Rocky Mountain National Park Longs Peak Chasm Lake hike
Approaching the base of Longs Peak

Vanlife diaries #31: Boulder, Fort Collins & Rocky Mountain National Park

We spent much of this week making our way from Denver to Boulder to Fort Collins, visiting more breweries than are possible to count (although of course I did count and we are up to #95), eating heaps of wonderful food, and chatting to everyone we met along the way.

By Friday, we joined the crowds in Rocky Mountain National Park for a few snowy days of sightseeing and hiking, and then watched as the main road through the park closed for weather. The seasons are changing and it feels like our attempts to outrun the cold are failing miserably…

What we’ve been up to this week

In the last two weeks alone (and largely due to the need to rest my broken toe), we have visited a whopping 26 breweries across Colorado and had some seriously incredible beer. 

And not only that, but we’ve also met some lovely people, including 2 separate couples who are building out a Promaster van similar to ours and who were incredibly eager for the full tour— which I genuinely love giving. We are so thoroughly stoked on vanlife that we’d probably give daily 4-hour seminars if anyone would listen, so getting to show off our layout, storage, and power system is always a treat. 

Invariably it also comes with new information on travelling (we talked to a couple for several hours who’d just been to Baja in their small RV and another which recommend New Mexico as our next stop) and on vanlife in general (we learned a lot about heater options from some new friends!). 

I will be the first to admit that we didn’t know much about vans when we moved into ours, and chatting to people more handy or better researched than us has always proved a worthwhile source of vanlife knowledge! Mostly, we just make it up as we go along, but learning new things about our van and possible further customisation always helps.

Here are all the breweries we’ve hit up in Colorado thus far, rated on a 3-star scale (*** being the best) as much for our own records as for your perusal. I’ll come back and update this as we continue through the state!

GREELEY

  1. WeldWerks***
  2. Wiley Roots***

DENVER

  1. New Image*
  2. Call to Arms*
  3. Cerebral***
  4. Fiction**
  5. Station 26***
  6. Comrade**
  7. Great Divide**
  8. Mockery*
  9. TRVE***
  10. Dos Luces***

GOLDEN

  1. New Terrain***
  2. Cannonball Creek**

BOULDER

  1. Wild Provisions**
  2. 4 Noses***
  3. Avery***
  4. Left Hand**

FORT COLLINS

  1. FunkWerks***
  2. New Belgium***
  3. Crooked Stave***
  4. Zwei**
  5. Jessup Barrel House**
  6. Odell**

ESTES PARK

  1. Avant Garde**
  2. The Post*

CENTRAL CO

  1. Outer Range***
  2. Casey**
  3. Aspen Brewing Co*
  4. Chrysalis***
  5. Elevation**
Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado autumn fall
Driving through Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado autumn fall
Autumn aspen in Rocky Mountain

When we finally decided to head over to Rocky Mountain National Park on Friday morning, it was just in time for a snowy forecast that closed scenic Trail Ridge Road through the park and disrupted all of the walks and hikes we’d been eyeing.

Still, we managed a stroll around Bear Lake and along Many Parks Curve overlooking the plentiful basins carved by ancient glacial activity in the Rocky Mountains.

Read more: THE ULTIMATE 2-WEEK COLORADO ROAD TRIP ITINERARY: HIDDEN GEMS + 3 NATIONAL PARKS!

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado autumn fall
Walking around Bear Lake
Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado autumn fall
Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park

We were eventually driven back to Estes Park by a particularly strong flurry in the afternoon, but occupied ourselves for the remainder of the evening poking around the eerie Stanley Hotel. 

Although The Shining with Jack Nicholson wasn’t filmed here, it was SET here, as Steven King actually stayed at The Stanley while writing the original novel. Unsurprisingly, they play to the supernatural pretty heavily now and even offer ghost tours through the property. 

Our next excursion into the park was to hike to Chasm Lake beneath Longs Peak. Under ordinary circumstances, we would have been tackling the summit of Rocky Mountain National Park’s tallest 14er— as it was (broken toe aside), the weather was absolutely shocking and there’s no way a climb would have been possible. 

By 12pm, the summit was entirely encased in storm clouds, and that’s to say nothing of the ice that had frozen over the boulder field and ledges en route. What would ordinarily have been fun scrambling was now a death-wish.

Rocky Mountain National Park Longs Peak Chasm Lake hike
Approaching Chasm Lake
Rocky Mountain National Park Longs Peak Chasm Lake hike
Chasm Lake

As a consolation, Chasm Lake is about as good as it gets, a soaring alpine hike with superb views of Longs Peak and the surrounding Rocky Mountains. 

The journey up to the lake was truly beautiful, mostly blue skies with clouds starting to roll through over the final few miles. My toe hurt but felt manageable (a constant pain I could ignore) and it was even fun scrambling up the ice-slicked boulder field (when I wasn’t fearful for my life). 

It was the return journey that got me, and it’s a special kind of suffering to watch all the breathless hikers you passed on the ascent just FLY BY you on the descent while you cry in pain with every step. 

I’m glad I got out and saw a small slice of this glorious park before winter rolled in (a foot of snow forecasted this week), but it’s definitely looking like I’ll be off the trail a bit longer. Devastated more than I can say— you’ll currently find me drowning my sorrows in hot springs and seasonal saisons throughout Colorado as we wait for the snow to pass.

Rocky Mountain National Park Longs Peak Chasm Lake hike
Approaching the base of Longs Peak
Rocky Mountain National Park Longs Peak Chasm Lake hike
Hiking to Chasm Lake

Where we stayed this week

Breweries are not only our main source of beer, but also our main source of accommodation, apparently.

  • Quality Inn near the Denver Airport ($32 after reward points; 4 Oct)
  • Boondocking in Denver, CO (free; 5 Oct)
  • Boondocking outside Avery in Boulder, CO (free; 6 Oct)
  • Boondocking outside New Belgium in Fort Collins, CO (free; 7 Oct)
  • Boondocking outside Avant Garde Aleworks in Estes Park, CO (free; 8 Oct)
  • Boondocking outside Odell Brewing in Fort Collins, CO (free; 9 Oct)
  • Boondocking outside Avant Garde Aleworks in Estes Park, CO (free; 10 Oct)
Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado autumn fall
Rocky Mountain National Park