When you’ve lived in Colorado for most of your life, you find places that call you back time and time again. The problem is in Colorado, our beautiful outdoor playroom has more trails to hike, more mountains to climb and more camping to do than summer allows. So each year we have to choose which new areas to visit and which favorite ones to return to. I’m telling you, it’s downright painful!
Yup, living in Colorado sucks.
So, as we plan for our outings this year, I’m sharing a few precious mountain spots. It’s really hard to number them as “Top 10” or “Hidden Gems” because there are too many places to visit in Colorado that can match those titles. So instead, I’m going to share a few and hope my Colorado secrets stay, well not a secret, but just a whisper to other outdoor lovers. Sorry Colorado, your secret is out already so I have to share my favorite summer experiences. Don’t worry tho, there are a few I just can’t blog about. Those are precious and I'm keeping those starry nights to myself, sharing only with critters as neighbors.
A alpine reflective lake set against the backdrop of two of Colorado’s 53 climbing Fourteener mountains, Maroon Lake is simply breathtaking. These snow-striped mountaintops, named Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak, show off a harmony of colors that changes with the seasons and the wildflowers. This picturesque display lures photographers, fly fishermen and beginner and advanced hikers from early May through Nov. At any season, it’s truly spectacular!
Nearby towns: Aspen, Snowmass
Nearby camping: Aspen-Basalt Campground, B-R-B Crystal River Resort
Best time to go: June for the Spring snow runoff and wildflowers or late September-early October for the Aspen gold fall foliage views.
Favorite Hikes: Maroon Lake Scenic Trail, Maroon Creek Trail and Crater Lake Trail
Katharine Lee Bates original poem “Pikes Peak” was first published in a church periodical The Congregationalist in 1895. It was this peak that inspired her poem which became part in the “America the Beautiful” song. At 14,1100 feet, it is located 15 min west of Colorado Springs and is one of the busiest Colorado mountains out of state tourists visit. Set against Colorado’s bluest skies, this purple-mountain is a must see any time of year. This area is still easy to get lost in to avoid crowds on the trails.
Nearby towns: Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Woodlake Park
Nearby camping: Mueller State Park, The Crags and Cripple Creek Gold Campground
Best time to go: While summer is busy with tourists, it’s a great escape from the heat of July and August. Fall is especially beautiful and less crowded but at this altitude, the temperatures are much cooler at night and it’s chilly in the day but makes for great hiking and photos.
Favorite Hikes: Barr Trail, Catamount Trail, Centennial Trail
The lake is named after Abner Sprague, one of the original settlers in the Estes Park area and is located just outside of Estes Park. This 13-acre mountain lake can be especially crowded during the rush of summer visitors. For best photos and light foot traffic, go early in the morning when the lake’s silky smooth waters reflect against the Rocky Mountains. The trail around the lake is flat and perfect for summer day hike and picnic. I can’t lie to you, it is crowed so take the photo and get on a trail for a quiet hike.
Nearby Towns: Estes Park, Loveland, Lyons
Nearby Camping: Moraine Park, Aspenglen, Hermit Park
Best time to go: July for wildflowers and late September for fall colors
Favorite Hikes: Alberta Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Bierstadt Lake
This small intimate community of less than 1500 residents snuggles up against the towering peaks of the San Juan Mountains and is referred to as the “Switzerland of America”. The city started as a mining town for gold and silver in the 1800’s and has kept its Victorian feel by preserving and restoring over two thirds of their original buildings. True Grit was filmed here in 1968. This town is home to its beauty through the love of the outdoors and is known for their adventures. From their famous sulfur-free Hot Springs, to earning the title of “Jeep Capitol of World”, Ouray has much to offer all year round. There’s Ice Climbing, fly fishing and white water rafting in the Uncompahgre River Gorge and miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking. Motorcyclists can enjoy the beginning of the Million Dollar Highway. This stretch of highway connects Ouray to its neighboring cities of Silverton and Durango and is regarded as one of the most beautiful roads in Colorado. Bikers beware, it’s also considered one of the most dangerous due to its sharp turns, steep ledges, and lack of guard rails. It’s downright scary but the view is amazing!
Nearby Towns: Montrose, Telluride
Nearby Camping: Amphitheater, Ouray KOA, Ridgeway State Park
Best time to go: Depending on your outdoor adventure, all the time, anytime!
Hikes: Perimeter Trail, Lower Cascade Trail, Ice Lakes
Cupped like a jewel surrounded by pristine snow-capped mountains, Lake Dillon, Colorado is one of the most scenic places you’ll visit. While the town remains small, the opportunities for summer activities are big: sailing, fishing, lakeside dining and a marina that services 25 miles of shoreline. Daily paddle board rentals, sail boats and party boats offer lots of choices for a perfect Colorado sunny day. Surrounded around the lake is a 18.5 mile paved bike trail that runs next to the lake and over the dam. It can run easy to more difficult making it a great day for the family or a challenging mountain bike ride. There’s also gorgeous hiking trails and picnic spots for Bald Eagle and Osprey viewing. Lake Dillon also shows off an impressive 4th of July fireworks directly over the lake. Check with the city to make sure they are scheduled. If the fire danger is high, the show can be cancelled. The forest is coming around nicely after the beetle kill took most of Lake Dillon’s Lodge Pole Pine Trees. The bonus is thousands of wildflowers have taken up the sunshine the trees were hogging.
Nearby Towns: Keystone, Frisco, Silverthorne, Breckenridge
Nearby Camping: Heaton Bay, Prospector Campground
Best time to go: June and July provide excellent wildflower viewing
Hikes: Old Dillon Reservoir, Oro Grande Trail, Dillon Peninsula
So there you go. Just a FEW of my favorite mountain spots in Colorado.
Happy Trails everyone!