(Alternatively titled “How the West Was Fun” but I figured more than a few eyes would roll at the old-school Mary-Kate and Ashley reference. HA! #fanforever)

Anyway, as I mentioned on Monday, last week the boys and I went west to explore beautiful Colorado! Ben’s cousin got married last Saturday outside of Denver, so we went a few days early to explore and visit with family. My brother lives in Denver, Ben and I both have extended family in the area, and Colorado is just so dang fun that we try to go at least once a year. The fresh mountain air and killer views never get old! (Psst: mix of iPhone and DSLR photos ahead!)


We decided to have Ben drive out half a day early with the car, because we’d be there for a week and had a ton of stuff, and pick Lincoln and me up from the airport which we’d be flying into. Ben LOVES long road trips (which are my own personal version of hell!) and the thought of sticking Lincoln in a car for 10 hours vs flying solo with him for 1-1/2 hours was an easy one. We took off in the morning and, thanks to Curious George on the iPad, an empty seat next to us, and multi packed snacks, we made it to Ben’s awaiting arms (and iced lattes – necessary!) in no time.


In addition to the snacks and Curious George, I’d like to thank Thirty One Gift Bags for our flying and overall trip with a toddler success (that isn’t an affiliate link nor is this a sponsored post – their bags are just seriously so handy!) Roomy with TONS of pockets and extra spots for stashing snacks, toys, diapers, and anything in between. I would be a mess without them!


It was almost lunch time when we finally got into the city so we unpacked our bags at the Embassy Suites Downtown Denver (another traveling with a toddler tip: suites with an extra room are key! So is the Embassy Suites complimentary evening cocktail hour. ;) ) then walked over to nearby ModMarket for lunch. They popped up on my Find Me Gluten-Free App and seemed to take special dietary requests/food allergies seriously, a necessity for both Lincoln and me, so we were quickly sold.

I chose the Flat Iron Steak Salad – mixed greens with grilled steak, roasted tomatoes and potatoes, caramelized onions, and balsamic vinaigrette – and downed it in record time. It was just so, so good (which is why I immediately made a copycat at home!) Ben got their pizza and really loved it too. Service at that location was just “ok” but the food made up for it. So did their $2 glasses of wine. Two bucks! Can’t beat it!


The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring all our favorites in downtown Denver. Sadly the Larimer Square Bear is no more. Seriously? Where the heck did a 7 foot tall bear statue go?


And we made a new to us stop at the fountains at Union Station! My brother tipped us off to this awesome find, which did not go unappreciated. It was 97 degrees the day we landed so Lincoln made a beeline for the cold water as soon as he saw the jets.


Another tip? Snag a complimentary towel or two from The Kitchen Next Door bar/restaurant right behind the fountains if your kiddos get wet and you’re unprepared (ahem, us.) They’re free to use – just toss into a nearby basket when you’re done!


Later that week we really covered downtown Denver on foot. If there’s one city in the US that I could really, truly see us moving to someday in the future, it’d be Denver. So close to the mountains and all they have to offer, plus great food, culture – and it’s just getting better. We sure do love it a whole lot!


We didn’t just stay downtown the whole time. A drive through Estes Park – one of the most stunning places on earth – is always on my must-see list when we go to Colorado, and this time was no different.


We were searching for an easy hike within Estes Park and the Googler pointed us to Lily Lake, just outside the town of Estes Park. Lincoln is at an age where he’d rather be running than riding in the stroller, so the little lake that was just a mile around sounded perfect. We pulled up and were treated to this beautiful mountain view!!



Ok, so the lake was gorgeous but also way tinier than we thought. Perfect for Lincoln, who at 24 months made it around easily, but if you’re looking for a legit mountain hike, this probably isn’t going to do it for you. There are trails that snaked off from the lake, so those might be a bit more challenging, but if you simply want a beautiful, serene stroll in the middle of the mountains, this would be perfect.



When we weren’t driving through the mountains or walking around little mountain lakes, we were eating!! The week we were there was a tough one to coordinate with my brother – he had a friend’s rehearsal dinner + wedding on Thurs/Fri, while we had the same on Fri/Sat – but we did manage to meet up for an unforgettable dinner one night at Work & Class. None of us had ever been and a glance at their GF-friendly menu had me very eager to eat!


