Most Eastern Nebraska folk don’t mind a little bit of a drive if it means vacationing in a beautiful destination. Colorado sure fits that bill! The Rocky Mountains are breathtaking, and the towns and cities that touch them have so much to offer for travelers. From outdoor adventures to fun restaurants and bars, Colorado is the perfect getaway. For this trip, we spent most of our time in the Keystone, Colorado area.
Most of the people in our group enjoy skiing or snowboarding, and Keystone is our favorite place to go to hit the slopes. Since there were seven of us driving from Lincoln to Keystone with all our snowboards and luggage, we had two options: drive separately or rent a van. If you’re anything like us, you know that part of the fun is road-tripping together, so we didn’t want to split up. Luckily, RENT A VAN (rentavanlincoln.com) in Lincoln has an impressive fleet of vehicles and vans that can get you where you’re going for a reasonable price, especially when you’re splitting the cost of gas with a big group. We were able to fit all of our things in the van and still have room to breathe. RENT A VAN let us pick up the van the day before our trip so we were able to get the majority of our things packed ahead of time and we could leave when we wanted to the next day. We rented their 12-seat van, but they also have 8, 10, and 15 seaters for these kinds of trips. Amenities included front and rear climate control, speakers in the front and back so we could all jam at the same volume, cruise control, backup sensors, and rollover stability control, which was especially nice for the snowy/icy conditions of Colorado.
If you’re going to a resort in Colorado to ski or snowboard, we highly recommend staying near the base. It will make your life a whole lot easier as traffic can be a doozy. Plus, then you get to be close to all the shops and restaurants at the resort! We stayed in the East Keystone neighborhood of Keystone Resort (keystoneresort.com), owned by Vail Resorts. East Keystone has condos and private homes that are surrounded by beautiful trees right along the Snake River. If the weather is nice enough, it’s just a short scenic walk to River Run Village where there is mountain access and many attractions and amenities, such as cozy fire pit seating! Since it was extra cold and snowy on our trip, not to mention we were carrying our ski gear, we would have enjoyed East Keystone’s convenient, free in-resort shuttle system. However, we decided to take the van, for which we were thankful for Keystone’s many parking options and drop-off locations. At other resorts, parking can be a headache or super expensive, but Keystone does a good job of having a variety of areas to park, some of which are free. Our recommendation, if you take your own vehicle, is to park in the lot that is just east of the gondola. It is more expensive, but it’s the closest access you’ll find. This is nice if you bring snacks or drinks with you in the car and want to quickly get to them without a far walk.
River Run Village is the main base area with mountain access via the River Run Gondola and Summit Express lift. What makes Keystone such an attractive selection is that it caters to all experience levels. The gondola offers a relaxing, enclosed way to get up the mountain…or down if you’re just there for the views! In total, Keystone consists of three mountains – Dercum Mountain, North Peak, the Outback – and five bowls. You’ll find runs of all difficulties on Dercum, the front mountain. There are a couple of areas strictly dedicated to beginners. There are also beautiful Greens and Blues (easier). If you are with a group that ranges in experience, these Greens and Blues have good side jumps and tree runs for the experts while the others can coast down the open middle. If you follow Keystone’s great signage, you can follow the right trails to the Montezuma Lift, which allows you to go back to the summit without having to go all the way back down to the base where the lines are usually longer. Keystone has also manufactured a worthy terrain park with its own lift so you can keep challenging yourself to hit jumps, rails, half pipes, and more. We were blessed with a lot of snowfall while we were there so the powder was amazing, but Keystone also has the capacity to make a lot of snow itself so that the runs stay fresh even when the forecast is dry. What sets Keystone apart the most is its night skiing on weekends and holidays. You can keep the adventure going until 8 p.m. on the runs that stay lit up on the front side of Dercum. No other resort offers this. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience to go down the mountain with the sun. The back mountains, North Peak and the Outback, have a lot to offer as well. There are really good Blacks (harder) with steep moguls, trees, and access to the bowls. Plus, there are usually fewer people on the back, which is nice if you’ve got the need for speed. If you make it to the top of the Outback, brace yourself for the most stunning view. It’ll make your whole trip worth it.
