Planning Your Summer Vacation to Colorado
By Emily Krempholtz
We don’t want to jinx it, but vaccines are rolling out as planned, and if all goes well in the next couple of months, we might just be able to return to some semblance of normalcy this summer. Dust off those “going out in public clothes” that have been at the back of your closet since the start of the pandemic, because it’s time to start thinking about all the fantastic ways to plan a summer trip in Colorado.
If You’re Looking For…
Colorado is home to more than 5,600 miles of hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and running trails. We’ve also got 42 state parks, 11 national forests, and 42 wilderness areas, which each showcase different parts of our great state, from the eastern plains to the highest peaks. That adds up to 43.3% of Colorado that’s classified as public land, and what amazing land it is! We’re a little biased, sure, but we like to think Colorado is pretty much the best place to visit when you’re looking to be one with nature, because we’ve got it all—mountains, sand dunes, alpine lakes, canyons, deserts, prairies, rivers, rock formations, waterfalls, and so much more.
Some of our most famous sights in Colorado, like Hanging Lake in Glenwood Springs or Maroon Lake in Aspen, require a reservation, and if you’re planning on visiting a state or national park, you’ll need to pay an entry fee, but there are also countless free options when it comes to spending time outdoors in Colorado. Whether you’re trekking into the backcountry of a national forest, your tent and all your gear strapped to your back, or driving to the top of a 14er for an unbeatable view, you’ll find wildlife, fresh air, and unparalleled landscapes everywhere you turn in Colorado.
An Adrenaline Rush
After a year or more of sitting at home in quarantine, we don’t know about you, but we’re ready for some heart-pumping fun. In destinations like Canon City, you’ll find death-defying zipline adventures, and with the help of adventure tour companies like Performance Tours Rafting, you can make your way down the Arkansas River through the deep canyon of the Royal Gorge. Other great locations for whitewater rafting or kayaking include Salida, where you’ll find the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (and some of the best rafting in the country), the Colorado River in out of Glenwood Springs, and the Cache la Poudre River if you’re looking to stick to the Front Range region of Colorado.
But the rush doesn’t stop there. Ziplining and aerial parks are a fun and fantastic way to have fun with friends, and many aerial parks in Colorado offer both, so you can spend the whole day traversing rope courses and zipping through the skies at high speeds. Skydiving is a thrill no matter where you do it, but jumping out of a plane in Colorado, with such incredible scenery surrounding you, brings a special kind of rush you won’t find elsewhere. At Skydive the Rockies in Colorado Springs, or Roaring Fork Skydivers in Glenwood Springs, you’ll have a one-of-a-kind experience you’ll never forget—and if you’re not quite ready to jump out of a real plane yet, there’s always iFLY in Denver, an indoor virtual skydiving experience that will get you pumped up and ready for the real thing.
Your kids are probably dying to get out of the house just as much as you are, so this summer, take them on a Colorado adventure! Hop on the Georgetown Loop Railroad for a scenic, family-friendly ride through the mountains in an open-air car. The train will even stop at the Lebanon or Everett Mines, where you and your family (kids must be 5 or older) can take a tour inside the mine and even learn to pan for gold!
Ski resorts during the summer are also a great choice for families. When there’s no snow on the slopes, you can ride the gondolas for an incredible summer view, and spend time in ski villages for family fun that runs the gamut from alpine coasters ziplining, bungee trampolines, and educational nature tours. Resorts and local sporting goods shops are also a great place to rent mountain bikes or other gear for your family adventure.
Much of Colorado’s history stems from the Wild West days of the Gold Rush, which you can see very clearly in many of our mountain towns. Old buildings with a rich history, ruins from mining operations, and ghost towns all speak to the history of Colorado in the United States, but our timeline didn’t start there. Ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings, which you can see in Manitou Springs or Mesa Verde National Park, date back thousands of years and bear some of the oldest evidence of human civilization in the United States, and if you go back even further—like, millions of years further—you’ll find evidence of the dinosaurs who once roamed Colorado in places like Dinosaur Ridge near Morrison, or Dinosaur National Monument on the border of Colorado and Utah.
Sure, we talked about nature already, but Colorado’s four national parks deserve their own category. This summer, explore ancient Pueblo dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park, or sled down the massive dunes at Great Sand Dunes. You can conquer your fear of heights or catch some epic stargazing at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, or spot elk at Rocky Mountain National Park while you’re on a hike or navigating the nail-biting curves of Trail Ridge Road. Colorado’s national parks vary in size and popularity (Rocky Mountain is one of the most popular parks in the US, but Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of the least visited in the country), but they’re all beautiful and manage to show off our state’s environmental diversity in their own unique ways. They’re located all across Colorado, so if parks and nature are really your thing, consider renting an RV or booking a few cabins or campsites around Colorado, and making a road trip to visit all four!
Relaxation means something different for everyone, but chances are, we’ve got it here in Colorado. Thanks to our mountainous geography, and the geothermal activity beneath them, Colorado is home to dozens of natural hot springs, where you can soak and relax by yourself or with friends to your heart’s content. Some of the most popular hot springs in Colorado include Glenwood How Springs, Pagosa Springs, Hot Sulphur Springs, and Strawberry Park Natural Hot Springs. Some of them even have spas attached so you can indulge in a massage, or vapor caves where you can enjoy a natural sauna experience in a unique setting.
For some of us, relaxation means peace and quiet more than a soak or a facial, and for those people we say you’ll find that in Colorado as well. If activity relaxes you, take a peaceful hike on a seldom-used trail, and maybe bring a set of binoculars to watch for birds or other wildlife. You could also get yourself a fishing permit and set off for one of Colorado’s well-stocked lakes and rivers. Let the tranquility and the comforting sounds of the water rushing around you relax you as you try your luck on the water. (If you need to rent fishing equipment, try a local sports shop. They’ll have everything you need.)
Food and Booze
Colorado is home to hundreds of craft breweries, and still more bars, restaurants, and nightlife. Small businesses like these have been some of the biggest and most common commercial victims of the coronavirus pandemic, and we don’t know about you, but we plan on spending this summer making it up to them as much as we can. Try some local delicacies like a local bison burger or steak, or a fat burrito smothered with Pueblo green chili, and wash it all down with a nice cold beer from a brewery just round the corner or a cocktail made from local liquors. Stopping at a local eatery or drinkery after a long day of adventure is a fantastic way to unwind, and with those gorgeous Rocky Mountains as an ever-present backdrop, a summer patio meal with friends in Colorado is an experience like no other.
Just the Tip of the Iceberg
Of course, we’ve barely delved into the options for activities in Colorado. Across the state, you’ll find something to suit everyone, no matter what you’re looking for, and as we start to look ahead to warmer months and brighter times, we can’t wait to explore it all with you.