Colorful Colorado Destinations: There's more to Colorado than dubstep and shredding.
Maroon Bells (Aspen) – Cameras were created for this. Touting itself as one of the most-photographed peaks in the nation, Maroon Bells and adjoining Maroon Lake harbor some of the more captivating sights Colorado has to offer. A simple hike or seasonal bus tour takes you here to Instagram your own outdoor memories. Access is limited to cars and motorized vehicles, but a common road is available to walkers, bikers or bladers. Rollerblades, remember those?
Hanging Lake (Glenwood Springs) – This rare and alluring landscape is one for the books. Named because of its precarious location within the cliffs of Glenwood Canyon, Hanging Lake is also home to a few falls that feed the drink. While the glorified pond is chock full of delicious trout, its more of a look-don’t-touch-ever destination. Fishing gear is not welcome, nor is that poorly behaved lap warmer you lovingly call a pet. The hike to the lake is fairly easy, but beware the throngs of visitors this popular destination will no doubt host with this season.
Pikes Peak / Cog Railway (Colorado Springs) – The second most-visited mountain in the world behind Japan’s famed Mount Fuji? Believable. Pikes Peak having a conscious ability to update its own Facebook profiles? Unbelievable. We digress. Whether you’re up for climbing the renowned 14er by foot or grabbing granny and driving your way to the top, Pikes Peak won’t disappoint outdoor enthusiasts. The Cog Railway, which has been in service since 1891, also supplies visitors with a unique ride around the area. Fun fact: Zalmon Simmons, the mattress magnate himself, was one of the first to fund and conceptualize the Pikes Peak Cog Railway.
Garden of the Gods (Colorado Springs) – The city of Colorado Springs claims the famous “Garden of the Gods” label stemmed from a conversation between two surveyors searching for a town site. When they arrived in the area known for its towering rocks of red and improbable formations, one claimed it would be a “capital place for a beer garden.” The other, thinking bigger, hollered back, “Beer garden? Why this is a fit place for the Gods to assemble. We will call it, the Garden of the Gods.” Partying with the Gods? We’re there.
Sand Dunes (Alamosa) – Arguably one of the most stellar attractions the state has to offer, the Great Sand Dunes National Park delivers a serene backdrop to a camping adventure or recreational fun via any means necessary. With plenty of surrounding areas to either camp or stay, the relatively long drive (about 240 miles or so one way) doesn’t have to be round tripped in a day. Pack plenty of water, cheap (as in you won’t mind losing them) sunglasses and an old snowboard or plastic sled. These are the tallest sand dunes in North America, so climb to the top and brag away.
Royal Gorge Bridge (Cañon City) – Long before safety standards were even a thing, men willingly strapped themselves 1,000 feet above raging waters to build this engineering marvel. After construction was completed in the winter of 1929, The Royal Gorge Bridge was the world’s highest and remained as such until 2001, falling a few hundred feet short of Liuguanghe Bridge in China. Typical. It does, however, remain the highest bridge in America and may be experienced in ways tailored to comfort. Drive across, walk across, hell, crawl if you have to. The Royal Gorge Bridge is just a short drive from the city, which makes this destination a great day filler.
Seven Falls (Colorado Springs) – It is like it sounds. There’s water, and it’s falling from seven places. Just experience it for yourself. Encounter more than the abatement with plenty of trails to hike and expanses to explore. If the small and intimidating stairs don’t seem worth your effort — or if you can’t trust that second fifth you and your buddies drank — take full advantage of an in-mountain elevator to get you to the top. The area is privately owned, so expect a nominal fee to enter.
Estes Park / Stanley Hotel – Cabins, campgrounds, bed and breakfasts and pet-friendly lodgings await at Colorado’s iconic Estes Park. Only a few short hours out of the city, Estes Park is home of the Rocky Mountain National Park Headquarters and the famous Stanley Hotel. Opened in 1909, the Stanley, made famous by Stephen King’s “The Shining,” acknowledges its infamy by providing ghost tours and delivering a haunted package complete with your own, take-home electromagnetic field detector.
Manitou Springs – The Waldo Canyon Fire plowed over Manitou Springs and the surrounding areas last year, so go drop some duckets to a town in need. Often called the Gateway to Pikes Peak, Manitou Springs epitomizes the small and friendly town vibe. While there are plenty of unique shops to browse for uncommon wares, the center of the city is occupied by four buildings full of arcade games and bars. Get retro with anything from antique penny games to some of the newer series from today.
The Royal Arch / Chautauqua Park (Boulder) – Not everything has to be so damned far away that you waste an entire day getting to and fro. Within the city of Boulder Chautauqua Trailhead and park hosts the entrance to a few hikes to the Royal Arch. While it’s listed as moderately strenuous because of its quick ascent, the views are more than capable of shifting your weary mind away from the challenge. Be sure to take plenty of photos to upload later so everyone from your senior class can balk at your carefree lifestyle.
Mount Evans (Idaho Springs) – It’s a rookie mistake to not think ahead to the possibility of cold weather on any hike above 10,000 feet. We say this, but someone will make it and be hitchhiking back down before dinner time. Just because it’s roughly an hour outside of the city, don’t think the temperature won’t change on you by at least a solid 40 degrees. If you were that stupid and careless this 14er will show you some semblance of compassion because if you can’t hike it, you can drive it. This is the option to take if you’re afraid you’ll miss the new episode of “Game of Thrones” or whatever nerd show it is keeping you glued to the couch and single these days.
Devil’s Head Lookout (Castle Rock) – Devil’s Head Lookout is an old watchtower that was built in the early 1900s to spot fires in the area. On clear days, the view from the platform extends out for miles. Don’t expect a quiet jaunt in the woods, however, as this hike is a popular destination for surrounding families because it’s a kid-friendly place to explore. With it being such a quick ride to the trail head, it wouldn’t be a half-bad spot for a date, provided you packed a delicious picnic basket and keep the awkward stories at a minimum.
Cave of the Winds (Manitou Springs) – Those funny little bastards in “South Park” have done more to Colorado tourism in the past decade than most other advertising giants ever dreamed. Things like Casa Bonita and Cave of the Winds are portrayed so perfectly in their respective episodes that any show lover should probably visit at least once. Expect nothing less than an eye roll from tour guides when you brazenly profess you’re searching for man-bear-pig, but who cares? It’s your money. You can be as douchey and cliché as you want.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (Montrose) – The rafting / kayaking is advanced, the climbing is advanced, so what is here that us normies can appreciate? There’s a lot, in fact, if you’re into the whole “tallest sheer cliff (at 2,250 feet) in Colorado” thing and “breathtaking views” nonsense. Sure, your confidence will dwindle watching bad-asses scale the seemingly impossible crags, but the views are the same with a nice drive and moderate hikes.
Mesa Verde National Park / Cliff Palace (Cortez) – Since we’re all supposed to believe everything that’s on television, we can say confidently that the Anasazi people built the Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park to cover themselves from alien invaders who were out to abduct humans nearly a thousand years ago. “Ancient Aliens” anyone? No? Regardless, this massive city on the side of the mountain is one of the most-captivating sights in the world. Delve into the history yourself, or purchase a tour.