Berthoud Pass to Rabbit Ears Pass on US 40 – June 1, 2020

The destination for our first day on the road for the summer was Stagecoach State Park near Steamboat Springs. To get there, we chose a scenic route on US 40 from Berthoud Pass to Rabbit Ears Pass. It was a route that we had not been on for years and it was prettier than we remembered. Only the section of US 40 from Granby to Kemmling is listed as part of an official Colorado Scenic Byway, the Colorado River Headwaters Scenic Byway. However, the other parts of the drive were just as beautiful in our opinion.

On the way up to Berthoud Pass, we stopped at one of the bends in the switchbacks to check out a waterfall. We don’t remember seeing that waterfall before. It probably caught our eye this time because it was spring and the water was gushing. There isn’t much else to see besides the waterfall and the surrounding mountain peaks, but it was definitely worth pulling over for.

We stopped at the top of the pass to check out the view. At the pass, there used to be a small ski area, but it closed in 2002 and the lift and lodge have been torn down. There is a new warming hut there with toilets, but it was closed when we were there. There was still a couple patches of snow on the slope and a handful of snow boarders were trying to take advantage of the small amount of remaining snow. Since the ski season was cut short this year as the resorts were ordered to close in March, we’re sure there were plenty of skiers and snowboarders finding creative ways to sneak some runs in.

Since our first experiences on Berthoud Pass in the mid 1990’s, the road had been improved quite a bit. It is still a windy, steep road with plenty of switchbacks, but the road is wider with more guard rails. Our memories of the first time on the pass in the winter was somewhat of a white-knuckle experience since we were new to mountain driving and the road was narrow, with steep drop offs and hardly any guard rails. We remember hoping the trees we slow us down some as we tumbled down the steep slope if we should ever slip over the edge.

After descending down the other side of Berthoud Pass, we entered the town of Winter Park. Winter Park is a ski resort town. When we first came to Colorado, there was no resort surrounding the ski slopes and you could catch a shuttle bus from the town, which is just a couple of miles down the road. However, now the base of the ski slope is engulfed in a large resort village of lodging, shops and restaurants.

For our lunch, we stopped at Hideaway Park in the middle of town. The park has changed. It used to be a basic park with a playground. Now there is a skate/bike park and a large outdoor stage in front of a large grassy area called the Rendezvous Event Center. It looked like a great place to enjoy an outdoor concert, whenever they would resume again. The playground was marked as closed, but a couple of kids were still playing on the equipment. However, most of the kids were in the skate park. The picnic tables were spaced far apart. We ate our picnic lunch on one of the tables. Thankfully, the restrooms were open.

We feel the town is losing some of its small town charm. Quite a few new apartment or condo buildings were taking over the town. Across the street from the park is the hotel where we stayed for our anniversary quite a few years ago. It is now called Vesquez Creek Inn, but it didn’t seem to have the same appeal as before. It used to be more of a Bavarian style hotel, but now it looks like it is lacking the detail and charm it once had. According to their website, they are closed which may explain why it doesn’t look quite so inviting anymore.

As we drove through Granby, we noticed the pretty murals on many of the buildings. The murals are a recent addition as part of their Granby Mural Project. We almost stopped for ice cream, but there was a line of people not practicing social distancing, so we drove on. Then we joined the Colorado River Headwaters Scenic Byway. Just past Hot Sulphur Springs, US 40 enters a pretty canyon, Byers Canyon. After passing through the town of Kremmling, the canyon gives way to wide open expanses in the area around Wolford Mountain Reservoir, before starting the climb to Rabbit Ears Pass. The National Forest campgrounds near Rabbit Ears Pass were all marked as closed.

There are small advertisement signs along US 40 for F.M. Light & Sons, starting about an hour outside of Steamboat Springs. The signs were about a quarter to half a mile apart. Some were even closer together. They reminded us of the signs for Wall Drug that you see all over South Dakota. F.M. Light & Sons is a western apparel store in Steamboat Springs that opened back in 1905.

After Rabbit Ears Pass, we left US 40 and headed south to reach Stagecoach State Park. As we drove by some farm fields, we noticed some unusual looking large birds in the field, so we stopped. They were sandhill cranes! Left Buddy then said, “Well, I guess now we don’t need to go to Alamosa in October for the sandhill crane migration!”. And Right Buddy's immediate response was “Wrong!”.

As we settled into our camp site at Stagecoach State Park late that afternoon, we reflected on our first day back on the road. Even though we spent most of the day driving, it was a very rewarding day. Traveling is not just about the destination, but also about enjoying the road and journey you take to get there.

Check out our related video: Berthoud Pass to Rabbit Ears Pass on US 40

(RB)