After spending a day exploring Dinosaur National Monument, visiting the Utah Field House State Park Museum, and hiking to Moonshine Arch, we had to hit the road early the next day to make it all the way to Estes Park, Colorado where our next hotel was. Luckily, the drive took us right through Grand Lake and along Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park.
When we were approaching Grand Lake, all we could see at first was the gorgeous lake sitting below the spectacular Rocky Mountains. Covering 600 acres, Grand Lake is the largest and deepest natural lake in Colorado. It is located in the headwaters of the Colorado River and on its north shore sits the historic town of Grand Lake.
On our road trip, we visited Grand Lake twice. On this first day, we drove through town, peeked at the beach, and then headed over to the East Inlet Trailhead for a picnic lunch and a short hike to Adams Falls, just one of the waterfalls you can hike to in Rocky Mountain National Park.
After that we decided to begin the trek to Estes Park because dark clouds were forming overhead and we didn’t want to be in the alpine tundra when the thunder and lightning began! But we did make a few stops along the way at the historic Grand Lake Lodge and the Kawuneeche Visitor Center.
Our second day in Rocky Mountain National Park was sunny and gorgeous with mostly blue skies and after the dark gloomy skies of the day before, we definitely made the most of it. We Trail Ridge Road (Highway 34), stopping at all of the scenic viewpoints along the drive, all the way back to Grand Lake!
This time, our visit began with a walk along Grand Lake’s historic wooden boardwalk as we weaved in and out of the 60+ charming shops, galleries, and restaurants and enjoyed shaved ice and ice cream at Polly’s Sweet Shop in a super cute green chalet — Polly’s has been serving visitors incredible waffle cones, delicious ice cream, and sweet treats since 1957. We were also in search of the lone pressed penny machine, but we a bit disappointed to find that it only has one penny design and it’s a store advertisement and not a Grand Lake penny.
Just a couple minute walk from the Grand Lake Village boardwalk is a white sand beach and beautiful Grand Lake. It’s a great place for a picnic, playing in the sand, reading a book, or swimming — if you dare… The water is very cold!
About Grand Lake
Known as the Western Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, the small town of Grand Lake welcomes visitors from around the world with its quaint and charming wooden boardwalks, beautiful beach, sparkling lake, and stunning mountains.
Named for the lake on which it sits, the town measures just one square mile and sits at 8,369 feet elevation. While the old-fashioned town has a population of less than 500, Grand Lake is lined with locally-owned shops, restaurants, bars, candy stores, toy shops, bed and breakfasts, and hotels. And, with 12,007 foot Mount Baldy and the snow-capped Never Summer Range as a backdrop, it’s a stunning mountain getaway with recreational activities to keep you busy year-round.
- In the summer, you can hike, bike, or ride ATVs through unspoiled terrain and boat, sail, paddle, kayak, row, or fish on Grand Lake. Or you can simply relax on the beach and picnic along the shores.
- In the winter, Grand Lake, deemed the Snowmobiling Capital of Colorado, offers 300+ miles of trails for snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, and snowmobiling, as well as opportunities for ice fishing.
Grand Lake is also home to the world’s highest registered yacht club, the nation’s highest altitude golf course with grass greens, and Colorado’s premiere summer musical company, the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre.
If you’re visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park and Grand Lake are the two best places to stay. Each town is located near one of the park’s main entrances and the world famous Trail Ridge Road connects them both on a majestic 45 mile drive.
From hotels, lodges, and motels to the quaint cabins and summer homes that line the shores of Colorado’s largest natural lake, there are plenty of places to stay in Grand Lake — but the town is much smaller than Estes Park, so places book up fast!
Grand Lake History
The village of Grand Lake began as a supply center in 1879 when gold and silver were discovered nearby in the Colorado River. It served the mining settlements of Lulu City, Teller City, and Gaskill. But there wasn’t much gold or silver. Grand Lake was officially founded in 1881, and soon became a lakeside resort town that attracted families who built summer homes along the shores of the lake as early as 1902. Many of the homes you see around the lake today have been in the same family for generations.
