Are you ready to start planning the perfect summer family vacations and adventures? A lot of times I start planning much earlier in the year, but when spring hits I allow myself to really dig into the details and begin to daydream about summer days on the lake. We love to find new things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado, our absolute favorite lake retreat!
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Did you know Grand Lake is the largest natural lake (meaning not man-made) in Colorado? Also, it’s on the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park so can be a great base to avoid the crowds of Estes Park and explore not only the Grand Lake area but the Park as well. There are just so many things to love about Grand Lake, from the historic boardwalk to the burger and ice cream shop on the beach, to the spectacular hikes nearby.
So let’s dig in. What are some of the best things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado as a family?
Awesome things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado
Why do I love Grand Lake so much? For me, it’s the perfect little mountain town on the lake with charm and old-time character. It’s not pretentious, and nearly everyone’s friendly and ready to enjoy themselves on the lake. In addition, it’s super kid-friendly. Did I mention it’s also the most beautiful idyllic spot?? So, if you get tired of reading a book in your beach chair by the lake or your kids drag you away, here are some fun and entertaining things to do.
Trail Ridge Road
To get to Grand Lake, we like to head west from Estes Park, through Rocky Mountain National Park. The highlight of this route is the awesome Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous road in the United States. Let me tell you, there are some amazing views to be had, and I highly recommend taking your time. Stop to take pictures, explore the visitor’s center, and take the Alpine Ridge trail hike at the top. It’s not a long hike, only .6 miles roundtrip; however, you gain 200 feet so can be a bit of a climb. Slow down and breathe in the views. You won’t regret it!
Play on the beach
Here’s a great way to stay relax and enjoy the view as you read a book and drink your coffee next to the lake. There are a couple of sand beach locations, one in town and open to the public between Grand Lake Marina and Headwaters Marina. We like to stay in one of the cabins in Lemmon Lodge with its own beach and kids’ play structure. Grab a floaty and some sand castle supplies, and the kids are set for the afternoon!
Get some hiking on!
There are some awesome hikes around Grand Lake, at many different levels depending on who’s going. I can’t think of many better things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado than some good hikes. Try one out with your family!
Adam’s Falls – easy
From the East Inlet Trailhead, Adam’s Falls is a great short hike with an impressive reward at the end. I like this hike because it’s accessible to nearly everyone, and kids feel a good sense of accomplishment when they reach the falls. When I was little I remember my father hanging off the side taking pictures, and I was scared to death he was going to fall in. I think he enjoyed that. However! Since then they’ve added more stone walls to block off dangerous areas and make it more kid and family friendly. Also, it doesn’t take very long if you need an activity because it’s only .9 miles roundtrip.
Cascade Falls – medium
If you start at the North Inlet Trailhead, Cascade Falls is a good 6.8-mile roundtrip hike with amazing views and falls. I like it because there’s only a 430-foot elevation gain and doable with older kids. In this area, we’ve seen moose and deer and other wildlife so be on the lookout! It’s also a good trail to spot wildflowers along the trail.
Shadow Mountain Lookout – hard
I’m classifying this hike as hard because it’s difficult for me, and at the ages of 5 and 9 my kids would not get very far. However, it’s a beautiful hike with far-reaching views from the lookout point at the top, and I do recommend it for adults or older, experienced kids. The hike begins at the East Shore Trailhead and is about 9.6 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 1,635 feet. Good luck!
There are many more hikes around, and it’s always good to ask in one of the local hiking shops which hike is good at the moment. For people who are on them all the time, they can generally tell you which ones are in good shape or difficult to navigate because of snow or mud. I also like to hear which area is their current favorite. You can get some good recommendations!
Are you also headed to Estes Park, Colorado?
Fishing things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado
Fishing is my husband’s favorite activity when we get to Grand Lake. There are great opportunities to catch trout, especially rainbow, brown, and lake trout. I’ve been advised the best time is early morning and the best spot where the river runs into the lake. Of course, there are many great fishing spots from land or even from a boat on the lake. If you forget to purchase a Colorado fishing license, most marinas, fishing tackle shops, and even some gas stations sell them. Currently, kids and seniors fish for free, although seniors must still obtain a license. When you get your license be sure to also grab the year’s Colorado Fishing Brochure containing regulations and information on the area.
My son told me recently he’s planning to catch a lot of seaweed and sticks because he doesn’t want to put a hook in the fish. A kind soul.
