Travel

Epic Colorado Adventures That’ll Get Your Blood Pumping This Summer

Recovering couch potatoes, now’s your time to shine.

Considering we’ve spent a year and a half cooped up inside, binge-watching Netflix and doing 1,000-piece puzzles, there’s arguably been no better summer for taking a big step out of our comfort zones. Luckily, there exists a place prime for doing just that: the great state of Colorado.

“Escaping your comfort zone” doesn’t mean you have to hike the entire Colorado Trail or drop down a 6,000-foot cliff on a mountain bike. There are countless outdoor adventures throughout the state that are perfectly amenable to the recovering pandemic couch potato. Here are a few standouts to pump some adrenaline into your summer.

a long skywalk bridge over a valley
The Royal Gorge Bridge in Canon City | Courtesy of Royal Gorge Bridge & Park

Zipline across the colossal Royal Gorge

Canon City
The Royal Gorge is one of the Centennial State’s most dizzying natural landmarks. Measuring 10 miles long and dropping 1,250 feet down to the Arkansas River below, you can take in its majesty from the many hiking and biking trails that traverse its red granite, wildflower, and cactus-strewn walls, or even from a bird’s eye view on a helicopter tour. Still, there’s arguably no more exhilarating way to appreciate it than by ziplining across the wide-open air—nearly a quarter-mile of it—between the cliffs. Cloudscraper Zipline happens to be America’s highest zipline course, and for extra bragging rights, you’ll have to walk across America’s highest suspension bridge to get there.

a group of hikers and llamas walking through the mountains
A pack of furry guides will lead you through the mountains | Courtesy of Paragon Guides

Trek with a llama 

Edwards
There is a gamut of options for the length and challenge level of this journey. The common denominator is the pleasant, fuzzy companionship of at least one friendly pack animal. You can opt for a burly five-day hike with Paragon Guides from Vail to Aspen, during which you’ll stay at 10th Mountain Division Huts and a guest ranch, with a trio of llamas schlepping most of your gear over 35 miles. You can also take a llama for a much simpler, half-day hike tailored to your ability level and ending either in lunch or wine and cheese (plus grain for the llamas—note their adorable underbite).

a gondola over a mountain laced with lavender flowers
Snowmass Bike Park in Aspen | Courtesy of Aspen Snowmass

Careen down Snowmass on a downhill bike

Aspen
So, you’ll need to know how to ride a bike for this one, but the beauty of this adventure is that there is very little pedaling—and no serious lung capacity—required. Gravity is on your side the whole way down at the Snowmass Bike Park, which can be accessed at the top of Snowmass Resort via a gondola ride. With more than 50 miles of dirt trails, the park takes you through aspen groves and fields of wildflowers, and over bridges and jumps. You can rent a downhill bike at Snowmass Base Village and zip down the slopes on two wheels all day.

people river rafting
Ride a raft down the Arkansas River in Buena Vista | Courtesy of KODI Rafting

Go river rafting through Browns Canyon

Buena Vista
You don’t have to venture far to find fast-moving whitewater in Colorado, but a half-day trip down this infamous section of the Arkansas River through rapids with names like Pinball and Big Drop is as thrilling as it gets for a guided experience. Even if you get wet (and you will—at least splashed, if not flipped), you’ll be that much more ready for a beer at Eddyline, followed by hanging out in the very cool but oft-overlooked mountain town of Buena Vista.

Take a two-wheel Brew Cruise

Fort Collins
Can we all agree that any kind of pedal is better when suds are involved? This six-hour guided tour involves easy pedaling on flat terrain through the brewery-laden college town of Fort Collins. Your guide can customize your route, but you’re guaranteed to hit a winning selection of FoCO’s 20-plus breweries. You’ll be so preoccupied with beer sampling and scenery that you won’t even realize you’ve pedaled about 17 miles when it’s all said and done.

hot air balloons taking flight in the mountains
Catch the annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo in Steamboat Springs | Photo courtesy Wild West Balloon Adventures

Get high fast on a hot air balloon

Steamboat Springs
You don’t see many hot air balloons these days… unless you visit Steamboat Springs. The popular mountain town holds an annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo every summer—no cowboys or lassos, but hundreds of hissing, rainbow-colored, skybound balloons. Anyone can sign up for a morning ride (complete with a champagne toast!) at Wild West Ballooning. It’s truly surreal to watch the ground and surrounding mountains turn into a patchwork quilt from the basket of an ascending bubble. Plus, when you’re done, there are plenty of tasty eats and drinks to explore in town.

Climb up and down North America’s highest via ferrata

Dillon
As far as “zero experience” goes, there’s a big asterisk next to this one. Climbing experience isn’t necessary to scale the Arapahoe Basin Via Ferrata, but some base level of fitness is. The full-day guided tour takes you from the top of Arapahoe Basin Ski Area straight up a wall of granite cliffs, topping out at above 13,000 vertical feet. There, you’ll eat a gourmet box lunch on the mossy tundra—perhaps under the watchful eye of a herd of mountain goats—and get an intimidating glimpse of the ant-sized terrain to which you’ll then descend. 

For the record: In Italian, via ferrata means “iron path,” and while this “path” is indeed sprinkled with iron handles to hold and step on throughout each vertical stride of the journey, your life is in your own hands. It’s your job to clip your harness onto one cable after another as you go, preventing a freefall to the rocks below. Not for the average joe.

Paddleboard on Grand Lake

Grand Lake
As the largest and deepest natural lake in the whole damn state, Grand Lake may seem intimidating. But stand-up paddleboarding on its glassy surface is delightfully serene. Rocky Mountain SUP rents boards (and life jackets!) by the hour, provides lessons if desired, and—so long as you have the balance for it—even allows you to bring your dog friend. Paddle around the lake’s four miles of shoreline, peer into its nearly 400-foot depths, and meander the lakehouse-lined channels to and from neighboring Shadow Mountain Lake. After, grab a well-earned beer at a saloon in the historic town of Grand Lake.

a hawk preparing to take flight from someone's arm
Get schooled in falconry at The Broadmoor hotel | Courtesy of Broadmoor Outfitters

Get a lesson in falconry

Colorado Springs
Channel your medieval past life by flying a trained falcon or hawk. It’s a thing. Formerly (as in 6,000 years ago), humans used birds of prey for hunting, and in the Middle Ages, falconry was considered “the sport of kings.” That being the case, it’s not that surprising that The Broadmoor—arguably Colorado’s classiest and most iconic hotel—offers lessons with professional falconers in which you’ll meet the birds, learn training tricks, and then head into the foothills of Colorado Springs to watch the feathered creatures fly high overhead before swooping back onto your waiting arm.

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A Denver native, freelance writer Shauna Farnell loves a throwback ski lodge but has never donned one-piece outerwear. Follow her on Twitter @shaunafarnell or on Instagram @mountaingirlinthecity.
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