Taking Root in Colorado – An Interview with Alison Stafford

Skiing, lakes, national parks, fly fishing – it’s all within 30 minutes of our Granby condo.

Alison

Recently I reached out to my high school classmate Alison (Jolin) Stafford to see if she would be willing to answer a few questions that I had about Granby, Colorado, traveling with kids, and prime ski season. She graciously provided me with tons of helpful tips and is letting me share them here.

Family adventures in Granby, Colorado
Fun for the whole family!

Kelly: We went to high school together, but to be honest, I mostly know you from your exciting social media posts about living life in Colorado with your husband and adorable twins. I’d love to know what inspired you to move to Colorado and what you love most about raising young boys there?  

Alison: The mountains brought me west from Kansas City in 2006 for a brief stint in Steamboat Springs.  I hopped back to KC to get my Masters Degree in Nonprofit Management at UMKC, then immediately knew I wanted to be back in Colorado.  I’ve been in the Denver metro area now for 11 years and wouldn’t change a thing.  I’m a nomad at heart, but have delightfully (and surprisingly at times) taken root in Colorado.  Raising my toddler twin boys in the outdoors is something I’m very grateful for – as well as my husband.  Whether the woods of Northern Michigan or on the water boating around KC,  we both grew up loving the outdoors in our respective hometown areas and love that we have an endless array of options for our kiddos to choose from too.  We have short road trips often and always find new treasures to explore.

Kelly: There are so many great places to visit in Colorado, what draws your family to Granby? 

Alison: The proximity to Granby is a major bonus for us as it’s only 1.5 hours door to door from our home to our mountain condo.  Also, we get a lot more bang for our buck while still have ski in/ski out amenities.  Skiing, lakes, national parks, fly fishing – it’s all within 30 minutes of our Granby condo.

Skiing, lakes, national parks, fly fishing – it’s all within 30 minutes of our Granby condo.
The breathtaking view from our condo balcony. Views of Grand Lake & RMNP in the distance. 25 min from the south entrance to the park.

Kelly: What are your best tips for enjoying ski vacations with kids? (How early do they start ski school, do you rotate, is there a kids watch area?) 

Alison: I can’t wait to start our 2 year old twin boys in ski school, but unfortunately we’ll have to wait until next ski season.  Selfishly and shamelessly, it’s one of my driving factors to potty train the little stinkers asap.  For now, since we have a ski in/ski out condo, my husband and I take turns throughout the day.  Convenience is key (with skiing and life).  We’ve also found a great local babysitting service that we use.  With the close proximity, we can take some runs down the mountain, have a quick happy hour, then hit the hot tub all in 3-4 hours.  It’s perfect!

Ski Granby Colorado
Main lift at Granby Ranch Ski resort.
Ski date in Granby Colorado
Day date with the hubs. We have a great sitter through Grand County Sitters.

Kelly: What are your favorite restaurants in Granby/Grand Lake area?

Alison: Easy answers – Tabernash Tavern and also Heck’s Tavern at Devil’s Thumb Ranch.  We’ve gone to both as a date without the kiddos and also with the entire family.  One of the many reasons we love the area – very family friendly everywhere!  Granby is on the brink of a lot of growth and we’re very excited about the new options.

Friends reunion in Granby Colorado
Friends since elementary school girls trip! 

Kelly: When I think of Granby I think of skiing, but I know it’s a year-round destination plus it’s close to Rocky Mountain National Park and other National Forests areas. What other outdoor activities do you enjoy with your family in this area? Any favorite hikes you’d recommend?

Alison: We recently rented a pontoon boat on Lake Granby for Father’s Day and it was a blast.  Being out on the water is simply breathtaking and there’s a lot of options to stop and take it all in.  A HUGE bonus for me is that all of the lakes allow stand up paddle boarding.  That is one of my big hobbies and there are sandy banks a’plenty launch off while the fam hangs out, has a picnic or splashes in the water.  Hikes will be on the agenda soon, but 2 year old toddler twins makes that a little tricky at this point.  My husband is a big fly fisherman so anytime he can get a cast in the water, he’s happy.  Luckily we have private fishing access to the Colorado River via our mountain condo at Granby Ranch.

