Best of Colorado

There’s a lot to gush over in this state and there are plenty of secrets. But what’s on your life list? What are the things in Colorado you have to do before you die (or at least move to Jackson)? We compiled our picks for the cream of the crop and we asked our readers to vote on their favorites. Here are the combined results in our annual poll.

by Chris Kassar, Cameron Martindell, Matt Samet and Doug Schnitzspahn

Best Backpack TripThe Maroon Bells

The best does not mean it’s unknown. Take the postcard-perfect Maroon Bells. If you’re looking for solitude, the Four Pass Loop through here probably isn’t for you. However, there’s a reason that this area draws so many people and that these two distinct 14ers are the most photographed spot in Colorado. The Bells are truly breathtaking. Don’t let their popularity deter you—like many places in Colorado, if you walk more than a mile from the road, the crowds thin out. Luckily, it has been designated as wilderness which means that the unique character of the Bells and surrounding area are sheltered from development and motorized noise.

The Four Pass Loop (24-29 miles depending on your route) starts at 9,611 feet, never drops below that lung-busting elevation and carries you over four passes above 12,400 feet. This means you’ll soak in expansive vistas as you frolic across the tundra. Take some time to wander through glacier-sculpted basins. Slow down and explore this place of untrammeled natural beauty—this is a backpacking trip dammnit.

Along the way you’ll find countless alpine lakes including Maroon Lake (where most photos of the Bells are shot). There’s the option to bag a peak by climbing Snowmass Mountain (14,092 feet) or simply chill in verdant valleys like the Fravert Basin, which is awash in a sea of wildflowers. After a cumulative elevation gain of about 7,400 feet you will have earned whatever post hike meal back down in Aspen that you want.

Runners Up: The Colorado Trail, The Zirkel Circle, The Lost Creek Wilderness

Ellingwood Ridge

Best Multi-Pitch Rock Climb, The Yellow Spur

Rubbing shoulders with Boulder’s historical greats usually means trying a route that’s scary, hard, or scary-hard. Fortunately there’s the six-pitch 5.9+ Yellow Spur, which beelines 530 feet up Tower One to its ethereal pyramidal summit. On this varied, airy, yellow-lichen-speckled outing you’ll climb with Layton Kor and Dave Dornan (who nabbed the first ascent), and Royal Robbins and Pat Ament (first free ascent) as you pick your way across tricky traverses, up thin dihedrals, out puzzling rooflets, and finally, spectacularly, up the sustained, crimpy 5.9+ piton ladder on wild pitch five. The final rope length mixes fear and elation: At 5.6 R (sparse gear), it rides a windswept blade of sandstone, the Indian Peaks shimmering in the distance and South Boulder Creek roaring way beneath your feet.

Runners Up: The Obelisk on the Diamond, The Third Flatiron, Scenic Cruise in the Black Canyon

Best River Trip, The Dolores River

Born in the high peaks of the San Juans, the 200-mile Dolores, one of the last remaining unspoiled rivers in the West, flows north past Utah’s La Sal Mountains and through the heart of canyon country to merge with the Colorado River near Moab. It’s not all about heart-pumping adventure. Because it passes through such varied terrain, the Dolores offers floaters a glimpse at unmatched biological diversity as it cruises through five major life zones and an array of landscapes including Rocky Mountain foothills, pine forests, red rock canyons and the Upper Sonoran desert.

A trip down the Dolores provides a unique opportunity to spend time in a place that is truly remote and pristine. Because this river remains  a relatively well-kept secret, you won’t have to fight crowds or worry about racing to camp spots here. The rapids are challenging, but quite do-able (ranging from class II to IV) and spectacular side-canyon hiking is worth some extra time.

Perhaps what makes this river even more appealing is that it’s not always available. The BLM regulates flows to the Dolores from the McPhee reservoir so its season is short. Depending on snowpack, the river is usually floatable from late April to early June. But in dry years—like 2012—there may be no runnable flows at all.

