Explore 5 of Colorado’s Epic Mountain Ranges
You might not know it, but the Rocky Mountains are actually made up of 16 main chains, most with little sub-ranges of their own.
From big-city skylines to whimsical hamlets, there’s something in each of the five lines here for everyone in your crew. We’re talking farming, dining, hiking and more.
Most Recognizable Peak: Mount Elbert
Do: The most sought-after whitewater in North America resides in the Centennial State, and at Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (Salida), you can howl down it in a river raft. Fish for plump rainbow trout at Clear Creek Reservoir (Granite) or lace up your boots for a steep climb to a glassy alpine lake on scenic Willis Gulch Trail (Twin Lakes). Kick up some gravel on a mountain bike to Interlaken Historic Resort (Twin Lakes) — the once bopping destination offers impeccable mountain-meets-lake views.
Chow: Swoon for just-out of-the-oven cinnamon rolls at Little Red Hen Bakery (Salida) or sip your calories at Elevation Beer Company (Poncha Springs). Grab a patio table with vistas for miles at Harvest Restaurant & Bar (Edwards), indulge in a baked-cheese skillet at Wesley & Rose (Buena Vista) or evoke childhood memories with Cap’n Crunch French toast at Turntable Restaurant (Minturn).
Rest: Say “good morning” to alpacas from your farm-stay apartment at Jefferson Farms Natural Fibers (Salida) or soak until the cows come home at Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort (Nathrop). Surf Hotel & Chateau (Buena Vista), Green Bridge Inn (Red Cliff) and Hummingbird Lodge (Avon) are also memorable stays.
Most Recognizable Peak: Mount Lincoln
Do: Six challenging miles of snowmelt streams, mining ruins and glacial lakes make up the Spruce Creek Trail loop hike (Breckenridge), while Sapphire Point Overlook Trail is an easy 0.6-mile trek to — you guessed it — a gemstone-blue lake (Dillon). Cry “Eureka!” when you discover gold at Country Boy Mine (Breckenridge), then take a further step back in time in the open-air car of the Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad. The whole fam will love biking, skate-parking and chuck-wagon riding at Frisco Adventure Park, or they can absorb some history on a tour of South Park City Museum’s 40 original 19th-century buildings (Fairplay) and the Tabor Opera House (Leadville). Hop on the (free!) BreckConnect Gondola for sunset scenes of the village below.
Farm: The Breckenridge Sunday Market has a bounty of goodies like drip-down-your-chin juicy peaches, steamy tamales and Colorado beef jerky.
Chow: Looking like a cross between your grandfather’s study and a hipster’s apartment, Toast & Co. (Copper Mountain) dishes up some delectable gluten-free breakfasts. Relish (Breckenridge) creates gastronomic masterpieces with local wild game while Treeline Kitchen (Leadville) touts elevated riffs on classics (think barbecued ribs and lamb pasta). Duck into Mountain Top Cookie Shop (Breckenridge) for a chewy red-velvet number or Bristlecone Bake Shop (Alma) for a delicate apple-and-tahini-caramel croissant. Within the brilliant yellow walls of Java Moose (Fairplay) hide stand-out panini, salads and breakfast burritos.
Rest: Lay your head where Doc Holliday slept in the Delaware Hotel (Leadville) or opt for comfy bunkbeds at Gravity Haus (Breckenridge). Steps away from shopping, dining and ample activities, the plush village lodgings of Copper Mountain Resort are another fine option.
San Juan Range
Most Recognizable Peak: Uncompahgre Peak
Do: Opulent mountain communities, soaring summits and lush valleys bedeck the Alpine Loop scenic byway. Pop by Bachelor Syracuse Mine for a tour or Box Canyon Park for a view of the 85-foot plummeting waterfall (both in Ouray) while the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad offers 1880s-era rides. Get a Jeep aggressively muddy on the notorious Black Bear Road (Telluride): This isn’t for those as yellow bellied as marmots, so if your speed’s slower, climb high above the town on Jud Wiebe Memorial Trail. End the trip on a funky note (hint: cannibalism) at the Alfred Packer Massacre Site (Lake City).
Chow: Guzzle down Everybody’s Ale at Red Mountain Brewing (Ouray) or sample the hefty Shackteaux Baltic porter at Avalanche Brewing Company (Silverton). Fresh-cut truffle fries at Climb Elevated Eatery (Lake City) make for a delectable post-drinking snack, as does the organic rotisserie-chicken sandwich at The Butcher & The Baker (Telluride). It’s topped with a lemon aioli that is *chef’s kiss*. The homemade pies from The Rose (Pagosa Springs) are Paul-Hollywood-handshake-worthy.
