When planning our first real US roadtrip a couple of years ago, many people told us to go to the West Coast, like any other tourist does. However we decided that instead of following the crowds, we’d head out to Colorado. Even though we only spent about a week there before moving on to Utah and Wyoming, we discovered it’s a true paradise for the adventure minded. Today we’ll share our favorite must-do’s in Colorado for outdoor lovers.
1. Shop at REI in Denver
If you are flying to Colorado, you will most likely arrive in Denver. And basically, you just can’t leave Denver without visiting the REI Flagstore. For us Europeans, shopping in the US always used to be great fun. Outdoor gear is generally much cheaper than in Europe and they have so many cool brands that are not for sale here. My first ever visit to REI was in Anchorage (Alaska) and ever since I’m going back there (pretty much every other year), a visit to REI is a must for me. Unfortunately, now with the exchange rate being extremely low, it may not be very profitable to buy your outdoor gear in the US. However, visiting REI is a great start of your Colorado adventure anyway, even if you are not planning on buying anything it’s still worth checking out all the awesome gear they have. While there, we bought bear-spray, new rainpants and some basic first aid items. And while you’re there, take a moment to enjoy the view over downtown Denver and the Platte River – especially on a sunny day it’s pretty gorgeous!
More things to do in Denver:
– Take a walk around downtown Denver and the Platte River
– Go shooting at the Silver Bullet shooting range
– Visit the Red Rocks Amphitheatre
For more suggestions, check our full blogpost on things to do in Denver.
2. Camping and hiking in Mueller State Park
Most travelers that visit Colorado, will most likely head out to Rocky Mountain National Park. If you fancy some amazing wilderness but then without the crowds, then make sure to head out to Mueller State Park. It’s only a 2 hour drive from downtown Denver and yet it feels like you are lightyears away from the rest of the world. At least, when we were visiting, which was early June. We were the only ones on the tenting-area and when we went hiking we only saw one other couple. The views of the Rockies in the distance are truly stunning and will give you a preview of what is yet to come when driving further out into the mountains. You can read our full blogpost about Mueller State Park here.
3. Cycle up to Maroon Bells in Aspen
Do you know what the most photographed mountains in the US are? They’re called Maroon Bells and located just outside of Aspen. You can easily drive up there with your car but in our opinion, the way to go is by bicycle. According to Lonely Planet, it would be quite a challenging ride up but since we are from The Netherlands, aka cycling-paradise, we decided we would give it a try. It’s a sturdy 11 mile ride up but once you are there, it will be totally worth the pain in your legs (because believe me, you will be in pain!). If you haven’t had enough exercise, make sure to take a hike to Crater Lake, a moderate 1.8 mile (one way) track that will get you the best views of Maroon Bells. Just remember that one the way back, you don’t really have to pedal but just roll down… it will make walking up much easier.
Tip: if you are coming in from Denver, make sure to drive over Independance Pass, definitely one of the best drives in the state.
Also: Aspen is popular so make sure to book your accommodation well ahead! We stayed at St. Moritz Lodge which was good and comfortable. Alternatively, all options for Aspen can be found here.
You can find the full story of our visit to Aspen here.
4. Hike up to Hanging Lake
Located near the town of Glenwood Springs, the hike up to Hanging Lake is truly outstanding. We didn’t know what to expect but upon arrival at the parking lot, we knew we were up for some crowd-walking. However since we are fairly quick hikers, we didn’t mind the crowds and we passed most of them on the way up. Although the walk is described as strenuous, it was fairly easy for us, so if you hike in the mountains occasionally, don’t let the word strenuous scare you. The first bit of the walk is a bit of a drag but once you really start to gain elevation, you are up for some of the most beautiful views of the canyon. And the icing on the cake is definitely the arrival up at Hanging Lake. Never in my wildest dreams I would have imagined this beauty. Just a shame we had to share it with a ton of other people…
If you decide to do this hike – try to beat the crowds and head up early. You will definitely be rewarded. You can read our full story about this hike here.
5. Camp in the wilderness of Rocky Mountain National Park
Sure, RMNP may attract quite some crowds but once you venture off into the backcountry, these will be soon gone and you’ll be just by yourself. We decided to hike out to Lake Verna and stay there for the night. There’s only one campsite at the Lake and it needs to be pre-booked, meaning that you will have the whole place to yourself. The walk up is fairly straightforward and not very demanding, however you will definitely feel your calves burn every now and then when. After you’ve put up your tent, just sit down, relax and enjoy the peace of mother nature. This area is well known for seeing moose and just 10 minutes before we reached the parking lot on the walk back, a giant bull stepped out of the bush right beside us. A-MA-ZING! Bears are also around but I have to say that we didn’t really mind not running into one…
Other cool things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park:
– See the Stanley Hotel (famous from the movie “The Shining”)
– Play minigolf at Tiny Town in Estes Park
– Drive the Trail Ridge Road
– Visit the university town of Boulder
For more suggestions on things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park, read our blogpost.
It may be clear, one week in Colorado (out of 4 weeks in the USA) isn’t enough to see it all. We’d love to come back one day to discover more, hike further out into the mountains, discover the area around Glenwood Springs and see more of the Rockies. Make sure to order your copy of Lonely Planet Colorado here for planning your trip the best possible way.
Colorado is like a playground for the outdoor lover. There is wilderness all around generally you don’t even have to go far from the land of the living to experience some truly cool adventures! We sure can’t wait to go back here one day…
Want to read more about our Colorado posts? You may also enjoy these:
– The best (short) hikes in Colorado
– Hiking and biking to Maroon Bells, Colorado
– Camping in Mueller State Park: a must-do for outdoor fans
Curious who I am? Check my bio to find out more!
For a daily dose of outdoor & adventure inspiration, follow me on Instagram and Facebook!
Thanks for sharing!