2020 has cancelled our European travel plans and I know we are not alone! We decided to take a short trip to Colorado, but wanted to stay in a town that was small enough to allow us to avoid a large crowd.
Idaho Springs, Colorado was the perfect place to socially distance while travelling in search of adventure. If you're like us and you need a quick getaway to remind you of the good things in life, check out this 3 Day Guide to Idaho Springs and surrounding areas in Colorado.
Where to Stay in Colorado?
We chose to stay in Idaho Springs for a couple of reasons. The main one being COVID and the desire to stay in a less populated area while still being close to a major city.
When we pulled up to our VRBO, I have to admit, it did not impress. I kind of thought we had made a mistake and were staying in a rough town. But, I was pleasantly surprised!
Idaho Springs has a main street called Miner Street and it was only one block away from our home. We were able to walk to dinner after a day of hiking and then stay around for drinks. The restaurants created outdoor seating to allow for customers to stay safe and distanced.
Day 1: Main Street Restaurant, Mt. Bierstadt, and MTN Prime
Breakfast: Main Street Restaurant
We planned to do a long and challenging hike on our first day, so we started with a full breakfast. The Main Street Restaurant in Idaho Springs served us well for a long hiking day. JT got the Sportsman's breakfast as he was obviously feeling like an athlete. It was full of biscuits, gravy, eggs, and bacon. I would recommend pancakes, french toast, or any bread type variety. They make a lot of that in house. I had the veggie hueveos rancheros and wouldn't recommend them. I had pancakes the second time we went and they were wonderful!
Hike: Mt. Bierstadt, 14er
It's a good idea to start a big hike early on in the day. We were heading out around 9 but the trail was already full of people coming down! Allow yourself plenty of time to take the drive slowly- you never know what you might see! We were surprised to see so many early risers.
A Colorado bucket list item is to complete a 14er, which basically means you hike to the top of a 14,000 ft mountain. There are only 53 options to do this in Colorado and I happen to love a challenge. Bierstadt is one of the easier ones, but don't be fooled by the beginning. The winding small hills turn into the rockies pretty quickly. When you get to the trailhead, you will see cars lined up along the road. Park around them- we didn't, but realized it was closer than the parking lot after the fact! If you prefer a lot, you'll find an option to turn right, park, and use the restroom.
Hiking Boots, Layers, Snacks, and Water.
There are a couple of things to consider before you set out on your own 14er. The obvious comfortable shoes, snacks, water, and layers are super important! The weather changes from cold to hot to cold again with varying breezes in between. We wore all kinds of things!
Everyone kept telling us to take water and we will be fine. So we filled our Nalgene water bottles, packed a backpack and headed out. Try really hard not to carry extra things that will just weigh you down. I really wanted to take my fancy camera, but am so happy I didn't! Do bring a toboggan and gloves- you'll need them at the top.
Do your research.
Most people recommend waiting at least 1 day when you arrive to Denver to acclimate to the Mile High City and another day before hiking even higher. Hiking a 14er on day 3 is the best idea and was our original idea. But then, uncharacteristic snow for September changed our plans. Since the temperature at the top of the mountain would have been about -6 on the second and third days of our stay, we opted for hiking on day 1.
You also want to be sure you are an active person before trying a 14er. Sure, there were children, families, and a woman with one leg on crutches coming and going (seriously, she was an inspiration), but it was a challenging 6 hour trip. Don't let that scare you though-- just be prepared and if you get tired, you can simply turn around and you'll be happy you went!
After our hike, we stopped in small mountain town of Georgetown. We went to Guanella Pass Brewing Company where we enjoyed the mountain views while we sipped beer in the perfect weather! Georgetown is a cute Colorado town that proved to be a favorite! You’ll feel very Colorado when you’re visiting.
Dinner: MTN Prime
After our huge accomplishment- we survived! We decided to celebrate with the Idaho Springs Steak House MTN Prime. We both had salads to start, the filet for the meal, and sides were mushrooms and mashed potatoes. The beer and house red were both great. Service was friendly and the environment was welcoming. It was the perfect way to refuel after a tough day hiking! While most places are low key and you can just walk in with hiking boots, we did dress a little nicer for the steakhouse- I mean jeans nice, but still!
Day 2: St. Mary's Glacier, Beau Jo's Pizza, Mine Tour
Hike: St. Mary's Glacier
Day 2 started with a quick breakfast of granola bars as we headed to see St. Mary's Glacier. We piled on layers, gloves, and hats for the much shorter, but colder day 2 hike.
The snow started coming down as we headed up to the trailhead in the car. Take your time getting there because the scenery is beautiful and the roads are winding.
Drive just past the trailhead to park on the left side of the road. There is a small lot with a pay box at the end of the lot. Put your $5 in, fill out your name, and put it back in the pay box slot. Now, you're ready to hike!
The trail is not super marked, but it is super rocky (...we're in the rockies)... it veers slightly to the left and right. You can go either way and you will end at the glacier, but the left is the prettier route.