Heated swimming pool in Granby, Colorado
Snow on the ground still means fun in the (heated) pool.

Kelly: How can people stay at your vacation rental? How far out do people need to book? What is prime ski time? Any other tips?

Alison: We love having other families enjoy our home away from home.  I personally manage our condo, so you’re always working directly with me for any questions or needs.  Bookings and the calendar are current through: https://www.vrbo.com/1219384 I have families that book a year in advance and also availability with short notice at times too.  If we aren’t staying there ourselves, I love for others to stay and enjoy.  Prime ski time is December (holidays) through early April and they recently built in new snow making capabilities which means MORE SNOW!  It’s convenient, not overcrowded, reasonably priced, beautiful and we’ve yet to have a person not fall in love with the area.

Yoga from the Top, Granby Ranch summer Saturday mornings
Yoga from the Top! Granby Ranch summer Saturday mornings.

Guide for Things to do in Estes Park, Colorado This Winter – 1 Day Itinerary

breakfast at a local coffee shop

The first thing on my mind when I wake up on a cold winter morning is drinking a warm cup of coffee. Our day started in downtown Estes Park at our favorite local coffee shop, Kind Coffee. I featured Kind Coffee when I wrote about the Best Places to Have a ‘Cup of Cheer’ in Estes Park. My girls were delighted to get hot chocolates. Along with our coffees, I ordered oatmeal and my husband enjoyed a breakfast burrito.

sledding in rocky mountain national park

The highlight of our day was going sledding as a family. After breakfast, we headed into Rocky Mountain National Park towards Hidden Valley. It is the only place within the park where you are allowed to go sledding. We were immediately hit with a strong blast of winter wind when we opened the doors to our SUV. We bundled up and started walking up hill to find the perfect sled run. Thankfully, the tall pines blocked the gusts. We flew down the hill on our little blue sled. We took turns – I was secretly competing with my husband to see how far I could make the sled go.

sledding at hidden valley in rocky mountain national park

Winter Hike at Lily Lake

After everyone had enough sledding, we decided to head over to Lily Lake for a short winter hike. The lake was mostly frozen over, but not solid. The wind made a marble pattern across the top. We enjoyed views of Longs Peak, the highest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Lily Lake frozen in ice. Views of Longs Peak, the highest mountain in rocky mountain national park

lunch

For lunch we went to my husband’s favorite sandwich shop. Scratch Deli makes fresh, delicious sandwiches. We took our meals back to our cabin and enjoyed lunch around our table. After lunch, we rested for awhile. We took showers and changed out of our snow gear. The girls happily played with each other, but refused to nap.

afternoon scenic drive around estes park

We decided to carry out our secret nap plan. An afternoon drive is a great way to explore the surrounding area. We saw a large herd of elk near our cabin. The girls drifted off to sleep as we cruised along the curvy mountain roads.

herd of elk in rocky mountain national park

shop estes park

In the late afternoon, we headed back to downtown Estes Park to go shopping. Cliffhanger Used Books is my favorite place to shop. I picked out three novels and several children’s books. Our total was under $20. Proceeds benefit the Estes Valley Library.

wine tasting in estes park

Happy with my deals, we walked further down the block to do a wine tasting at Snowy Peaks winery. The girls enjoyed their colorful play room and got to pick out a special rock from their treasure chest after they cleaned up the toys that entertained them while we sipped local wines.

family dinner in downtown estes park

For dinner we headed to a restaurant that has become a family-tradition, Mama Rose’s. The girls shared a milk flight and enjoyed spaghetti (our oldest) and meatballs (our youngest).

mountain retreat

After a full day, we headed back to our cabin. On a short trip, it’s hard to decide what to fit in. I hope our winter 1-day winter itinerary is helpful for anyone planning a trip to Estes Park this season. If you have any questions or suggestions, please comment below.

