Gondola(s), Hike, Scenic Drive – Vail
[Vail, CO, Jul 27, 2022]
Unlike Aspen, Vail is modeled after European ski villages, which appealed to me much more. It is a much bigger mountain than Aspen and so it has 2 gondolas. I was pretty sure that there must be a way to go up one, do a hike and end up at the top of the other so you can take that one down. And that’s exactly what we did. The two gondolas are in different parts of Vail so the fact that we could use our hotel shuttle to get to Vail and back made the logistics of this a lot easier.
But first, breakfast. Olivia did an excellent job researching yet again and we ended up at The Little Diner, a famous breakfast spot. The place was still largely empty when we arrived. We snagged a countertop seat and watched as one of the cooks lined up big batches of hash browns on the griddle. He left them there for quite a while so they can get nice and crispy. As the morning progressed, the batch kept growing at an alarming pace in anticipation for the breakfast rush. The highlight of our meal, however, was the Dutch baby pancake. It was giant and it was delicious.
We went up the Eagle Bahn gondola, the bigger of the two. Views of the Sawatch range awaited us at the top. It was so beautiful up there. Everything was green with giant mountain peaks all around.
Since the other gondola was at lower elevation, our 1.5-mile hike was actually a gradual downhill. In about 40 minutes we made it to Gondola One, which took us down to Vail village.
From Vail we headed to Estes Park, which was going to be our home for the next 4 nights. To get there, I wanted us to drive to the summit of Mount Evans. It’s over 14,000′ and is accessible through a paved 49-mile-long road. Mount Evans is just 20′ higher than another Colorado 14-er accessible by road, Pikes Peak, making the road the Mt Evans the highest paved road in North America. However, it is not for the faint of heart. Olivia, never a fan of precarious roads with steep drop-offs, was still not sure how I got her onto two on this trip. It didn’t help that the mountain goats we encountered along the way created several traffic jams.
Just below the summit was the aptly named Summit Lake. Olivia needed a break from the strenuous drive and we both wanted to stretch our legs.
At the summit, we took plenty of photos at the Mt Evans sign. The University of Denver observatory up there was, unfortunately, off-limits to visitors. However, we did get to walk through the ruins of the Mt Evans Crest House. When it was constructed in the 1940s, it was the highest business structure in the United States. It served as a restaurant, gift shop and tourist attraction until a fire destroyed it in 1979.
I took the short trail from the parking lot to the very top, where I enjoyed 360-degree views of the area. We were very lucky with the weather because fog rolled in about 45 minutes after we got there.
On the way to Estes Park, we found ourselves on another scenic highway, Peak to Peak. It stretches for 55 miles between I-70 and Estes Park. It’s dotted with tiny mountain towns we would have loved to explore. Alas, it was a long day of driving already. We got to Estes Park with just enough time to grab dinner and some groceries before going for a quick dip in the hot tub by the river. Our friend May drove in from Colorado Springs that night.
Ever the weather girl, I kept an eye on the forecast for our hike to Emerald Lake the next day. It called for thunderstorms later in the morning. To ensure a rain-free experience, I suggested an early start for our hike, which did not fly with the gals. And so I went to bed praying to the weather gods.
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