Trip Report: Denver, Keystone, and Estes Park, Colorado

Who: Travel Editor Caroline Morse traveled alone to Colorado for the TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange) conference, and squeezed in some sightseeing while she was there.

Where I Went: Denver, Keystone, and Estes Park, Colorado.

When: June 14-17

High Points: The absolute high point of my trip (literally and figuratively) was a bike tour of Rocky Mountain National Park's Trail Ridge Road. I booked through New Venture Cycling, and for just $75, they provided me with a bike, helmet, water bottle, tour guide, support van, and picnic.

They drive bikers up to the top of the road, and then take you on a guided tour down. It's a 26-mile route (with an optional seven miles through town at the end) and it's mostly all downhill. Which is good, because I struggled on the tiniest inclines due to the altitude. Our guide was fantastic, pointing out local wildlife and sites, and our support driver was also great. (The support van carries the bike up to the top, and follows riders down, so participants can leave bags and cameras, etc. inside.) At the end, they even give you a delicious picnic—with fresh fruits, veggies, bagels, and more. If you have time, definitely go on the extra seven miles at the end, which goes past a beautiful lake.

I also enjoyed biking in Denver—I took advantage of B-cycle, Denver's bike sharing program. There are automated racks all over the city, and you can rent bikes at one location and return them to another. It costs $8 for a 24-hour pass. Denver also has a great network of trails—I rode the one along Cherry Creek, which has beautiful views. I also stopped to enjoy Confluence Park and had fun watching people tube the man-made rapids.

Denver's food scene is delicious—I stumbled upon the food trucks in Civic Center Park and had a cheap and tasty lunch. Afterwards, I walked it off by heading over the the state capitol, which is free to tour. (Unfortunately, the dome, which apparently offers amazing views of Denver, was closed for renovations.)

In Keystone, the TBEX conference was a major highpoint. BlogWorld and Keystone Resorts put on a great event. And thanks to both of them, I got to achieve a life dream I didn't even know I had: drinking Moet Champagne in a gondola. I would encourage all travel bloggers/writers to attend TBEX if they can.

Low Points: My rental car. I rented the cheapest car possible from Enterprise, and was given a tiny Mazda that really couldn't handle the mountain roads. Colorado is an up-and-down state, and struggling to get your rental car to go at least the speed limit on inclines while trucks zoom past you does not make for a relaxing drive. On the bright side, I sure saved a lot in gas money.

My hotel room at the Gateway Mountain Lodge was isolated and extremely creepy for a female staying on her own. I only saw one other person the whole time I was staying, there was no staff in the building, and to get to the second floor you either have to take a deserted fire-escape stairwell or creaking elevator. I wish I had splurged on different room at the Keystone Lodge, and been closer to the TBEX conference and other people.

The high-altitude was another low-point, and it took me a good few days to adjust to it. Nothing makes you feel out of shape like struggling to breathe!

Savings Strategy: I booked the cheapest room available at Keystone Resort, a $79 efficiency at the Gateway Mountain Lodge. The room had an efficiency kitchen with a mini-fridge, sink, and dishes, so to save money on breakfast I bought cereal and milk at a nearby grocery store. (Another low-point: eagerly attempting to make coffee in the kitchen's coffee-maker with the provided Starbucks' beans, only to find that the coffee-maker was broken.)

I also booked my flight early, and I booked it through Southwest, so when the conference schedule changed I was able to switch my flight times without paying a hefty penalty. (Southwest allows you to change your ticket for free—I only had to pay the difference in price between tickets.) Renting a car also turned out to be cheaper than taking the shuttle from Denver Airport to Keystone, so be sure to compare prices if you follow the same route. Also, I booked my Denver hotel only a few days before arriving, and snagged a room for $79—a savings of around $20 over regular rates.

Where I Stayed: I spent my first night at the Sheraton Downtown Denver. Despite paying rock-bottom rates, I was given the biggest hotel room that I've ever stayed in. (It was almost the size of my entire Boston apartment.) It even had pool-side views and two of their trademark "Sheraton Sweet Sleeper Beds," which are indeed extremely plush. I definitely recommend the Sheraton Downtown Denver if you're staying in the city—the location, near the Denver Capitol, food trucks, and 16th street pedestrian mall is perfect, and there is a parking garage for hotel guests. (You'll have to shell out $24 to park overnight, though.)

In Keystone, I spent two nights at the Gateway Mountain Lodge at Keystone Resort, which was the same price per night ($79) as the Sheraton, but definitely a step down (as mentioned above). It's worth noting that the Gateway Mountain Lodge, while bookable through Keystone Resort's website, is not really a part of the resort. It's managed by Keystone Property Management Company. They're basically vacation condos that are rented out, which means you don't check in at the building (or at the general Keystone Lodge reception). I went to two different buildings in the resort before I was able to check in—not what you want after a two-hour drive. I'm sure the Gateway Mountain Lodge would be great for a family on a ski vacation, but for a single female staying alone it wasn't the best.

If You Go: Many parts of Colorado have recently been devastated by wildfires. If you're planning an imminent trip, be sure to check conditions where you'll be going. If you're planning on spending a lot of time in high-altitudes, arrive a few days early to give yourself time to acclimatize, and try taking Ibuprofen before you go to prevent altitude sickness. Inspired? Click here to check rates to Denver!

Have a question for Caroline about her trip to Colorado? Planning a trip yourself and need advice? Want to share your own experience? Leave a comment below!

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