Runners Up: Browns Canyon, The Yampa, The Animas, The Poudre

Best SingletrackRainbow Trail

This is a screamer of a ride. Most mountain bikers know it from a short six mile introductory stretch just outside of Salida that tops off the famed Monarch Crest, but the entire trail runs for 100 miles all the way down along the Sangre De Cristo Range. Admittedly, going the distance means you’ll hit a few stretches of double track, but the majority of the trip is delicious singletrack. Killer descents, stream crossings, grand views and a few pain-filled climbs make it truly epic. Arrange for some sort of a shuttle at various bail out points, try for a pro-level dirty century or double down for an unforgettable out and back ride bikepacking along the way.

Runners Up: The Government Trail (Aspen), Monarch Crest (Salida), Two Elk (Vail), Reno/Flag/Bear (Crested Butte), Doctor’s Park (Crested Butte)

Best Thirteener, Lizard Head

We figured you have heard enough about 14ers, and 13ers can be even better secrets. Lizard Head’s spire-like pinnacle begs to be climbed. One glimpse and you’ll definitely want to stand atop this impressive mountain. But, this ain’t a hike. You’ll need some skills and an adventurous spirit to tackle this unique peak nestled in the San Juans near Telluride. Despite being relatively small by Colorado standards (13,113 feet), Lizard Head has earned the illustrious honor of being “the most difficult peak in Colorado to climb.” Erosion has carved the top 500 feet into a spectacular vertical pillar known for its rotten and loose rock making the standard routes—which start at 5.8—challenging and fun to say the least. All the work is worth the effort. Lizard Head rewards intrepid climbers with astounding views of the surrounding wilderness and nearby 14ers.

Runners Up: Mount Owen, Vestal, Mount Ouray

Best Road Bike DescentMount Evans

The best part of finishing a grueling 14.5 mile, 3500-foot climb up Mt. Evans—the highest paved road in the US? The cruise down, of course. If you’re brave (and a little crazy), you can reach speeds over 40 m.p.h. as you swish and swoosh along this steep, super swervy thoroughfare that dives from 14,127 to 10,750 feet. Since you’re pedaling above tree line for most of the ride, stunning views abound—that is if you are coordinated enough to look up and enjoy them without missing a turn or hitting a pothole and plummeting off the guardrail-less road.

Runners Up: Trail Ridge Road, Independence Pass, Vail Pass, Rabbit Ears Pass, Cottonwood Pass

Best Trail Run, The Government Trail

This cardio-pumping scenic cruise crosses Tiehack, Buttermilk and Snowmass Ski Areas as it racks up 9.8 perfect miles of trail and an impressive 1,400 feet of elevation gain. It’s the ideal test piece for anyone who calls themselves a mountain runner.

Runners Up: Spring Creek (Steamboat), S Mountain (Salida), Lair o’ the Bear (Morrison)

Best Wildflower Hike, Rustler Gulch

Seas of endless wildflowers, boasting up to 114 different species during the height of blooming season, make Rustler Gulch the premier wildflower hike in a state full of exceptional options. Located in the mountains above Crested Butte, this mellow 8-10 mile walk is diverse enough that it will dazzle nature lovers, flower geeks and even adventurous types alike. Flowers aren’t the only natural happening here—sweet rock formations, beautiful creeks and inspiring views all reward hikers. The big bonus? A waterfall rushes through a flower-filled meadow at the end of this scenic stroll.

Runners Up: Alpine Tunnel (Buena Vista), American Lakes (Colorado State Forest), Blue Lakes Trail (Ouray), Columbine Lake (Tabernash)

Glenwood Wave
Surfing Colorado: The Glenwood Wave is the place to get SUP. Photo Cameron Martindell

Best SUP Spot, Glenwood Wave

After getting comfortable SUPing on flatwater lakes, take your game to the next level and start surfing. The Glenwood Springs Whitewater Park ( on the Colorado River offers a sweet (shall we say sick and gnarly, bra) standing wave good for surfing in a wide range of water conditions for all levels of SUPers.

Runners Up: Vail, Ruby Horsethief, Boulder Res

Best Boulder Problem, Germ-Free Adolescence

A proper highball should combine equal measures of technicality, beauty and terror, all of which the striking red über-roof Germ-Free Adolescence (V5) in Eldorado Canyon delivers in spades. Good jugs lead all too quickly to the lip, a do-or-die crimp-thrutch mantel 15 feet over the sloping hillside—and yes, this boulder breaks ankles!

