Heading to Colorado?
Here are a dozen things to do
You know about its apres ski scene, bunny slopes, powdery bowls and halfpipes. 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.
One dip in any of Colorado’s 200 or so hot springs and you’ll embrace a more 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 that stretches through five regions. It showcases 19 diverse hot springs, including large pools, tiny tubs and rustic hideaways.
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.
Hang 10, Colorado-style
Catch a wave — as kayakers do. Though a thousand miles from the sea in Central Colorado, Buena Vista’s whitewater 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 factory, 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, a 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 and 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 never could 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.
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, whitewater raft, do ranching activities — even take vintage cars for a spin.
Colorado has long inspired artists. Peruse some of the fruits of these inventive labors when you journey along the Colorado Creative Corridor. A 331-mile passage that links the mountain towns of Salida, Ridgeway, Crested Butte, Paonia and Carbondale, this extraordinary tour of the state ensures aesthetic fulfillment. Offering gallery tours, art walks, theater and music festivals, healing arts, gourmet adventures and other festive options to satiate the senses, the five creative districts will awaken your sleeping virtuoso.
Summit County, where the ski town of Breckenridge lies, has the highest life expectancy in the country, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2017. Maybe it's due to the jaw-dropping landscape or the heart-warming cuteness of the onetime miners town — a place reimagined and restored to hold breweries, boutiques, bakeries and such. But it's equally possible that Breck’s fit factor hails from the retreat’s 50 miles of interconnected trails — ideal for year-round sports fanatics. For something different, clamber up the climbing wall at Epic Discovery, an activity enclave at Peak 8 Base Camp — which also offers a zip line, wildlife trail and an Alpineer Challenge Course.
Talk to the animals
Did you know llamas hum when they’re happy? Listen to one croon when you join him for a hike with Colorado’s Paragon Guides at Arrowhead Ski Area near Vail. Their four-hour Take a Llama to Lunch hike enables you to lead your llama over hill and dell. Longer treks, including hut-to-hut, multi-night excursions, can be arranged. For some Zen, join a goat yoga class. At Vail Stables, the enthusiastic goats who join your yoga practice don’t bleat — they say "om." While you twist and turn, the goats challenge your concentration, lighten the spiritual load with their whimsy and turn your downward-facing goat into the best asana of your life.
Most people don’t know the history of Vail. But its unique ambiance was born from the memories and passion of Pete Seibert, who served in the 10th Mountain Division in World War II, a team of skiers and mountaineer-trained soldiers, based in the Alpine region of Italy. Vail Ski Resort, built from scratch, opened in 1962, architecturally replicating the mountain villages Seibert had come to love. Learn about the resort’s history on an art walk with Molly Eppard, Vail’s Art in Public Places coordinator and a onetime New York art dealer. She’ll show you authentic sgraffito on chalet-style buildings, sculptures, murals, paintings and other artwork by masters from Lawrence Weiner to Carolyn Braaksma. Don’t miss the artist-designed playgrounds, story tiles and water jet-cut stainless steel forms throughout.
Jazz up your hike or ski day with a little help from the Four Seasons Vail. Order a sumptuous picnic from the hotel to nosh atop the mountain (any time of the year). The resort’s culinary team will deliver it to you to an appointed place — perhaps ski it right to your blanket. Or, if you’d like a gourmand’s experience beneath the juniper trees, allow executive chef Marcus Stewart to join you mountainside. He’ll cook his signature Flame steaks and shuck oysters while you watch. Wine throughout the meal and chocolate for dessert go without saying.
No, we aren’t suggesting vanishing in the woods. At Snowmass, ride the Elk Camp Gondola up to partake of Lost Forest, an exciting new year-round playground. Steps from a terrace prime for sipping wine, in the shadows of peaks and ski runs, the exhilarating Breathtaker Alpine Coaster will catch your attention. Open days (and some nights) in all seasons, the ride winds down a mile of terrain along an elevated track. At speeds up to 28 miles per hour, the jaunt takes around seven to 10 heart-thumping minutes to complete. While there, also test some of the other experiences — such as the Canopy Run Zipline and Treeline Trail Challenge Course.
Archeology and anthropology buffs can honor their inner Indiana Jones in southwestern Colorado’s Mesa Verde Country. Home to Mesa Verde National Park, an expanse that holds 5,000 archeological sites, the area brims with history. Known for its spectacular cliff dwellings, the park allows access via ladders into the archaic, hand-built homes and villages. Stay on site at Far View Lodge for easy access to the ruins. Nearby, Hovenweep National Monument boasts six prehistoric villages built between A.D. 1200-1300.