Road Trip Worthy Ways to See Colorado, Part 1
(Spoiler Alert: Skiing’s not one of them)
You know about its apres ski scene, bunny slopes, powdery bowls and half pipes. But diverse Colorado, with its broad swathe of mountains and snow-crowned peaks, also has sand dunes, dramatic canyons, be-flowered meadows, rushing rivers and desert terrain. With a history inclusive of dinosaurs, ancient cultures, greedy miners, and settlers with a penchant for healthy diversions, the state has perpetual sunlight, fresh air and clean, glacial waters. Once sleepy, its capital city, Denver, now stands out as a trendsetting locale, a model for the revitalized chic mountain hamlets reimagining themselves throughout the state. With something for everybody, friendly Colorado offers experiences that run the gamut from river surfing to sand sledding, from llama hikes to yurt sleeping, from art tours to a hotel set in a whiskey distillery. Read on to discover some possibilities, accessible by car, for summer and fall.
And you thought snow was cool. One dip in any of Colorado’s two hundred (or so) hot springs, and you’ll embrace a warm, liquid approach to life. Key to the ancient healing tradition known as balneotherapy, mineral rich hot springs (purportedly) cure what ails you—from muscle aches to spiritual woes. At the very least, a substantial soak will relax you to your core. Take any portion of the state’s dedicated Hot Springs Loop, a 720-mile route which stretches through five regions. It showcases 19 diverse hot springs, including large pools, tiny tubs and rustic hideaways. From Pagosa Springs, (where you can can idle about in a tony hotel called The Springs, which has 24 variously-sized thermal pools all filled with warm H20 from the world’s deepest geothermal hot springs) to Glenwood Springs (where you can swim laps in the earth’s biggest hot springs-fed swimming pool) a bevy of watery wonder awaits. For a romantic splurge, check into Dunton Hot Springs, an all-cabin, luxury retreat with its own spring-fed pools.
Stars At Night
Seek true illumination beneath the stars. Away from harsh city lights, the night sky explodes in milky glimmers and moonlight. Count your lucky stars at Avalanche Ranch Cabins & Hot Springs, nestled between Carbondale and Redstone, just a short drive from Aspen. At this remote, 36-acre ranch, home to llamas, sheep and dogs, you’ll spy celestial bodies you never knew existed. Stargaze from bed through your cabin’s panoramic windows or glimpse the heavens from the warmth of the retreat’s three natural spring pools. Another option? Check in further south, at Joyful Journey Hot Springs Spa, situated on the verge of the San Luis Valley, where you can sleep in a yurt, complete with a star watching peephole in its ceiling. Westcliffe, a restored, former mining town, part of the Pikes Peak Wonders region, was the first city in Colorado and the 9th in the world, to be designated a Dark Sky Community. Famous for its celestial vista, the town holds star gazing parties galore, and offers special vacations packages for the star obsessed.
Hang Ten Colorado-style
Catch a wave—as kayakers do. Though a thousand miles from the sea in Central Colorado, Buena Vista’s white water park edges the Arkansas River. Frothy and fast, it has plenty of “surfing” possibilities. Book a room at The Surf Chateau, a unique, contemporary haven of laid-back luxury, steps from the water. When not entering a barrel or doing an aerial, you can practice Stand Up Paddleboarding, fish, sip a craft beer, or hike and bike the adjacent, Central Coloradan mountain trails.
Get inspirited with a stay at the Distillery Inn, part of Marble Distillery in the Roaring Fork River Valley’s Carbondale. Ensconced in a sleek vodka and whiskey manufactory, right on the main street, the tony hotel has just a handful of luxuriously appointed rooms. Try the Moonlight Suite, which vaunts an ample, outdoor terrace. (Room rates include your first cocktail.) Base here to investigate the artsy town and its environs Don’t miss the newly minted Rio Grande ARTway, an historical stretch of hike and bike trail, abundant with artwork or a yoga class at True Nature Healing Arts.
Don’t wait for winter. Sledding and boarding aficionados can whiz down the tallest sand dunes in North America at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. Located in south-central Colorado, four hours from Denver, these majestic sand piles formed thousands of years ago. Today, they rise suddenly from the plains like nature’s glistening amusement park. Join the throngs, board in hand, as you scramble to the top, then slide down at exhilarating turbo speeds. Be sure to use boards specifically designed for sand, which can be rented near the park.
The miners who first inhabited the vintage structure, now known as Dogwood Cocktail Cabin, just off Elk Street in Crested Butte, likely quenched their thirst with truly horrendous coffee. Lucky for today’s libation lovers, the rustic hut has been retrofitted to serve up the sort of alchemical potation that those early day mountain men could never have imagined. After a bike ride, a ramble through the mountain resort’s surrounding fields of stellar wildflowers, or a shopping excursion on boutique bedecked Elk Avenue (that’s Elk Ave for short if you’re trying to be local), get thee to Dogwood. Try the Herban Cowboy, a concoction with black pepper infused bourbon, Fernet Branca, molasses and black licorice.
Old McDonald Had A Farm
A plethora of national monuments surround Canyon of the Ancients Guest Ranch, a remote cabin community in the red-rock dotted southwestern corner of Colorado. An agritourism adventure, this friendly farm will have you working side-by-side owners Gary and Ming as you feed the animals or till the organic garden. Other not-to-be-missed activities include exploring local archeological sites with in-house expert Yusef, horseback riding, hiking and biking—not to mention wine tasting at Sutcliffle Vineyards, located nearby. For a highlight, hang out with Quasimodo, the cutest/ugliest sheep you’ll ever meet.
Road Trip Worthy
Nostalgia loving car travelers can steer their way across the the Centennial State, stopping to rest wistfully at a coterie of trendily renovated, vintage motor lodges. Stay at chic Amigo Motor Lodge, featuring airstreams and stylish rooms (plus a teepee and hot tub) or Del Norte’s Mellow Moon Lodge, which recalls its1940-era past with a fire pit and onsite bike shop. In Pagosa Springs, Nightingale Motel immerses guests in 1950’s elan. Check out its retro bar, The Neon Mallard.
At Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa, where the soaring orange rock formation known as The Palisade stretches to the sky, you can meet an employee named Zebulon Miracle. His job? Curator of Curiosity. Bring the family to this five star resort, set amid untrammeled nature and dinosaur fossils, just minutes from the Utah border. Owned by John Hendricks, the founder of Discovery Channel, the ranch style retreat is a veritable portal to adventure. Follow Miracle to see extant dinosaur tracks and other archeological and geological sites. Alternatively, guests can ride horses, fly fish, white water raft, do ranching activities—even take vintage cars for a spin.
Stay tuned for part two.