Every once in awhile, when we’re not busy processing airplane tickets or finding easier ways to save money on travel, we love to travel and share our favorite places. This fall, we explored Colorado’s great outdoors not only on foot and by car, but also on horseback, gondola, alpine coaster, and hot air balloon–just to name a few.
Colorado’s year-round beauty is perfect for any romantic getaway or family vacation. We love to share our adventure packed, limited-budget, ten day trip to Colorado. If you enjoy picturesque landscapes of mountains and drives, whitewater rivers, any outdoor activity, dogs, craft beers or just like to eat… welcome to paradise.
Day 1-2 (Denver, CO)
The fun began after landing at Denver International Airport (DEN) which, unlike most airports, is a 30 minute drive from downtown. On the way out, we couldn’t miss “Blucifer”, the 32-feet tall, 9,000 lb statue of a blue Mustang with glowing red eyes that once fell on top of its own artist. If that doesn’t sound spooky enough, we recommend renting a car anywhere except the airport to save over 50% in inflated car rental prices. Just recently opened is the brand new Denver RTD (Regional Transportation District) “A Line”, a high-speed light rail that can be accessed directly from the airport to Denver Union Station. For only $9 per person and planning an extra hour for car rental drop off before our departure, we saved several hundred dollars which was helpful for our weeklong trip.
The “Mile-High City” of Denver is well-known for having a very walkable downtown center. There is a marker step on the State Capitol Building that marks exactly 5,280 feet above sea level. Within a 1-mile radius, there are three major sport stadiums, the nation’s largest performing arts center, three colleges, and one of the hottest food scenes for foodies. We couldn’t wait to sink our teeth into Acorn’s oak-grilled double cheeseburger accompanied by the market and kale apple salad. It was so delicious so we went back twice. Before food coma kicked in, we burned off burger calories walking under street-hung string lights at Larimer Square and nearby at 16th Street pedestrian mall. If you have a sweet tooth for ice cream, we recommend visiting the larger-than-life milk jug at Little Man Ice Cream. You’ll encounter a line, but it’s definitely worth its wait. If you have an even sweeter tooth, Homer Simpson would definitely approve of your pilgrimage to the the nearest VooDoo Doughnuts, a fun and extraordinary selection of doughnuts conveniently open 24/7 for those late-night munchies.
Other places worth visiting: Casa Bonita, Torchy’s Tacos, Great Divide Brewery, Denver Botanical Gardens, Denver Aquarium, Capitol Hill, Denver Art Museum, Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre, Denver Farmer’s Market
Day 2-4 (Colorado Springs, CO)
There’s no better way to spend a Labor Day weekend than on A) free admission events and B) inside a hot-air balloon. Known as the Labor Day Lift Off in Colorado Springs, this annual balloon festival launches over 65 hot air balloons in a hare-and-hound style balloon race and a balloon glow at dusk. Throughout the day are family-fun events such as skydiving demonstrations, wakeboarding exhibitions, paddle boarding lessons, live entertainment, and beer gardens. Our second favorite destination (with free admission!) is the Garden of the Gods, a National Natural Landmark with impressive red rock formations created during a geological upheaval along a fault line millions of years ago. Pictures don’t do justice as it’s no surprise this park was voted #1 City Park in the USA.
The second day in Colorado Springs was spent riding the Pikes Peak Cog Train and touring the Cave of the Winds. While Pikes Peak is accessible via car or hiking, the most convenient way to enjoy the beautiful landscape and mountains is by riding the Swiss-made cog railway straight to the top. Built in the late 1800’s, this guided tour overlooks unfolding panoramas of aspen and pine forests, waterfalls, and towering canyons on the way to the 14,115 feet summit. It was quite breathtaking – literally. We recommend packing a can of oxygen, plenty of water, and a warm jacket due to high altitude and cold temperatures at the peak. There was plenty of time to finish the day as we took our lanterns and explored the haunted Cave of the Winds and rode the “Bat-a-Pult”, a 1200 ft. unique aerial zipline above the beautiful Williams Canyon. At dusk, we were too cool for school, but not for an ice cold beer, so we attended Ivywild School, a converted historical elementary school turned brewery and pub.
Other places worth visiting: Seven Falls, La’au’s Taco Shop
Day 5-6 (Canon City, CO and Crested Butte, CO)
While a 4-hour drive may sound exhausting, traveling the I-115 and I-50 from Colorado Springs to Crested Butte certainly does not disappoint with hundreds of miles of red rock formations, wildflowers, and whitewater rivers. If you happen to take this route, be sure to stop by the Royal Gorge in Canon City, also known as the Grand Canyon of the Arkansas River. It will not only be a perfect opportunity to stretch your legs, but there are many exciting activities such as walking across the world’s highest suspension bridge, riding the gondolas, or ziplining over 1,000 feet above the Arkansas River. While this bridge can’t be missed, we have advice for those are afraid of heights – don’t look down! For those who are more adventurous, we dare you to ride the Cloudscraper Zipline and Royal Rush Skycoaster. Don’t forget to check the time at the cascading Water Clock – one of only three in the world.
There’s no better way to end a day than to reach the top of Crested Butte at sunset. This hidden gem is by far our favorite town and any outdoor enthusiast’s dream. In 2008, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Crested Butte one of its “Dozen Distinctive Destinations”. Upon arrival are Sean Guerrero’s larger-than-life dragon and knight statues on 5th Street – the literal storybook definition of one man’s trash being another man’s treasure, as they are composed from three tons of recycled chrome made out of discarded cars, appliances, and light bulbs.
