Drive an hour or so west of Denver through the high peaks of the Colorado Rockies and you’ll find idyllic Summit County. True to its name the area is dotted with high mountainous peaks, and the high-alpine climate yields long, snowy winters that bathe it’s big four ski resorts – Breckenridge, Arapahoe Basin, Copper Mountain and Keystone – in powdery goodness. But as Robyn Robledo from Nomads With A Purpose explains, snow is but one of the many drawcards of the Summit region – think amazing hikes, miles of biking trails, and stunning scenery all with a cosy small town feel. The area’s crisp alpine air and abundant space apparently works wonders too – according to 2014 statistics, the residents of Summit County had a life expectancy of 86.83 years, the longest in the United States.
Summit’s wilderness frontier has long appealed to outdoor lovers and adventure seekers; the mineral-rich valley of the Blue River was first settled in the 1800’s gold rush days (you can still see traces of rush era buildings and sites across the county). Gold fever was replaced with powder fever with the opening Arapahoe Basin Ski Area in 1946, followed by Breckenridge in 1961, Keystone in 1970, and Copper Mountain in 1972, making The Summit one of the USA’s greatest ski destinations. So it’s no wonder after years of travel with her adventurous outdoor-loving family that Robyn felt Summit County’s pull, deciding it was the perfect base.
Since selling up their possessions to move into a thirty foot motorhome and enter into full-time travel with her husband and five children back in 2015, Robyn and her crew have run family outdoor and adventure travel blog, Nomads With A Purpose. Their aim is to inspire families to get active, outdoors and exploring the world around them while discovering what the word adventure truly means; an unordinary, exciting experience. Sit back as they show us around their newly adopted home.
Home right now: Summit County, Colorado USA
Q: How long have you been living there, and what inspired your move?
A: We just moved into the area about 2 months ago. It’s actually a funny story how we ended up here. Three years ago when we moved into our RV and began traveling full time, Colorado was the very first place we road tripped to. We hadn’t really heard much about Summit County, we kind of just stumbled upon it. But from the second we arrived, I knew we would live here one day. Three years and 26 countries of travel later, we were ready to settle down for a little while. We spent this whole summer looking for places to live but nothing felt right, and all the while I kept thinking about Summit County. After feeling out towns throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and even Montana, we headed down to Summit County and it felt the same way it did the first time we visited. We found the perfect house and so we committed to a year here.
Q: Best thing about where you live:
A: There are truly endless outdoor adventure possibilities. Within a 10 minute drive we can be mountain biking the 250 miles of singletrack in the county, we can be climbing sport crags at 10 Mile Canyon, hike the endless trails up and around the many 12 and 13 thousand foot peaks in the county, and that’s not even touching on winter sports. We have 7 ski resorts within a 30 minute drive, dozens of groomed cross country trails, and hundreds of snowshoeing opportunities. And while you can get a diversity of adventure in other places, what makes Summit County so cool is the small town feel with big city amenities. Even though the towns are small enough that everyone seems to know everyone, there’s still a lot of infrastructure. To be honest, I like having access to a Whole Foods, an REI, and a climbing gym. I like that the small town feel makes it so my kids can ride their bikes to work and there’s even a free bus that gets you Keystone and Breckenridge, which means I can go weeks without ever needing to get in my car.
Q: Tell us a bit about your business – and how much of what you do is inspired by being a parent and/or where you live?
A: We run an adventure travel blog called Nomads With A Purpose and in it, our goals are to teach and inspire others to explore the outdoors, get outside their comfort zone, and be Brave for Adventure. I say we because this blog is run by me and my 17 year old daughter. She is the social media, design, and marketing wiz. Together we make a great team.
Q: Can you picture doing what you do anywhere else?
A: We looked, and if there were, we wouldn’t have ended up here. I really think this is a one-of-a-kind place. Yes there are other places with lots of adventures but we require a lot of activities. Meaning we’re not the kind of people to just go hike or bike in the morning and sit around for the rest of the day. We want to be able to hike or bike in the morning, go workout at the gym, get in a yoga class, train at the climbing gym, walk to a cafe to work, pick up healthy organic/grass-fed foods dinner, then relax at home. All these requirements are what made us nomads in the first place so it’s nice to find a place where we can settle down for a bit and enjoy all these activities that we love to do.
Q: When you have overseas visitors with kids visiting you, where’s the first place you take them to showoff your town?
