While one could arguably stay in and around Denver on a vacation, take a short trip south on I-25 to U.S. Highway 24 and head west to immerse yourself in the mountainous culture Colorado natives proudly claim as their own and find a gem or two in some of the small mountain towns along the way.
Driving west on U.S. Highway 24 from Colorado Springs yields an interesting thoroughfare through a variety of eclectic small mountain towns and numerous scenic photography opportunities. As travel begins just west of Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs starts the small-town tour. Manitou offers a smattering of one-of-a-kind shops and eateries. It is probably most famous for its Pikes Peak Cog Railway, the highest cog train in the world. Driving north through Manitou Springs will take you into northern Colorado Springs and the famous red rock park called Garden of the Gods, replete with hiking trails, picnic spots, rock scrambling, visitors centers and rare geologic splendors. There is a wealth of information available on Manitou Springs if you google it. On this particular day trip, we decided to just drive west past Manitou and see what we happened to find.
Further driving will take you through towns like Green Mountain Falls, Crystola, Woodland Park, Florissant, Divide and eventually you will end up in Lake George, population about two-thousand. We at first drove past Lake George with no plans to stop. We found a pristine overlook that consisted of virgin snow plains that climbed sharply to craggy mountains. It was very much my brother’s dream shot for a picture of him and his car, so after taking a picture of his new Subaru Legacy against a backdrop of snow covered plains and mountains, we turned around.
As we were driving through Lake George, thirst got the better of us and we had long since passed the McDonald’s in Woodland Park and the general store in Florissant and the mom and pop shops in Divide. Out of nowhere, a large sign advertising “Lake George Pizza” appeared and I couldn’t see anything that I thought should resemble a pizza restaurant near the sign. Turns out we drove right past it.
My brother turned the car around and pulled in to what was, quite frankly, an inconspicuous mobile-home-looking building sitting on the edge of the highway. As we pulled up into the damp, red mud parking lot, it appeared to be someone’s small golden-oak, log-cabbinish mobile home, complete with floral curtains hanging primly from the windows and home printed signs detailing the holiday hours of its operation on an entrance door and an exit door with a small neon orange and green sign stating they were open. I sat for a moment and wondered if this was for real. My brother glanced at me and grinned. “Small towns don’t have the big, posh restaurants like we do back home.” He laughed at me for my hesitation and poked fun over my lack of adventure. Thirst got the best of me and I decided to give it a shot. It looked like what could quite possibly be one of the last small-town pizzerias in the country.
Walk in the front door and you are greeted by the take out counter directly ahead and a small dining area with seating for about 50 to the left. The sign on the highway promised food like pizza or sub sandwiches fast, dine in or carry out. This eatery is not your typical pizzeria. It is a family-run restaurant co-owned by a mother/daughter team. It has a mom and pop feel and it is easy to tell that it could very easily be a popular place with the locals as it offers free soft drink refills, free wi-fi, and a stay-awhile atmosphere. The dining area is clean and comfortable, the restrooms simply appointed. On the wall hangs pictures of the 5-person basketball and baseball teams the shop sponsors and a “thank you” certificate from the local elementary school. Definitely small-town. If you are just driving through, you’ll find that this restaurant will likely meet your needs, whether you desire to stop for a quick drink or if you have some time to sit down for a meal.
While the owner commented that business is slow in the winter, there is apparently enough traffic in the summer to help Lake George Pizza stay open year-round. The menu offers a variety of food from cheese garlic bread appetizers to calzones, pizza, and subs. You could even pick up some ice cream or pie if the urge struck. The food is moderately priced, but keep in mind that with this being the only pizza place in the middle of nowhere, it is well worth it and they even take Visa and Mastercard.
So regardless of whether you are from a big city or the suburbs, a day trip outside of a place like Denver can lead to some fairly pleasant experiences like Lake George Pizza place. Take a laptop and enjoy the free wi-fi, and stay awhile because of the welcoming atmosphere.
If you have some time to drive west on U.S. Highway 24, watch out for these small-town eateries with charm and ambiance. You will undeniably walk away with a fun memory that starts out “we ate at a small town pizza place once….”