Runners Up: Monkey Traverse (Flagstaff Road)

Best Meat Market, Movement Climbing Gym

Scantily clad chicks moaning with each move. Shirtless guys dripping sweat and groaning with effort. Chalk dust flying across rock solid bods. Tight shoes that cause intense pain. Harnesses that accentuate key body parts and thwart even the noblest of efforts to look away. Sounds like an S&M scene, right? Actually, it’s just Movement Climbing Gym—not only a great place to hone your rock skills, but also a rockin’ place to pick up guys and gals if you’re on the prowl.

Endorphins are pumping, muscles are bulging and even though you’re supposed to focus on belaying your partner so she won’t plummet to the floor, it’s more likely you’re looking around examining all the incredible specimens working their way up Movement’s many pitches. And, who can blame you?  Hotties abound and they definitely aren’t shy about strutting their stuff. Plus, with so much talk of nuts, racks, jugs, cracks and flashing how can you be expected to think only about climbing? A trip to Movement is multi-tasking at its finest: get a workout, fine tune your wall-scaling skills and find your soul mate (or at least some company for the night).

Runners Up: The Fritz (Salida), Rifle Mountain Park, The First Flatiron, Adventure Film Festival

Best Whitewater Park, Buena Vista

The Uptown Wave was the first feature built here in 2002 and since then the park has matured and expanded downstream into the South Main Neighborhood with four main features and a number of eddy and trail improvements. In 2008, those features were updated and now the park offers a range of options for advanced and beginner paddlers. Those improvements have also helped broaden the features across a wide range of optimal flow rates. Even better, all of the main features are individually accessible and the shore offers good shady spots for spectators and boaters alike on particularly hot days.

Runners Up: Salida, Gunnison, Canon City

Best scramble, Ellingwood Ridge

Scramble is an understatement. Starting gently at 11,200 feet the terrain here soon shows its teeth and the goal, La Plata Peak comes and goes from view, initially not seeming any closer. You can find class 3 scrambles with good route finding, but take a rope and really enjoy what the terrain has to offer.

Runners Up: Keplinger Couloir on Longs Peak, Gladstone Peak, Kit Carson Peak

Best Rappel, The Maiden

Ninety-five feet of pure Rocky Mountain air—that’s what you get on the dizzying free-rappel off the famously overhanging Maiden in Boulder’s Flatirons, to finish at a wee perch called the Crow’s Nest. Extra underpants advised.

Runners Up: Anything in The Black Canyon

Best Yurt/Hut, Opus Hut

Summer or winter, the San Juans offer a tremendous and quintessential Colorado mountain experience (they have certainly been prominent in our best of selections). The Opus hut is perfectly situated in Paradise Basin to take advantage of nearly everything the San Juans have to offer: views, ski runs, hiking and climbing along with incredibly comfortable and complete accommodations.

Runners Up: Lost Wonder Hut (Salida), James Peak Yurt (Rollinsville)

Best RetreatVagabond Ranch Huts

First, they allow dogs. Second, there’s a hot tub. Now this may not sound like your hardcore backcountry hut experience, but it is one fantastic spot to get together with a big group of friends and enjoy the unheralded singletrack in the summer and long backcountry ski runs in the winter.

Runners Up: Devil’s Thumb, Shambhala Mountain Center, Avalanche Ranch

Devil's Thumb Zip Line

Best Zip Line, Devil’s Thumb

A zip line is no good unless it puckers you just a little bit—but you don’t want to scare off the tourists. The new zip line tour at Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort and Spa pleases all comers. You warm up on a series of four fun lines, connected by a smart trail system, in preparation for the gnarliest wire ride in the West—High Lonesome, a 1,600-foot long zip up to 80-feet off the ground that will get you up to speeds of 40 m.p.h. Wash down the adrenaline with happy hour back at the ranch.

