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Tuesday 31 December 2019

Our Winter Break in Denver

Winter Break is here and well under way so I thought it about time I shared last year's Winter Break with you. Always on time! Ha!

If you've been following along on Instagram you'll likely recognize quite a few of the pics I'm sharing below. If you're not following on Instagram, make sure to click here to head over to my account and give it a follow. I tend to be much more up to date over there!

Anyway, last year's Winter Break saw us visiting Colorado for the first time. It was part scouting trip to see if we'd like living here and part Winter wonderland vacation. We arrived in Denver on December 26th (just after midnight) but because the Christmas spirit tends to hang around into January here in Colorado we didn't miss out on any of the Christmas festivities that make visiting at this time of year extra special.

During our week and a half in Colorado we experienced beautiful Christmas light displays, went sledding, walked on a frozen creek, stepped back in time with a visit to the gold rush era town of Golden, stepped even further back in time to the time of the dinosaurs, went ice skating, searched for pika statues in Estes Park, rode horses through the mountains, visited the amazing Ice Castles, found a frozen waterfall, and caught up with good friends. We packed a lot into that time, but it didn't feel rushed at all.

Here's a look at what we did each day on our trip...

Day 1
Our first day in Denver was a pretty quiet one given that we didn't arrive at our hotel until about 2am. Our hotel was located pretty centrally in Downtown so after sleeping in and a late breakfast we hit up nearby 16th Street Mall where we warmed up with hot chocolates, went for a ride on the holiday carousel and bought ourselves lots of extra layers to wear as we weren't quite as prepared for the cold as we thought we were! After now living in Colorado for 5 months it makes me giggle a little looking back at how cold we looked in all of the photos from this trip!

We spent much of the day just walking around checking out the city before heading to Denver Botanic Gardens in the evening for the annual Blossoms of Light display which I shared recently. You can see it here. We rugged up in all our warmest clothes and walked around the Botanic Gardens taking in the beautiful light displays before warming up with hot chocolate.

Day 2
Our second day in Denver we went for a walk along the Cherry Creek Trail and checked out the murals along the way before heading to the outdoor ice skating rink just off 16th Street Mall. We'd been to outdoor ice skating rinks before in San Francisco, but this was our first time skating outside somewhere cold enough to actually have ice so it felt a little more special. Ava took figure skating classes way back when she was in kindergarten and first grade so she skated circles around the rest of the family - quite literally! Lola started off with one of the skate aids, but soon felt confident to give it a try on her own. Mathidle stuck with the skate aid the whole time.

In the evening we headed to nearby Arvada to visit friends for dinner and then we all headed out together to the drive through Christmas light extravaganza that is Christmas in Color. We had been to Christmas in Color the previous year on our Winter Break trip to Utah and LOVED it, so when I saw that it was also happening in Colorado I new that we needed to check it out again.

Day 3
Our third day in Colorado saw us experiencing yet another light display. This time it was the Ice Castles in nearby Dillon. We visited late in the afternoon so that we were able to experience both the sunlight shining through the ice structures and the coloring lights that shone on the ice once the sun went down. The Ice Castles were amazing and we'll be going back for another visit very soon. On our way to Dillon we stopped in Idaho Springs where we saw our first ever frozen waterfall. As you can probably tell from the pics, and the fact that the waterfall is frozen, it was pretty chilly there.

Day 4
After lots of ice and twinkling lights it was time for a different sort of scenery. On our fourth day in Denver we headed to Red Rocks Ampitheatre. There were no concerts that we wanted to see during our visit, but we still wanted to go check out this famous natural ampitheatre. The red rock formations are stunning and the views over the local area are amazing. The sun came out for our visit, and look, no beanie or scarf to be seen on Ava! Don't worry, they came back later in the day.

After spending some time exploring Red Rocks we headed to nearby Dinosaur Ridge Discovery Center where we learned about dinosaur fossils that had been found in the area. We then headed off on a hike to see some dinosaur fossils on location in the nearby Dinosaur Park. The stegosaurus footprints were definitely a highlight and well worth the hike to see. You can see it was cold again by the time we made it to the footprints as Ava's beanie and scarf have reappeared!

Day 5
Day five of our trip saw us heading back in time again, but this time only to the gold rush era and the town of Golden. We took a little wander around town and tried to visit the Coors Brewery, but the line for the free tour was well over an hour long. It was too cold to stay in one spot outside for that amount of time so we continued exploring the town instead. We posed for pictures with statues - one of which Lola insists is "the original dab" - and the the girls spent a lot of time playing with ice along the partially frozen creek. In the evening the paths along the creek and through parts of town lit up in a beautiful light display. We took a stroll along the lighted path ways taking in all of the twinkling lights.

Day 6
Day six of our trip happened to be New Year's Eve. It was also our first day of snow! As we knew that the city would be busy in the evening and parking might be hard to find, we decided not to go on any adventures that needed the car and headed out on foot to explore the city instead. It was so lovely walking around the city in the falling snow, but it was rather chilly. We made our way down 16th Street Mall and to Union Station where we stopped for lunch before playing in the snow.