The best way to get around town is by bike or the free Mountain Express shuttle, which runs a loop through town and up the mountain to the ski base area and Mountaineer Square. Downtown Crested Butte offers one-of-a-kind shops, restaurants and art galleries. When hungry, we love and recommend local Crested Butte goodies – Jamie’s Jerky, Big B’s Apple Pear Juice, camp 4 coffee, and Jackson’s Honest coconut oil chips. We believe the best way to see breathtaking sights and colors are by riding gentle well-behaved horses at Fantasy Ranch. But the best time of the year to see sights and colors are during the Wildflower Festival– so we will be back soon!
Day 7 (Kebler Pass, CO and Glenwood Springs, CO)
Leaving Crested Butte was a difficult choice, but the emotional turmoil was tempered by driving through the scenic Kebler Pass (Gunnison County Road 12) on the way to Glenwood Springs. One of the most spectacular roads through the beautiful aspen forest over 10,000 feet above sea level, this picturesque drive offers many Kodak moments, hiking paths, and camping grounds. There’s a perfect location for a picnic at Lost Lake Slough, and we recommend visiting Crystal Mill through Schofield Pass if you have the extra time. This 30-mile two-lane gravel road is only open in the summer with a 30 mph speed limit. If you plan on visiting, pack your camera and binoculars! This scenic drive is gorgeous, especially during the fall.
With only half a day left in the Glenwood Springs was still room for fun-packed activities at the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and Iron Mountain Hot Springs. With no shame, we frequented the lines and happily overdosed our need for kinetic energy riding the alpine coaster. This 3-minute thrill starts at the top of the Iron Mountain looking down on the Colorado River 1,450 feet below. The alpine coaster is both the first one built in the United States and listed on USA Today’s Top 10 Best Roller-Coaster Rides in America. Locals and tour guides recommend the King’s Row Cave Tour, the highly decorated series of caves which descends 150 feet with stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, and cave bacon formations. While we love theme parks such as Disneyland or Knotts Berry Farm, Glenwood Caverns is certainly in a class of its own which offers a full day of unlimited adventure priced at an exceptional value with the All-Day Summer Funday Pass.
If that sounded like a lot of work a day’s worth of vacation, it was – but it wasn’t over yet. That being said, the best place to relax and rejuvenate is next door at the soothing Iron Mountain Hot Springs. Since 1986, travelers have came near and far to soak in the therapeutic mineral waters. Without needing a time machine, we enjoyed the same benefits today by soaking in several of their 16 thermal mineral pools near the peaceful riverbank with breathtaking mountain while being the perfect stargazing location.
Other places worth visiting: Hanging Lake, Glenwood Hot Springs
Day 8-9 (Aspen, CO)
While Aspen is known for its world-famous ski-resort and high-end boutiques and restaurants, nothing compares to visiting the glorious Maroon Bells, a highly reflected lake surrounded by two mountains. No picture does justice despite the fact this is the most photographed place in Colorado. Since so many visitors flock to this mountain, there is restricted road access in the summer and fall between 8am to 5pm. We recommend taking the RFTA shuttle during those times which takes you directly to the Maroon Bells trailhead, complete with restrooms, drinking fountains, and picnic areas. For lunch, we recommend packing delicious smoothies and wraps from Big Wrap nearby in downtown Aspen.
Other places worth visiting: Castle Creek Valley, John Denver Sanctuary, Independence Pass (Highway 82), Snowmass Village and SkyMountain Park
Day 9-10 (Boulder, CO)
There’s a saying referring to the quality of life enjoyed by residents and visitors alike that Boulder is the “little town nestled between mountains and reality” as Boulder Valley sits between the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains. This mountain community is enriched with natural beauty and culturally diverse with over 200 miles of hiking and biking trails, and 30,000 acres of open space, including the 16-mile Boulder Creek Path which runs through the middle of town.
We believe the best way to experience Boulder like a local is to shop the Boulder Farmers’ Market on Saturday, as it is no surprise that it is named the number 1 farmers’ market in the country. Conveniently located next door is the beloved Pearl Street Mall, where beautiful historic buildings are filled with independent boutiques, restaurants, bookstores, and street performers. The fountain of youth can be found at Into the Wind, a very unique kite and toy store where children and adults alike can be truly young at heart. Also conveniently next door (this time, literally), is KuCha tea house where you can find a large collection premium traditional Chinese loose leaf teas or creating your own blend at the tea room. Pearl Street Mall isn’t your ordinary shopping experience, as you can find your inner bookworm wishing you lived in the three-story Boulder Bookstore, one of the largest independent bookstores around since 1973.
The friendly cycling experts and extensive collection of bikes at University Bicycles are the go-to bike shop for rental and sales. Bike nearby at the Boulder Creek Path or see jaw-dropping canyon views at El Dorado Canyon State Park. Last but not least, the sunsets are nothing short of spectacular while paddleboarding the Boulder Reservoir, especially at the end of a long yet fantastic adventure.
Other places worth visiting: Rocky Mountain National Park, Mesa Laboratory, Avery Brewing
The adventures and options are endless
We hope you get inspired and that your next Colorado vacation is unforgettable. It is almost impossible to not enjoy Colorado’s fascinating sceneries and countless year-round adventures. All you have to do is walk outside. Happy Travels!