At the edge of the magnificent Rocky Mountain National Park‘s western entrance lies the idyllic town of Grand Lake, Colorado. The downtown area serves as a bustling hub of activity, where rustic charm meets modern convenience. When you visit Grand Lake, stroll along the historic boardwalk, lined with an array of locally owned shops, galleries, and eateries, each with its own distinctive character.
History of Grand Lake, Colorado
Before the turn of the 20th century, Grand Lake, Colorado, held a rich and storied history shaped by Native American tribes, fur trappers, and pioneer pursuits of gold and silver. The area, known for its pristine beauty and abundant natural resources, attracted diverse individuals seeking adventure, fortune, and a place to call home.
Long before European settlers arrived, the Ute and Arapaho Indians inhabited the region surrounding Grand Lake. These Native American groups revered the area for its abundant wildlife, lush forests, and the healing powers they believed the pristine waters possessed.
Grand Lake was initially named Spirit Lake by the Ute Tribe because they thought the cold water was the resting place of departed souls. For centuries, they traversed the mountains, fished in the lakes, and established temporary settlements in harmony with the land. Grand Lake is the largest and deepest natural lake in Colorado, covering more than 500 acres at the surface level.
Changes in the 1800s
The 1800s brought waves of explorers, trappers, and prospectors to the region. With the discovery of gold and silver in nearby mining districts, Grand Lake became a hub of activity. Miners flocked to the area, seeking their fortune in the rugged mountains. Grand Lake was a supply center and transportation hub, providing essential goods and services to the mining camps that dotted the landscape.
The town of Grand Lake itself began to take shape in the late 1800s around the largest natural lake in Colorado. In 1879, an intrepid settler named Joseph L. Wescott established the first permanent homestead on the shores of the lake. The town expanded rapidly, with hotels, saloons, and businesses springing up to cater to the burgeoning population’s needs.
The 1900s Growth in Grand Lake, Colorado
In the early 1920s, entrepreneur Roe Emery opened the Grand Lake Lodge, and in 1931 the completion of Trail Ridge Road across the west side of the Rocky Mountain National Park offered tourists a scenic drive to Grand Lake from Estes Park. The lodge was also a stopping point for travelers enjoying water activities on beautiful Grand Lake, Shadow Mountain Lake, or Lake Granby.
The Denver, Northwestern, and Pacific Railway, completed in 1904, further bolstered Grand Lake’s prominence. The railroad provided a vital link for the world to connect to Denver, thus facilitating trade and tourism. People across the country flocked to Grand Lake, enticed by its scenic beauty and recreational opportunities.
Grand Lake also hosted a vibrant summer social scene during this period. Regattas, boat races, and fishing tournaments drew crowds, and the town became a popular destination for vacationers seeking respite from city life.
Grand Lake, Colorado’s history is a testament to the resilience and determination of those who sought their fortune in the mountains. Today, remnants of the town’s early days can still be seen in older structures, and the spirit of adventure and appreciation for the area’s natural wonders continues to thrive in this mountain paradise.
Today, you can understand Grand Lake’s fascinating history through its local museums.
Kauffman House Museum
For history enthusiasts, the Kauffman House Museum offers an immersive experience of the region’s past. Originally a luxurious hotel in the late 1800s, it now symbolizes Grand Lake’s trailblazing spirit. The museum showcases a fascinating collection of artifacts and archival photos that shed light on the town’s origins.
The Kauffman House Museum, constructed in 1892, was run as a hotel by the Kauffman family until 1946 and is the last remaining log hotel built in Grand Lake before the 1900s. The Grand Lake Area Historical Society, a nonprofit organization, operates and preserves the museum.
Moffat Road Railroad Museum
Embark on a captivating journey into railroad heritage at the Moffat Road Railroad Museum in Granby, Colorado. It’s a 20-minute drive from Grand Lake.
