:

Anywhere along the Upper Arkansas from Salida to Leadville.  Lots of hiking, fly fishing, and other outdoors recreation, the mining museum and Matchless Mine in Leadville rock, and scenery every direction you look.

If you aren’t looking for crowds and still want to be somewhat close to a major highway, this is the way. If you want a bit more open space and less civilization, you could do Granby to Grand Lake/somewhere in the Never Summers as well. 
 

Estes, Vail, Breck, etc will all be pretty busy during that timeframe. 

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Fort Collins is great. Great beer, good restaurants.  Easy access to excellent foothill hiking and plenty of fly fishing locations along the Poudre River.  Check out some live music at the Mish riverside on the Poudre.  You can also get to RMNP in 30 minutes if you decide to do that.  Old Town has a lot of pedestrian traffic but nothing is ever overly crowded.  

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Well, seeing the ages of your group I'd hesitate from doing this, BUT, my family and I went last winter to Colorado. We stayed in the middle of nowhere, closest town was Cripple Creek. You can see in the photo the approximate location of our Airbnb. 

1. If you are looking to just relax, have a quiet mountain getaway, this could be for you. Like I said, we were easily a 25 minute drive from ANYWHERE. Winding mountain roads and beautiful views, including Pike's Peak.

2. Woodland Park is the next closest town that has a Walmart etc. We talked about staying here next time we go. Just to cut down on the drives through the mountains and make it more convenient.Very laid back and not busy at all. 

3. From Woodland Park you are about a 20 min drive to Garden of the Gods which is beautiful. Lots of hiking. Biking. You can also go check out Pike's Peak.

4. If you go at Christmas (more on this in a bit) you can visit Santa's North Pole in Manitou Springs. Our daughter (7 at the time) LOVED it. Lots of fun rides, shops and of course, you can meet Santa. 

5. Of course Colorado Springs is not far away. Plenty to do here. They have outdoor ice skating downtown, plenty of restaurants, etc. 

5. Winter in Colorado: Not for the faint of heart, especially if you don't have AWD or 4WD. Keep that in mind. My family of four went in 2019 with my 4x4 truck. I never felt out of place or unsafe. This past Christmas, we had my wife's parents so we had to go in our mini-van. Front wheel drive. As we were driving into Colorado Springs on our way to our Airbnb, the smaller city streets were very icy. I was surprised, but didn't have to use the chains. We visited Breckenridge one day and I had to put the chains on for the Hoosier (?) Pass portion of the drive. It was nerve-racking. If you aren't familiar with winter driving I would say avoid this without AWD/4WD. On the way home from Breck it started snowing pretty heavily and I had to put the chains on again to go back home. Easily the worst part of my trip. :) 

Your priority #2 would fit well for the Durango area. We spent a Summer vacation in the Durango area back in...2017 (?) and we would definitely go there again. We stayed near Purgatory and made the drive into Durango when we wanted. Purgatory ski resort has Summer activities as well, including most of the things you mentioned above). Silverton is the the opposite direction and is a BEAUTIFUL drive. I would definitely put the Durango area near the top of my "you should visit this place".  

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On 9/4/2023 at 11:09 AM, topochico said:

Golden would meet your needs. You will run out of stuff to do in Golden proper after a day or 2 but downtown is walkable and there are several restaurants. The location is awesome. Easy fly into DIA, Red Rocks for concerts, tons of  hiking all through the area. Rafting is close by in Idaho Springs. Genesee Bison outlook is close. You can go for a scenic drive up Mount Evans. Boulder is 30-45 min away/Estes Park is a 4 hr drive. Colorado Springs is a little over an hour (Pikes Peak/Manitou Springs). Fly fishing is available in the area too. 

Second this. Golden is amazing!

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On 9/3/2023 at 6:13 PM, Hook1997 said:

Estes Park, it’s crowded but meets everything you want.  Any place that meets all that list will be croweded, Estes just does that whole list better even if it’s a few more people.  Estes doesn’t have huge resort type lodging places really so it’s not that bad really. I’d say Breckinridge is more crowded with less options for that reason.  

Serious question - why do people like Estes Park so much?  There are so many other places that do everything Estes does, but better.

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On 9/3/2023 at 5:19 PM, Dbeasy said:

I'm taking the extended family (adult kids, grandma, grandkids) to Colorado next summer because we have a wedding to attend at the end of June in Winter Park. For you Colorado experts, do you have any thoughts where we could go for a week beforehand.  We have a mix of ages (79, 60, 60, 33, 30, 28, 2, 1). The group likes the following types of activities:

High Priority - Hiking; Fly fishing

Medium Priority - Historical ‚Äď Monuments, Parks, etc.;¬†Special Activities ‚Äď Train rides, etc;¬†Foods/Restaurants; Breweries/wineries; Fishing;¬†Water/Lake/Beach/Swimming;¬† Rafting; Kayaking; Cool town; Shopping; Biking; Alpine slides; Cool drives

Low Priority - Golf, Museums, Concerts, Boat Rides

I'm leery of places like Estes Park because of crowds. Any ideas would be appreciated.

 

I would just spend the week in Winter Park area, TBH.  Has all the hiking, mountain biking and fishing you want.  WP resort has an alpine slide.  Grand Lake and RMNP are a 45 minute drive away.  And if you REALLY want to see Estes Park, you can drive over Trail Ridge and see it for a couple hours, and then breathe a sigh of relief that you're not stuck there for a week, then drive back.

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Lake City.

