Loveland, Colorado: Romance, Culture and Wilderness
Just like children have been sending letters to Santa in the North Pole for decades, thousands of folks send their Valentine’s Day cards to Loveland, Colorado to be restamped with the Loveland postmark. Since 1946, this farming community-turned-arts center has been known as America’s “Sweetheart City, due to the postal program. Loveland’s annual Valentine Card program remails more than 160,000 valentines each year.
Visitors to Loveland can find hearts all year, all over town, with the town’s ‘Loveland: A City With HeArt’ project. The project’s 18 individually designed and painted colossal fiberglass hearts are five feet tall, and almost as wide.
There’s a lot more to Loveland than Valentines, however, including easy access to Rocky Mountain National Park and a wealth of recreational and scenic offerings, a surprising mix of artistic and cultural venues and best of all, a wide array of RV parks to choose from. Nestled at 4,982 feet against the foothills of the Rockies, 46 miles north of Denver on the I-25 corridor, some 30 minutes south of Fort Collins, Loveland’s 67,000 residents enjoy its peaceful small town ambiance mixed with big-city benefits.
In 2005, The 100 Best Art Towns in America’s fourth edition named Loveland as its number two town, after Santa Fe. Since the ‘70’s, artists and sculptors have flocked to this area with over 200 unique public sculpture pieces, three major art shows annually and two of the nation’s largest foundries. You will find evidence of them everywhere. Public works are creatively decorated, including large wall murals on buildings and sculpture pieces all over downtown as well as in two large parks.
The Benson Sculpture Gardens, at 2908 Aspen Drive, opened in 1985, and is home to 130 permanent outdoor sculpture pieces along with landscaped gardens and ponds, enjoyable at any time of year – indeed, the sculptures are quite hauntingly beautiful when dusted with snow. On 26 acres along the eastern side of the Promenade Shops at Centerra Mall, east of I-25, visit the fascinating Chapungu Sculpture Park at Centerra, focusing on Zimbabwean stone sculpture (Shona,) with over 80 enormous sculptures made by hand from solid Zimbabwean rock. This peaceful, exquisitely beautiful and moving park is the largest of its kind in the world.
On the second weekend of August each year, Loveland hosts three art shows, all located around Benson Sculpture Garden and Lake Loveland. Sculpture in the Park, hosted by the Loveland High Plains Arts Council, is considered one of the finest outdoor juried exhibitions of three-dimensional artwork in the country, featuring sculpture from over 200 artists from all over the world. Thousands of art lovers attend this yearly. On the grounds of Loveland High School, you can purchase art at the festive Sculpture Invitational, at the largest gathering of sculptors (over 250) in the nation, who work in bronze, stone, metal, glass, mixed mediums, etc., to create thousands of pieces. An arts and crafts festival, Art in the Park, is also held at this time at North Lake Park at 29th and Taft.
Loveland has an unusually wide range of choices for RVers, from right in town, to off the highway, to out in the country, but two special spots are the Boyd Lake State Campground and Riverview RV Park . Both are open yearround, but the busiest season is summertime, when you’ll have to reserve well in advance for weekends and holidays, but can sometimes drop in for same day hookups. The rest of the year is much more open and reservations are typically not necessary.
Boyd Lake State Park (970-669-1739, http://parks.state.co.us/Parks/BoydLake, www.parks.state.co.us) is a water-sports enthusiasts’ haven, offering boating, water-skiing, swimming, fishing and ice fishing (bass, catfish, crappie, perch, rainbow trout and walleye,) windsurfing, jet skiing and standup paddleboarding. The lakefront RV site (Cottonwood Campground) gives expansive views of the Rockies, namely of towering Long’s Peak. Boyd Lake, a reservoir, covers nearly 1,700 surface acres, and has two paved launch ramps. The park has a marina (summers only) with rentals of ski, pontoon, and fishing boats, as well as paddle bikes and wave runners. The full-service gas dock sells ice and firewood, fishing supplies, groceries, camping supplies, etc. 148 paved pull-through campsites are located on a grassy meadow dotted with cottonwood trees for shade.
Lakefront campsites (sites 31, 32, 57, 58, 83, 84) are very desirable, so book well in advance. Sites can handle pick-up campers, trailers and motor homes, each with a picnic table and grill, and 20, 30 and 50 amp electricity. Three restrooms with showers, two playgrounds, volleyball courts, picnic areas and horseshoe pits are on site as well. Campers must have a camping permit and Colorado parks pass for their vehicle, and must display the campground permit in the marker at the campsite. Boyd Lake connects to the Loveland Trail and Park System, so you can ride bicycles into town on the bike path. During winter, the trails are snowplowed – think snowshoeing and cross country skiing. Camping is $20 per night. Quiet hours are from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., dogs are allowed on leashes at all times, and only six persons are permitted per site. An annual or daily parks pass is required (annual $70, daily $8, senior 64+ (Colorado residents only) rate $60 annual.
On Highway 34, on the way to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, you’ll find Riverview RV Park (2444 River Rim Road/7806 West US Highway 34, 970-667-9910, 800-447-9910, [email protected], www.riverviewrv.com.) Riverview, a privately-owned park, has existed since 1965 and was listed as one of the “Ten Most Romantic RV Parks in the nation) in Motor Home Magazine’s May, 2007 issue. With a lovely wooded setting along the rushing Big Thompson River, Riverview offers good shade trees and meandering paths affording a good level of privacy to its campers. An unusual treat are the dozens of wood carvings throughout the park, made by various artisans over the last twenty years or so. The office has a scavenger hunt sheet which depicts the more notable carvings, including a raccoon, various gnomes and trolls, an owl, bear, etc.
Loveland has more than romance and art. Known as “Gateway to the Rockies,” Rocky Mountain National Park is just 30 miles west of town and is the top vacation destination in Colorado, with about four million visitors each year. With more than 265,000 acres of land, 178 mountain peaks over 10,000 in elevation, 355 miles of hiking trails and more than 140 lakes, it is truly spectacular and stunning. Visiting in early fall? Don’t miss the aspen trees’ golden glory or the elk bugling spectacle, especially awesome in neighboring Estes Park. Oh, and you can visit the Stanley Hotel here, where ‘The Shining’ was filmed.
Downtown Loveland is a delightful, historic area filled with art galleries, a museum, restored theatre, eclectic bistros, book stores, antique shops etc., as well as lively pubs. Spend a day here in the unique non-chain shops and you’re sure to find something to take home, if only some images of restored Victorian homes.
For evening entertainment, the acclaimed Candlelight Dinner Playhouse routinely presents well-critiqued shows along with tasty dinners over and beyond typical dinner playhouse fare. This season’s lineup includes Annie Warbucks, SCROOGE! The Musical, Anything Goes and Oklahoma! www.coloradocandlelight.com, 970-744-3747. You’ll also find many restaurants in the downtown area, as well as in the various malls, but one that is exceptional for creative, locally-grown, farm-to-table cuisine is the Rocky River Bar & Grille, inside the Embassy Suites Loveland Hotel, Spa and Conference Center off of I-25. www.embassysuitesloveland.com, 970-593-6200. Another local favorite is Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano. www.biaggis.com, 970-663-0100. Either would be perfect for a special Valentine’s Day meal, but just fine any other day as well.
There are many reasons so many RVers return, year after year, to Loveland. Whatever YOUR reason might be for a first visit, you can count on it only being the first. Loveland is an undiscovered gem and you’ll find your own special RV experience here.