Runners Up: Zip Line Colorado Adventures (Vail)

Best Early Season Rock SkiingBerthoud Pass

It’s September, which means that it’s (fingers crossed) just about time to start skiing Berthoud. Close to downtown Denver, blessed with snow, crawling with likeminded dirtbags and an easy spot to hitchhike up to the top. Just bring your snow safety gear and brain and grab those circa 1990 Coyote RDs instead of the new Rossi Super 7s.

Runners Up: Highlands Bowl, Loveland Pass

Best Colorado Yoga Teacher(s)Steph and Stephen Uvalle

Older practitioners may complain that high-intensity practices have sucked the soul out of yoga, but this Boulder-based husband-and-wife team have cultivated the perfect balance between athletic exertion and spiritual enlightenment without laying it on too thick. Steph, a top finisher in the Leadville 100 who teaches at Corepower and the Yoga Loft in Boulder, often starts class with chanting and a harmonium before moving into asanas that challenge hardcore outdoor athletes. Stephen, who teaches at The Little Yoga Studio and leads a weekly Zen Warrior Workout, vacillates between coach and guru as he guides students to push themselves. Both teach a retreat in Bali as well as hiking/running/mountain biking/yoga mindfulness session at Vagabond Ranch Huts (see above).

Runners Up: Matt Kapinus (Yoga Pod, Boulder), Olivia Hsu (The Yoga Workshop, Boulder), Sara Darval (Yoga for the Peaceful, Crested Butte), Billy Goldman (Yoga Pod/The Yoga Workshop, Boulder)

Steph Uvalle Yoga

Best Adventure Coffee Shop, Happy Trails

Nederland’s groovy little espresso shop/ski and bike store is the place to go if you want beta on local action or just to mellow out and read a copy of The Mountain Gazette. And if you stay too long, owner Randy Ruhle will most likely entice you to get off your butt and out for a ride or ski with him.

Runners Up: Salto (Nederland, see page 9), The Blend (Carbondale), Camp 4 (Crested Butte)

Best Bike Community, Salida

We know we will take endless flack for choosing just one Colorado town for this category but the tremendous effort by Absolute Bikes and former mayor Chuck Rose to open new trails and foster an inclusive vibe put Salida over the top for us.

Runners Up: Steamboat, Winter Park, Fruita, Breckenridge, Nederland, Denver

Best Colorado Outdoor Personality (woman), Alison Gannett

Alison Gannett is one rippin’ chick—she’s earned that title as a World Champion Extreme Free Skier, an accomplished mountain biker, surfer and inspirational speaker. But despite her huge success as an athlete, Gannett decided early on to prioritize her work as a climate change activist. “I started working on solutions to climate change at University, went on to work in the trenches of energy efficiency and solar design, finally founding four non-profits, including Save Our Snow,” says Gannett. “I’ve been fighting to make the world a better place twice as long as I have been a professional extreme skier.”

Amidst competitions, speaking engagements and running KEEN Rippin Chix camps, which empower women to tackle tough terrain, Gannett works as a global cooling consultant helping companies and individuals find cost-effective, meaningful and measurable solutions to reduce climate change impacts. Gannett is different because she doesn’t just talk about how to make a difference—she actually lives that way. Over the last few years, Gannett has made some major life changes that reflect her commitment to saving the planet. She moved to a farm where she grows and raises almost all her own food and she has cut her own carbon footprint in half. She uses her fame as a champion skier to conduct research on glacial recession across the Earth, to draw attention to the fact that we can do things to begin global cooling and to educate and influence a wide range of people including Congress.

Allison Gannett

What motivates this woman who was named Outside magazine’s “Green All Star of the Year,”  SKI magazine’s “Ski Hero of the Year” and most recently, “Homesteader of the Year”, by Mother Earth News?  “People are more inspired by their heroes if they are walking the talk,” says Gannett. “It is important that I live an examined life, working to do less harm to the planet each year, like my mentor Yvon Chouinard. While jumping off cliffs is super cool, inspiring people to make changes in their lives to save our snow and water for future generations is way cooler.”

