As the end of my freshman year approached, I thought I would be doing nothing except studying, writing essays, spending time with my friends, and working the last few shifts of one of my favorite jobs I’ve ever had.
Yeah…that’s where I was wrong.
Call it fate or luck, but one day I found myself rushing back to my dorm room, hopping on my computer, and booking a roundtrip ticket to Colorado for $75. Yeah, you heard me. A round trip ticket. I suddenly found myself putting my previous summer plans on hold as my family and I planned our trip to Colorado, imagining all the things we’d get to do and see in an area of the country we had never been before. Catching the travel bug, I could hardly wait to pack up my bags, hop on the plane, and go!
However, there was only one problem: we would only have 2 days to spend in Colorado, which meant weeks of planning and mapping out all of the places we would try to see in such a short amount of time. And 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 less than 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 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. Instead I found out that I had been sleeping for just two short hours and that 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 get much sleep, at least be close to the airport to minimize your commute; although a 6:20 am flight doesn’t sound *too* terrible, we had to be at the airport by 4:20 am to check in our luggage, not to mention the three hour commute before that just to make it to the airport on time.
After missing the bus from the parking lot to the airport once, we finally checked in our luggage and ate a well-deserved 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.
With no shops open that early in the morning to wander and pass the time with, we went through security, found the correct terminal, and began the long wait for our flight.
After an hour of waiting, it was finally our turn to board the flight at about 6:00 am. I spent the majority of the 2 1/2-hour flight taking 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, as the uncomfortable seats can make it hard to fall asleep no matter how tired you are.
At about 7:40 am (MDT), we began our descent into the Denver International Airport.
Arriving in Denver, Colorado
In the weeks leading up to our trip, my sister Emma 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 around 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 view of the Rocky Mountains, as well as a great photo opportunity. While we visited it, we also saw someone parachuting over the mountains.
2nd Stop: Garden of the Gods
Our second 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 offered 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 terrain with it’s softly winding roads felt like something out of a car commercial. 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! Although the trails are easily accessible and easy to walk on (as they are paved concrete), you’ll want to bring a good pair of shoes if you plan on spending a lot of time walking around.
- 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 mean that you can’t try!) Whether it’s your phone or a professional DLSR camera, be prepared to capture some great photos of the view.
- Be prepared for elevation changes. Colorado’s high elevation can cause some people to feel slightly off, especially if they’re not used to it; staying hydrated helps combat these symptoms, so once again, please bring a water bottle.
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 to the point that I was constantly having to remind myself that I was in Colorado and not Tennessee.
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, 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. In fact, the running joke in my family is how the trail head should actually say “for future Olympians in training” due to how intense it is. 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 from the view!
Oh, and the “peak” in the photo below is not the actual peak. It’s what we like to call the fake summit, as you actually continue climbing a bit farther after that; it’s just out of view.
Tips for Manitou Incline
- Train before you go…or take the train. If you decide to do the incline, you will need 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 the high elevation means that there is a decreasing amount of oxygen available, which makes the peak even harder to scale.
- If you don’t want to do the incline, but still want to up the mountains, Pikes Peak offers a train that takes you to an even higher elevation than the top of Pikes Peak.
- 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. So if you 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 hadn’t intended to go over our time limit because we didn’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 booked in Fort Collins, we hopped back into the Jeep and left Pike’s Peak. To get to Fort Collins we would have back-track through Denver, and we arrived in Fort Collins that night, exhausted but happy with 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 working on the blog while waiting in the lobby.
2nd Stop: Downtown Fort Collins
Each of us had a “must see” for the trip, and for me it was seeing 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 lunchtime when we arrived, so our first stop was a restaurant called Slyce Pizza Co., which sold some amazing 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 around Downtown Fort Collins, visiting some shops as we explored the city. 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 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 places I’ve ever been, so be sure to have a high-quality camera on hand! (Unlike mine, haha. 😅)
- 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, especially if you love taking photos with murals.
- Budget extra cash for shopping. 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 some extra spending money beforehand.
3rd Stop: The Colorado and Wyoming State Signs
The Colorado-Wyoming border is only about a 30-minute drive from Fort Collins, so we decided to take the quick trip to get our pictures with the signs. What we enjoyed most about it is that there are actually little areas to pull over next to the interstate so that people can get their pictures with the signs, rather than a rest area that had a copy of the sign. (Which is what we have to do in the South.)
4th Stop: Back to Denver International Airport
After visiting the state border, 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 packed flight. After finally bordering and grasping our seats for dear life during the storm’s 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 waiting to land.
- 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 luckily we were also offered Belvita crackers and Wheat Thins. Whether you have allergies or would rather bring food you know you’ll like, it’s a good idea to plan ahead and bring your own snacks just in case.
Have you ever visited Colorado? Let me know down below!