In the evening we headed back to 16th Street Mall to watch the early fireworks at 9pm and then went to a nearby restaurant for cake to celebrate Kim's birthday, which just happens to be New Year's Eve.
By the time the midnight fireworks went off everyone was fast asleep in our hotel room apart from me. Turns out, we had a perfect view over the fireworks from our room so I was able to watch them without going outside into the cold!

Day 7
A new year! We started off the new year with a day of sledding. Unfortunately, as we flew to Denver we hadn't brought out sleds with us, and most stores were sold out. It took a few store visits to find sleds but we eventually got there. We already had the sled that we'd been dragging Mathilde around in (it came in super handy at Ice Castles), but this sled was terrible at going down hill, especially given that the ground was lumpy and there wasn't an awful lot of snow! Ava and Lola had more success with their sleds, but by the time we were done, both their sleds were broken  and had to be thrown out. Oh well. It's not like we could've carried them home in our luggage anyway.

In the evening we went for a walk to check out the festive lights adorning Denver City Hall. They were so pretty. We'd driven past a couple of times and caught glimpses but I was glad we were able to go back and check it out a little closer. 

Day 8
Time to hit the road and head out of town for a few days! Our first destination was Boulder where we visited the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse and explored a few parks. Once again, the kids have fun playing along a frozen creek - I'm seeing a pattern here!

We then headed into the mountains to the small town of Estes Park. One of the most anticipated destinations on our trip had been Rocky Mountain National Park, and I had booked our stay in Estes Park as it is the closest town to the entrance of the Park. Unfortunately, our visit to Colorado coincided with the government shutdown and national parks around the country were effected. In some cases this just meant that there were no rangers on duty but gates were still open for visitors. This was not the case at Rocky Mountain where heavy snow fall and un-plowed roads made for dangerous conditions. The gates were locked and the only way in was to hike in at your own risk. That was a big fat nope, so we had to find other ways to keep ourselves entertained during our stay. Luckily, Estes Park has a lot to offer visitors, as did our hotel. The kids spent plenty of time in the hotel pool and in the games room. Away from the hotel we explored the local lake and spent quite some time throwing pieces of ice onto the frozen lake surface. Seriously, this could keep my kids occupied all day! 

Day 9
Our first full day in Estes Park we headed to the visitor center for some tips on what to do in town. They told us about the pika treasure hunt around town and this ended up occupying much of our day. Pikas are a small mammal native to the Rocky Mountains. While we didn't spot any real pikas, we did manage to find all of the bronze pika statues dotted around Estes Park. We thought it would be easy at first given that the locations were marked on the maps and there were plenty of clues, but the statues are teeny, tiny life sized and not always easy to spot! Our treasure hunt was a great way to explore the town. Along our search we came across the frozen creek running through town. It was frozen solid enough that we were able to walk along it. The kids had a blast "skating" on the frozen creek. It was definitely a new experience for us. After finishing our treasure hunt the girls were able to collect special badges. We finished after the visitor center closed for the day so we picked them up the following morning.

Day 10
Our second full day in Estes Park was filled with adventure. We started out with a horse ride along a mountain trail. At first I had been a little worried that Mathilde would be too small to take part, or that she would have to ride tandem with me, but our guide was happy for Mathilde to ride alone as long as she felt comfortable. Mathilde jumped at the chance to ride all by herself and she loved it. The other girls loved it too - well, that is until Lola fell off while getting off her horse at the end. She thought she was lined up with a platform and climbed down, except she wasn't lined up with the platform and fell to the ground when there was nothing under her feet. She ended dislocating her shoulder which meant that our next stop was at the pharmacy for ice packs and ibuprofen. Luckily, just like my shoulder that I dislocated on our Denmark trip, Lola's shoulder popped right back into place and was fine, if a little sore.

In the afternoon we headed to the grand Stanley Hotel. This hotel served as Stephen King's  inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. While it doesn't appear in the movie, there is a lot of memorabilia on display and it's a great place for fans of The Shining to visit. Even if you don't like The Shining it's a great place to visit as it's such a beautiful historic building with lovely grounds. We ran through the hedge maze out the front, explored the grounds, checked out the 1910 Stanley Steamer steam powered car in the lobby, and treated ourselves to hot chocolates in the cafe. We had hoped to take part in a tour of the hotel, but Mathilde was too young to join in so we had to give it a miss.

We'd been told that elk were very common around Estes Park and that we'd be guaranteed to see some during our stay. By this point we were yet to see any and as we were flying home the next morning we decided to take a little drive around town to track down a few elk. We were in luck and came across quite a few elk, some mule deer and some stunning cloud formations. Those glowing sunset clouds were the perfect ending to our trip.

Have you visited Colorado before? Now that we live here you can expect to see a lot more Colorado adventure posts on the blog - and still plenty from California and previous travels as I have a ton to catch up on!

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