Deep lakes, thick forests and the good old Colorado work-hard, play-harder attitude define mountainous Grand County, home to Winter Park, Grand Lake, Granby, Kremmling and Hot Sulphur Springs. World-renowned hot springs, working guest ranches and Rocky Mountain National Park are just the tip of the must-do list when the weather is warm.
(If you're visiting in wintertime, Grand County is an endless wonderland of snowshoeing and cross-county skiing, sleigh rides, snowmobiling, ice skaiing, sledding and more. Winter Park Resort's deep snow and incredibly diverse terrain make it a favorite skiing and snowboarding destination with beginners and experts alike. Nearby, the much smaller Ski Granby Ranch is known as a long-time family favorite.)
Start your voyage in Winter Park with a chairlift ride to 10,700 feet above sea level. Once the snow melts, Colorado’s longest continually operated ski resort becomes a summer playground, and the swift Zephyr Express lift will take you from the base area to mountaintop views of the Continental Divide and the Fraser Valley in just six minutes.
Downhill bikers flock to the award-winning resort for its ramps, jumps and top-to-bottom terrain, while the alpine slide sends summer sledders down the mountain on more than 3,000 feet of bobsled-like track. The adventure continues with a climbing wall, 18 holes of mini-golf, bungee trampolines and a human maze, along with an events calendar chock full of music and beer festivals, a chili cook-off and kid-friendly outdoor movie nights.
In the afternoon, go north to the laid-back county seat of Grand Lake, where hints of the village’s Western character are revealed in its historic boardwalks and hitching posts outside shops and restaurants.
Grand Lake is Colorado’s deepest and largest natural lake and is a magnet for summer fun-seekers looking to ski, fish, camp, sail or relax on the sandy beach. Rent a pontoon boat or a canoe to take some leisurely laps on the water, look up for eagles and down for trout — some shallow spots in the snowmelt-fed lake are nearly translucent. The lake is also popular with jet skiers and water skiers who love to pick up speed on the water's expansive acrege.
Take a short, rewarding hike less than a mile from town to Adams Falls and see one of the beautiful waterfalls that feed into Grand Lake.
Venture a mile from town to the western entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park. This side of the massive, 415-square-mile park receives more snow and rain than its eastern counterpart in Estes Park and is comprised of lush forests, constantly flowing high-mountain streams and the occasional moose grazing near willow thickets.
Located under the Never Summer Mountains and just inside the park, visitors find the Never Summer Ranch, built by Denver saloonkeeper John Holzwarth in 1917 after Prohibition pushed him into a sudden career change. Weary travelers coming over the Continental Divide would pay Holzwarth $2 a day for room and board. Take a volunteer-guided living-history tour of the ranch, which has been restored to its 1920s splendor.
Go straight to the source of some of the state’s most pristine whitewater and book a rafting trip on the upper Colorado River. Grand County is a prime rafting destination with continuous flows as the river carves its way from the Continental Divide to the Grand Canyon and eventually into the Pacific Ocean just off the coast of Mexico.
This section of the river is perfect for families and those who want a mellow float and stunning backdrops of jagged red canyons and green valleys. Guides in Kremmling and the nearby ranching town of Radium are on hand to take you down the river.
Embrace the Ute Indian tradition of soaking in mineral-rich pools and retreat to Hot Sulphur Springs, a town named for the 20 or so springs dotting the landscape. Believed to hold medicinal healing powers, volcanic rock 35,000 feet below the earth’s surface heats the water that fills the pools at the town’s namesake resort and spa.
The resort is the primary draw, but the town — with a population of approximately 500 — also features a rustic main street with shops, diners and the Pioneer Village Museum displaying the tools and clothing of Grand County’s earliest settlers.
With its rolling mountain valleys and secluded setting, Grand County is a natural home for dude ranches. Expect nothing but the best at these all-inclusive vacation spots. Proprietors roll out the country hospitality to those seeking an authentic Old West experience, offering activity menus that include the expected horseback riding, hiking and square dancing, and the not-so-typical tennis, yoga and volleyball.
Guests choose which activities to participate in — working with cattle or golfing, joining a hayride or hitting the hot tubs — and enjoy home-style meals worth writing home about in between the action.