As a southern girl who has rarely traveled away from the East Coast, the last thing I was expecting to start off my summer was to be hopping on a plane to Colorado. In fact, if you had told me a few months ago that I would be doing this within a week of handing in my last final of my freshman year, I probably would have laughed in your face and asked if I had happened upon a small fortune. (After all, plane rides can be expensive!)
But as I’m starting to learn, life has a funny way of throwing unexpected opportunities our way, and when my family stumbled upon $75 round-trip tickets to Colorado, there was no way that we could pass up the opportunity. It was with that impromptu ticket-booking session that I suddenly found myself putting my previous summer plans on hold as my family planned our trip to Colorado.
I can’t speak for my entire family, but for me, having the opportunity to visit Colorado was an absolute dream. Colorado was a state I had never visited before and a part of the country that I was all but familiar with. Catching the travel bug from my sister, I could hardly wait to pack up my bags, hop on the plane, and go!
Unfortunately, however, my family and I would only have two days to visit Colorado, which meant spending several weeks of planning and mapping out all of the places that we could visit in such a short amount of time. In the end, the experience of trying to see and do it all in such a short amount of time was definitely…well…an experience; both good, not-so-good, and humorous memories were made in Colorado as we tried to see it all in two days, and I am here to share my tips on what to see and how to see it during your visit.
Departing for Colorado
I don’t know about you all, but I am both excited and terrified of air travel; however, the amazing view from an airplane and the greatly decreased travel time is well worth my initial fear of stepping onto a plane and hanging unsuspended in the air for a few hours.
I started my day of travel about 10:30 pm the day before, when I woke up feeling absolutely refreshed and sure that my alarm was going to be going off at any second, only to find out that I had been sleeping for just two hours and I couldn’t fall back asleep no matter how hard I tried.
Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed.
Between getting very little sleep and having an early flight (6:20 am!), my best advice to you is that if you know that you aren’t going to be getting much sleep, at least be close to the airport to minimize your commute; although 6:20 am doesn’t sound terrible, we had to be there by 4:20 am to check in our luggage, not to even mention the three hour commute before that just to make it to the airport.
After missing the bus from the parking lot to the airport once, we finally checked in our luggage and ate a well-needed Chick-fil-a breakfast. When traveling, I highly suggest getting something to eat (or at least snack on) before a flight, because hunger is not satisfied by a complimentary pack of peanuts. (Especially if you don’t care for peanuts, like me.)
With no shops open that early in the morning to wander and try to pass the time with, we went through security, found the correct terminal, and began the long wait for our flight.
Since we had about an hour before we could board our flight, I brought my laptop with me to work on my Ten Lessons I Learned My Freshman Year of College post, which–between the flight there and the flight home–I almost completed. If you don’t blog, I suggest reading a good book, playing some Sudoku puzzles, or catching up on your favorite Netflix show.
At 6 am, it was finally our turn to board the flight. I spent the majority of the 2 1/2 hour flight taking awesome pictures and videos of us flying over different states, blogging, and almost dozing off. If you plan on sleeping during the flight, I suggest taking some earplugs, an eye mask, and a good pillow and/or blanket.
At about 7:40 am (Mountain Time), we began our descent into the Denver International Airport.
Arriving in Denver, Colorado
In the weeks leading up to our trip, my sister Emma (an aspiring YouTuber) was constantly talking about the Denver International Airport because of the crazy conspiracy theories that have surrounded it since it was first built.
I’m not going to lie: the conspiracy theories are pretty interesting, even if I don’t believe in them.
After stepping off of our flight, we followed the crowd of people through the airport to an underground monorail, which took us to the area where we could retrieve our luggage and exit the airport. After getting lost and confused a few times, we finally found our way out to the airport’s bus station, which was a series of shuttles to car rentals.
We hopped on one of these shuttles to pick up our car rental for the next two days–a Jeep Compass–and began our road trip down Colorado.
1st Stop: Air Force Academy Overlook
Between the Denver International Airport and the Garden of the Gods, there is a highway overlook of the Rocky Mountains called the Air Force Academy Overlook. This overlook provides an amazing scenic overlook of the Rocky Mountains, as well as a great photo opportunity. While we visited it, we also saw someone parachuting over the mountains, which was awesome to see.
2nd Stop: Garden of the Gods
Our first stop in Colorado was the Garden of the God’s, or more specifically, the Garden of the God’s welcome center. The welcome center had a free museum featuring the area’s rock formations, the wildlife, and the history of the area’s natives. Besides the museum, the welcome center also featured a film (with an admittance fee), a gift shop, and a terraced viewing area to observe some of the rock formations of the Garden of the Gods.