Inside the museum, you’ll discover a treasure trove of artifacts, captivating photos, and memorabilia, collectively painting a vivid picture of the construction and operation of the railway that once linked Grand Lake and Estes Park to the outside world. Delve into the tales of courageous engineers, intrepid explorers, and the relentless spirit of progress that shaped the region.
The museum’s current highlight is the incredible Christmas train display stretching across 1,100 square feet. Watch in awe as six running trains come to life, gracefully winding their way through tunnels, over bridges, and alongside a mesmerizing water feature. Take time to inspect the intricate details, from the bustling auto roadway to the grand ski mountain, complete with two chairlifts. It’s a sight that ignites the imagination of young and old alike.
The Interpretive Center has fascinating railroad equipment at various stages of restoration. Feel the history come alive as you are surrounded by these vintage relics demonstrating a bygone era.
Before you leave, take a moment to browse the museum’s gift shop. Here, you’ll discover a delightful assortment of handcrafted local artisan items and enchanting kids’ toys. It’s the perfect place to find a unique memento of your time in Grand Lake or a special gift for a loved one.
Shopping Experiences: Unique Finds and Artisanal Treasures
Shopping in Grand Lake goes beyond the ordinary. The town’s many specialty boutiques offer unique finds, from handcrafted jewelry to local art.
Cabin Quilt and Stitches
If you like yarn, you’ll be delighted to shop in the Cabin Quilt and Stitches store. Although it caters to the needs of those who quilt and sew, the sheer variety of yarn available is nothing short of impressive.
With over 3000 bolts of cotton, flannel, batik, and other quilting fabrics, the store boasts an extensive selection to please even the most avid quilters. On top of that, there are also kits, patterns, and a range of notions that will satisfy all of your quilting needs. The Colorado-themed quilt kits were delightful.
The Mountain Gal Boutique
Mountain Gal is on the picturesque Grand Lake Boardwalk, offering the perfect blend of Western and bohemian fashion styles. Step inside to find a carefully curated selection of apparel, accessories, jewelry, and luxurious bath & body products from Delish Bodyworks.
Whether you’re searching for the perfect outfit for a night out or a unique souvenir to remember your trip, Mountain Gal has something for you. From cozy sweaters to statement jewelry pieces, you will surely find something that catches your eye. But Mountain Gal isn’t just a shopping destination – it’s an experience. The friendly staff is always on hand to offer personalized styling advice or recommendations for local attractions.
Located on the outskirts of town and conveniently situated near the main highways, The Mountain Market is the ideal grocery shopping destination. As a locally-owned and operated specialty grocery store and quality butcher, they have taken pride in serving the Grand Lake and Rocky Mountain National Park community since 1953.
Shelves are replenished daily with a superb range of fresh produce, high-quality meats, locally-sourced produce, artisanal beer, and other exceptional items such as farm-fresh eggs and specialty roasted coffees.
Live Performances: A Celebration of Local Talent
Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre
With an unmatched vibrant cultural scene, Grand Lake, Colorado, offers guests an opportunity to experience the best in theater, music, and the arts.
One of the most popular venues in the area is the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre. This highly regarded local theater presents various plays and musicals during the summer season, featuring talented performers from all over the country. Whether you’re a seasoned theater-goer or just looking for a fun night out, a visit to the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre will surely be a highlight of your trip.
Gateway Inn Live Music Performances
In addition to the theater, Grand Lake also boasts an incredible music scene. For an authentic taste of Colorado’s musical heritage, check out the Gateway Inn. This intimate concert venue offers an unforgettable experience, with performances taking place amidst the breathtaking beauty of Grand Lake.
Places to Eat in Grand Lake Colorado
Grand Lake’s culinary scene is a gastronomic delight, from hearty breakfasts to sophisticated dinners. Enjoy the taste of locally sourced ingredients. For fine dining, the culinary brilliance of the Rapids Lodge Restaurant is a must-try, offering a refined menu amidst panoramic views of the river.
