I have been visiting Colorado on family summer vacations since I was a youngster. My grandma was the first one to take me to Colorado, way back in 1983. Her love of travel definitely inspired me and she even helped me pay for my first trip to Europe. Even though I rarely visit the same place twice, I keep coming back to Colorado year after year. Here are a few of my favorite things to do in Colorado in the summer!
Thermal springs aren’t unique to Colorado, but they are definitely part of a true mountain experience! There is nothing like a hot springs soak to ward off the sore muscles of high altitude hiking.
Most recently, I spent a long fall weekend at Mt Princeton Hot Springs near Buena Vista. I loved staying in cabins right at the hot springs and jumping in whenever I wanted!
Mountain Town Vibes
Of course Colorado has legendary ski hills and ski towns. I’ve had the pleasure of skiing at Breckenridge and Vail, both of which ruined me from ever skiing in the Midwest again. As much as I love winter sports, I love the laid-back vibe of ski towns in the summer even more. In my youth, we’d venture into Aspen for a day trip and ogle the rich and famous, hoping to get a glimpse of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. These days, I prefer the slightly less pretentious vibes of Breckenridge and Crested Butte.
A good option for lodging in Breckenridge is the Marriott Mountain Valley Lodge . This resort is gorgeous and the perfect place to recoup from my strenuous 14’er hike!
Some of my favorite non-ski towns are Leadville, Buena Vista and Glenwood Springs. You won’t find ski-town prices or amenities here, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing! These towns are all a great hub for summer adventures, including whitewater rafting!
Rocky Mountain National Park
Of all the years I’ve been visiting Colorado, I didn’t visit Rocky Mountain National Park until recently, en route to Utah for a whitewater trip on the Green River. I camped for two nights at Moraine Campground inside the park. (Reserve far in advance for any National Park campgrounds!)
In addition to meeting up with some Colorado friends for a nice dayhike to Ouzel Falls, I also spent a lot of time just driving through the park. In Estes Park, I saw my first ever Colorado bear! Again, many many many trips to Colorado and I’d never seen a bear in that state! Check!
The park is gorgeous, and Trail Ridge Road highlights the best of it! I just love Colorado, especially in September! You get the most beautiful weather and everything starts turning gold.
Hike a 14’er
Colorado is hiker’s heaven. Once you are acclimated to lack of oxygen, that is! There are so many options for hiking no matter where you are staying.
If you feel up for the task, and like a challenge, check out your options for attempting one of the 14’er hikes in Colorado. (These are peaks over 14,000 feet high) My first, and only, was Mt Bierstadt, near Georgetown. I started out just after sunrise, at 36 degrees, and quickly had a moose sighting at Bierstadt Lake. The entire hike is above treeline, affording gorgeous views and to my relief, you could see the parking lot from the entire route, which was a small comfort since this was a solo hike. After a ridiculous amount of time to hike 3 miles, I reached the summit! What a great feeling that was! Bierstadt is an “easy” 14’er and a short hike, fairly crowded with people, but it still felt like a big accomplishment to me. I’m not in the best of shape, so I was happy to not die!
Colorado is full of old mining towns to explore. Some are cheesy tourist traps, others offer intriguing glimpses into another era.
St. Elmo ghost town, outside Buena Vista, is a short drive from Mt Princeton Hot Springs. Being very accessible, no 4WD required, St Elmo is more crowded and touristy than more remote ghost towns, but it’s still fun to walk around and visit the general store!
Near Marble, Colorado (our summer vacation spot) – is the ghost town of Crystal, home of the famous mill, which is accessible by foot, Jeep or horseback. Crystal was a mining town in the late 1800’s and had 400+ residents at its peak. Today, there are perhaps a dozen cabins remaining and used in the summer months by a few lucky families. I had the contact info for one of the families and was able to rent one for two nights with my aunt.The town can be reached by 4WD, but we chose to hike the Jeep road.
Our cabin was primitive, but I absolutely loved it! It had running water, in the form of a hose running from the creek out back. That’s an outhouse back there, too! And a wood burning stove, which we didn’t use. So, it’s not truly backpacking, but pretty primitive. No electricity, of course! These were real cabins from Crystal’s heydey in the 1860’s or so.
Crystal is truly a magical little spot, and I hope I’m lucky enough to come back here and stay again! I’m envious of the lucky few who own these cabins and return summer after summer. What a life!
I love being able to take a horse up into the mountains. It can be pricy, so it’s not something I do on every visit, but it’s definitely worth it. I like being in super remote places, and it’s not always feasible to hike or backpack, so horses are a great way to cover some ground. Most stables offer a range of packages from family-friendly outings to more advanced multi-day trail rides. If you have some experience, be sure to call ahead and assess the trip you want to sign up for. You don’t want to spend your day on a pony ride around a ranch!
In Leadville, I joined Half Moon Packing & Outfitting for a day on the Colorado Trail. Horseback riding is really popular in Colorado, so your hotel concierge will likely have recommendations, no matter where you are staying.
When you get up into the mountains, there’s just no comparing the night sky. You can find much better pictures than mine on the Internet, but if an amateur photog like me can capture the Milky Way, imagine how great it is in person! The hardest part is staying up late enough after a full day of adventure.
If you haven’t been to Colorado yet, what are you waiting for?!