Colorado is a year-round destination where visitors come to discover 11 National Parks and Monuments and 58 mountain peaks that top 14,000 feet, known as ‘Fourteeners’. It’s a place to become immersed in the history of the Wild West and meander along endless kilometres of scenic drives. Affluent skiers have always enjoyed the challenging slopes of Colorado but there’s more to this bountiful state when the snow melts. It’s a destination for adventure and to feel alive and it’s where I spent a few days in May this year – here are a few of my highlights.
Channel your inner cowboy
Colorado is steeped in the legacy of the Wild West with a dude ranch the place to saddle up and channel your inner cowboy. I got to experience two. Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort Spa which opened in 1938 is an upscale, friendly year-round ranch, offering real, authentic ranch activities from Nordic skiing to horseback riding, cattle driving and fly fishing all on 6,000 wilderness acres. However, it was the simple pleasure of a wagon ride to feed the horses and curling up with a good book by the heated outdoor swimming pool, a pool with a million-dollar view that got the biggest thumbs up from me. The ranch is located just outside Winter Park and about a 90-minute drive from Denver. If you are looking for an authentic western experience but without the high altitude and with close proximity to urban activities, then I can suggest Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch in Loveland (the closest guest ranch to Denver International Airport). Family members of all ages can bond through wholesome old-fashioned fun, this is the perfect ranch for a multi-generational holiday, dude lite so to speak. The trail ride to the top of Eagle Ridge for BBQ steak, followed by a campfire and s’mores (for those not in the know fire-roasted marshmallows and a layer of chocolate sandwiched between two pieces of cracker, yummy but messy) was also a winner as was meeting the highly entertaining sprightly owner Susan Jessup. Sylvan Dale Ranch has been owned by the Jessup family since 1946.
Explore Rocky Mountain National Park and the Trail Ridge Road
With high-mountain lakes, water-falls and streams, sky scraping peaks more than 4,200 metres above sea level, thick evergreen forests and wildlife (including elk, bighorn sheep, mule deer, moose and more) the Rocky Mountain National Park conjures up what most people imagine when they think of the Rockies and for me it didn’t disappoint. Spring was the most glorious colour filled season to visit, the lush green landscape bursting with wildflower pinks, reds and yellows whilst the mountains were still topped with snow. Between May and mid-October, the Trail Ridge Road (the highest continuous paved road in the USA) takes drivers over mountain ridges, past weathered tundra overlooking sweeping valleys and into the clouds. It’s the sort of road you want to stop every 5 minutes to take another photo of yet another glorious vista, you’re practically guaranteed a post-card worthy shot every time, and when even they become passé, other surprises await including a super cute marmot or ‘whistle pig’ named for the sound it makes when it communicates or perceives a threat, posing in the sunshine.
Take an exhilarating motorcycle side car tour
Riding in a classic Russian Ural cT sidecar motorcycle offers an altogether different way of exploring the region. Travelling in a motorcycle side car might conjure up images of George and Mildred or Wallace and Grommit but with the wind in my hair and a 360-degree view of the surrounding peaks, this was seriously cool. City on the Side operate tours with commentary coming through a bluetooth headset with your driver.
Experience wildlife in Estes Park and try out rock climbing
Known as the base camp for Rocky Mountain National Park, the mountain village of Estes Park is home to wildlife including elk and bears. The stately Elk are the unofficial mascots of Estes Park. They can be seen walking across the road, grazing in the meadows or even snoozing on the golf course. If you fancy dangling from a rope, Estes Park Mountain Shop is the place to have a go at rock climbing (there is no age limit). Strong legs from all the cycling I do in London made me pretty successful on the outdoor bouldering wall but I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to venture higher.
Unwind in Loveland
The town of Loveland is just a short 22 km drive south of Fort Collins. Colorado’s sweet heart city has become famous for its Valentine’s Day love stamp programme, but its bronze foundries, numerous galleries, local art programme, parks and brewery tours are equally impressive. View an extraordinary permanent collection of 164 works of art in one of the most unique sculpture gardens in the world. Recognised as ‘one of the 200 most important modern and contemporary art sites around the world’, Benson Sculpture Garden has been providing a unique outdoor setting for showcasing sculpture since 1985. Wheelchair friendly and easy to navigate, this is the place to embrace your artistic side and makes for a peaceful place to unwind.
A couple of things to be aware of, Colorado’s high altitude means the air is thinner and the sun stronger whilst the average humidity (measured at noon) is 38 percent, 50 percent less than at sea level. The lack of humidity means it’s easier to become dehydrated, so drinking water, lots of it, is essential. The tap water also tastes better than bottled water so be eco-friendly and re-fill your water bottle. Historically a second-time state for many UK travellers, Colorado is currently experiencing a buzz with new non-stop flights. Mine was a whistle stop visit but with the new easier access and the natural beauty stirring a thirst to get out and enjoy every moment, I’ve made myself a promise to return.
For general information on Colorado visit www.colorado.com