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Colorado Vacation Stops

Grand Lake, Colo., Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park

Grand Lake, the town, is located just one mile from the West Entrance of the national park.

Looking for a family weekend getaway that includes beach time and hiking among some of Colorado’s highest peaks? Head to Grand Lake, a quaint, historic town surrounded on three sides by Rocky Mountain National Park. Just a mile from the park’s west entrance, Grand Lake, Colo., offers incredible family friendly activities from paddle boating and nature walks to world-class theater productions. Not bad for a town of 400 residents, all of whom seem genuinely happy you are there.

“It’s a perfect mountain kingdom protected by a circle of mountains and a beautiful lake,” says longtime local Bob Scott who owns Bob Scott’s Authentic Indian Jewelry in town. “We have a lot of fun in Grand Lake, and we want visitors to enjoy it as much as we ourselves enjoy it. And we mean that.”

The best part is very few people who visit Rocky Mountain National Park travel to Grand Lake. Back in the day, it took three arduous days by stagecoach to reach Grand Lake from Denver. Today, the trip only takes a couple of hours. But 80 percent of park visitors enter through Estes Park because of its proximity to Colorado’s Front Range. If Estes is the park’s popular child, Grand Lake is the mysterious aunt who shows up at the family reunion and dazzles everyone with her natural beauty and understated wildness.

If you’ve never had an aunt like that, all the more reason to visit Grand Lake, Colo.

Grand Lake may be one of the last remaining towns in America where you literally can walk everywhere. For kids, it spells freedom. For adults, it makes every transition to a new activity hassle-free. When you arrive in town, park your car immediately and leave it there until you are ready to explore Rocky Mountain National Park.

Relax on the Water

Paddleboarding on Grand Lake
Paddleboarding on Grand Lake by Grant Ordelheide

The town is home to Grand Lake, the lake, the largest and deepest natural alpine lake in the state.

In the morning, Grand Lake is like a sheet of glass, making it the best time to be on the water with the family. In the afternoon, the wind picks up and storms roll in, putting a quick end to any boating activity. You can rent kayaks, paddle boats, stand-up paddleboards and more from businesses located on the lake’s shore. Consider the brightly colored paddle boats, which enable your kids to pedal and steer while you sit in the back and enjoy some of the most stunning views of the Rockies. Don’t forget to bring along snacks and water bottles to keep your crew energized and hydrated as they navigate the waters of Colorado’s largest and deepest natural lake.

The town’s white-sand beach is a stone’s throw away from the rental boat docks, and it’s a fantastic place to spend time reading and playing in the warm sand. Bring portable beach chairs for the adults and sand toys for the kids to really settle into the beach scene. Jumping in the water in the designated swimming area is always an option, if you’re courageous enough to brave the frigid temperatures.

Read more: Fun on the water in Grand Lake.

Explore Charming Grand Avenue

Downtown Grand Lake
Downtown Grand Lake by Gloria Wadzinski

A two-minute walk from the beach lies Grand Lake’s bustling little downtown with its charming historic boardwalk. Founded in 1881, the village still embraces its original rustic architecture style, although it’s much more than a small mountain outpost. More than 60 shops, restaurants and galleries line the downtown area, captivating visitors with their charm.

Polly's Sweet Shop in Grand Lake, Colorado.
Polly’s Sweet Shop by Grant Ordelheide

Don’t miss the green-painted chalet that houses Polly’s Sweet Shop. Established in 1957, it’s a longtime local favorite known for its friendly service, delicious waffle cones and irresistible ice cream flavors like cookie dough and huckleberry. With your cone in hand, have a seat with your family on one of the wooden benches in front of the shop. You’ll find some of the best people watching west of the Continental Divide.

See World-Class Performances

In the evening, head to the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre where Hollywood actors David Hasselhoff and David Arquette worked as young thespians. Offering three shows every summer, professional actors take the stage and perform popular Broadway musicals like Les Miserables and The Addams Family. Buy your tickets early as the word is out about this gem. Completed in 2011, this jewel-box theater seats 300 people. There’s not a bad seat in the house. (

Read more: 9 Grand Adventures in Grand County

For more information:
Grand County Colorado Tourism Board