A lavender sunrise reveals the marbled and cracked surface of Dream Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. If not for the chill, this would be the most beautiful floor in the world. Photo courtesy of Eric Schuette.
Colorado is the home of the Rocky Mountains, the gateway to the West, filled with pioneer history, real life cowboys, hip towns, hot springs and some of the best hiking, biking, camping and climbing you’re ever likely to find – all only one direct flight away, with British Airways flying to Denver seven times per week.
Winter here is rightly famous, but the adventure lasts all year. In summer, wildflowers carpet the mountain slopes; in autumn, golden hues race through the forests. There are 300 days of sunshine a year, more 14ers (mountain summits over 14,000-feet) than any other state and a festival scene that doesn’t quit - from the spectacular Snowmass Hot Air Balloon Festival where hundreds of balloons fill the sky with colour, to the slightly mad Iron Horse Bicycle Classic (fancy chasing a steam train up a mountain anyone?), Colorado’s got you covered.
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European ski resorts might get all the airtime, but for true winter junkies a Rocky Mountain trip is a must. Powder here is drier, lighter and perfect for carving, plus the runs are empty and enormous. The amount of choice is superb too, from the wide-open bowls of Vail and Breckenridge to the fast lines of Aspen and Snowmass, as well as more than a dozen other world-class winter resorts within a short drive of each other.
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Colorado is home to 12 national parks and monuments, offering everything from backpacking and horseback riding to rafting, rock climbing and even, in Great Sand Dunes National Park, sand boarding among North America’s highest dunes. Most ski resorts stay open year-round, switching from pistes to downhill mountain biking trails and keeping the lifts running for high-elevation hiking and easy-to-reach panoramic views. The town of Grand Junction makes an excellent adventure base-camp, with some of the best outdoor activities in the state right in its back yard.
Some like it hot
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Combining the spectacular scenery of the Rockies with five of the hippest hot spring towns in the country, the 720-mile Historic Hot Springs Loop is the best way to soak up Colorado’s healing waters. With 30 natural thermal pools open year-round, highlights include the largest mineral hot springs pool in the world at Glenwood Springs, the soothing natural vapour caves of Ouray and the bubbling delights of Steamboat.
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Rocky Mountain National Park is legendary: a 415-square-mile wilderness of jagged peaks and high alpine lakes home to coyote, black bear and moose. The fun mountain town of Estes Park, a great base from which to explore it, is just 1.5 hours from Denver. There are lesser known national parks too such as Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a spectacular 2,000-foot gorge that rivals the Grand Canyon but draws a fraction of the crowds, and the cliff-dwellings of Mesa Verde, one of the best preserved examples of Native American culture in the country.
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Photo by VISIT DENVER
If you’re after something a little less strenuous, try Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre – by day it’s a free city park just 30 minutes west of Denver with hiking trials and giant rock formations, by night, an outdoor music venue that has hosted everyone from The Beatles to local jazz, rock and bluegrass artists.
The Wild West
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From ghost towns and vintage trains to working cowboy ranches and the largest rodeo in the world, Denver’s annual National Western Stock Show and Rodeo (as well as the first: the Deer Trail Rodeo which started in 1869) – the Wild West is alive and kicking in Colorado.
Saddle up or join a cattle drive, and you’ll feel the spirit of that old frontier still; footprints of dinosaurs embedded in stone, petroglyphs carved into cliffs, rivers where you can pan for gold.
Want to look the part? Head to Rockmount Ranch Wear in downtown Denver, where Western icon, Jack A. Weil, invented the first cowboy shirt with poppers instead of buttons and popularised Western wear into popular culture.
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With more craft breweries per capita than any other state, Colorado is heaven for hop heads. Denver’s Great American Beer Festival is the largest craft beer event in the country while the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival is set in a spectacular valley. But, it’s the little-known gems that really catch the eye: The Grimm Brothers, serving fable-inspired brews in Loveland, and the mountain views from Avery’s enormous outdoor patio in Boulder, are two local favourites.
Get the true lowdown on a self-guided tour along the Denver Beer Trail and sample everything from stouts to lagers.
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Denver is Bronco’s country. When Colorado’s American Football team plays, the whole city dresses in orange to support. Catch games live at the Blake Street Tavern in the heart of downtown. But with seven premier sports teams in all, don’t stop there. On a warm summer night, hot dog in one hand, cold beer in the other, there’s no better place to be than Coors Field, home of The Rockies baseball team.
On the Rails
Photo by Carol M. Highsmith on Wiki Commons
The steam-powered Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway, built in 1882, cuts spectacularly through the canyons and remote mountains of the San Juan National Forest – a journey taken by Colorado’s first pioneers more than a century ago. While vintage train lovers will adore Pikes Peak Cog Railway, near Colorado Springs. The highest cog railway on the planet, it climbs to the 14,114-foot summit of Pike’s Peak, the view from here inspired the song America the Beautiful
because it was pretty last minute and we’re bad at planning it wasn’t until we were about to get onto Road To The Sun after eating supper that we learnt from locals that it was still closed for the year. Snowed over.
This caused a three hour re-route. A good portion of which was on what is now and forever known as DEATH ROAD. the locals told us not to go that way but what do locals know that we don’t. /fp
leading up to it were signs that in hindsight accurately describe the experience. intermittent pavement, they said. we laughed, like what the hell is that.
turns out it’s very very bad road carved into the side of a mountain with a very deadly drop inches from the road. it was terrifying and amazing all at the same time. unfortunately there was no where to stop to take pictures that didn’t mean sure death so here are a few from the other side of the mountain once you’ve cleared the death road.
ps. always listen to locals. don’t be dumb like us and find yourself almost at dark on very bad roads hanging off the side of a mountain in a strange country.
Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado encourages you to follow your wild spirit and see what’s over the horizon. In any season, the views are epic and the experiences are unforgettable. Stopping to take a picture of one of the most beautiful sunsets he’d ever seen, photographer Brandon Sharpe noticed “an elk doing his thing” and snapped this incredible image. Photo courtesy of Brandon Sharpe.