Welcome to the “Western Gateway” to Rocky Mountain National Park. Like its eastern counterpart, Estes Park, Grand Lake is geared towards the tens of thousands of visitors that pass through its belly. And we fell hook, line, and sinker into its quaint tourist gravitational pull. It’s a destination unto itself, but I would guess that most people who stop in are also traveling into Rocky and venturing up Trail Ridge Road.
Believe it or not, this was the first time Liz and I had ever been to Grand Lake. We’ve lived in Colorado for a combined 60 years and never took the final turnoff into the town. Driven right by it, well yes, but never ventured in.
Dumb luck would have it that we stopped in on the day of the 69th annual Buffalo BBQ Parade. Since the parade wasn’t until the afternoon, and we got there bright and early in the morning, we had plenty of time to see the sights.
Here are a few highlights from our day:
Shopping on Grand Street – We started our day in Grand Lake by surveying the local shops. I was extremely pleased to find Never Summer Mountain Products, which was well-stocked with camping and outdoor equipment. We even bought our little one a little t-shirt to memorialize the day.
Kauffman House Museum – The Kauffman House was built in 1892 and operated as a hotel until 1946 by the Kauffman family. It is the only remaining log hotel built in Grand Lake prior to the 1900’s. The museum charges a modest admission fee for adults and is worth spending about an hour of your time.
Gene Stover Lakefront Park – This was really the best part of the trip for us. I was so surprised to find the small sand beach on the north shore of Grand Lake, just a mere two blocks off of the main drag. You can wade in the water, rent a standup paddle board or paddle boat, or just enjoy the views of Rocky Mountain National Park across the lake.
Grand Lake Chocolates – Just before the parade began, we slipped into Grand Lake Chocolates for single-scoop cones. They had a death by chocolate variety that makes you appreciate being alive!
Buffalo BBQ Parade (mid-July) – The parade was your typical small town parade, and it lasted about 30 minutes. Our toddler daughter had a blast picking up candy (which we probably won’t let her eat for a couple more years) and watching some of the horses stomp by.
Town Hall Park – We wrapped up our day in Town Hall Park. It was awesome to be able to expend some energy before heading home for the night. We were so very tempted to buy a pie from the pie stand but had our fill of sugar for the day.
All in all, we had a delightful time. Grand Lake is worth a visit – whether you’re just stopping in or plan to stay a few days. Maybe in a later post we’ll highlight some of the hiking we’ve done in the region…
Brief History of Grand Lake
Established in 1881, Grand Lake sits at an elevation of 8369 feet. It derives its name from the lake on whose shores it is situated: Grand Lake, the most extensive – both in size and depth – natural body of water in Colorado. The town was initially founded to supply the smaller mining towns in the area. Today, it is a tourist destination adjacent to the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, which also surrounds the lake and the town on three sides.