About Grand Lake Lodge
Perched on the hillside above Grand Lake Village on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Lake Lodge is offers incredible views of the Rocky Mountains, Grand Lake, and Shadow Mountain Reservoir.
Grand Lake Lodge was established in 1920 to serve tourists visiting Rocky Mountain National Park on Trail Ridge Road, which was completed the same year. The rustic lodge was founded by Frank Huntington and Roe Emery who were affiliated with the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad. The lodge was built at the edge of the national park on land owned by the National Park Service, but in 1963 the lodge owners acquired the land. Then, in 1973, a devastating kitchen fire forced Grand Lake Lodge to closed for the next seven seasons. After extensive reconstruction and refurnishing, the lodge reopened in 1981.
Today Grand Lake Lodge provides a luxurious resort experience with breathtaking views. There are 70 rustic cabins located in the pines beyond the Main Lodge. At the main lodge, you’ll find a cozy lobby, inventive seating, and a huge circular fireplace, hickory rocking chairs and swings, a restaurant and lounge, and an outdoor veranda with stunning views. Across from the lodge’s main building, there is an outdoor patio comfy couches and seating and a pool overlooking the town of Grand Lake.
But the resort is only open from May to October, and a short season means it books up fast and far in advance! If you want to stay at this historic lodge, which is about the closest place to stay near Rocky Mountain National Park without being in the park, be sure to book in advance!
Know Before You Go
Entering Rocky Mountain National Park:
- The Rocky Mountain National Park Grand Lake Entrance is the only entrance on the park’s west side. The national park surrounds Grand Lake on three sides.
- The park’s western entrance is located 2.0 miles north of Grand Lake (a 10-15 minute drive) and 0.25 miles north of the Kawuneeche Visitor Center near the beautiful Kawuneeche Valley.
- The Rocky Mountain National Park East Inlet Trailhead, with access to the Adams Falls Trail, is located east of Grand Lake near the Public Boat Launch.
Visiting Grand Lake:
- The town of Grand Lake, Colorado 80447 is located on Highway 34 in Grand County. The Grand Lake Chamber Visitor Center is located at the corner of West Portal Road and Highway 34.
- Download the Grand Lake Travel Guide.
- The Grand Lake Boardwalk, open year-round, features more than 60 shops, restaurants, bars, and galleries within a couple blocks of the Grand Lake white sand beach.
- The Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre offers guests a dynamic and fulfilling theatrical experience in a beautiful 300 seat theater that was completed in 2011. With several shows every summer, professional actors perform popular Broadway musicals like The Full Monty, Les Miserables, Annie, and The Addams Family. The theater is located at 800 Grand Avenue, Grand Lake, Colorado 80447.
- Covering 600 acres, Grand Lake is the largest and deepest natural lake in Colorado.
- Grand Lake was originally named Spirit Lake by the Ute Tribe because they believed the cold water was the resting place of departed souls.
Visiting Grand Lake Lodge:
- The Grand Lake Lodge is located at 15500 US Highway 34, Grand Lake, Colorado 80447 on a hillside overlooking Grand Lake Village, Grand Lake, and Shadow Mountain Reservoir, on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park.
- Grand Lake Lodge is only open from May to October. It is closed in the winter and the short season means it books up fast and far in advance!
- The lodge features an outdoor swimming pool, game room (video games, pool table, and ping pong), horseshoes, nature and hiking trails, a volleyball court, and more.
- The Grand Lake Lodge full-service dining room has family-friendly options available throughout the day. Enjoy a breakfast buffet with a full assortment of hot and cold breakfast items and an extensive Sunday Brunch, stop in at lunch for fresh salads, sandwiches, and homemade soups, and relax at dinner with hand-cut steaks, fresh fish, and a variety of other entrée options.
- In the Gift Shop, you’ll find local and American-made artwork and gifts that embody the history and essence of this Colorado mountain paradise.
- The lodge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1993 and the entire lodge complex, with more than 100 structures is a US Historic District.