Sometimes there’s not even a whole weekend to get away, but even a daytrip can do wonders.
On a sunny Memorial Day Sunday, Daryle and I decided to jump in the newly acquired car for a trip up the road to Lyons, CO. Having not visited previously we weren’t sure what to expect, except that there would be a classic pinball arcade and a few mountain trails. What we found was an uncrowded hip artsy town with a friendly feel and a relaxed vibe.
At the turn of the century, Lyons was one of the largest stone producing areas in the country, famed for its unique red sandstone which was in demand worldwide and is still visible in many of the cliffs around town. Today, Lyons draw comes more from its music, arts and outdoor offerings. In the past it has frequently been overlooked as travellers rush through on the way to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, but over the past year, Lyons has really come into its own. With a variety of aesthetic improvements, including new sidewalks and a number of businesses changing hands, the town of about 2,000 seems to be headed in a new direction, one you will want to stop by and experience.
Lyons is perfectly situated just into the mountains, at the confluence of the North and South St. Vrain Rivers and within an hour’s drive of the major northern front range metropolitan areas, Fort Collins, Denver, Boulder. You’ll find several blocks of art galleries, antique shops, restaurants, clothing, souvenirs, as well as some specialties like handmade bamboo fly rods from Michael at South Creek Ltd who has been hand building custom fly rods for over 30 years.
On the west end of town, the St. Vrain Market has been under renovation since last August by its new owners Neil & Connie who we met just outside the store. They invited us in to peruse their rows of basic grocery staples mixed with a generous selection of local, organic and natural choices, including a meat counter, fresh-baked breads and abundant fresh fruits. This is the place to pick up some provisions for a picnic.
Also on the west end of town sits Cilantro Mary, a restaurant with a fun bright Central American color scheme and bright fresh flavor to match. Located in the Historic 1881 McCallister Saloon building this establishment is also under new ownership. Since taking over in April, owners Wayne & Debbie Anderson, have developed a relatively small, but tasty menu, that stresses organic, local ingredients and farm fresh eggs. We visited for brunch and along with a few cups of steaming coffee tried the lemon sour cream griddle cakes served with locally produces agave syrup and the homemade blueberry cream cheese scones with passion fruit curd.
Both were really wonderful. I’ll be honest I was a little unsure what to expect from passion fruit curd, but it turned out to be the perfect moist and tangy complement to the best crusty, fruity scones I’ve ever had. (We didn’t have time to come back in the afternoon, but I couldn’t help but noticing the fresh squeezed juice and agave nectar house margarita on the menu.)
Down the street we passed an option for a lighter breakfast at the bustling Barking Dog Café, a coffee shop serving a full coffee menu as well as bagel sandwiches, deli-style lunch sandwiches and homemade baked goods from the Buttercream Bakery just next door.
After brunch, we headed 3 miles west of town on Hwy 36 to the Ciatano Winery which turned out to be not just a chance to taste some locally produced wine, but to stroll the grounds and relax with a glass of wine in hand. The winery is actually part of the rustic Rock n’ River Resort, which includes the La Bellezza Spa and several lodging options including a romantic private cabin. You are even invited to grab a picnic basket & blanket, purchase a bottle of wine and some food from the deli case and head out for a picnic. The grounds include several small trout fishing ponds, wooden bridges, a small water wheel and several resident geese. If you prefer to sit and sip wine overlooking the ponds, there are also a deck and patios and for cool evenings a large fire pit.
We headed back to town and just a mile to the south found the Heil Valley Ranch TH, with access to 14 miles of rolling packed dirt trails perfect for hiking, mountain biking or trail running. Even on Memorial Day weekend, we found the trails peaceful and uncrowded. Two miles in from the trailhead we ran across a large shaded stone picnic table with a view of the valley – we highly recommend a picnic hike to this spot. Most of the trail is not shaded and could be hot in the summer. If you prefer to mountain bike and didn’t pack your own bikes, several cycling stores in town would be happy to rent you a bike. (Dogs are not allowed.)
Back in town after our hike, we went to check out a unique attraction, Lyons Classic Pinball, a building with several small rooms, all filled wall-to-wall with over 40 pinball machines, classic through modern. (Open Thur thru Sun)
Having worked up an appetite hiking and playing pinball, we moved next door to Oskar Blues Grill & Bar (Lyon’s oldest brewery) where we tasted all of their brews and grabbed a burger. (We recommend the BB King Burger, a burger with bacon, BBQ sauce and cheese.) Besides some pretty decent beer and burgers, Oskar Blues is also home to a video arcade with over 20 classic arcade games from the 1980’s, including Dig Dug, Qbert, Frogger and Tron complete with black lighting and fluorescent paint. The games are even retro-priced and a turn still costs just a quarter. We spent a few dollars and called it a day.
As we headed the car east, we were reminded that even an 8 hour getaway can be refreshing. It’s not about the distance, but the state of mind and Lyons was a town where we picked up a vacation vibe despite the proximity.