What to Do in Colorado
Things to Do in a Colorado Summer
I've lived most my life in Colorado, with never a summer spent without something fun to do in the Colorado mountains. It's easy to take this life for granted until I travel out of state and come back to Colorado. Then I think I see a little of what my dad saw when he first arrived in Colorado after traveling through Nebraska and Kansas with a bus load of other paper boys who had also won "the trip of a lifetime" to the Colorado mountains. They must have clambered at the windows as soon as the first blue and white jagged outline came over the flat horizon. Miles later when everyone was released to explore the mountains, he saw that deep blue sky with a changing countenance and the warm, unadulterated sunlight: crisp, hot, penetrating, cooking out the tangy pine needle scent and warmly rolling over the hills and forests; that was what must have greeted him when he finally stepped off that bus in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Years later, Colorado called my dad back. He majored in forestry at Colorado State, married an artistic, intelligent, mountain-raised girl, and built his home and his family in the clear blue mountain air.
Now I see what he saw. And I want to share with you what makes Colorado so exhilarating. Here is what you should do in Colorado: the best of the best local secrets.
Top Things to Do in Colorado
1. Go Camping in Rocky Mountain National Park.
One of the most famous Colorado postcard shots is of a certain grassy wildflower meadow and a chain of white-tipped peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park. The best campground (Moraine Park Campground) is on the other side of this meadow, and is full of trees and tent spots that are widely set apart from each other for maximum seclusion. There are five campgrounds available in Rocky Mountain National Park, all with water and phones, for tents only, with fees that apply. Visit Camping in Rocky Mtn. National Park for more information.
2. Play in a Mountain Creek.
Some of my most treasured memories belong to the days our family spent at a creek. We'd bring a picnic of sandwiches and cherries, a few books, some fishing poles, and maybe a chair or two. Most the time we were in the water, though, pulling crayfish and colorful rocks out of the creek bed. All of Colorado's creeks come directly from snowmelt runoff, and are frigid until your feet get used to the temperature, but the good thing is that these creeks are usually wide and flat. Rarely will you find one that would sweep you away. Fly-fishing for trout is also hugely popular in Colorado creeks, and you'll be able to gear up at one of the many tackle shops on your way into the mountains. Many mountain gas stations also carry fishing gear, live bait, and lures.
Colorado Mountain View
Summer Snow in Colorado
3. Go for a Hike
You'll never fully experience Colorado until you get out of the car and start exploring on foot. Hiking trails are everywhere, and nearly every trail has a sign-map at the trailhead so you can plan your route and make sure you know how long it will take. The best trails are ones that loop around so you get to cover new territory with each step. Some of my family's favorite hikes near our home are:
- Lair of the Bear, just outside of Morrison, and an easy half an hour from Denver. This is a shady trail that winds along a creek, has wild raspberries in late summer, and leads you past one of Colorado's rare lived-in castles. This trail is great for children as it's an easy walk on a dirt pathway, with many things to stop and look at on the way.
- Deer Creek Canyon Park, above the Ken Caryl Ranch area, has more elevation gain, taking hikers and bikers up a canyon to a great lookout point where they can see Denver and beyond, as well as clamber around on some of the great sandstone formations up there.
- Mount Falcon Park can be accessed on either the east or west side of the hogbacks, with trailheads on each end. The west trailhead is the most pleasant, since it takes you through trees, valleys, past some castle ruins from the 1800s, and leads to some beautiful lookout points where snow-capped peaks can be seen just beyond.
4. Get on top of a 14,000 foot peak.
To really experience the best of Colorado, you must put yourself far above timberline, where the views are profound and the oxygen isn't. Both Pike's Peak and Mt. Evans have roads that switchback to their summits, and Pike's Peak even has a retro cog railway from its base to its peak! The best thing to do, if you are able, is to climb a 14er instead of drive up. You'll get to experience the most beautiful of Colorado's trails, push yourself through extreme conditions, breathe that "rarified" mountain air only available up there, and view an ocean of valleys and peaks spreading 360 degrees in every direction. For more details, photos, and info on this, visit my article Climbing Colorado's 14ers.
5. Eat at one of the famous Beaujo's Mountain Pizza Restaurants.
Our favorite Beaujo's is in Idaho Springs, and we always seem to get to it right at dinner time after an adventure higher in the mountains. Beaujo's has a rugged, lodge-style theme, populated by devoted fans who draw pictures on their paper napkins as they wait for their order. These "mountain pies" (piping hot pizzas) are like no other pizza I've ever eaten. But then again, I love thick crusts and lots of meat on my pizzas! Another Beaujo's tradition is to put honey on your leftover crust handle for dessert (another reason to get a thick-crusted pizza). After you've worked up a rarified appetite climbing a 14er, be sure to satisfy your hunger at Beaujo's! I have put together a list of some of the Best Pizza Restaurants in the Colorado Mountains, which has more details about Beaujo's locations and specialties.
Downtown Denver's 16th Street Mall
Colorado Rodeo - Family Fun!
6. Enjoy Denver's 16th Street Mall
One of the original main streets of downtown Denver's business district is now one of the loveliest places in Denver to spend a classic evening. Enjoy eating and Italian feast in a repurposed train station at the Spaghetti Factory, then wander down to the Cheesecake factory for some of the richest cheesecake you'll ever taste. Then take a horse and buggy ride down other antiquated streets and finish off the evening with a play at one of the many theaters in the area. Boutiques and specialty stores abound here as well! If your legs decide they need a break, take the free trolley car back to your starting point on the Sixteenth Street Mall.
7. Raft the Colorado and Arkansas Rivers
For a hot, sunny, summer mountain day, there's nothing like the thrill and refreshment of rafting on the rapids! Hit the rivers in July or August and you'll be sure to get plenty of snowmelt, which means swollen rivers with fast-moving rapids. Plunge through rocky gorges, drift across beaver ponds, start water fights with other rafts, and even jump out when the river is calm for a lung-shocking plunge into the ice water! Our family and just about every other adventuresome Coloradan we know has gone rafting with Noah's Ark Whitewater Rafting Company. We highly recommend them for experienced guides, dependable equipment, and a steadfast Christian witness in every aspect of their business!
8. Go to a Mountain Rodeo.
Like many of the western states, Colorado has its fair share of extreme rodeo sports, including several rodeo competitions at the National Western Stock Show held every year in Denver, at the state fair in Pueblo, and countless others that are a rare slice of local mountain life in small mountain towns here and there. We have enjoyed several, but the most memorable is one we came upon in the little town of Frisco on the 4th of July two years ago. Mountain cowboys and mountain farm kids were the perfect example of the rugged western way of life as they battled their wills against the animals'. ColoradoInfo.com has a comprehensive schedule of the major upcoming rodeo events.
Rafting in Colorado
Trail Ridge Road Map
9. Drive up Trail Ridge Road as You Listen to John Denver's "Colorado Rocky Mountain High"
We don't know if it's the music, the altitude, or the 800 ft. drop off, but one thing is certain: we love to make our first-time Colorado guests giddy on Trail Ridge Road. Bobby-pin switchbacks and a road shoulder as wide as your tire would do the trick just fine, but we think the drive is more fun with John Denver yodeling about "hanging by a song" and "raining fire in the sky." On top of that, or rather, AT the top of that, you can gasp for air or gasp for wonder as you look out from the top of the word over miles and miles of mountains, gorges, peaks, and hillsides. If you make the drive at night, be sure to lift your eyes above the hills to the wispy Milky Way that creates a micah-flecked river in the sky. It's the Colorado Rocky Mountain high!