Five Gorgeous Places for Families to Picnic in Colorado
Consider this a fail-safe formula for a good day: Pack a meal, round up favorite people, find a pretty spot, spread out a blanket, then relax and enjoy your food surrounded by nature and fresh air. It hardly matters whether the menu includes carrot sticks or confit. What’s really important is the company and the setting. But Colorado is loaded with great picnic spots, so selecting one can be difficult. Fortunately, the state is also full of award-winning travel writers and nature photographers — people who thrive on seeking out peaceful, picturesque destinations. Here, a handful of them reveal their favorite locations for a Rocky Mountain picnic.
Castlewood Canyon State Park, Franktown
“When I am in Denver and looking for a place to picnic, Castlewood Canyon State Park is my first choice. It also makes for a great rest stop when we take the back way to Colorado Springs, down (Colorado) 83. A few moderate hikes (there) can help work up your appetite.” — Matt Forster, author of “An Explorer’s Guide to Colorado”
Getting there: To reach the main entrance of Castlewood Canyon State Park, take Interstate 25 to Castle Rock, exit onto Founders Parkway eastbound. Take Founders Parkway to Colorado 86; go east on 86 4 miles to Franktown. Turn south on Colorado 83 (South Parker Road) and go 5 miles south to the main park entrance. To reach the park’s western entrance, turn onto Castlewood Canyon Road (County Road 51) from Colorado 86 prior to reaching Franktown. parks.state.co.us/parks/castlewood canyon
Eagle Eye Shelter at Mount Falcon Park
“Mount Falcon Park looms above Red Rocks and offers a nice selection of trails, views and the ruins of John Brisben Walker’s old castle. The Eagle Eye Shelter, formerly a getaway cabin, has been stripped down to the bare necessities for a picture-perfect picnic with views of Evergreen, Indian Hills and Mount Evans.” — Eric Peterson, author of “Ramble Colorado: A Wanderer’s Guide to the Offbeat, Overlooked, and Outrageous”
Getting there: To access the park, take the Indian Hills turnoff from U.S. 285, follow Parmalee Gulch Road for 5 miles to Picutis Road, then follow the signs to the west parking area. East access is available from Colorado 8 south of Morrison. Turn west on Forest Avenue and north on Vine Avenue. jeffco.us/openspace
“My favorite spot is the top of Mount Evans, but more for a ‘breakfast-nic’ rather than the traditional picnic.
“As a nature photographer, I usually have to get up before the sun comes up in order to photograph the sunrise. A great place to do that is from the top of Mount Evans. I pack up my favorite cinnamon rolls (homemade whole wheat) and a thermos of hot chocolate or coffee. Even in the dead of summer, it’s pretty chilly at 14,264 feet, so a warm coat and someone to snuggle up with is also in order.
“From up there, you can see almost to Kansas and the sunrises can be glorious. But for a real treat, turn to the west and watch as the first rays of sunlight hit the high peaks of Colorado’s Rockies. . . . Without a doubt, this has to be one of the best breakfast-nic spots in Colorado.” — Frank Weston, “Colorado State Parks & Natural Areas.”
Getting there: From Denver, head west on I-70 for 32.4 miles to Idaho Springs, then take the Mount Evans exit (240). Drive south 15 miles on Colorado 103 to the Mount Evans entrance. It’s another 15 miles to the summit. From Dillon, drive east on I-70 through Eisenhower Tunnel to Idaho Springs, then follow the same directions. mountevans.com
“My very favorite spot for a Colorado picnic is Hecla Junction on the Arkansas River, half an hour north of Salida. Hecla is the only road access to Brown’s Canyon — the wildest stretch of the Arkansas River (and) a boater’s and angler’s paradise. (This stretch of the Arkansas is the most heavily used whitewater in the country, but it never seems crowded in Brown’s Canyon. . . .) The road dead-ends right at the river, so you can picnic under tall cottonwoods in the shadow of rugged canyon walls, with swallows dipping and swooping overhead and watch the boaters bobbing by on rafts and kayaks. The road goes up and over a rocky ridge that gives a spectacular view of the Collegiate Peaks, with more fourteeners than any other range of the Rockies.” — Susan J. Tweit, author of “Colorado Scenic Byways: Taking the Other Road.”
Getting there: Turn off U.S. 285 between mile markers 135 and 136, 14 miles northwest of Salida. Take County Road 194 2.4 miles up and over a steep and winding ridge to Hecla Junction. The picnic area is on the right next to the river. There’s also a great campground. State park fee required. parks.state.co.us/parks/arkansasheadwaters.
Cucharas Pass and Grand Mesa Scenic Byway
“My favorite spots for a summer picnic would be the top of Cucharas Pass on the Highway of Legends Scenic Byway; and the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway. From the middle of June through the middle of August, Cucharas Pass provides incredible vistas, wildflowers galore and lots of space to roam in big open fields. My second spot would be at Land’s End on the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway. With views in three directions, there is always great scenery to enjoy. And for weather watchers, it is a great place to track storms sweeping through the Grand Valley.” — Jim Steinberg, photographer, “Colorado Scenic Byways: Taking the Other Road.”
Getting to Cucharas Pass: The Highway of Legends curves westward from either of its entry points at Walsenburg and Trinidad. The byway passes through the Cuchara and Purgatoire river valleys, into the San Isabel National Forest and over 9,994-foot Chucharas Pass. Starting in Trinidad, follow Colorado 12 west and north to La Veta. Just north of La Veta, Colorado 12 meets with U.S. 160. Follow U.S. 160 to Walsenburg. byways.orgGetting to Grand Mesa Scenic Byway: The byway follows Colorado 65 for its entirety from the northern end (at I-70′s Mesa exit) to the southern terminus at Cedaredge. The byway also includes a spur road that travels along Land’s End Road to Land’s End. grandmesabyway.org
-Elana Ashanti Jefferson: