K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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If you’re the type of traveler who thrives on adventure, particularly heart-pounding thrills, Colorado is one of the top states for a vacation. The Rocky Mountain State offers a wide range of recreational activities, including unique options and plenty of adrenaline-filled pursuits. There are even a few you didn’t know existed. From ice climbing to four-wheeling, skydiving and even gator wrestling, the list to choose from is a long one.
Ice climbing is one of the world’s most unique sports, something most people never get to experience. Heading out on your own is not only difficult, but the gear is pricey and frozen waterfalls few and far between. If you visit Ouray in southwestern Colorado, you’ll be able to experience it at the Ouray Ice Park, a human-made ice climbing venue that’s hosted in a magnificent gorge within walking distance of town. It features 200 named ice and mixed climbs, most within just a 15-minute walk of the entrance. During Ouray’s annual Ice Climbing Festival, you’ll not only get guidance but cheap rental equipment too.
If you’ve always wanted to stand in the middle of the Sahara, or any one of the world’s great sand deserts, there’s no need to spend hours on a flight because Colorado offers this experience too. In the Great Sand Dunes National Park, located between the San Juan Mountains and the Sangre de Cristo Desert, you’ll find the tallest dunes in the country, which soar up to more than 700 feet, offering sandboarding as well as sand-sledding.
The Royal Gorge is famous for housing the highest bridge in the entire nation. Not only can you get your heart pounding by looking down from it, you can go zip lining across the canyon, and take part in other thrills too. The zip line tours including the world’s first “flight line” free fall belay system, with 20 zip lines in total, from classic to extreme courses that span more than three miles. While the classic course is the most popular, adrenaline seekers won’t want to miss the Extreme Zip Line Course, considered to be one of the fastest courses on the continent.
If skydiving is on your bucket list, or if it’s something you want to experience Mile-Hi Skydive Center in Longmont, just a half-hour’s drive north of Denver, is a great way to make it happen. Just imagine the feel of the wind against your skin as you soar through the brilliant blue skies Colorado is famous for at 18,000 feet above sea level, taking in a bird’s-eye view of the glorious Rocky Mountain foothills to the west and the soaring jagged peaks beyond. This is the largest skydiving facility in the state, and if you’ve never tried it before you can take a tandem jump which includes being paired with an instructor on your flight through the sky.
It takes a certain kind of person to want to get into a pit and wrestler a gator. If that’s you, you don’t have to head to the swamps of Louisiana. Instead, visit Colorado Gators Reptile Park in central Colorado near the town of Mosca, just west of Great Sand Dunes National Park. It’s the spot to test your skills at gator wrestling – of course, you’ll get instructions on how to handle the gators that range from two to eight feet long first. Reptile enthusiasts can also take a class focusing on how to properly handle an assortment of other reptiles too.
There are multiple opportunities for soaring through the skies in this state – one of them is paragliding, offered by Peak to Peak Paragliding in Boulder. If you plan to be here for a while, the establishment offers lessons so that you can learn to paraglide anywhere in the world. Based in Boulder, you’ll near about paragliding safety, equipment fundamentals and how to pilot the glider. It also offers one of the only programs in the region where students can travel together, enjoying paragliding in exotic locations too.
Glenwood Springs, in the heart of the Rockies, hosts the only theme park in the U.S. that sits on top of a mountain. It offers indoor and outdoor activities, including some big thrills. There’s an alpine coaster, a haunted mine drop, the Cliffhanger roller coaster, and the Giant Canyon Swing, among others. The swing launches passengers over Glenwood Canyon, 1,300 feet above the Colorado River at speeds of up to 50 miles an hour. If you’re brave enough to open your eyes at that height, you’ll be able to take in breathtaking views of Glenwood Springs and the canyon too.
There are thousands of miles of off-road trails open to off-road vehicles like ATVs, four-wheel drives and motorcycles in Colorado, offering lots for thrill-seekers. On Lizard Pass near Telluride, ride while taking in the awe-inspiring views of the San Juan Mountains. West of Fort Collins at Red Feather Lakes, the Roosevelt National Forest features over 100 miles of double-track ATV trails. Over in western Colorado near Grand Junction, the Grand Mesa Trails provide miles and miles of trails for all skill levels, including the more advanced, passing glistening lakes, lush meadows and dense forests.
Colorado is home to countless rivers that provide thrilling whitewater for rafting. 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, while the lower Animas River often includes other excursions, like a zipline tour and a ride on the famous Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. 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, departing from destinations like Buena Vista, Salida and Canon City.