Get out on the lake
There are many options to get you and your family out floating on Grand Lake. Truly, there are so many things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado. As a family, we like to sometimes take the tour boat from the Headwater’s Marina next to the public beach. We like to take it around the lake because the drivers give you the history of the area, lake facts like depths and fishing, and they also point out all the cabins and the famous people who’ve lived there. You’ll also get random facts about which ones are accessible by road or only by boat or snowmobile.
At several of the marinas, you can rent a canoe, paddleboat, motorboat, pontoon boat, kayak or the newest fad – a stand-up paddleboard (SUP). Have you tried out a stand-up paddleboard? They’re those things that look like big surfboards you stand on with a paddle. I’ve even seen people doing yoga on them, but so far I’ve been a chicken to try one. Therefore, this summer’s the time! I will get out on an SUP, and it’s really not the end of the world if you fall in, right? 😉
My kids always love to go out on what we call a “nature hunt”. This is one of their favorite things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado. You can do this on a hike, around town, or just as you wander around your cabin. Be on the lookout for animals such as hummingbirds, deer, elk, moose, coyotes. We try to take pictures when we can, and my daughter likes to draw a picture of each animal spotted in your journal. There are also some beautiful wildflowers and plants to see around, and we always love seeing the Colorado state flower, the Columbine.
I’m a complete history geek and love to check out local museums when we travel. The Kauffman House Museum is conveniently located near the lake just up from the public beach. It was built in 1892 and run as a hotel by the Kauffman family until 1946. Now it’s run by the Grand Lake Area Historical Society as a museum and open most days from 11 am to 5 pm. Check their website here for more information and hours.
The museum is a fun activity for history buffs like myself and for older kids interested in how people lived in the area over 100 years ago.
Holzwarth Historic Site
Another interesting hike and interactive historic site for the family to visit is the Holzwarth Historic Site, also sometimes called Never Summer Ranch. The trailhead and parking area to visit the ranch is located a little over 7 miles north of the Grand Lake Entrance on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s about 1.3 miles roundtrip from the parking lot to visit the site and historic structures.
During the summer, volunteers help visitors connect to the Holzwarth’s story, the German family who immigrated to Colorado and settle the original homestead and began the ranch. They also teach the homestead way of life and what early dude ranches were like on the border of Rocky Mountain National Park. You might even get to have your picture taken in a period giant bearskin coat!
Grand Lake boardwalk and shopping
Another fun activity is to wander up and down visiting the shops along the historic Grand Lake boardwalk. You may be on a mission to find your perfect cabin style souvenir or just window shop, but it’s a must-do activity for our family. There’s also a conveniently located park and play area for kids about midway down the boardwalk, so a good resting place.
There are so many other things you can find to do if you want such as putt-putt golf, bowling, making s’mores, card games, and fun restaurants to try.
Our favorite restaurant – The Fat Cat Cafe
I’ll do another post later on restaurants and food in Grand Lake, but I have to point out the Fat Cat Cafe here too. Of all the wonderful things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado, of course, you have to eat. Do NOT miss the Fat Cat! We absolutely love the food and the people who run this place. Truly, I don’t know how she does it, but the sausage, yes I said breakfast sausage, is to die for. I love pretty much any of the food, but I’d also recommend especially any of the homemade pies. Like the banana cream. The last time I was there I bought a whole one on our way out of town to take home with me it was so good.
Yesterday I walked around my backyard with my son, just sort of to survey the yard work we need to get done. I was also trying to get him to burn some energy because he’d been going crazy being inside so much lately. Did you know that children actually grow faster in spring than other times of the year? So says the book Spring: A Spiritual Biography of the Season by Schmidt and Felch, and I really believe it to be so. Kids have been cooped up more all winter and are ready to run and grow!
Back to our explorations, we discovered some tulip and crocus leaves starting to peak out through the old leftover fall leaves we planned to clean out. I LOVE spring flowers, lilac bushes starting to bloom, and the sun warming off the chill in the air. It’s spring, and do you know what that means? Yes, indeed, it’s time to plan a trip to Grand Lake, Colorado!
At least, that’s what it means to me. Flowers coming up through the snow are the clear signal I’m allowed to begin dreaming of our June trip to Grand Lake. It’s truly one of my favorite spots on this earth, and I hope you get to visit one day. Try out any or all of these activities, and if you discover something else awesome I’ve left out please give a shout-out in the comments below!
Things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado.