Here are the top 10 things you should do in Colorado, according to the Denver Post. I intend to do all of these and then post my pictures below. I’ll update this post as I complete them.
CLIMB A FOURTEENER
At 14,060 feet, Mount Bierstadt (above) is one of the easiest to ascend, with a wide trail that winds its way through swamps, high-mountain meadows and boulder fields. The journey begins at Guanella Pass, just south of Georgetown. If you worry about having never climbed that high before, put your fears aside. There are so many people – from young whippersnappers to truly elderly – hiking on weekends, it looks like a trip to the mall, but they’ll offer assistance if you need it.
Long’s Peak by moonlight just might be the ultimate adventure. If that’s not for you, climb one of the state’s thirteeners, which are just as majestic but don’t get the same attention. You’re likely to see one of the state’s Rocky Mountain goats staring down at you from a rocky crag, an eagle flying high above, or ubiquitous marmots on the ascent. If your health or other situations won’t allow you to climb, then take the Cog Railway to the summit of Pikes Peak. Or drive to the top of Mount Evans. No matter how you get there, you really will be “on top” of the world, and there’s no feeling like it.
ATTEND A CONCERT AT RED ROCKS
Pack a picnic dinner, get there early and hope it’s a full-moon night. While your immediate goal is to sway the night away to good music, the side shows all add up to an experience like no other: the moon over the stage, lights of Denver in the background, sitting on rock-hewn seats, the smell of concert-goers’ drug of choice. Or go to a sunrise Easter service, no matter your faith.
EXPLORE MESA VERDE
Sometimes we tend to downplay what’s in our own backyard, but as with other ancient ruins around the world, the cliff dwellings at this national park near Cortez should be visited over and over again. Look and marvel on your own or take a ranger-guided tour for more insight into the people who once inhabited the more than 600 dwellings. Only a small percentage of the archaeological sites have been unearthed, but there are enough open to the public to leave you with a sense of awe. Alternatively, take a full-day tour of the Ute Mountain Tribal Park, where a Ute tribal member will guide you through the park’s cliff dwellings and explain Ute history and the many examples of wall paintings and petroglyphs. Tours begin at Tribal Park headquarters 20 miles south of Cortez. Special tours, including those on horseback, are available throughout the year. While there, stop at the Pottery Factory, where tribal members continue to paint traditional patterns and more modern ones on functional, museum-quality pots.
SINK INTO STRAWBERRY PARK HOT SPRINGS
Let’s be honest. One of the attractions of this place – besides the natural setting near Steamboat Springs – is that you can go au naturel after dark. Masonry walls create pools of different temperatures, so you can always find one that’s “just right.” Spend the night in one of the rustic cabins, or better yet, choose the train caboose, because how many chances will you get to spend the night in a caboose with a fireplace? Other hot springs bubble from the ground in many areas of the state, including the great kahoona – Glenwood Springs. Try some of the smaller ones for a more intimate setting: Hot Sulphur Springs near Granby has several private pools and caves; Mount Princeton Hot Springs near Buena Vista allows visitors to sit in makeshift rock pools in the Arkansas River.
VISIT GREAT SAND DUNES NATIONAL PARK
Hike to the top of one of the state’s greatest natural phenomena, then snowboard down, or just walk as most people do. The park in the San Luis Valley is open 24 hours a day, so climb at sunrise or sunset or under a moonlit sky. Marvel at the beauty of Crestone Peaks, especially during the spring or late fall when the tips are coated in white. Then, in late spring or early summer, dip your toes in Medano Creek if it’s flowing. Climb to the top of Star Dune, the highest at 750 feet, for spectacular views and photo opportunities. Visit during a meteor shower for an unhindered view – no lights, no obstructions – just sky and shooting stars.
TOUCH DINOSAUR TRACKS
Once upon a time, Colorado was mired in water and mud, making it the perfect place to record the wanderings of dinosaurs small and large. You don’t have to travel far to see footprints and bones from giants like the apatosaurus or those of fierce predators like the allosaurus. At Picketwire Canyonlands on the Comanche National Grasslands south of La Junta, walk an interpretive trail that includes more than 1,300 tracks. That’s not the only place in the state where they left a big impression. Several museums and trails near Grand Junction allow you to view bones and tracks in situ. At Dinosaur Ridge in Morrison, tracks, bones and other fossils are etched in stone along the “dinosaur highway.”
LISTEN TO ELK BUGLE
Bring blankets, hot chocolate and other creature comforts, and plan to spend a few hours at dusk and into evening in Rocky Mountain National Park during the September-October rut, when males call out to and herd their “harems.” Moraine Park is a favorite location for listeners, although it’s now so overrun with cars and people that some of the magic has disappeared. Avoid the crowds by driving into the park along less-congested roadways, and you might get lucky and hear some stray calls. As an added bonus, the timing is perfect for aspen viewing, with the dancing leaves turning golden and red as night temperatures cool.
NAVIGATE A MOUNTAIN ROAD
Not those teeny passes, but big, burly, white-knuckle-inducing roads like Independence Pass between Leadville and Aspen. At 12,095 feet, the top of the pass is well above tree line: This is what it means to be in tundra. This narrow road usually closes in September and opens in late May. Independence is the state’s second-highest paved road. America’s highest paved automobile road is the Mount Evans Scenic Byway. That drive, completed in 1927, is less scary than Independence but just as scenic. The parking lot is at 14,130 feet, then you can hike a quarter- mile up a winding trail to the top of the peak at 14,264 feet. (Another way to stand atop the world.) A third option is Trail Ridge Road. While behind the wheel or exploring the area, you can imagine that in winter, snow drifts can get as high as 25 feet tall at the highest elevation, 12,183 feet. Even in July, cold winds blow across the tundra, but ground-hugging plants and flowers blanket the areas between lichen- covered rocks.
BOARD A TRAIN
The state’s economy and towns once were made or broken by the presence of iron rails. Trains still hold a fascination for young and old. Step back in time and ride one of the state’s refurbished rail lines, from the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad in Antonito to the Georgetown Loop narrow gauge line, to the Winter Park Ski Train. The Durango & Silverton runs daily excursions, even during the winter months. The coal-fired engines pull refurbished cars through canyons and wilderness along the same tracks once traveled by cowboys and miners – even train robbers.