Runners Up: Kim Havell, Nicole Druse Duke, Lindsey Vonn, Shannon Galpin

Best Colorado Outdoor Personality (man), Timmy O’Neil

Timmy O’Neil developed a well-deserved reputation as one funny climber dude. The Patagonia Ambassador definitely took climbing to the entertainment edge, whether he was stemming up CU dorms and asking unsuspecting co-eds if they had seen his dog or just forcing other climbers to take themselves a little less seriously while he pulled off free-solo ascents, big-wall climbs or expeditions. Lord knows, climbers need some levity. But Timmy has evolved into far more than the climbing comedian.

In the March 2012 issue of Elevation Outdoors he wrote about his work with Dr. Geoff Tabin and the Himalayan Cataract Project ( O’Neil has joined Tabin in Africa and Asia, helping to assist in operations that give sight back to poor people. And this year, O’Neil took over as executive director of Paradox Sports (, an organization he founded with Army Captain DJ Skelton, who was wounded in Iraq. Paradox gets disabled folks out climbing, biking, surfing, paddling and enjoying life to the fullest. Anyone can climb mountains, few can move higher. Timmy has.

Runners Up: Renan Ozturk, Alan Arnette, Dave Weins, Andrew Skurka, Chris Davenport •

Downhill biking

best train ride hike

There’s a certain thrill about starting and ending a backpacking trip from a train. Take the Durango/Silverton narrow gauge train to Elk Park to begin this adventure ( Jump on the Elk Creek/Colorado trail and hike three miles to Beaver Ponds to set up your base camp. Pack your daypack the night before and don’t doddle the next morning to head south along the faint Vestal Creek Trail to then ascend the northeast face of Arrow Peak (13,803 feet). Take care dropping into the saddle between Arrow Peak and Vestal Peak (13,864 feet), then tag your next summit. Continue east along the ridge for some good scrambling into the Trinity Peaks. From East Trinity, drop into the saddle below Peak Three, head west into the valley and follow the drainage back to camp. Pack up camp and head back down the Elk Creek trail and hail the train home. —Cameron Martindell

best relaxation story

When I was twenty, I slept in a hammock for most of five months. It wasn’t the backyard kind: it had an asymmetrical base, a rain fly, and mosquito netting. It weighed less than a one man tent, and cost less, too—which was the main reason I made it my mobile home on the Appalachian Trail. You entered and exited through a Velcro hole in its base, enacting a kind of weird, full-grown birth. And that’s basically what the long walk was: my emergence into manhood.

The hammock only needed two trees spaced twenty feet apart, and the trail was lousy with those. It took a while to get the hang of—I recall a miserable few nights in horizontal rain—but I eventually set it up on steep slopes where no tent could stand. Yes, it resembled a bear piñata. But I hung happily off the ground, a young man floating in the mountains as only young people can.

When a friend asked for camping advice a few years later, as he prepared for an expedition in South America, I suggested a Hennessy Hammock like mine. Unfortunately, Patagonia is not lousy with trees high up. It’s cold, too. When he got home months later, he wrote a funny story attacking his sadistic camping adviser, me. Well, Alex, this is my apology. But come on, dude—a hammock in Patagonia? —Charles Bethea

best friends

I was bikepacking in the middle of nowhere in the Sawatch Range. Suddenly, I heard someone shout my name. It was my friends Brian and Dave who were randomly car camping and saw me ride by. They handed me an Odell Cutthroat Porter and an oatmeal cream pie. That was my dinner as I plopped my sleeping bag and bivy down on the ground for the night. It never
tasted so good. —Sonya Looney

Related Stories


Play Every Day With Kelty

Kelty: noun | kel-tee (1) activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation. (2) something way more fun than work At Kelty, pranks on the boss,...

How to Incorporate Nature Into Your Fitness Routine

There was once a time in most of our lives that our parents sent us outside to play in the morning, and didn’t see...


Written by: Bri Golden, Outdoor Educator and BVMA Guide It’s winter in the Rocky Mountains! Framed by 13-and-14,000-foot mountains sits the beautiful town of Buena...

YMCA of the Rockies, Colorado Perfect Winter

At Two Beloved Locations—Estes Park Center and Snow Mountain Ranch— YMCA of the Rockies Offers Up Top-notch Programming for the 2022–23 Winter Season That...