Summer is brief, here in Colorado. In the mountains, the snow sticks around until June and usually makes a roaring comeback by October.
Still, that’s plenty of time to check some things off your Colorado summer bucket list, things every resident or visitor to our great state should do before they kick the bucket. With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of things to add to, then check off, your list this summer.
Drink a microbrew at 14,000 feet
Colorado has more mountains above 14,000 than any other state in the Lower 48. Climbing one is a feat of endurance that will have you gasping for breath in the thin air while your legs scream at you about the constant uphill walking. But get to the top of one and you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking view from the top of the world and feeling of accomplishment that goes great with a Colorado microbrew you carried all that way.
Mountain bike down a ski hill
Most people who come to a Colorado ski area do so in winter, but for a brief period after the snow has melted and the mud has dried, many resorts spin the lifts for mountain biking. Take your bike, or rent one if you don’t have a full-suspension downhill bike, and you’ll never look at the sport in the same way again. If you’ve spent your life pedaling up trails to get the downhill adrenaline rush, it will feel almost like cheating.
Soak in a natural hot springs
Yes, most of Colorado’s many hot springs resorts and spas are open year-round, but summer is the best time to visit one, when the mountain air is warm and you don’t have to rush inside after a soak to avoid freezing to death. They range in opulence from rustic, natural pools to posh resorts. The geothermally heated water comes from deep below the ground for our soaking pleasure, a side effect of the geologic forces that built the Rockies. Some great destinations include Indian Hot Springs, just 30 miles west of Denver; Mount Princeton, near Buena Vista; Glenwood Hot Springs; and Pagosa Hot Springs in southern Colorado.
Drive Trail Ridge Road
This road through Rocky Mountain National Park may have more amazing scenery per mile than any other in Colorado. The road, which connects the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake, tops out at 12,209 feet and is blanketed in deep snow most of the year. But come between June and September and you’ll be awed at the mountain splendor of this gorgeous corner of Colorado. Be sure to give yourself lots of time because you’ll be stopping for plenty of pictures (and maybe traffic if it’s a summer weekend.)
See a show at Red Rocks
The most famous concert venue this side of Madison Square Garden belongs on every Coloradan’s bucket list. The concert venue is located between massive rocky outcroppings, with the lights of Denver twinkling in the distance. It’s a unique concert experience, for fans and the artists who spend their summers touring bland, cookie-cutter amphitheaters, so expect a good show.
Coronavirus makes this one difficult to check off, but be on the lookout for the rare in-person or virtual concerts. And if music isn’t your thing, you might want to try for a drive-in movie instead.
Ride the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
Before the highways laced the mountains, the railroads were lifelines for Colorado’s isolated mining towns. None are more isolated than Silverton in southwest Colorado. Although the train normally starts in Durango, it’s starting at the Rockwood Station just 18 miles north of the city at the moment. Hop on and enjoy some of the most incredible scenery in the state while you sit back and relax. Stop for lunch in historic Silverton before the long journey home (or at least back to your car).
Climb the highest sand dune in North America
You’ll find a unique natural gem in southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, where thousands of years of winds from the desert southwest have built an impressive collection of dunes up against the jagged wall of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is unlike anywhere else in Colorado and a must-see for those who haven’t been. Come in early summer when Medano Creek is flowing and you can climb the dunes barefoot without burning your feet.
Day hike to a unique spot near the Front Range
Just because you live in Denver or Colorado Springs doesn’t mean you can’t experience the beauty of the mountains on an easy day hike. There are many destinations that you can visit and be home in time for an afternoon nap. Staunton State Park is amazing day trip, with jagged cliffs and waterfalls and a robust trail system. Another easy getaway is Saint Mary’s Glacier, a modest hike starting near Interstate 70 west of Denver.
Explore ancient cliff dwellings
More than 600 years before Colorado became a state there was a flourishing civilization in the Southwest that left behind one of the great archaeological wonders of North America: the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park. Built in locations that seem impossible to modern eyes, and without modern tools, the cliff dwellings stand as a testament to the Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloan) culture, which flourished and then disappeared for reasons nobody is quite sure of, all before Columbus “discovered” the Americas. Tour the dwellings and wonder if our cities will have similar staying power in 600 years.
Camp at (or at least hike to) a mountain lake
John Denver had it right – there’s nothing more serene than a clear blue mountain lake. Colorado’s mountains are full of wilderness gems, where the cold waters teem with fish and the mountains tower overhead. The best way to enjoy one is to carry an overnight pack and camp, to spend as much time as possible soaking in the view or catching trout, but a lake can also make a great day hike. See elsewhere in this guide for some destination ideas, or just take out a map, look for a lake and find the nearest trailhead.
This content was originally published here.