After wearing ourselves out on slopes for two days, we were ready to give our bodies a break. So we answered the call of the Cottonwood Hot Springs (cottonwood-hot-springs.com), located in the high-mountain ecosystem of Collegiate Peaks Range which borders Cottonwood Creek within the San Isabel National Forest. There aren’t many natural hot springs in the Keystone area to choose from, so if you’re planning a trip to the area, block out an afternoon/evening to experience Cottonwood Hot Springs. It’s about a two-hour drive from Keystone, but the journey is almost as peaceful as the destination. This will give you a chance to take in beautiful sights and pass through quaint little mountain towns.
You’ll want to spend at least a couple of hours at Cottonwood, and even longer if you fancy a relaxing massage. There are five separate, gravity-fed hot water pools that make up this oasis, plus a bonus bath for the brave. Even though they all nearly kiss each other, each of the five geothermal pools is slightly cooler or hotter than the next. According to Cottonwood’s website, these grounds were used for centuries by the Ute Indians as a spiritual gathering place. Today, people come from all over the world to reap the benefits of the curative waters. If you visit Cottonwood Hot Springs on a frigid winter day like we did, you may be tempted to head straight to the hottest one and stay there, but you won’t be getting the full experience. Test your body and embrace how it reacts as you go from the lowest waters to the highest, and then repeat the process. This is a practice known as contrast hydrotherapy, which involves alternating hot and cold water treatment. You can really do this by going down to the river where the waters are freezing. Cottonwood Hot Springs has steps that will lead you down to a confined area on the creek where you will awaken all your senses the second your littlest toe submerges. A couple of us did this not once but twice! It didn’t feel pleasant at the time, but afterward, our bodies felt rejuvenated. Cottonwood Hot Springs is truly a place of serenity and healing. The rocks, the trees, and the steam rising from the waters will put you in a state of pure bliss.
The final highlight of the trip was our time spent dining and dancing at GOAT Soup & Whiskey (soupandwhiskey.com) ! Located right in the heart of Keystone, GOAT is a gem in plain sight. The menu has a wide variety of delicious, freshly made burgers, sandwiches, wraps, wings, and more. However, as the name suggests, the soups are truly what put the GOAT at the next level. It’s perfect because few things sound better than a nice warm bowl of homemade soup on a chilly day in the mountains. Our group tried a handful of items from the menu, but the two that stood out the most for all of us were the Broccoli Cheddar Soup and the Bacon & Bleu Burger. The three-cheese Broccoli Cheddar soup was so savory. It didn’t have the fattening taste that some cheese-based soups do. The Bacon & Bleu Burger won us over with its creamy blue cheese sauce and balsamic touch. We also recommend the Butternut Squash Soup, which has a nice earthy flavor to it. Also, Paige still can’t stop thinking about the Chicken Noodle Soup! The Chicken Green Chili is a staple at GOAT, which checks out because each bite makes you feel cozier and cozier while your taste buds are doing little flips. A couple of other shining stars on the menu include the Philly Cheese Steak, the Cuban Sandwich, and the Chicken Bacon Racon Wrap. We also raved about the Sweet Chili Wings! What made everything so good was knowing that it was all freshly made by the GOAT’s awesome chef, Sean Woods. Sean has a lot of experience in the kitchen, and he’s been perfecting the ingredients at the GOAT for about eight years. He was nice enough to come to our table to make sure everything tasted great, which it did. The manager, Derek Jackson, was also very hospitable to our group. You can feel good about eating at a place where the people actually care.
The GOAT is also a great place to grab a drink and live it up for the night. They have a great selection of local whiskeys and brews. You can order a drink with your meal or go to the bar to grab something to sip on while you play a game of pool or darts! On the other side of the GOAT, there is another bar with more of a nightclub vibe. On weekends, the GOAT brings in live music and they have a dance floor so you can bust a move. There is also a shuffleboard table and some arcade games. We had a blast, and we know you will too if you visit the GOAT while you’re in Keystone!