You can also walk up to the glacier and touch it but it was 16 degrees with cold wind coming off of the water so we opted out of the extra mile hike. Overall it's a very low key 2-3 mile hike depending on what you do. In the summer, you can even swim in the lake below the glacier. Or, like one guy we passed, grab your snow board in September and go down the glacier (#crazy).
Lunch: Beau Jo's
Back in Idaho Springs, we had the famous Colorado style pizza, which is really just a huge mountain of a crust. It was glorious...carb loading, ya know. On the table sits a tall bottle of what we thought was garlic butter. Nope, it's honey. Strange, we thought, but when in Colorado. It was delicious and we both thought it was an idea to bring home.
We also had an appetizer of artichoke dip- and in true Beau Jo's style, it comes in a bread bowl. They also have good beer choices for a nice dinner...or lunch...no judgement.
Afternoon: Argo Gold Mine Tour
I have to say, we were not planning on doing this. It was snowing, so we had planned to go to the natural hot springs, Indian Springs, but after reading negative review after negative review of the facilities, we cancelled our appointment and searched for another snow day activity. It wasn't quite enough snow coverage to ski, plus I have never done that and didn't feel like breaking something... so we were staying low key.
The Argo Gold Mine was the heartbeat of Idaho Springs during the Gold Rush. And since Idaho Springs was the location that started the Gold Rush, I think it's safe to say, we saw where it all began.
I did not have high hopes for the tour. The place was a little run down and kind of pricey at $23 per person. However, our guide, Shelby, was super enthusiastic about all things Colorado and Gold Rush. She wasn't from Colorado but she was the perfect mix of fun, spunk, and history buff. The tour guide makes the tour and she even convinced us to pan for gold in the freezing cold. We walked all through the mine, got the history of each level, and marveled at the strength and hard work of the brave people who lived back then. I left thinking about how spoiled I am at my desk job and how thankful I am for OSHA!
If you have a chance to do a cheesy, historical thing, do it! It was so interesting.
Day 3: Red Rocks, Garden of the God's, Golden Colorado
Day 3 was a white winter wonderland and it was beautiful! We weren't sure how the roads would be but as it turns out- they are used to that in Colorado so the roads were clear! That is not the case when it snows in Alabama...
Red Rocks Ampitheater
The Red Rocks are about an hour from Idaho Springs. We drove to the amphitheater and spent a couple of hours walking around. You can drive and park for free. Then, you're free to wander the amphitheater as you wish! Lot's of stairs lead up to the top, but the view is worth it. I only wish concerts were happening in 2020!
After Red Rocks, we stopped in a nearby town to eat at The Cow. We had a decent breakfast, but looking back, might have waited until we got to a different town. There are a few restaurant/bar type places near the Amphitheater, but it was early and they looked closed.
Garden of the Gods
We left Red Rocks and drove about an hour more to the Garden of the Gods. It seems like a long drive, but since everything is so beautiful, we enjoyed it! Plus the Garden of the Gods is so absolutely amazing that it is worth it! Entrance, parking, and walking are all free- and will always be- per the plaque on the rock. The park was a gift to the community as long as they promised to keep it free!
The entire place is handicap accessible since there are paved walkways all around. It is such a gift to have a forever dedicated as free place to wander about as much as you want. It is even more amazing that it is handicap accessible. There are so many things people with disabilities don't have access to, I love that they have access to this gem!
If you want to go off the main trail, you can and we did! I would definitely recommend taking your time, walking around slowly, and really taking it all in. The rock formations are so grand and beautiful- especially in the snow. There were some people on horseback and that would also be a great way to view the park!
After we left the Garden of the Gods we headed back to Idaho Springs. We wanted to make at least one more stop in a small town, so we went to Manitou to check out the natural springs. But, we didn't stop in the town. It seemed a little run down, hippie, and we just weren't really feeling it. Plus, the spring we did see wasn't flowing and parking looked complicated. I'm sure it is a beautiful town, we just had another idea in mind!
We stopped in Colorado Springs to have a beer at Phantom Canyon Brewing and headed on to Golden, Colorado. Golden is exactly what I pictured for a Colorado town.
The Buffalo Rose is housed in one of the oldest buildings in Colorado. We happened upon it, stepped inside, and instantly felt like we were transported to a historical time. We had drinks and an appetizer that came out in a cast iron skillet, before heading on.
Then, we were on our way back to Idaho Springs to warm up before our next day of travel.
Back in Idaho Springs, before leaving for the airport, we stopped at the Edelweiss Pastry Shop and I only wished we had done it sooner. The staff was so friendly and welcoming. He chatted with us after we ordered like we had known him for a while! I ordered an almond pastry and JT had a ham and cheese croissant. We sat in the window and drank coffee together while we recapped our trip. They don't do fancy coffee (these are things I like to know haha) but their brewed coffee is good!
Right next door to Edelweiss is the Frothy Cup, a coffee shop where you can get a fancy latte or other coffee drink. They also have some pastries like muffins, but their coffee was the real joy! As a bonus, the piano against the wall and the overall feel of the Frothy Cup makes you want to grab a table and sit for a while.
I know 2020 is a crazy thing, friends, but I do hope you get the chance to get out and change your scenery. I hope this guide helps you feel like a Colorado trip is in your near future!