Each fall I eagerly await the work trip I get to tag along on to the annual conference my employer hosts for our members. There are many aspects I love about my job, but the opportunity to travel is a perk I’m especially thankful for.
The conference is held in a different city across the U.S. each year and I’ve been fortunate to visit a few cities I’d never been to before, including San Diego, Indianapolis and Denver.
This past year’s conference was held in Denver. I’d never been to Colorado, but I put it on my travel list after Daniel showed me pictures and shared stories of his time on top of some 14ers during a hiking trip with his brother and cousin a few years prior.
So, our plan was for Daniel to fly to Denver on the last day of the conference and spend the next few days exploring on our own.
The morning after the conference we were up early to pick up our rental car. Once we secured our vehicle, we hopped on the interstate and headed toward downtown. Daniel wanted to take me to the downtown REI before we drove to the mountains where we planned to spend the rest of our time. This particular REI used to be a train station, so you can imagine how big it is inside. It even has a miniature mountain biking course outside surrounded by Adirondack chairs, fire pits and string lights. Definitely worth a visit if you’re passing through the area.
I’m a sucker for vintage camping displays. Major kudos to the employee who designed the one below!
Back on the interstate, we quickly gained elevation and our ears began to pop as we watched the city sink into the valley in our rear view mirrors.
Soon, we were winding through the mountains, driving up them, down them and through them.
We stopped for lunch in Georgetown where I recommend visiting just to experience its charm!
Georgetown is a cozy, storybook mountain town that sits in a narrow valley surrounded by hulking mountains on every side.
We parked the car in a public lot and started down 6th Street where there were literally two other people walking around outside. I guess October isn’t a popular time of year to visit Colorado, which is why you should visit during that time of year!
I like to collect postcards when we travel, so the first order of business was to find a shop with a good supply. We ducked into a small shop along the main strip where it was warm and inviting inside, the scent from a burning candle filled the room and the hardwood floors creaked as we walked throughout the store. There was an old-timey soda fountain by the front window begging for someone to sit on one of the wooden stools and order an ice cream float.
I found some great postcards and we left the shop in search of lunch.
Our gaze caught on a small red restaurant called The Happy Cooker hunkered down on a corner of the main strip. The clouds looked as though they were about to shower snowflakes on us so we retreated inside. The hostess sat us at a table in the corner by a window in one of the small dining rooms. The restaurant may not look like anything special on the outside, but it was the coziest lunch spot!
After we devoured some soup and sammies, we walked across the street in search of something sweet. We spotted a hanging sign for the Georgetown Valley Candy Company and our decision was made.
Once inside, we watched as a handful of workers made candy and fudge behind the counter. The cashier told us that they make all of their sweets from scratch. We got scoops of something with Oreos in it and ate our ice cream in the sun-soaked front room surrounded by tacky souvenirs that didn’t really fit the otherwise rustic feel of the place (see flamingo umbrellas).
After our meal it was time to drive the Guanella Pass toward the city of Grant where our Airbnb was waiting for us.
If you plan to drive the Guanella Pass, make sure your vehicle has four-wheel drive. Although we didn’t have to use it on our drive, it’s a steep, winding road that could become dangerous in heavy snow and ice.
The higher we climbed, the better the views! We drove past lakes, streams and got a foggy glimpse of Mt. Bierdstadt from a distance, one of the 14ers Daniel, his brother and cousin hiked a few years earlier.
We thought we’d be able to do some hiking on this trip, but the freezing temps and fast-approaching snow storm derailed that plan. The snowy mountain views weren’t a bad alternative though.
After an hour or so on the Pass, we pulled into Grant and were eager to explore our Airbnb, The Hygge Chalet!
Daniel has a knack for finding the most unique, out-of-the-box places to stay when we travel. Aside from its curb appeal, one of the reasons we chose this Airbnb is because its located in Grant — a short drive to many popular surrounding cities, sights and hiking trails.
The Airbnb host (although we never met her in person) goes above and beyond with the accommodations. Every thoughtful touch made it easy to see why the chalet is so popular on Airbnb and stays booked throughout the year.
As we walked through the front door, we were greeted by a little handwritten note on the entry table. Beneath that were some postcards featuring the exterior of the chalet that I was excited to add to my collection.
The host even provides slippers for each guest to put on once you enter the front door. It not only helps keep the chalet nice and clean, but adds to the coziness factor.
This Airbnb is where you’d want to stay if you’re looking to trade time spent on your phone with simple pleasures like playing board games, reading a book, or watching the fire and listening to your favorite playlist in the background.
We explored the space in our slippers and I was impressed with the fancy snacks, jars filled with coffee beans ready for grinding, a diffuser in the corner filling the air with cozy smells, and plush robes to wear before and after using the sauna that sits just a few feet from the front door.
Since there was a snowstorm headed our way that evening, we lugged our bags inside and drove to the grocery store a few towns over to grab some supplies for chicken tortellini soup.
That night we made our soup, played Scrabble and watching the snowstorm come in. The snow fell fast and hard for a couple hours before we decided to try out that sauna.
Our host left an instruction sheet for how to operate the sauna and the first thing to do (if it was snowing) was to shovel a path in the snow from the front door to the sauna and then turn the heater on and let it warm up for 30 minutes or so before getting in. She also provides a little wooden bucket to fill with a water and eucalyptus oil blend to pour over the heater once it’s hot. The water-oil mixture lets off a big cloud of steam that, once breathed in deeply, makes every inch of you feel super clean and cleared out.
I don’t think I’ve ever slept as soundly as I did that night after using the sauna.
The next morning, I threw back the curtains of our bedroom window and saw the outside world drenched in white.
We learned that a town a few minutes down the road received 18 inches of snow! We didn’t get quite that much, but it was more than what we usually get in Tennessee.
We explored our little snow-covered plot for a bit and ate a big breakfast before getting ready for the day. Since hiking was out of the question, we decided to drive around and see where the day took us. We inched down the snow-covered driveway to the main road in Grant and drove in the direction of Breckenridge.
Daniel did an incredible job of navigating the icy mountain passes. Whoever said southerners are bad at driving in the snow should’ve been in the car with him that day!
We spent the day walking around Breckenridge which wasn’t open yet for skiing. I think we were still craving Middle Eastern food from our previous trip and got a recommendation from a local for a restaurant called BoLD. They served up a delicious lamb entree and we spent the rest of the day walking the main strip and poking our way back to Grant.
We spent another cozy night at the chalet before leaving for Manitou Springs the next morning. Daniel wanted me to hike the Manitou Incline with him. He hiked the Incline on his last trip and told me how hard it was, but I had no idea what I was in for.
The Incline isn’t even a mile long, but gains nearly 2,000 feet in elevation over that short distance! The elevation gain and altitude were wearing on me once I reached the “false summit” that I’d been eyeing the entire time thinking it was the top. Once I reached that point, I discovered that I still had at least 200 more railroad tie steps to climb, I plopped down on what I called “Heartbreak Rock,” unsure of whether I wanted to push on.
After a few minutes of sulking and fuming, I rallied and made it to the top huffing, puffing and drenched in sweat where I joined Daniel who’d been waiting patiently for me 🙂
Photo evidence of my hands on hips struggle up the Incline.
I felt accomplished to have reached the top, but if I’m given another opportunity to hike the Incline I think I will kindly decline the offer.
We descended the Incline on slick, icy railroad tie steps and headed back to the car. Our final stop of the trip was Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs where we got a clear view of Pikes Peak in the distance.
I love the contrast of red rock against the bold blue sky.
Our time in Colorado was cozy, adventure-filled and marked by new experiences and places that we’re counting down the days to return to!