In an effort to bring you some new voices on Ottsworld, here is a guest post from writer Sherry Spitsnaugle. I met Sherry at a Denver event and found out that she was a travel writer! So not only does she have a cool name, but she also has a way with words! She’s lived in Colorado for a lifetime, so I asked her to share some of her favorite places to stay! All opinions and experiences expressed here are hers. –Sherry
I’m sitting in the bow of a two-person kayak paddling the glassy waters of Grand Lake, Colorado’s largest natural body of water. Temps in Denver are forecast to be 100 today, and the early morning mountain air feels refrigerator-cool.
Other than a solitary fisherman and a couple sitting in lawn chairs on the shore who give us a friendly wave, the lake and surrounding area are empty.
I’ve even removed my COVID face mask but just for a quick photo – please don’t tell the Gov.
I’m here with a handful of other travel writers to visit nearby Grand Lake Lodge, marking its 100th anniversary this year. Ten decades ago, the lodge hosted a grand gala. There were plans to celebrate the centennial this year, but in a poof, COVID changed everything. The party is on hold and any and all activities are pandemic-appropriate.
Grand Lake Lodge hosts a 50 percent capacity; diners are spaced according to guidelines, and the mood – while wonderful – is not necessarily celebratory, but tranquil. Who needs revelry; I’m just glad the lodge is open.
Table of Contents
My Mind Needs a Vacation
With a serious case of cabin fever, getting away to the mountains, nature, and any place different from my city condo is an easy decision
As I check into my room at Grand Lake Lodge, perched above the town, it feels squeaky clean. Rooms are cozy (read small-ish) but more importantly, they are hygienic.
I accept that there’s a bit of risk involved with staying at a lodge and dining at a restaurant. I also accept that I’m in desperate need of a diversion. My mind needs a vacation.
While the lodge has been remodeled since it opened 10 decades ago – when it was built in the 1900s, the cabins arrived from Sears Roebuck via train from the Midwest – the structural integrity remains. My room is decorated in a bear motif, and granted, the bathroom doesn’t offer much room to spread out. But I don’t require a spacious shower or a resort atmosphere.
I’m craving open space, Mother Nature, and a break from breaking news.
Stay For the Food and Company
With high ceilings, a wooden porch swing in the middle of the space, and elk antler chandeliers, the lobby is a genuine mountain lodge.
I order an Odell IPA at the lobby bar and mingle with the others before we relocate to Huntington House Tavern for our assigned time. Diners and tables are spaced appropriately, and servers wear masks.
While the cheese and charcuterie board appetizer is perfectly delicious, for me, the cuisine is secondary. Sitting with friends and being served is a hint of normalcy.
I consider ordering elk chops but settle on diver scallops and jumbo lump crab cakes. Other diners are chatting and laughing; one couple lovingly toasts, and servers move about with efficiency, delivering platters of gorgeous food.
Pro Tip: The three-course evening meal at Huntington House Tavern at $49 is a bargain.
Grand Lake Lodge Altitude Buzz
At an altitude of 8,769, the beer might be packing more of a punch than I’m used to, but the scene feels dreamy.
We linger over our meal – maybe a little too long because other diners are waiting for the second seating. We relocate to the lobby with a cup of warm peach cobbler and vanilla ice cream.
IPA, scallops, and peach cobbler equal bliss!
Breakfast on “Colorado’s favorite porch”
Guests may opt for the morning meal to be delivered to their cabin, but I pick up a breakfast sandwich (a hearty combo of eggs and bacon, but I heard the breakfast burrito is also good) and sit on the swing on “Colorado’s favorite porch,” looking out onto the small village of Grand Lake, the lake itself, and mountains.
When the Room is This Nice, ‘Early to Bed’ is a Pleasure
Things quiet down early here. I retreat to my room, open the windows wide and settle in with a book. There is zero traffic noise unless you count the occasional passersby, whom I can hear carrying on conversations.
The 50-some staff lives mostly on-site; picture Patrick Swayze’s digs in Dirty Dancing.
Proximity to Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park and the hush that comes with it are a stone’s throw away. Grand Lake Lodge is the closest property to the park – so close that there’s a sign that reads, “Trail to Nat’l Park,” not far from my room. Most people drive, but you can hoof it to the park from the lodge if you are up for it.
Pro Tip: If you want to enter Rocky Mountain National Park, you’ll need a reservation, “when arriving by vehicle between the hours of 6 a.m. and 5 p.m.” That means you can hike in from the lodge or drive in after 5 p.m., without a reservation. Early morning and evening are really the best times anyway. You’ll still have to pay the fee.