The Historic Rapids Restaurant
The Historic Rapids Restaurant is perfect for a leisurely lunch or dinner. The restaurant’s menu offers classic American and international-inspired dishes prepared using fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
Choose to dine indoors in the cozy atmosphere of the restaurant’s main dining room or enjoy your meal on the outdoor patio overlooking the tumbling Colorado River fueled by snowmelt from the Continental Divide. Head to the restaurant’s rustic bar for a casual dinner to enjoy a cold beer or glass of wine and some delicious bar food.
Huntington House Tavern
For a more rustic dining experience, check out the Huntington House Tavern at the Grand Lake Lodge. Located in the mountains overlooking Grand Lake, this popular eatery is known for its delicious burgers and home-style cooking. The restaurant also hosts live music on weekends, so you can enjoy some good tunes while you dine. This lodge and restaurant are at the western entrance to Rocky Mountains National Park.
Ceaira’s Sweet Shop
Every trip to Grand Lake, Colorado, should include visiting Ceaira’s Sweet Shop. The green cabin on the boardwalk is filled with homemade treats. The shop offers an array of freshly baked goods from classic cookies. The shop also serves delicious ice cream, snow cones, and sundaes that satisfy any sweet tooth. They’ve been here since the 1950s, and it’s easy to see why this spot is a treat that keeps visitors coming back for more!
Whether you’re looking for an upscale dinner or a casual meal, Grand Lake awaits your hearty appetite. With its charming restaurants, fantastic shopping experiences, educational museums, and unique live entertainment, this breathtaking mountain town is the perfect destination for your next summer getaway.
Places to Stay in Grand Lake Colorado
Grand Lake is the ideal spot for a summer getaway. From luxurious resorts to cozy cabins, there are suitable accommodations to satisfy personal tastes and budgets.
The Rapids Lodge & Restaurant
Considered one of the most iconic lodges in Colorado, The Rapids Lodge & Restaurant, established in 1915, offers guests a unique opportunity to experience mountain living in style.
Perched on the banks of the Colorado River, near the east side of downtown Grand Lake, this lodge property offers spacious accommodations and stunning views of the surrounding mountain ranges. There are separate buildings with cabin accommodation. These cabins are cozy and comfortable, with a kitchenette and standard amenities. The lodge also features a restaurant with a menu featuring locally sourced ingredients.
Grand Lake Lodge Cabins
For a truly rustic experience, book one of the 70 charming guest cabins at the Grand Lake Lodge. The cozy cabins are amidst majestic pine trees, offering a peaceful retreat in this beautiful mountain town. Each guest room is fully equipped with all the comforts you need for an enjoyable stay and access to on-site activities such as fishing, horseback riding, and hiking trails. The Huntington House Tavern provides on-site dining with a panoramic view of Grand Lake.
Grand View Mountain Lodge
The Grand View Mountain Lodge is the perfect spot to relax and unwind from the rigors of everyday life. The resort’s spacious rooms feature modern amenities and private balconies with views of the downtown Grand Lake streets and the mountain ranges. Check their website for upcoming events and live performances.
Grand Lake, Colorado, is the perfect spot for a summer getaway. With its breathtaking mountain views, charming downtown area, and vibrant cultural scene, this destination has much to offer. Nestled near the Rocky Mountain National Park entrance, Grand Lake is an outdoor lover’s paradise, offering countless activities such as camping, fishing, hiking, biking, boating, and more.
Visitors can experience the best in theater, music, and the arts at the local venues or enjoy a delicious meal at one of the area’s unique restaurants. From luxurious resorts to cozy cabins, there’s something suitable for every taste and budget. Whether looking for a laidback escape or an adventure-filled vacation in the summer months, Grand Lake is the answer.
So why wait? Pack your bags, head to The Rocky Mountain National Park, and stay in Grand Lake this summer! You won’t regret it.