vista verde ranch colorado

Northwest Colorado Road Trip 5 Days of Western Culture

When you think of Colorado you probably think of the mountains; skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer. However, when you look closer at Colorado, you realize that she’s much more than that. She’s complex and in my opinion, that’s what makes Colorado (or any destination) so great to visit; it surprises you.

I have no idea why I’ve decided to make Colorado a female – maybe it is because she’s unpredictable, or maybe I just like to think of the state as a place where badass, tough females live. Who knows…but I’m going with it.

This trip through Northwest Colorado was full of surprises and new experiences. Not only did I do traditional hiking, but I also took on horseback riding, cattle penning, mountain biking, and kayaking! I examined Colorado’s art scene as well as its western culture and roots, and I ate…a lot. Who would think that in these small mountain towns and ranches you can find such incredibly sophisticated food!

Northwest Colorado 5 Day Road Trip

I’ve lived in Colorado for 3+ years, I moved here because I love the mountains – they are my happy place. But what I didn’t know is that the state is much more rural (as in ranching and farming) than it is mountains. Yes – we have some impressive peaks, but outside of those peaks, there is a western culture that I had yet to explore.

But first – a message from me…a real person…

This is not going to simply be a guide of where to go and stay – but I think to really inspire people, you need to provide more than that – you need to provide a personality and connection. Therefore, this Northwest Colorado Road Trip is about my experience traveling through these areas. And I hope it inspires you to want to see these areas and brings to life the culture of this region as opposed to just being a guide that you can find anywhere on the internet.

At the city of Loveland Colroado

The Route Plan

I like to have a loose plan when I road trip. My goal was to go North and take a different way into the mountains than the typical (and often crowded) I-70 corridor. In addition, I was excited to experience a smaller town on the front Range, Loveland. From Loveland I could then head through Rocky Mountain National Park soaking up those magnificent high mountain peaks over to Grand Lake.

I had never stayed in Grand Lake before, so I was excited to learn more about the state’s largest natural lake and how the region served as the headwaters of the Colorado River.

Finally, my plan was to head to Steamboat Springs, a unique part of Colorado that has somehow combined the western culture with the mountain culture.

My loose plan however was foiled when Colorado got a freak early September snow storm that dumped 6 feet of snow at the high altitudes in Rocky Mountain National Park. Trailridge road was closed so it forced me to go all the way back south skirting Denver, driving on I-70 for a bit, going over Berthoud Pass, through Winter Park, and up to Grand Lake! It was a minor change, and it was still a beautiful drive, but if you can, I would recommend going through the national park on Trailridge Road.

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Traveling in Colorado During COVID19

I was traveling during COVID, however our state has a mandate that masks must be worn in all indoor locations ( and I knew from my previous trips that all of the small Colorado towns were taking the mask mandate and social distancing very seriously. Therefore, I felt comfortable traveling during this time. Obviously, you need to do what works for you in this situation.

Northwest Colorado Road Trip Map

Day 1: Loveland – A Front Range Town with a Lot of Heart and Art

Only a 45 minute drive from Denver, Loveland is a great front range town to use as a ‘jumping off’ point to the mountains in the north! In addition, what’s not to love about a town who takes ‘love’ to the next level.

Named for William A.H. Loveland, president of the Colorado Central Railroad, Loveland grew quickly from a railroad stop into an agricultural hub for local farmers, and it now is a artistic hub. Maybe that’s why the best way I can describe the people there are westerners with an art problem.

Every single person I met in Loveland seemed to have a love of their city and a general love for life. I’m not really sure if the city attracts those types of people, or if the city just oozes love and people can’t help but embrace it.

What to Do in Loveland

The city certainly embraces their name – it is known as the nation’s ‘sweetheart city’. It even has a – Valentine’s day festival every February. They also have a couple of ‘love’ sculptures where you can ‘lock your love’ on the back side. It’s the first thing you should probably do as you enter the city from I-25; stop at the visitor center, buy a lock, engrave it, and go lock it to the sculpture! Since I’ve never been lucky in love, I chose to engrave the name of my recent foster kitten, Cassie, on my lock. Yes, this just solidifies that I have become a crazy cat lady during this pandemic.

Art with Heart

Similar to Scottsdale Arizona, in 1985 Loveland started funding the city’s public art collection by passing an Art in Public Places Ordinance designating 1% of all capital projects to buy and maintain art. It now has over 490 pieces of public art throughout the city!

bronze foundry loveland colorado
Photo from Art Castings Foundry

If you build it, they will come. Loveland has taken the strategy of ‘art attracts other artists’ – and it has worked. The town has a couple of foundries specializing in bringing sculpture artist’s ideas to life. I toured the Art Castings Foundry and was amazed at the complex process for how the sculptures are made. A process that includes wax, ceramic, sand, boiling vats of bronze metal, and then it’s welded all together like a puzzle!

I followed up the foundry tour with a trip to Benson Sculpture Garden, home to 170 pieces of sculpture. It’s impossible to look at these sculptures in the park and not be amazed after just seeing the long process of how they come to life! Plus, many of the pieces are ‘interactive’ which makes for great fun and Instagram pics!

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