The Dining Traveler: Colorado's Peak to Peak Byway

The perfect day trip from Denver, the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway routes travelers to epic Colorado views and charming mountain towns.

During our recent trip to Colorado, we set up base in Denver and arranged a few day trips around it.

The day trip which took precedence in our schedule was our visit to the Rocky Mountain National Park via the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway.

As we drove away from urban Denver, we were welcomed by snowcapped mountains, rapid creeks, and never-ending pine trees. My husband moved from The Netherlands a year and a half ago and he had longed for a trip on the Peak to Peak Byway. 

On a sunny late-spring day, we were able to make it happen.

Our journey on the Peak to Peak Byway began in Blackhawk, a surreal town which makes you feel as if you are part of a Wild West movie with its western architecture.

The town is lined with casinos that ranged from large exuberant resorts to tiny storefronts with shiny lights where you can try your luck. We had breakfast sandwiches at a quiet cafe and then began our drive up Route 119 to Estes Park.

Blackhawk feels like an architectural throwback to the days of the Wild West.

The drive is sensory overload for those who love nature. We were tempted to stop several times to take photos of the views that almost look as if they come from a painting. We had to remind ourselves that we were just on a day trip and the views would be more epic once we get to the Rocky Mountains. 

That being said, there was one interesting stop: the town of Nederland.

My Dutch husband was fascinated with the name of the town, and, of course, we had to see what it was all about. We stocked up on snacks for our hike at B&F Mountain Market and soon discovered that there was not much to see aside from the mountain views and random eclectic mementos. [Editor's note: The town is famous for its hippie-throwback lifestyles and proximity to a local ski resort, but is not exactly a booming metropolis. Boulder, just down the canyon is better if you're looking to do a little urban exploration.]

We then continued our trip to Estes Park. When you enter the park, there is a $20 fee for vehicles. (Tip: As a military member we get a free National Park pass. If you fall under this category, show your ID card to the ranger and he or she will provide you with a free one-year pass to all U.S. National Parks.) The ranger then provided us with a detailed map of trails and points of interest.

As we were just there for a day trip, we drove up to Trail Ridge Road, though we discovered part of the road was still closed due to weather conditions. Although it was late May and sunny, there was still plenty of snow on the ground.

While the road was closed for driving, visitors were still allowed to explore by foot. (Tip: Wear layers and trail shoes as there can be snow on the trails. The weather can go from warm to cold quickly, so I recommend bringing a backpack in order to carry cold-weather gear like gloves, a hat and extra warming layers.)

Peak to Peak Highway, Alberta Falls Colorado

We decided to take a short hike near Bear Lake (don't forget to ask for the map from a ranger when you arrive at the park). The hike was quite short at four miles roundtrip, but it was still eventful—we experienced a range of conditions including rain, hail and sunshine.

We took in the beautiful views of Bear Lake and the fury of the Alberta Falls. It was simply stunning to walk on the snow-covered trails and listen to the sounds of rustling leaves and tiny waterfalls, and see guest appearances by squirrels. There was something exquisitely peaceful about the experience. Nature has to be the most affordable luxury we have.

As we left the park, we were taken by the elk roaming freely in their natural habitat. Every scene seemed to be more beautiful than the last.

Wild Elk in Estes Park

After the hike, we decided to head back to Denver, as it was getting late, and decided to take a different route into the city. We stopped by a quaint town called Lyons and loved the small-town vibe and its main street lined with unique shops.

We stopped at Lyons Fork Restaurant to recharge, and indulged in a delicious thick burger paired with local craft beer. The food was great, but what we enjoyed the most was the friendly service.

A burger from Lyons Fork

As travelers, sometimes we’re so focused on the destination that we forget about the journey. The Peak to Peak Byway is an experience in itself. The lack of cellular reception made it inevitable to step away from our devices and into great conversations and gorgeous views.

Although one day is not enough to experience the beauty of the Rocky Mountains, the journey was nonetheless a perfect day trip experience from Denver.

About the author: Jessica van Dop DeJesus is a travel and food writer and a contributor to WhereTraveler.com. She began traveling as a young Marine 17 years ago and has been to 39 countries on and off duty. She currently lives in Washington, D.C., where in addition to her travels, she blogs about the local food scene and explores the best attractions the city has to offer. Follow more of her adventures in travel and dining here and at www.diningtraveler.com.