Grand Lake Provides Many Opportunities to Social Distance
There are plenty of activities I could be doing: swimming, basketball, horseshoe, volleyball, and even hiking the short path into town (see more things to do below). Instead, I dawdle on the porch and chat with Nathan, a staff member from New Jersey, who tells me he adores his job, the mountains, and Colorado weather.
After breakfast, I make the 10-minute drive into the town of Grand Lake and wander its wooden boardwalks and wide streets while easily social distancing.
Normally, this inviting little village would be packed during the dog days of summer. But today, visitors are few and far between. The Gov. would approve.
Things to do While Staying at Grand Lake Lodge
- Hike one of the trails accessible from the lodge that weave into the national park.
- Rent a kayak at Mountain Paddlers, 970-531-6334, or mountainpaddlers.com.
- Paddle (or be paddled) out to an island for some serious social distancing. The lodge will even pack a picnic lunch for you. Visit Trail Ridge Marina or call 970-627-3586 for information or to reserve a kayak. The paddle one-way, depending on wind and your arm strength, takes about 20-30 minutes.
- If miniature golf is up your alley, you’ll love Meandering Moose Mini-Golf.
- Hike an easy path to the town of Grand Lake, that’s a little more than a half-mile; remember it’s steep on the return trip!
- Guests can don a protective suit and explore the life of bees in a beekeeping class and learn about the role bees play in the local environment. Beekeeping experience is $50/per person. Guests may purchase a jar of Tabernash Honey in the small gift shop in the lodge.
- Monday Movie Nights – Kid-friendly movies at 7 p.m. and PG+ movies at 9 p.m., at the pool, weather permitting. Complimentary for lodge guests.
- Tuesday Game Nights – Bingo and trivia at the pavilion, 4 to 6 p.m. Complimentary for lodge guests.
- Wednesday Night Sip and Paint, Guests can sip wine and paint at the Pavilion. Sip and Paint is $25.
Getting to Grand Lake Lodge
Grand County is located 67 miles west of Denver but plan for two and a half hours of drive time. Be prepared for possible road construction delays. Take I-70 West from Denver; take US 40 West toward Granby/Empire; turn right onto US Highway 34.
Even the drive on the winding, hairpin curves gets my mind off the news.
Pro Tip: Be prepared for road construction – but the scenery, while you wait, is stunning. Plus, make sure to inch your way through the town of Empire; it’s known for being a speed trap.
What to Pack for a Trip to Grand Lake
There’s no need to be fancy at Grand Lake Lodge unless that’s your thing. Walking paths are dirt, and some are rocky. Wear flat comfy shoes.
Pack a sun hat and high-SPF sunscreen, especially for kayaking. At this altitude, the sun is brutal.
Grand Lake Lodge Season
The season for Grand Lake Lodge extends through October. They are following all guidelines for safety during COVID. Visit Grand Lake Lodge or call 970.627.3967 to make a reservation.
September and October are cooler, but prime for viewing Colorado’s fall colors.
Check out this day trip from Denver that includes Grand Lake and RMNP with some of the best fall foliage around!
Prices on rooms fluctuate greatly depending on the lodge’s occupancy, whether it’s a holiday or more. Visit Grand Lake Lodge or call 970.627.3967 to ask about the best pricing and to make a reservation.
Win a Weekend Stay at the Lodge, Just Enter this Photo Contest
Guests can compete in a photo contest to celebrate 100 years at the Lodge and are encouraged to post Grand Lake Lodge pictures for a chance to win a 2021 weekend stay. Prizes commemorating the 100-year anniversary will be selected at the end of each month with the Grand Prize being awarded in July 2021. To enter, follow @Grandlakelodge on social media, post a photo of your favorite Grand Lake Lodge memory and tag #myhwvgiveaway
Highway West Vacations
Grand Lake Lodge is part of the Highway West Vacations brand. Offering unique camping, glamping, and boutique hotel accommodations in destinations across the great American West, including Mount St. Helens, Wash., Crescent Lake, Ore., Volcano Village, Hawaii, and several properties along the California Central Coast.
More Colorado Road Trip Experiences
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Meet the Author: Sherry Spitsnaugle, guidebook author, travel writer, wife and dog mom, first expressed her urge to explore at age four when she packed up her little red wagon and took off for an adventure – around the block. Today, she continues to fulfill her travel bug tendencies, exploring and writing about her experiences.
Sherry Spitsnaugle was hosted by Grand Lake Lodge and Highway West Vacations.