Have you ever wanted to pack your bags and head for the state of Colorado? A place where wide, open prairies give way immediately to snow-capped mountains and evergreen forests. If so, here are the recommended places to travel to, the packing list, and extra advice you need to enjoy an amazing adventure out west!
We both traveled out west this summer. Emily traveled on a summer-camp affiliated trip, and Lilly traveled by RV with her family. Both parties made sure to maintain all guidelines pertaining to the virus, and took the necessary precautions when arriving back home. We had a great time, and wanted to share our knowledge of that absolutely amazing state.
If climbing and hiking are your main interests throughout your visit, we have a few suggestions.
Starting off with a casual day hike, Wild Basin in Estes Park, CO, is surrounded by beautiful wildlife and nature. After the quick hike, you could even enjoy fishing in the rivers beside the trails. Now, for a more advanced and intense adventure, there are a few mountains that we could suggest. First, Twin Sisters Peak in Estes Park is a 7-mile hike that ends at 11,427 feet, and has incredible 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains. The triangular peak is rocky and windy, so be careful. Although the hike is difficult, the views at the top are 100% worth it.
For the next climb, you have to be prepared. Mt. Elbert, in Leadville, CO is definitely for more advanced adventurers, with a final elevation of 14,440 feet. It’s actually the highest peak in Colorado. Before embarking on this hike, make sure you are prepared with lots of layers and warm clothes, water, and snacks for the way. The elevation gain is definitely the most difficult part, but like Twin Sisters, the views at the top are worth every step. Mt. Elbert takes much longer- when we did it, we started hiking at 3 am and made it to the summit at 8 am. The most important thing is to get back below the tree line before the possibility of thunderstorms. Mt. Elbert was the hardest thing we’ve ever done, but we felt so accomplished at the end and every step and seemingly never-ending hill was worth it for the views and sense of accomplishment at the summit, posing for pictures with my best friends and taking in the views. The picture below is over halfway to the summit.
Longs Peak is our final suggestion, but this is an advanced climb with dangerous sections of loose rocks and narrow ledges to climb across. The hike to the summit of Longs Peak begins with hiking for a few miles before reaching the Boulder Field and then advancing to the Keyhole, where the real climbing begins. After passing the Keyhole, it takes an additional few hours to climb the final two miles to the summit because of the precarious ledges and elevation gain, but those last few miles are exhilarating. Another piece of advice for this climb is to do it in the late summer months if you plan on making it to the summit because the snow and ice are too dangerous to surpass for beginners. The views are incredible for every step past the Keyhole, and while it can be intimidating, Longs Peak was, for lack of a better word, the coolest thing I’ve ever experienced. The overwhelming joy and awe at reaching the summit are like nothing else! The pictures below are at and right past the Keyhole, and right before the summit.
After the early wake-up calls of 2 am for Longs Peak and Mt. Elbert, coffee was a necessity! One coffee shop that we visited the most often was Mile High Coffee House in Estes Park, along with Trident Cafe in Boulder. We highly recommend the iced mochas and chai tea lattes from both locations.
Inta Juice, a smoothie store in Estes Park, was a favorite for our group. We bought at least seven smoothies or smoothie bowls in the five days we spent in Estes Park and wouldn’t hesitate to go back! The Tahiti Delight and Matcha Green Tea smoothies and Brazilian Bowl were the favorites.
If hiking isn’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of other less strenuous options. If you find yourself in Colorado Springs, visit the Garden of the Gods. It is a beautiful nature reserve with hiking trails for the adventurous, but also quick strolls through the amazing rock formations for the entire family. You can enjoy the luxury of a visitor center and a trading post, but also enjoy views that, normally, could only be seen by hiking for miles. The park is also vehicle accessible if you do not feel totally comfortable walking. From a car, you can enjoy slightly blocked views of the rock formations, but it is a great alternative if the summer heat or winter chill is too much to bear.