A: Buffalo Mountain. It’s a great moderate hike, but you get views of all of Summit County and the mountains surrounding. I mean if they’re really experienced adventurous then we’re taking them up the local 14ers (14,000 foot mountains) like Quandary, Grays, or Democrat, or we’ll take them to one of our favorite hikes in the whole world, Eccles Pass. It’s a strenuous hike but Eccless is just a magical, hidden gem nestled between three 13,000 foot peaks.
Q: What’s the best time of year to visit the area and why?
A: Anytime but spring. Winter sports enthusiasts will love it here from November through March. Climbers, mountain bikers, hikers, and will love July through September. September and October are truly beautiful around here because the fall colors, however it can be a bit cold and rainy for some summer sports.
Q: Would you rate the area as expensive to visit? If so, what are some tips to keep costs down.
A: It is a bit expensive because it’s such a large tourism destination, however this can be avoided by venturing away from the most famous ski resort, Breckenridge or by camping at the stunning state park, Peak One Campground. This campground is amazing because it’s only a 5 minute bike ride from main street Frisco, which is a bit cheaper than Breck, and only 10 minutes from the Whole Foods for groceries.
Q: Best walks/hikes for small children?
A: South Willow Falls or McCullough Gulch are great, easy ones for kids. Unfortunately around here, “easy hikes” aren’t as easy as hikes in most places. Summit County is at 9,000 elevation and is surrounded by mountains. Needless to say, hikes around here are always harder than the descriptions make them seem.
Q: Any local attractions you think are overrated/best to avoid?
A: Breckenridge is worth seeing once, but don’t stick around long. It’s all touristy, expensive, and overrated. Instead, explore the other local towns like Frisco, Silverthorne, and Keystone.
Q: Best local coffee place (and is it kid friendly?):
A: Red Buffalo Cafe is awesome. It’s got a chill and happy vibe, great for all ages. It sits in a beautiful secluded location right on the Blue River and they serve a wide variety of specialty, single origin coffees.
Q: Family friendly places to eat out:
A: One thing Summit County lacks is good restaurants but there are a few cool places. Outter Range Brewery is our favorite place to go and it’s a totally family friendly vibe with lots of games in the outdoor seating area. They don’t have food there but we just bring food from Whole Foods which is right next door.
Q: List the best local activities/places to keep the kids entertained for free (or at least under $20):
A: Like I mentioned, Breck is worth seeing once and while you’re up there I’d recommend taking the free gondola ride to the top of Peak 7 then hike down on Toad Alley, a super easy and scenic trail. Another great activity is go for a scenic bike ride and due to the amazing bike path network, there are so many to choose from. While you can choose to pay for the shuttle to the top of Vail Pass and downhill though a lush wonderland, that can be pricey for families. If you have kids, I highly recommend the scenic bike ride from Frisco to Copper Mountain. There’s not much elevation gain but it’s a little long so be warned with little ones. Another great ride is from Breckenridge to Frisco. Hop on the free bus at the transit center, which an carry up to 3 bikes, ride it up to Breckenridge, then downhill the bike path along the river all the way to Frisco. If the weather turns bad, there’s also a rec center in Silverthorne and Breckenridge with a fun pool for the kids.
Q: Local park with the best kid facilities:
A: Rainbow Park in Silverthorne is my kids’ favorite park. It’s got a fun playground, a huge grassy soccer field, and amenities. Keystone resort also has a great playground for the kids.
Q: Best local hidden gem that tourists don’t often know about:
A: Pretty much the whole Silverthorne/Keystone area is a hidden gem. There is so much raw nature over here without the yuppy tourism scene. Like I mentioned before, the Eccles Pass hike is a total hidden gem and we sorta want to keep it that way. The wilderness over by Keystone is also fantastic. There is endless scenic free camping in the National Forest and even Keystone Resort itself is uncrowded and beautiful.
Q: On yours travels, what have you noticed that is unique to where you live that you haven’t noticed anywhere else?
A: There is still a sense of community and very little traffic.
Q: And finally, the best piece of travel advice you’ve ever been given:
A: We were once out hiking in Ouray, Colorado and we only came across one other person on the trail. She will forever be known to us as the bear lady because of the story she told us of how she saw 10 bears on the 10th of May when hiking in Lander, WY. We had a nice conversation, and her final words struck a chord with me; “Do it with gusto and without fear.” I really feel like we’re doing that 🙂
To follow Robyn and her family’s journey with Nomads With A Purpose:
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Happy Place Hunter's resident Editor In Chief, Caz Emge, has written for publications around the globe for two decades. An avid outdoor buff, in her (limited) spare time she and her videographer husband and two sons gather insights for this site – sharing happy places as they find them Click to read full bio