It’s probably fair to assume that when you think ‘Colorado’, you think Aspen, the Rockies and
skiing. And who could blame you?
But there’s more to Colorado than the white stuff. With over 300 days of sunshine a year, and average temperatures in July and August of 30°C, the state’s a perfect summer destination.
If your ideal holiday involves more ‘doing’ than ‘lying down’, then read on, as we count down five ways to keep busy in the Rocky Mountain state…
As with much of the US, Colorado’s a state that can only be seen by road. This is no bad thing. Colorado’s scenery is relentlessly beautiful, and on each drive you’re confronted with a peak or ravine even more magnificent than the last.
Honestly, you want an as unimpeded a view as possible, so as to take in as much as you can. So, if your budget will stretch to it, get a soft-top. Colorado’s summers are long and glorious, so enjoy one!
The Colorado road you must travel is State Highway 82, which runs through Independence Pass. The road cuts through the Colorado Rockies, and there’s no higher paved road along the Continental Divide – the mountainous divide that runs the length of the USA. It’s these peaks that make Colorado ‘America’s rooftop’ – they’re the highest point in the USA. If the snow melts east off the mountains, it ends up in the Atlantic, west and it hits the Pacific.
At its peak, the pass rises to almost 4km above sea level. That’s enough to make you feel a little light headed (drink PLENTY of water), and far above the timberline – you’ll find no trees up here. What you will find is the absolute cream of Coloradoan views. As this height, you really do feel like you’re a god surveying your creation. And what a creation it is – Theodore Roosevelt described it as ‘bankrupting the English language’. You can also get tantalizingly close to the mountains’ only permanent residents, deer and elk (above). The peaks are permanently snow-capped, and standing in the snow, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, is an odd experience.
Colorado’s an exceptional place to cycle around. Not that you’d want to cycle round all of it, obviously. It’s far too big. However, for shorter cycle rides, it’s excellent.
Denver itself is a very bikeable city. It’s full of cycle lanes and, on the roads without, there aren’t the huge traffic densities you find in New York or LA, meaning you don’t ever feel like you’re going to be sent flying by a truck.
Denver operates a cycle scheme, B-cycle. It’s not dissimilar to London’s; pay a small daily fee and that’s it. Just keep your rides to no longer than 30 minutes. (You can always park one bike and jump on another if your trip’s going to take longer than that). There are 87 docking stations dotted across the city.
Cycling is a brilliant way to see all that Denver has to offer, but you don’t just want to cycle in town, do you?
There are trails aplenty in all of Colorado’s national parks and forests, affording you ample opportunity to give yourself an excellent cardio session or (depending on the incline you choose) a beast of a #legsday. Lake Estes Marina will rent you a cruiser if you fancy a gentle peddle in the wilderness, but also taking in the seriously cute, incredibly American town itself.
However, if you fancy something that’ll keep you on the edge of your saddle, you might want to consider cycling down the Rocky Mountains. New Venture Cycling will transport you to a point 3.7KM above sea level, and guide you down what is the daddy of all vistas – it’s quite simply heart stopping – taking in a lunch stop en route to the bottom. Of course, you could always attempt to cycle up the mountain – people do – but you’re not that crazy, are you..?
If your boots are made for walking, take them to Colorado. There are four national parks in the state, providing hundreds of square miles of uninterrupted wilderness. You feel very small when you’re hiking about, there’s a real sense of the vastness of nature. It’s a feeling everyone should experience once, so do it in the sunshine, with those views to reflect on.
A must-see on your hiking list should be the Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park. The cliff palace is a series of ancient dwellings carved directly into the cliffs. At over 1,000 years old, they’re some of the oldest man-made structures in America. A ranger-guided tour is essential to get up close to these magnificent monuments. When you’re done, head off on the manageable 2 mile Knife Edge Trail, and watch the sun set over Montezuma Valley.
4 Climb a mountain (and get the train back down)
Looking for something more hardcore than hiking? Want to climb a mountain, but fear Everest is a bit too ambitious? Then have a stab at conquering Pikes Peak. The Barr Trail is 13 miles in total, and you’ll gain up over 2 vertical km between start and finish. Be warned, it’s tough. It’ll take you between 4-7 hours to complete (there’s a watering hole at the halfway point), and you should start before dawn so as not to be climbing in the afternoon sun.
It’s a hard slog, but it’s worth it for the view from the summit alone. And think of the bragging rights – how many people can return from holiday and say they’ve climbed a mountain? If you’re really hardy, you can also climb back down, but you might want to take the train. The Pikes Peak Cog Railway, the highest cog railway in the world, can transport you – allowing you to rest your legs and drink in more of the devastatingly beautiful views.
5 Get on the water
You’d expect a state with lots of mountains to also have lots of rivers, wouldn’t you? And you’d be right. Colorado is a haven for watersports fans. If you’re experienced getting wet you can get into a raft of water-borne crafts in every lake in the Rocky Mountain National Park (with the exception of Bear Lake, which is lovely just to look at). Kayaks, paddle-boards and the like can be rented out from the towns nearby.
Head to nearby Aspen (or neighboring Snowmass, which is considerably cheaper to lodge in) and you can jump on the Colorado River. The white water rafting here is excellent: it’s the perfect place to exercise your inner Indiana Jones (come to Colorado and be Indiana) and if your experience on water extends no further than a lilo in a pool, there are plenty of companies who’ll take you out on the river for some organized, yet exhilarating fun.
Eat and drink
OK, so this isn’t really a ‘doing’, but after all this activity, you’re bound to be hungry, which is good. Colorado has one of the greatest food scenes in the USA. It’s all about locally-sourced produce, mouthwatering recipes and incredible, locally-produced liquor. Denver has a plethora of world-class restaurants to suit all budgets (try Guard and Grace for the cod and Palettes at the Denver Art Museum for the Asian chicken salad – both TO. DIE. FOR). If you head to the Rockies, spin by The Stanley in Estes Park. The hotel’s one of America’s oldest, and was the inspiration for ‘The Shining’. There you’ll find a truly excellent meatloaf and over 1,000 types of whiskey. Ask for Jimmy, a walking encyclopedia of whiskey, who’ll give you a personalized tasting as you enjoy your meal.