If you already have some outdoor experience under your belt, then you’re ready for Colorado’s more challenging offerings. “Virtually the entire state is home to incredible outdoor playgrounds” says Denver-based fly fishing guide Jennings Hester, who founded Fishing the Good Fight. “But there’s practically a lifetime of adventures to be had within a few hours of Denver.” Fom running and hiking in the mountains outside of Nederland to paddling and fishing in the Fort Collins area, here’s a few ideas to get you started.
Run, Hike, or Backpack in the Indian Peaks Wilderness
The 27-mile Pawnee-Buchanan Loop has everything you could want from an alpine adventure: tons of snow-fed lakes, wide-open meadows, snowy peaks, and high mountain passes. Oh, and plenty of elevation gain too (7,000 feet). Whether you decide to run the loop in a day or spend a few nights out backpacking, be sure to stop for a beer at Very Nice Brewing Company in the quirky town of Nederland (“Ned” if you’re in the know). You’d be remiss not to take a spin on the Carousel of Happiness for good measure; it features 35 rideable hand-carved animals completed by one man over three decades.
Pro Tip: Ned’s trails have gotten more popular the past few years. If you want a hike all to yourself, head for the trailhead early, or go during the week instead of weekends.
Fly-Fish Lost Lake
“Colorado has hundreds of alpine lakes, and they hold cutthroats, which are really sought after,” says Jennings Hester. His nonprofit, Fishing the Good Fight, uses fly-fishing to support men struggling with mental health issues. Hester recommends hiking the two miles to Lost Lake, in the Indian Peaks above Nederland. “You don’t need to be an experienced angler, because cutthroats are pretty aggressive eaters and aren’t super picky.” If you’re clueless, Hester can help: Fishing the Good Fight sells custom fly kits built around the specific fisheries on your itinerary. All of the profits go back into the organization.
Hike a Thirteener
The state’s fourteeners get most of the fame among hikers, but that means the 13,000-foot peaks—and there’s over 600 of them—are often overlooked. That’s unfortunate (or fortunate) because the thirteeners are just as stunning and worthwhile as their taller counterparts and are far less popular. Hike South Arapaho Peak, a 13,397-foot gem in one of the most scenic areas of the Indian Peaks, via the 13-mile round trip on the Arapaho Glacier Trail. Try for the summit on a weekday, as the Fourth of July trailhead is a favored destination on weekends.
Pro Tip: Trail muddy? Melting snow leaves trails and vegetation more open to damage. Be sure to stick to trails and walk in the middle of the trail—even if it’s wet, muddy, slushy or icy—to avoid erosion and damage to trailside plants.
Raft the Wild Cache La Poudre
The Cache La Poudre River (pronounced cash la poo-der) is Colorado’s only nationally designated Wild and Scenic River. So rafting its Class I to Class V rapids with Mountain Whitewater is, as you might expect, wild: you’ll navigate between narrow canyon walls and be treated to views of rock formations and cliffs. Enjoy a campfire and sleep on the banks of the river before waking up to do it all again the next day.
Adventure Your Way up to Cameron Pass
Head west through the forests and mountains toward Cameron Pass, a beautiful drive via the Cache la Poudre–North Park Scenic Byway that offers copious opportunities for all types of recreation, from camping to fishing to hiking. Stretch your legs on the 1.5-mile round-trip hike to Lake Agnes. If you’re newer to fly fishing, Hester recommends keeping it simple. “The big phrase in fly fishing is match the hatch,” he says. “We’re trying to imitate the actual flies coming off the water, so grab a fly that’s closest to how they look.” In the basin, get a front-row seat to views of the jagged Nokhu Crags. There’s no shortage of campsites on the pass, but you can also cozy up at the nearby Nokhu Hut or Agnes Creek Cabin, or grab a room in nearby North Park or Walden.
Do Everything in Dinosaur National Monument
For kids and adults who love dinosaurs, a visit to this monument is a must—there are over 1,500 easily viewed dinosaur remains embedded in the rocks. But the history here isn’t just prehistoric: don’t miss the pictographs and petroglyphs of the Fremont people, who once lived in the area, on the sandstone cliffs in the monument. You can take a short hike to see many of the petroglyphs up close at places like Pool Creek, but make sure not to touch them, as the designs are fragile and easily damaged. The monument is also a designated International Dark Sky Park, so camp at nearby Echo Park campground, at the confluence of the Green and Yampa Rivers, for an unbeatable night under the stars.
Colorado is a four-season destination offering unparalleled adventure and recreational pursuits, a thriving arts scene, a rich cultural heritage, flavorful cuisine and 28 renowned ski areas and resorts. The state’s breathtaking scenic landscape boasts natural hot springs, the headwaters of seven major rivers, many peaceful lakes and reservoirs, 12 national parks and monuments, 26 scenic and historic byways and 58 mountain peaks that top 14,000 feet. For more information, visit Colorado.com/Summer.