Winter Hike to Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

Flying out of Northwest Arkansas regional airport (xna) to Denver

Last week we took a spontaneous trip out to Rocky Mountain National Park to play in the snow. It was the first time that I flew out of the airport in Northwest Arkansas. I was impressed with the ease of the small airport. We were able to walk from our parking spot right into the airport. Parking was less than $10/day. We easily found our gate and there were several places to grab a meal or purchase a magazine.

Family amenities at XNA include a giant chess board
Family amenities at XNA include a giant chess board.

It was also the first time I attempted to fly with both girls without my husband. Since we were flying out of a small airport, the plane we traveled in had two seats on each side. The girls (ages 5 and 2) sat on one side of the aisle, and I sat on the other. Loaded with Kindles and Halloween leftovers, we happily made it through the two-hour flight to Denver.

Ready for take off from Northwest Arkansas Airport to Denver Colorado
Ready for take off!

The contrast between the airport in Northwest Arkansas and the busy Denver International Airport was huge. Luckily, I have some experience navigating the Denver airport. We were happy when we spotted my husband waiting for us at arrivals after getting off the train between concourses. With work visits scheduled along the way, he drove out to Colorado on his own, bringing our luggage and vehicle with him.

Hiking in the snow – alberta falls

Once in Colorado, we were ready to get out in the snow. We bundled up our family and headed into Rocky Mountain National Park. We decided to hike to Alberta Falls beginning at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead which sits at 9,180 ft. in elevation.

Glacier Gorge trailhead to Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

At this altitude, there was a lot of snow and ice on the trail, so my husband and I both wore Yaktrax on our shoes to help with traction.

Yaktraxs help with traction in the snow
Yaktraks on hiking boots help with traction in snow.

The hike gains 220 ft of elevation and is a little under 1 mile each way. Our oldest daughter was able to hike most of it on her own. She did some slipping and sliding, so we were careful to hold her hand in spots we thought might be precarious.

winter hiking in rocky mountain national park

The weather was cold, but since we bundled up and kept moving, we felt pretty comfortable with the trees protecting us from the wind and the sun shining above.

kid friendly hiking in rocky mountain national park

The trail to Alberta Falls is well maintained, even in the snow. This is a very popular trail during the peak summer months. Many times when the Glacier Gorge parking lot is full, we have started this hike from Bear Lake.

trail signage to alberta falls and bear lake in rocky mountain national park.

We think Alberta Falls is one of the Best Waterfall Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. This was my first time hiking to Alberta Falls during the late fall/winter season. The snow and ice looked like a layer of sparkling white icing on the cliffs and boulders.

ice and snow in rocky mountain national park.

Alberta Falls is a powerful waterfall, but on this visit there was little visual evidence. Buried under the snow and ice, we could still hear water rushing underneath.

alberta falls covered in snow

The trip back down to the trailhead was equally as beautiful as the journey up. I didn’t mind when my daughter frequently stopped to practice writing her name in the snow with a stick ‘wand’ she found, because I could look up and see snow dusted mountains towering in the distance.

snow covered mountains in rocky mountain national park

The highlight of the trail for the girls was when their Dad slid down the final steep hill with them.

sliding down snow covered hill in rocky mountain national park

I highly recommend hiking to Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park anytime of year. If you want a quiet hike and a front-row seat to see this landmark, winter is a great time to visit.

If you plan to hike during the winter, make sure to keep an eye on the weather and talk to the helpful park rangers about trail and road conditions. I got the trail stats for this post from one of our favorite guide books, Rocky Mountain National Park: The Complete Hiking Guide by Lisa Foster.

More snowy hikes in rocky mountain national park

A Winter Walk in Moraine Park That’s Worth Freezing For

Frozen river in Moraine Park
We chose Moraine Park because at 8,080 ft of elevation there is substantially less snow compared to areas of the park with higher altitude.

Lily Lake Loop on a Snowy Spring Morning

Winter hike around Lily Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
Snow covered hike around Lily Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park