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Colorado is all about outdoor adventure. While many associate it with skiing and boarding, there is a ton to do in the warmer months too.
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With so many rivers outstanding for whitewater rafting, no matter where you plan to be in Colorado, you’re bound to be close to one of them. There are trips that range from a few hours to several days and even longer, and experiences for people of nearly all ages and abilities. If you’re staying in Denver and want a quick jaunt, you can access adventures on Clear Creek from the town of Idaho Springs, just 30 miles west of the city. Clear Creek Rafting Company navigates everything from technical rivers to float trips. The Arkansas River, which cuts through central Colorado canyons and drops 5,000 feet in the first 125 miles, is one of America’s most popular rafting rivers – typical departure cities include Buena Vista, Salida and Canon City. For one of the toughest challenges, head to the southwest region of the state. The upper Animas River is famous for its Class IV and V rapids. A trip on the lower Animas River often includes other excursions, like a zipline tour and a ride on the famous Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
There are countless lakes and rivers for fly-fishing enthusiasts too. With 6,000 miles of streams, it can be hard to decide just where to go, but the quarter-mile section of the Taylor River, just below Taylor Park Dam is renowned for the biggest trout in the state, with rainbows weighing as much as 15 pounds lurking here. Of course, that also means it’s a very popular spot, but you can still find good fishing and more solitude further downstream, along the 12 miles of public water that flows from Hog Trough. Getting your quota of trout is fairly common just upstream of Yampa River State Park, with its eastern portion from Hayden to Craig considered a treasure trove. Other outstanding spots include the Roaring Fork, Crystal and Fryingpan Rivers; Steamboat Lake State Park, Grand Mesa Lakes, and Blue Mesa Reservoir.
All of that water means that kayaking is popular in Colorado too. The magnificent Colorado River snakes its way through the landscape and offers some of the state’s best whitewater runs. The upper section of the Colorado is generally fairly calm, making it good for beginners and families, but for thrill-seekers, the lower Colorado offers more exciting runs and whitewater features. If you want to head somewhere close to Denver, whether you’re new to kayaking or an experienced paddler, Kayak Clear Creek Whitewater Park in Golden is the place to go. This is a 800-foot-long whitewater course that offers kayakers a place to test their skills, and is designed to challenge all skill types with a series of drops and pools, surfs and eddies. As there are typically kayakers of all levels here, there are also plenty of whitewater enthusiasts willing to offer advice to novice paddlers.
If you’re into four-wheeling, Colorado has thousands of miles of off-road trails open to off-road vehicles like ATVs, four-wheel drives and motorcycles. On Lizard Pass in the southwest near Telluride, you can ride while soaking up jaw-dropping vistas of the San Juan Mountains. Over at Red Feather Lakes west of Fort Collins in Roosevelt National Forest, there are over 100 miles of double-track ATV trails. South Fork offers mountain views at every turn, with some of the best backcountry trails in the nation. Over in western Colorado near Grand Junction, the Grand Mesa Trails are anything but flat and boring – the area is filled with glistening lakes, lush meadows and dense forests, with miles and miles of trails for all skill levels.
Rampart Range is an easy drive from Denver. Part of Pike National Forest, it’s a great place for beginners with 36 miles of fun to explore, along with great views of the Front Range, Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods Park. Avoid the weekends if you want to miss the crowds.
Colorado is home to some pretty fantastic wildlife too. Elk, bighorn sheep, moose, bison and bald eagles are just some of the wildlife that call this state home. The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge houses nearly 50 genetically pure bison, thanks to the dozen that were relocated here from the National Bison Range in Montana a decade ago. Numerous elk roam the streets and golf course in Estes Park, just outside Rocky Mountain National Park. Enter the park, and you’ll be stepping into the home of over 3,000 elk and 800 bighorn sheep, as well as herds of mule deer and moose. The rather elusive moose are most likely to be spotted on the west side of the park along the Colorado River. Bighorn sheep are frequently seen at Sheep Lakes, May through about mid-August, while those bugling elk can be seen just about everywhere, though many like to photograph them just after sunrise in Moraine Park.
If you want to get a bird’s eye view of the state, head up into the nearly always bright blue skies in a hot-air balloon. Just about every popular vacation town and major city offers the opportunity. Breathe in that crisp air as you soar high above the Rockies, gazing down at those lofty peaks. The gorges, valleys and dramatic cliff faces in the Western Slope are especially inspiring when seen from above. Steamboat Springs is a top pick for many when it comes to gliding through the sky, and Wild West Balloon Adventures and Pegasus Balloon Tours even include a complimentary breakfast and a champagne celebration in the excursion. If you visit Steamboat in July, you can check out the annual hot air balloon rodeo too. It combines the annual art in the park festival, offering artistry and color both on canvases and in the air – get to the launch grounds early to capture some fabulous photos as the balloons inflate.
They say there is a trail for every mountain biker in Colorado. Steamboat claims to be Bike Town USA, while Winter Park calls itself Mountain Bike Capital USA and Crested Butte gave birth to the mountain bike. No matter where you go in this state, you’re close to a great ride. The 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail stretches across the Rockies from Canada to Mexico, and while you could do the whole thing for the ultimate adventure, it’s easy to take on portions of it like the 14- to 25-mile Monarch Crest Trail – it climbs from atop Monarch Pass to the Continental Divide and eventually reaches the Arkansas River valley floor.
Just an hour west of Denver is the best trail system along the Front Range: Buffalo Creek Recreation Area with its surreal, moon-like landscape offering all types of rides.
Rock climbers will find their own special slice of paradise just about everywhere they go in Colorado, including the foothills near Boulder, which are home to Eldorado Canyon State Park, acclaimed as the home of some of the best rock climbing in the world. It features over 500 climbing routes that range from simple single-pitch climbs to several difficult multi-pitch routes. Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs is a local favorite with its striking scenic beauty. In this natural rock garden of sunset-hued red sandstone, there are multiple routes to conquer. The highly experienced often head to Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park, with the state’s deepest, darkest canyons and cliff walls that dramatically rise to 2,722 feet above the Gunnison River.
Colorado is the ultimate hiker’s paradise. You could spend your entire life in this state and still not cover even half its trails. There are everything from short hikes near Denver to multi-day adventures in the Rockies. Whatever your heart desires, you’ll find it here. Alderfer/Three Sisters Park is near the city, but far enough to feel like a true escape. It boasts over ten miles of trails, most in the half- to two-mile range. When you’re looking for something longer, Golden Gate Canyon State Park offers 12,000 acres of pine and aspen forests, meadows and trails. Rocky Mountain National Park, just 90 minutes from Denver, is filled with spectacular scenic views and hiking trails. With over 300 miles of trails and more waterfalls than any other area on the Front Range, along with guaranteed wildlife views, it’s hard to beat.