Reunited and it feels so good! My brother is one of the funniest people I know (hello longboard entrance,) and I love spending any amount of time with him. It was a treat to share dinner that night.


And WHAT a dinner it was. We ordered, ahem, every single meat on the menu…! Work & Class specializes in slow roasted meats – nearly all of which are gluten-free, and we didn’t want to miss a single one. Two kinds of chicken, lamb, trout, goat, pork, beef…it was a feast. Flanked by sides including poblano grits, fried plantains, and homemade meatballs, I wasn’t hungry for another 24 hours after this meal!


I also ordered the Andouille-Lamb sausage and let me tell you it was to die for. The tangy slaw and mustard sauce are seared into my memory.


And if I ever even come close to recreating the sauce that was smothering these meatballs I will consider my life a true success.


All that to say – make SURE to visit Work & Class the next time you are in Denver. We’ve eaten at a lot of restaurants here over the years and it’s definitely one of our top picks!


Cheers to a wonderful dinner with family!


On one of the last free days before wedding festivities commenced, we drove just 30 minutes west of Denver to Evergreen, CO, and their beautiful Elk Meadow Park. EMP has hiking trails that range from easy to hard, plus mountain biking trails too. We chose the “Lazy S” trail, an easy one, and off we went!


As I mentioned on Monday, this was the first trail where I think Lincoln really felt “free” to roam (vs Lily Lake where he had water on one side,) and he. was. GIDDY. Laughing and running and poking and exploring. He had a blast. How could you not in a stunning place like this?


The only negative I can say about this trail in particular is that you can hear cars on the road leading towards the park. If you go up higher you can’t hear them but for the first 1/2 mile or so we could hear that faint whizzing sound of passing cars. It wasn’t a mood killer or anything, but what I like best about Colorado’s mountains is the pure s-i-l-e-n-c-e.


The best part of this hike for me was getting my climb on!


We passed by a big pile of rocks about 1/3 mile down the trail and my inner 12 year old could NOT resist climbing to the top.




What a beautiful view.


We went about 3/4 mile up the trail before heading back towards the car. The path was pretty even except for a couple of rocky spots that we had to carry Lincoln through, but for the most part I’d say the Lazy S trail is appropriate for kids 2.5 and up with no assistance.


Sweet little man.


Like I said, we made it about 3/4 of a mile in before turning around, which was probably about 1/4 mile too long. This guy was tuckered out when we finally reached the car (and the sweet, sweet AC – can’t believe how hot it was there that week!)


Our final full day in Colorado was spent celebrating Ben’s beautiful cousin’s wedding. Sarah and Kyle were married at The Sanctuary about 30 minutes outside Denver and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more beautiful location to say I do! Although the mountains were hazy from the forest fires out west, it almost made the view even more surreal.


We gussied ourselves up best we could and had a wonderful night!


We were joined by Ben’s immediate family and had way way too much fun catching up with his extended family, too. They are spread throughout Denver, and the southwest, and are just THE best people. Down to earth, funny, witty – awesome. :)


The ceremony was held outside in the pavillion while the dinner was held inside the clubhouse. Prime rib was a hit with Ben, me, and Lincoln (who apparently thinks wedding speeches are so boring. Thanks, PBS kids app! ;) )


Back out to the pavilion and the sight of the setting sun after dinner was over, where the night unfolded into dancing and dessert.


Sadly I don’t have too many photos from the evening because I was toddler wrangling but did want to mention the couple’s photographer for the night. They used Elevate Photography (specifically Alllie Gravel, I think) and seriously? I have never seen more stunning wedding photos in my life! While everyone was eating dinner the photographer was putting together a slideshow of the entire day and ceremony, which they played after dinner, and each photo gave me goosebumps. If you live in the Denver area and are getting married or are newly engaged, definitely check these guys out! Ben and I both looked at each other during the slideshow like, WHY didn’t these people exist in central Iowa in 2008 when we got married?! The pictures were THAT good, and I’ve seen a lot of wedding day photos!


The couple headed off to their European Cruise honeymoon through a shower of sparklers at the end of the night. Just like that. Husband and Wife. You know how much I love a good wedding! ;)


We were back on a plane/in the car headed home the next day ready to BE home but not ready for the fun to end. We can’t wait to return to Colorado sometime soon. Hope you can do the same! In the meantime have a wonderful safe and happy LONG Labor Day weekend!