Situated high in the Rocky Mountains, much of Colorado can best be described as America’s mountain playground. While the eastern portion of the state is flat to rolling prairie much like in the Canadian province of Alberta, the highest mountains of the Rocky Mountain chain shoot up out of the Earth like massive monoliths near its center, their majesty stealing the breath from those who have not seen them face-to-face before.
The western half of the state is stacked with tons of peaks of varying shapes and sizes, with each range becoming more remote the further west you travel. With 54 peaks above 14,000 feet, mountaineers will be kept busy, as will riders of the white bounty of winter, as 26 ski areas and countless backcountry options await throughout Colorado’s rugged terrain.
Amidst all this natural wealth are the remains of Native American settlements that made the most of the mountainous landscape that surrounded them for eons before Americans arrived on the scene, so no matter whether you are passionate about history & culture, or the limitless potential of this state’s outdoors, any traveler that comes to Colorado are bound to head home with a wealth of stories to tell friends and family.
What To Do – Culture & History
Whether you fly into this city that lies on the doorstep of the Rockies, or drive in via Interstate 70 from the west coast or the Great Plains, you’ll want to start your time here in the Mile High City. The Denver Art Museum is the chief cultural attraction here, as it has the distinction of being the largest fine arts institution between Chicago and the Pacific.
While much of the Rocky Mountain states can be a bit dry when it comes to quality collection of fine domestic and international art, there is no such famine here, as this institution contains an impressive set of art pieces of Tibet among its other holdings of Asian art, its paintings feature works by Picasso and Warhol among others, and if your interest in the art of the Americas is strong, its collection of Latin America, Pre-Columbian, and Native American is nothing short of impressive.
Back in the days of the Old West, the Santa Fe Trail was a lonely and dangerous place for settlers moving between the edge of civilization in Missouri and the frontier country of what is now the American Southwest.
Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site commemorates a trading post that was the only permanent American settlement (not counting Mexican or Native American settlements and encampments) on that road.
Despite lasting only 16 years before a cholera epidemic forced the founder to flee this post, its heritage has been restored to show what life was like being the only outpost of civilization in the midst of a remote and often dangerous wilderness.
Colorado is home to some elaborate Native American settlements that once held thriving communities before they were broken by drought. Mesa Verde National Park is home to the first of these, the scale of which led to the creation of America’s first (and only) national park on the basis of a cultural asset alone.
Hewn into the rusty sandstone cliffs and inhabited by the ancient Pueblo people from roughly 750 AD to about the turn of the 14th century, this society also adapted to the mostly dry climate by building irrigation systems and dams to conserve what water they did have.
If you don’t have time to wander down to Mesa Verde National Park, stop by the Manitou Cliff Dwellings in Manitou Springs before enjoying the nearby mountains. Relocated from the Four Corners region by anthropologists in the early 1900’s, the reconstruction of this cave dwelling is so detailed, that while it is not authentic, it stands as viable alternative to wandering way off-course if your trip is taking you west instead of south.
What To Do – Modern & Natural Attractions
Unquestionably, the biggest natural attraction in Colorado has everything to do with its innumerable, awe-inspiring peaks. Start your wanderings through these snow-capped ranges by visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, where deep valleys dotted with azure lakes provide the perfect contrast to peaks that are defined by a perpetual polar climate where snow can fall at any point of the year. Campers, backcountry hikers and skiers, and fishers alike will find much to love about this gem in North Central Colorado.
Soaring 8,000 feet above Colorado Springs, the state’s second largest city, Pikes Peak has captured the imagination of mountaineers and ordinary citizens alike ever since the first settlers rolled into the region and decided to stop their westward migration here.
Standing above 14,000 feet, climbers that plan on challenging this iconic American mountain need to ensure they adequately acclimatize to the elevation as they climb, and descend at the first indications of serious altitude sickness.
Not taken seriously by many that get “summit fever”, this condition can kill, so take your time and be honest with yourself about your state. Those that want to ascend the easy way can drive to the top though, so if you are affected by altitude easily, this is likely the better option for you, as getting up and back down quickly is a way to experience this mountain without succumbing to the lack of oxygen at the top.
Close by to Colorado Springs is another visually spectacular wonder of nature referred to as the Garden of the Gods. With the last Ice Age carving away at the red and pink sandstone and white limestone, the various shapes of the rock formations found here will fascinate all, and with the rock ideally suited to those that love to scale vertical stony surfaces, rock climbers will have a ball during their time here.
Last but certainly not least, the skiing and snowboarding opportunities that await in Colorado are world-class, owing to the abundance of steep terrain, bowls, glades, and best of all, fresh mountain air scented with the invigorating scent of evergreen.
Rub elbows with A-list celebrities in Vail, get the jump on the rest of the nation by skiing/boarding in October at Arapahoe Basin, join the party at Breckenridge, one of the state’s most popular mountain resorts, or get back to where is about about the pow, and your best buddies at Telluride.
Whatever you end up doing, we know that one resort likely won’t be enough, so come prepared to do some hill hopping, and have a blast!