Rest: The 1902 Wyman Hotel (Silverton) recently underwent a monumental redo combining minimalism with luxurious pale-pink details, and Telluride’s Hotel Columbia brings similar boutique energy. Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodgings (Ouray) and The Springs Resort & Spa (Pagosa Springs) round out the area’s best stays.
Most Recognizable Peak: Castle Peak
Do: Tucked along Smuggler Mountain Road is an observation deck with panoramas of evergreen-laden Aspen. Lost Forest is a labyrinth of mid-mountain rope challenges, and on Tom Blake Trail you’ll find fields of wildflowers a-bloomin’ each summer (both in Snowmass). Fourteen miles of Gold Medal trout fishing flourish on the Fryingpan River while the Roaring Fork is just looking to toss ya around on a whitewater raft. Drive the lasso-shaped West Elk Loop scenic byway, where each curve reveals another hulking rock formation. Hit the singletrack of Lower Cement Creek Trail (Crested Butte) and listen for the gentle rattle of aspens or get a Rocky Mountain nature high at John Denver Sanctuary (Aspen).
Farm: Take a self-guided tour of The Farm Collaborative’s FarmPark (Aspen), where they inspire the next generation to harvest. Located in an old schoolhouse, Two Roots Farm (Basalt) hawks just-pulled-from-the-ground carrots and radishes.
Chow: The Sunflower (Crested Butte) is a farm-sourced hidden gem whose beetroot ravioli will send you into another stratosphere. Drench your pretzel bites in house-made queso at Free Range Kitchen & Wine Bar (Basalt) or try The Goat Kitchen & Bar’s lamb shank bathed in succulent broth (Carbondale). Pamper yourself with a post-hike biscuit board (crumbly buttermilk biscuits and paper-thin ham) from Meat & Cheese Restaurant and Farm Shop (Aspen).
Rest: Soak up the mountain sun on the patio or balcony of The Dandelion Inn’s condo (Carbondale). For a more rugged experience, hike to your backcountry bed in a 10th Mountain Division Hut. More luxury is in play at Aspen Snowmass Ski Resort and Redstone Castle.
Most Recognizable Peaks: Grays Peak and Longs Peak
Do: Truck along the switchback city that is Old Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. Catch a show at the cavernous Red Rocks Amphitheatre (Morrison) — the two massive stone walls create an acoustic paradise for bands. Walk among the masterpieces at Denver Art Museum and thunder across the extremely high Devil’s Gate Bridge on the Georgetown Loop Railroad. Bag two fourteeners in one at Grays & Torreys Peaks Trailhead (Silver Plume) or opt for a milder hike between the sunset-hued rock outcroppings at Garden of the Gods Park (Colorado Springs). Play the day away at Monarch Casino (Black Hawk) or overtake the cotton-ball clouds on the way to the summit of America’s Mountain on Pikes Peak Highway (Colorado Springs).
Farm: Agricultural meets urban in many of our cities — all just a mere hop from the summits of the Front Range. Fetch award-winning fromage from Haystack Mountain Cheese (Longmont) to pair with Sunbeam Farm’s eggs (Boulder). Browse the South Pearl Street Farmers’ Market (Denver), a vast Sunday affair complete with vegan ice cream.
Chow: Snatch up a porch table at stately Chautauqua Dining Hall (Boulder) and brunch on churro waffles. The salmon sandwich’s crunchy bread is covered in divine red-onion marmalade at Spruce Farm & Fish (Boulder) and Zoka’s Restaurant and Bar (Pine) serves tender elk bolognese. Wash it all down with the Italian Pils at Westbound & Down Brewing Company (Idaho Springs). The menus at SEASONED (Estes Park), Fruition (Denver) and Garden of the Gods Market and Cafe (Colorado Springs) offer a constant rotation of seasonal goodies.
Rest: The Stanley Hotel (Estes Park) and The Cliff House at Pikes Peak (Manitou Springs) are grandes dames, while Origin Hotel Red Rocks (Golden) is a modern playground. Sleep in a yurt at Lawson Adventure Park & Resort (Dumont), then brave the via ferrata in the morning. Hotel Boulderado (Boulder) and Bears Inn Bed & Breakfast (Evergreen) are also excellent options.
Accessible hiking, biking, rock climbing, rafting & more
Whether you want to whip down a wildflower-lined path on a mountain bike or paddle the rushing waters of one of our many rivers, there’s a good chance you’ll find an adaptive option in Colorado.
Photo credit: Mark Byzewski