After exploring the welcome center, we hopped back in the car to enter the Garden of the Gods, and driving through such a scenic view felt like living in a car commercial. (I’m not kidding when I say that.) Parking spots were easy to find, and there were a number of trails to explore. From what I saw, there were also plenty of rock climbing excursions, so we got to see a few people scaling the rocky formations.
In some areas, the rock formations were off-limits to the public, as noted by the signs advising us to keep on the trails and the wooden fences that implied a no-enter zone. Other areas, however, were open to the public to explore and climb. Great photo opportunities were available because of this, such as the balanced rock. Similar to how people pretend that they are leaning against the Leaning Tower of Pisa, people pretend like they are holding up the balanced rock!
Tips for Garden of the Gods
- Bring a good pair of walking shoes! There are so many trails to explore (and are easily accessible, too, since they are paved concrete), so you’ll want to spend a lot of time walking them to explore the scenery.
- Bring some water! Keep a water bottle in your backpack or purse when you go so that you won’t be dehydrated.
- Don’t forget your camera! The Garden of the Gods is perhaps one of the most beautiful places that I’ve ever visited, and photos really don’t do it justice. (But that doesn’t meant that you can’t try!) Take your phone or handheld camera to get some great pictures of the view.
- Be prepared for elevation changes, which could cause some to feel slightly off; so again, stay hydrated.
3rd Stop: Manitou Incline
Just a few minutes from the Garden of the Gods, you can find the city of Manitou Springs, which is an absolutely picturesque place to visit; the only bad part about it is that I didn’t have enough time to explore it! The city itself reminded myself so much of Gatlinburg, Tennessee to the point that I was constantly having to remind myself that I was actually in Colorado.
In truth, we accidentally stumbled upon the Manitou Incline when we were leaving the Garden of the Gods. (We were looking for a waterfall & took a wrong turn). Since Emma had heard of the daredevil climb before when researching places in Colorado to visit, we just had to go check it out.
In case you’ve never heard of it (I certainly never had, before Emma started showing videos of it to me), the Manitou Incline is listed as an extreme-intensity trail made up of 2,744 steps which–from top to bottom–results in a 2,000 foot elevation increase (according to Pikes Peak); this means that this trail is not for the faint of heart (or for people who only got about 2.5 hours of sleep, like me). Really, it should say “for future olympians in training.” I went part of the way up just to experience the trail before turning back with my little sister, but my mom and Emma finished it and made it to the top! Their round trip took over four hours, but they captured some amazing photos and footage from the view! Oh-the part that looks like the top in the above and below pictures is not the real top; it’s the fake summit, and actually goes on quite a bit after that.
Tips for Manitou Incline
- Train before you go…or take the train. If you decide to do the incline, you will definitely want to train for it just like you would train to do a marathon, because it is hard. (And I didn’t even go all the way up!) What makes it even harder is that it is at a high elevation, which decreases the amount of oxygen available.
- If you don’t want to do the incline, but still want to go high into the mountains, Pikes Peak also offers a train that takes you to an even higher elevation. I didn’t go on the train, but I bet it would have been amazing.
- Wear sturdy shoes. The incline is made up of beams of wood, gravel, and dirt, so you’ll definitely want to have some sturdy, comfortable shoes to do the incline in.
- Be wary of parking. Although we stumbled upon the Manitou Incline by accident when leaving the Garden of the Gods, it had been on our list of possible things to do while in Colorado, which meant that my sister had done plenty of research on it before we went. According to her, the website stated that the incline took most people between 1-2 hours to do; instead, it took my mom and sister over four hours. This meant that by the time that we got back to our parking spot, we found a parking ticket on our windshield. If you do decide to go, be sure to know the rules and hours of where you are parking, as well how long you can be parked for; we didn’t intend to go over our time limit because we hadn’t expected the incline to take that long, but after a certain point in the incline it becomes too steep to turn back.
Traveling to Fort Collins, CO
Since we had a hotel reservation in Fort Collins, we hopped back into the Jeep and headed out of Colorado Springs. To get to Fort Collins we would have to go through Denver, but since my mom hates driving through major cities, she asked Emma–the designated navigator of the family–to re-route us around the city.
We honestly shouldn’t have been surprised when we received a detour that added an extra hour to our trip, just so my sister could get a picture of the Boulder city limit sign (the one from The Chainsmokers’ song Closer). I say we shouldn’t have been surprised because she did this to our uncle once, making him drive out of the way so that she could get her picture with the Coachella sign.
