Grand County in the heart of central Colorado’s Rocky Mountains is about as aptly named as an area can be.
Recreational activities are so plentiful and attractive it’s hard to fit them all into a week’s excursion.
The centerpiece of the county, and a show-stopping site at that, Rocky Mountain National Park is true wonder.
The park is composed of 265,000 stunning acres of scenery sliced by a switch-backing road providing access to a mere morsel of the visual feast at hand.
Majestic mountains, some scratching through the clouds above 14,000 feet, and wild coursing rivers careening madcap down steep cliff sides deliver an unending cacophony of eye-popping natural glamour.
Here eagles soar and moose mosey in idyllic meadows and normally elusive marmots practically beg for handouts among the high, craggy rocks.
It is a wonderland of nature with a seemingly unlimited and boundless ability to amaze and awe.
Perched on the edge of the Rocky Mountain National Park (rockymountainnationalpark.com), the small burg of Grand Lake is a primary gateway to the park.
But the town itself rests alongside the 500-surface-acre lake of the same name, which is Colorado’s largest and deepest natural body of water. Fed by the headwaters of the Colorado River, the lake is home to the Grand Lake Yacht Club and at 8,367 feet in elevation is one of the highest yacht anchorages in the world.
Hitting the lake in a watercraft of any kind is a major pastime. Water skiing, pontoon boating, sailing and fishing are all a part of the myriad ways to enjoy Grand Lake. Fishermen in particular will enjoy dueling with rainbow trout, brown trout, brook trout, mackinaw and kokanee salmon.
Paddleboarding and kayaking are gaining popularity, but as it is fed by snowmelt, the lake is relatively chilly until later in the season. But once it warms up, it’s also a great place for a dip.
Farther down the Colorado River, taking a rafting trip by Mad Adventures (madadventures.com) is an easy way to cool off under the cliffs. While the river somewhat farther north is a raging beast, with Class 5-plus rapids that only experts should attempt, down a bit lower, the river widens into a leisurely pace, dotted by just enough whitewater to get the heart pumping a bit.
“It was my first time rafting, and it was a really good experience,” said Ashlin Meyer, 19, a biology and physiology student at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. “I like the surroundings of everything. It was very picturesque, very beautiful with the mountains.”
At one spot, there’s a 15-foot cliff drop into the river, from which Meyer and her boyfriend did the big leap.
“I’ve never been cliff diving,” said 22-year-old Jacob Fox, a music major at UW-Whitewater. “You see your girlfriend do something, you might as well follow suit. We’re out here, so we might as well do everything we can. Rafting was a new experience. I like being out in the open and having to work as a team to keep going in the right direction.”
The 8,500-acre C Lazy U Ranch (clazyu.com) is geared for families to forget about their fast-paced lives.
With each stay a week long, guests pack horseback riding, swimming, fishing, hiking, mountain biking and a variety of activities into an inclusive getaway.
“It truly is a blessing for wholesome family bonding,” general manager David Craig said. “I think in this day and age where people are required to respond to emails instantaneously and children and adults are oftentimes glued to a cellphone and entertainment means plopping a kid in front a TV, I think this harkens back to a whole different time where the main activity is being outside.”
Rope climbing and zip lines pump the adrenaline, while skeet shooting and learning to shoot bow are first-time activities for many guests.
Yet there is an earthy, tranquil side to the ranch, as well.
“The most amazing thing for a guest to experience is the jingle,” Craig said of the twice-a-day ritual of taking the ranch’s 200-some horses to and from the pasture. “It’s a line of horses probably a quarter-mile long. It has a certain energy, so unlike anything else you do in your life. It’s just like the authentic, quintessential Western experience. Horses and cowboys and dust and the sounds of hoofs. Horses neighing. There’s just something about the smell of horses and leather.”