We knew we wanted to get out and start exploring as quickly as possible after moving to Colorado. I mean, this place is gorgeous and we couldn’t imagine wasting any time experiencing the beauty! But adjusting to the altitude – given that we went from sea level to a mile high – humbled us enough to know we might want to start our sightseeing with a little scenic drive and possibly a light (and flat) hike. So when our real estate agent recommended the Peak to Peak Highway, we started researching right away. (You can find information about the highway here.)

From Denver, we took I-70W to US-6E and then jumped onto CO-119 around Black Hawk. That’s the southern portion of the state’s oldest scenic byway. We then drove north and merged onto CO-72W in Nederland. From there, we turned onto CO-7W and made our way up to Estes Park which contains the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. All told, the Peak to Peak Highway is about 55 miles long, but we stopped often, so I think it took us about 3 hours to navigate.

Apparently the best time to go is in the Fall – which we did, but I believe we went about two weeks too late. We did get to see some beautiful Aspen trees (pictured below on the right), but the full autumn color was gone. It was still worth the drive though, and it was a perfect introduction to the Colorado landscape.IMG_3379web

Just after we started on CO-119, we entered the Arapaho National Forest.IMG_3381web

I can’t give you specific information about these photos. James just pulled over any time I started to “ooh” or “ahh”.IMG_3385web

I feel reasonably certain I didn’t stand in the middle of the road for this. But maybe I did…IMG_3387web IMG_3398web

All the editing in the world could not remove the orange from our skin. But this is our first family photo in Colorado. So I love it!IMG_3412edit2web IMG_3416eweb

Isn’t this a pretty town? Don’t ask me what town it is – I have no idea.IMG_3421web

It’s crazy to see the mountains here after experiencing the ones in Hawaii. Even with the general landscape here being at least a mile above sea level, many of the summits are “14ers” which means that they waaaaaaay taller than anything we had on O’ahu.IMG_3433web IMG_3437web IMG_3447web

The kids are totally fine when we’re just driving along. But you know they get annoyed when I drag them out of the car for a photo op. I love that they hide it mostly well!IMG_3451eweb

So near where CO-72W met CO-7W, we reached a little map. It’s kind of strange that there is a sign halfway through the scenic byway (instead of being at the beginning or end). But it was interesting to read all about the area.IMG_3454web

From just near that sign, we had a view of this mountain. Not sure if we ever figured out exactly what the mountain is though.IMG_3455web

Pretty sure this is the same mountain – still no idea what it is. Even when I look on a map, I can’t quite tell. (I’m so full of useful information – you’re welcome!)IMG_3457web

Along CO-7 in Allenspark, we came across this old church. We stopped, walked around, and checked the place out. I think it’s called Saint Malo’s Chapel on the Rock (or officially, Saint Catherine of Siena Chapel). While writing this post, I went searching for information online, and I found some absolutely incredible images of this place. So rest assured, these photos do not do the beauty of the historic building justice. It has a pretty interesting history, but I couldn’t find a comprehensive site I wanted to link. So if you’re curious, I suggest hitting up Google.IMG_3462web IMG_3463web IMG_3465web

After exploring for a bit, we hopped back in the van and kept on heading north.IMG_3467web

I was crazy excited when we came upon this little lake just south of Estes Park. We all desperately needed to get out and stretch our legs. This was the perfect place to do just that. Lily Lake is small, but the views are beautiful.IMG_3473web

We got admonished from another hiker for getting off the trail. That’s not normally something we do, but our kids were antsy and my little climber apparently needed to do more than just walk. Oops.IMG_3477web IMG_3479eweb

Then we were back on the path and following all the rules.IMG_3480web

Gah. Isn’t this gorgeous!IMG_3503eweb

A picture of a girl (my girl) posing with a random pinecone. IMG_3488web

And this photo is black and white because the color was horrific. But we’ll just call it an artistic decision.IMG_3494bwweb

You can’t see it in this photo, but there at the verrrry top of that rock formation were people using a slackline to walk back and forth. Um, no thanks.IMG_3497web

Can you see it a bit better in this photo? (I can’t even remember where it took this shot, but it’s of the same rock formation.)IMG_3483eweb

The path around the lake is not far at all, but it was such a perfect start to our adventures here!

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After what felt like an eternity, we made it to Estes Park! This is the visitors’ center, and if you’re ever in the area – definitely stop. They have so much information available. And when we asked them whether or not there were any wild animal sightings recently, they told us to walk on over to the golf course. There just so happened to be an entire herd of elk hanging around. Can you imagine our excitement?!IMG_3505web

On our way over, we crossed over a cute little bridge. I’m sure this view would be soooo gorgeous when the trees are full of autumn colors!IMG_3506web

After a short little walk, there they were! TONS of them! This guy was within 15 feet of us, and he only seemed mildly annoyed by all of the onlookers.IMG_3513web

When they said there was an entire herd, they were not kidding. It appeared that there was one bull (male) elk running the show. He was surrounded by all of the cows (females). Then, as seen above, there were smaller bulls closer to us – but they seemed to be separated from the rest of the herd.IMG_3521eweb

This guy looks like he could use a bath and maybe a little less mange?IMG_3526web

As we were getting ready to head out, this guy looked up as if to say “see ya later!”IMG_3535web

All in all, I’d say this was a pretty great first Colorado experience! We got to drive through the mountains, walk around a lake, and see our first wild elk! Definitely a do-over kind of day.

Have you ever driven on the Peak to Peak Highway??

Red Rocks Park: Trading Post Trail
We Made it to Colorado!