A great way to travel Colorado is by car or even by RV. Colorado boasts beautiful scenery that can be seen from the comfort of your vehicle. In just an hour drive, your scenery can change from plains and farm landscapes to mountainous roads among cliffs or evergreen trees. Just be cautious and make sure to check the weather before you head out. You do not want to get caught up in a hailstorm or a dust storm. If you have nothing else to do, get out there and go for a drive!
For the more daring, many small towns in Colorado offer Jeep rentals to tourists specifically for off-roading. You have the option of renting it for a day or two, and your choice of the routes to take. We would recommend Ophir Pass if you are looking for a more beginner choice, but it still has plenty of elements that any experienced off-roader would love. Be warned this is not for the faint of heart. Obstacles include driving on the side of rocky, cliff faces on a narrow road, two-way traffic on these roads (when there is only enough room for one vehicle), and insufficient cell service in high altitudes. Be sure to either bring a packed lunch or arrange where you are eating ahead of time.
If you are looking to get out into nature, a really unique trip would be to the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It is located in southern Colorado and boasts amazing views. You can hike, camp, and even sand sled down the dunes. You can bring your own sled or rent one, and buy a cube of wax to ensure a speedy slide. It’s a little hike to the actual sand dunes, so bring athletic shoes versus flip flops (trust us). In certain months, you need to cross a creek to get to the dunes, so be prepared and check the website. It gives super helpful updates that you can use to fine-tune your visit.
If you enjoy going to National Parks, you would enjoy Mesa Verde National Park. It is the site of the remaining cliff dwellings built by the Anasazi Native Americans. In preparation for COVID-19, the park created a podcast for a driving tour of the park. You can choose between different routes, and follow along with a narrative from one of the rangers. Just a warning, some of the roads can be difficult to maneuver in an RV or oversized vehicle, so take caution and let an experienced driver take the wheel.
If you are looking for a little taste of the Grand Canyon in Colorado, visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. It is unlike any other canyon because the rocks form steep, jagged points. There are very few tourists, so you can enjoy a sense of solitude that you may not get at other national parks. We would recommend a quick drive through the park and stopping at some of the points, as well as the visitor’s center. There are hiking options too (just be sure to bring shoes fit for hiking on rocks). You can even picnic among the precipitous drops of the canyon, and listen to the river rush below.
If you are interested in a historical adventure, visiting ghost towns is a great way to see the old wild west. Some are just little, old mining towns that have been reclaimed by nature after more than 100 years, but others have been preserved and are now operated as museums. One of which is Alta, located in central Colorado. It is at an elevation of 11,800 feet, and closest to Telluride, Colorado. Alta was an old mining camp, but it was never considered a town due to the fact that it’s largest population was only 100 inhabitants (during the gold boom). You can walk around and see beautiful mountains and pine trees, along with the sagging cabins and boarding houses. It makes for a beautiful day trip, and you can camp near the lake just a mile away from the preserved buildings. A more commercial option would be South Park City in Fairplay, Colorado. It is located in central Colorado, and it was restored to show visitors the life of a successful town. It is an immersive experience, and visitors can feel as if they were transported back in time. The museum does an excellent job of being historically accurate while making the exhibit fun for all ages.
If you’ve ever white water rafted any rivers near Spartanburg like the Nantahala, you know the rapids can get pretty intense, but they have nothing on the rapids in the Arkansas River. We began our rafting adventure in Canon City, Colorado, with a company that took big groups like ours down the river, and we highly recommend it. The raft guides not only helped us navigate the river, but had a never-ending stream of fun facts and historical information about the city around us, which made this experience even more valuable.
When traveling in Summer, bring:
- Rain jacket - random rain/hail storms
- Warm clothes (hiking → high elevation)
- Summer clothes - high temperatures during summer in lower elevations
- Good shoes → for hiking or walking
- Bug spray/sunscreen
- Picnic blanket
- Reusable water bottle
Our trips to Colorado were full of valuable experiences, but the most important thing we took away from it was getting out of our comfort zones. We encourage you to try and do the same. Happy traveling!
Disclaimer: Please take the necessary precautions if you choose to travel during a pandemic. Please protect yourself and others around you.