Written by Kristin Kleimann-Duggan
Are you and your family both train and holiday enthusiasts? Do you like beautiful scenery, holiday lights, meeting Santa, and good food and drinks? Do you enjoy adventures close to Denver? If so, the Santa Express on the Royal Gorge Train Route may be just what you are looking for…
This past weekend, our family and some friends took the 2-hour roadtrip (each way) to ride the Santa Express in Canon City. We decided to stay overnight in Canon City to make the overall trip more tolerable for the young children, oh, and for us. The length of the train trip (2 hours) was perfect, the scenery and holiday lights gorgeous, the experience nostalgic, and the food and drink delicious.
Once you board the train, you are provided hot chocolate and cookies to snack on. As the train starts its journey, they play Holiday music and conduct sing alongs. If it is still light out, you are treated to spectacular views of both the gorge and the Arkansas River, and possibly the sunset. There are a few open air cars that you can go to to really experience the views. Once the train reaches the “North Pole,” which is all done up with lights, Santa and the elves board. The elves come around and give each child a bell from one of Santa’s reindeer. Santa also makes his way to talk to the children and collect their wish lists. We absolutely loved the adventure and highly recommend the overall experience.
For 2018, trips are offered November 16th-December 30th. Trips are scheduled up to four times daily: generally, 9:30, 12:30, 4:30, and 6:30. Some dates are less expensive than others so do check their website schedule. There are several different classes of service offered including Vista Dome, Club, and Coach. The ticket price varies by class.
We opted for the Vista Dome class and purchased our tickets (easily) online in advance. Vista Dome service provided us with 360-degree views, assigned seats at a table (seats are in groupings of four so we were all seated together), and table side food and drink service (food and drink are not included in the ticket price, but purchasing food in advance is an option.) Food, drinks, and the full service bar are available to all classes of service. Passengers are also permitted to visit the open air car as frequently as they’d like and at any point in the trip.
One of the highlights of the tour is seeing the Royal Gorge bridge from a unique vantage point, below it! The Royal Gorge bridge is the world’s highest suspension bridge and is located at the narrowest and deepest point in the gorge. The train stops under the bridge for a few minutes for viewing and for photo opportunities.
A Very Brief History of the Royal Gorge Route
The Royal Gorge route opened in 1879 and cost $11,759 (about $250,000 in today’s dollars) but service eventually ended in 1967 for a variety of reasons. The Royal Gorge historic rail line was resurrected in 1999 with the goal of creating “an entirely new Colorado experience featuring excellent food, friendly service and memorable events while sharing the most spectacular scenery in the Rocky Mountain West” (Royal Gorge Route Railroad “Signal” Publication). The route is run by a private, family owned Colorado company passionate about good food and wine.
Visit: www.royalgorgeroute.com or call 1.888.724.5748
Photos and Article by Kristin Kleimann-Duggan
We finally made it to see the Ice Castles this year and it was well worth it! The Ice Castles are located in Dillon, Colorado and are open until the weather becomes too warm. Teams work to grow more than 5,000 icicles each day so they can build the castles by hand.
We bought our tickets in advance (highly recommended, as they sell out quickly, especially on weekends) and chose to go around 5:30 pm because we were hoping to experience the Ice Castles in both daylight and at night. This was a good choice as it was easier to see at 5:30 and then the castles are lit up at night with LED lights. Dressing for winter was important and waterproof pants and gloves (especially for the kids) are a must if you plan to crawl around in the caves or go on the ice slides. Do not bother with a stroller, it won’t make it.
Currently, hours are 4-9pm Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. On Fridays: hours are 4-10pm; Saturdays: 12pm-10pm; and Sundays: 12pm-8pm. The ice castles are closed on Tuesday.
Ticket prices vary by the day and whether you buy in advance or not. Adult prices range from $15.95 to $21.00. Children (4-11) are $10.95-$16.00. Children under 3 are free.
Get there soon to see the Ice Castles before the weather warms. If the Ice Castles return next year, I encourage you to see them. It’s winter magic.
Please visit, www.icecastles.com for more information.
My family and I love exploring new and family friendly places near Denver. For Labor Day weekend, we decided to explore a place we’ve never actually spent much time in---Grand Lake.
Grand Lake is approximately a 2-hour drive from Denver, in Grand County. It is located outside of the Western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park and sits at 8,367 feet in elevation. In the summer months, you can get to Grand Lake via Estes Park and Trail Ridge Road or I-70 to 40 over Berthoud Pass through Winter Park. We chose to travel the Winter Park route.
We arrived on Friday with plans to stay through Monday. The drive there was beautiful, especially as you travel over Berthoud Pass and then past Lake Granby, Shadow Mountain Lake, and finally to Grand Lake.
Grand Lake is Colorado’s largest and deepest natural lake, and part of the Colorado River headwaters. It is 265 feet deep which also means the water never gets particularly “warm.” Not surprisingly, that doesn’t usually deter the kids from getting wet!
We stayed at a place we found on Home Away that was right in town on Grand Avenue and had views of the lake. We chose an in-town location so we could easily walk the western boardwalk, Grand Avenue, that boasts more than 60 shops, restaurants, bars, and galleries.