After an added hour to our commute, we arrived in Fort Collins…only to arrive at the wrong hotel. After getting back in the Jeep, arriving at the correct hotel, and eating a Subway dinner, we ended our first day in Colorado.
1st Stop: APD Appointment
Okay, so I know I said that we found those cheap plane tickets by accident, but it wasn’t because we were searching airline websites to kill some time. My little sister Lindsay has what is known as Auditory Processing Disorder (ADP), and there is a specialist in Fort Collins that we wanted to take her to. (This appointment was the whole reason for the trip.) What made this place in Fort Collins so special is because it is the only place in the country that tests the brain stem as well as the ears, which we thought to be very important and necessary so that she received the best testing and treatment possible. We spent about 3 hours at the appointment, most of which I spent blogging while waiting in the lobby.
2nd Stop: Downtown Fort Collins
Each of us had a “must see” or “must do” on this trip; for me, it was getting to see downtown Fort Collins.
If you didn’t know, I am a fanatic for themed entertainment design, which means that I love reading about how themed venues such as Disney World and the Rainforest Cafe are created and designed (In fact, I hope to design these types of venues myself one day.). I was in glee when I found out that Downtown Fort Collins was one of the inspirations for Disney’s Main Street, so I knew I would have to check it out, and I was not disappointed. The amount of detail, care, and attention that was given to Downtown Fort Collins makes it easy to see how it was an inspiration for Main Street.
It was about 12:30 when we arrived, which meant that we were all extremely hungry. Our first stop was a restaurant called Slyce Pizza Co., which sold very large and very good slices of pizza. The best part of the meal was (of course) the dessert. I am not kidding when I say that Slyce’s brownies were the best that I have ever eaten.
After lunch, we left Slyce and began to wander and shop in the many stores that make up Downtown Fort Collins. I spent most of my time admiring the architectural details and the layout of the streets (Hey, I’m not a design student for nothing.), all while trying to figure out the next time I could fly back so that I could have more than just a few hours to explore. After shopping, we also stopped by the Ben & Jerry’s store they have there, where we got to try out some vegan ice cream!
Tips for Downtown Fort Collins:
- Have your camera ready! Downtown Fort Collins is perhaps one of the most photogenic and Instagrammable places I’ve ever been, so be sure to have a high-quality camera on hand!
- Get dressed up! This is especially true if you are a blogger and/or enjoy taking photos of yourself while traveling, because Downtown Fort Collins has so many photo opportunities. Even better, there are numerous wall murals to pose with (if you are enjoying that current trend).
- Have extra cash on hand. There are so many amazing stores and restaurants to visit in Fort Collins that it is almost impossible to not make a purchase. If you plan on visiting, be sure to budget out some spending money beforehand.
3rd Stop: The Colorado and Wyoming State Signs
The state border was only about 30 minutes from Fort Collins, so after spending some time in Downtown Fort Collins we drove to the state border to get our pictures with the signs. What we enjoyed most about it is that there are little areas to pull over next to the interstate so that people can get their pictures with the signs, so we didn’t have to instead look for a rest area that had a copy of the sign.
4th Stop: Back to the Denver International Airport
After we finished taking pictures next to the signs, it was time to head back to the airport to return home, all while a winter storm was brewing on the horizon.
Our first stop was to the car rental, where we dropped off our keys and took a shuttle bus back to the airport. After handing over our luggage and getting some dinner, it was time to play the waiting game again (our departure was schedule for 8:40 PM), all while carefully watching the storm outside.
The snow storm, which wasn’t supposed to arrive for a few more hours, decided to come in early. As it began to snow outside, we experienced a delayed take-off with plenty of stand-by passengers trying to grab the last of the available seats, which meant a full flight. After finally taking off and struggling through the terrible turbulence, we landed at the Indianapolis Airport at 1:05 AM.
Tips for Flying:
- Bring something to do! Whether that’s your laptop, a Sudoku puzzle, or your favorite novel, be sure to something to do on hand for those long stretches of having nothing else to do.
- Bring a pillow…and maybe even a blanket. Nothing works better to pass the time then taking a quick nap, so make sure you can be comfortable on the plane!
- Bring some snacks. Unfortunately, it is no surprise that airlines love to give out packets of peanuts, but we luckily also got Belvita crackers and Wheat Thins. Whether you have allergies or would rather bring something you know you’ll like, it’s good to plan ahead and bring your own snacks or chewing gum.
This is my first ever travel post, and I hope to do plenty more in the years to come! Please let me know what you enjoyed, what you would have loved to see or read more about, and/or if you have any tips for my future posts!