Hiking and fly fishing are why people go there.  It's isolated, beautiful, and doesn't have much for tourist amenities but there are 5-6 14ers within a half hour of there, and (allegedly) kick ass fishing.  The place isn't overrun at all, and has a few bars and restaurants to hold you over for the evenings.

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45 minutes ago, Chewbacca said:

Serious question - why do people like Estes Park so much?  There are so many other places that do everything Estes does, but better.

Estes has always struck me as excessively touristy.  It's close to RMNP, but other than that it's way down the list.

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1 hour ago, Chewbacca said:

Serious question - why do people like Estes Park so much?  There are so many other places that do everything Estes does, but better.

Easy access to RMNP, great restaurants, tons of kids activities, wildlife and fishing close, great shops.  I don’t get what people don’t like about it.  To me Breckenridge and Winterpark feel more touristy because they have those huge resort towers.  

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7 minutes ago, Hook1997 said:

Easy access to RMNP, great restaurants, tons of kids activities, wildlife and fishing close, great shops.  I don’t get what people don’t like about it.  To me Breckenridge and Winterpark feel more touristy because they have those huge resort towers.  

You think the town of Winter Park is more touristy than Estes?  Have you ever been there?  The town is separate from the resort.

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Incredible input.  Really appreciate it. I think the family can deal with people as long as its not long, ridiculous lines of cars, like many have been complaining about at RMNP. I don't know shit, but based on what I'm reading, it sounds like the options are:

Breckenridge - pretty cool but might be a little crowded. My wife and I went there 30 years ago, but I could see this working.

Golden - have had a few different people recommend this. Wonder if we could do a day trip there.

Winter Park - since the wedding is there, it would be nice to be based there, if there is stuff to do. I do like how you could hit Grand Lake, Golden, even Breckenridge from there. This seems like a good option if there was a good place to stay. The resort??

Leadville/Arkansas River/Buena Vista - my wife and I are going to hit this, but it might be a little too remote for a large family with diverse interests.

Estes Park - lot's of divergent opinions about crowds or not.  Not sure.

Grand Lake - BIL loved it, but it does seem like a day at the Lake and a day or two in RMNP. Maybe we can drive there from Winter Park and do it that way?

Vail - the MIL is not a huge fan. That rules that out. Maybe the wife and I will hit it someday.

Durango - the family has already been and loved it. But, won't go again since we were just there. 

Telluride - too far away. Wife and I will hit that later. 

Lake City or Cripple Creek - probably a little too remote for a larger group.

So, we are leaning Winter Park, if the place is cool, has things to do, and has cool scenary. We'd hit Golden, Lake Grand, maybe Breckenridge from there. Thoughts?

Breckenridge would probably be 2nd choice.

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You have timed entry into RMNP so crowds are not as bad. But I would still go early. Colorado Springs area also has alot of good options along with access to a many cool areas within a short drive such as Canon City, Royal Gorge etc..

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1 hour ago, mbtex said:

You have timed entry into RMNP so crowds are not as bad. But I would still go early. Colorado Springs area also has alot of good options along with access to a many cool areas within a short drive such as Canon City, Royal Gorge etc..

No timed entry as long as you're in the park prior to 9am, I believe.  

56 minutes ago, DefinitelyNotHollywoodColt said:

me every time i see these threads

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Breckenridge/Summit County is the worst mountain community in Colorado by a mile. 

Carbondale.  Where the beer flows like wine.

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1 hour ago, Dbeasy said:

Incredible input.  Really appreciate it. I think the family can deal with people as long as its not long, ridiculous lines of cars, like many have been complaining about at RMNP. I don't know shit, but based on what I'm reading, it sounds like the options are:

Breckenridge - pretty cool but might be a little crowded. My wife and I went there 30 years ago, but I could see this working.

Golden - have had a few different people recommend this. Wonder if we could do a day trip there.

Winter Park - since the wedding is there, it would be nice to be based there, if there is stuff to do. I do like how you could hit Grand Lake, Golden, even Breckenridge from there. This seems like a good option if there was a good place to stay. The resort??

Leadville/Arkansas River/Buena Vista - my wife and I are going to hit this, but it might be a little too remote for a large family with diverse interests.

Grand Lake - BIL loved it, but it does seem like a day at the Lake and a day or two in RMNP. Maybe we can drive there from Winter Park and do it that way?

Vail - the MIL is not a huge fan. That rules that out. Maybe the wife and I will hit it someday.

Durango - the family has already been and loved it. But, won't go again since we were just there. 

Telluride - too far away. Wife and I will hit that later. 

Lake City or Cripple Creek - probably a little too remote for a larger group.

So, we are leaning Winter Park, if the place is cool, has things to do, and has cool scenary. We'd hit Golden, Lake Grand, maybe Breckenridge from there. Thoughts?

Breckenridge would probably be 2nd choice.

Stay in the town of Winter Park or Fraser, IMO.  And you can hit Golden on the way up to the mountains.  No need to backtrack after you're already in the high country.

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1 hour ago, DefinitelyNotHollywoodColt said:

me every time i see these threads

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Breckenridge/Summit County is the worst mountain community in Colorado by a mile. 

You think Breck is worse than Vail?  I'm gonna have to disagree on that one.  At least Breck feels somewhat like a town.  Vail is like the fake version of a town.  With I-70 plowing straight through it.

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1 hour ago, DefinitelyNotHollywoodColt said:

me every time i see these threads

spacer.png

 

Breckenridge/Summit County is the worst mountain community in Colorado by a mile. 

I don't understand what this means. Annoying people? How?

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