Things to Do:
Though Grand Lake does offer year-round recreation, we only experienced some of the summer activities. The best summer activities include hiking, biking, boating, sailing, and fishing. In winter, Grand Lake is known as the “Snowmobiling Capital of Colorado.” Here are a few ideas:
Places to Eat:
We were pleasantly surprised at the variety of food options available. Here are some places we enjoyed:
Places to Stay:
There are many different lodging options available including cabins, camping, private homes, and resorts to fit all different budgets. Here are a few ideas:
This mini vacation was well worth it. Being in land locked Colorado, I often forget how rejuvenating and calming looking at large bodies of water can be. Life here really is Grand…
For more information, visit:
This article was written by Kristin Kleimann and will be appearing in a future issue of Life in the Park magazine.
Have you ever been surrounded by hundreds of magical and colorful butterflies? You can be at the Butterfly Pavilion!
The Butterfly Pavilion is located about 15 minutes North of Denver in Westminster, Colorado. It is a 30,000 square foot facility that is located on an 11 acre campus. The vision of the Butterfly Pavilion is to teach an appreciation of the environment and of all living thing. It is considered an invertebrate zoo and hosts over 5,000 animals.
There are five different exhibit areas (four indoor, and the garden and nature trail outside). The exhibit areas include: Crawl-a-See-Em, Water’s Edge, Wings of the Tropics, and Invertebrate World.
For our visit, my 4 year old son particularly enjoyed holding Rosie the resident tarantula and touching a starfish. We were also lucky enough to have a butterfly land on our clothing as we were exploring the tropical rainforest area.
What a great way to spend a Saturday!
Cost: Adults $11, Seniors $9, Children 2-12 $7, Children under 2 FREE (reduced prices for Westminster Residents)
Hours: 9-5pm daily, 7 days a week
Address: 6252 W. 104th Avenue, Westminster CO 80020
Icelandair has been offering direct roundtrip service from Denver to Reykjavik since 2012. Their package vacation deals offer the ease of planning an international vacation with the flexibility to do more or less depending on your preference, all for a very reasonable price.
In February of 2016 our family chose the “Warm Baths, Cool Lights” package. This package included roundtrip airfare, 3 nights hotel with buffet breakfast at the modern Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Natura, an evening bus tour to Fontana hot spring baths including an Icelandic buffet dinner, and a chance to see the Northern Lights.
The flight was a tolerable 7-hour afternoon direct flight from Denver that arrived in Iceland early the next morning. With 3.5 days, we had just enough time to do some geothermal soaking, see some wild and beautiful scenery, visit some historical sites, and eat delicious local food.
Here are some highlights from the “Warm Baths, Cool Lights” package:
Blue Lagoon. While the Blue Lagoon is Iceland’s number one attraction (read: tourist trap), it was pretty spectacular once you made it through the lines, figured out how to work the lockers, showered, and got IN to the water. The water is a cloudy sapphire blue, heated to about 100 degrees, and surrounded by mountains of black lava. The Blue Lagoon is pretty close to Keflavik International Airport so it might make sense to visit it on arrival or just before your departure. The attached restaurant had fresh, noteworthy menu items, but like all of Iceland’s food and beverage, was expensive.
Dowtown Reykjavik. We visited the often-photographed Hallgrimskirkja Church where you can take an elevator to the top for views of the city. We then walked into the downtown shopping district looking at Icelandic artwork and handmade crafts. The wind from the harbor was brutal so making frequent stops in shops and coffee shops was a welcome relief.
Fontana Hot Baths in Laugarvatn. We spent a few hours one night soaking in the different temperature pools, followed by some time in the steam rooms. Our night included a traditional Icelandic buffet style dinner. Our favorite item was the traditional Icelandic brown rye bread that is baked underground using geothermal heat. It’s doughy, moist, sweet, and delicious with Icelandic butter. Try the traditional fermented shark if you like things that taste like someone took those little red fish eggs your grandpa used on his fishhook, soaked them in ammonia, and then sprinkled on some sugar.
Northern Lights. While there is no guarantee you will see the elusive Northern Lights, February is one of the best months to catch a glimpse of them. We were fortunate enough to see them from the plane, and in all their splendor on our night tour. There are various Northern Lights apps to help you know the best nights to try and view the lights and many hotel front desks provide wake up calls when they are visible.
Golden Circle. We rented a car and spent about 6 hours, going at a moderate pace, visiting Thingvellir National Park (took a quick hike to see one of Iceland’s oldest churches, the rift between North America and Europe’s slowly moving continental plates, and Iceland’s largest lake), Gullfoss Waterfall (Iceland’s most famous waterfall), and the predictably erupting Geysir (after which all other geysers have been named).
These highlights gave us just a taste of this gorgeous country. We can’t wait to go back to see some of the other sights and parts of the country, and perhaps next time around we will visit, in Summer…
Kristin Kleimann is a Denver Realtor and lover of Colorado, Denver, homes, design, art, architecture, food, nature, nostalgia, and travel.
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