Voting for 2017 Best of the Rockies begins on November 28! Stay tuned to our website to nominate your favorite destinations, businesses and events in the Rocky Mountain region! Until then, take a look at last year’s Best of the Rockies winners.
Oh how magazines love to come up with big lists to let you in on the “best” of everything out there—and we are no exception. The difference? Well, when we came up with our sure-to-be-clickbait rundown of the best of the outdoors in the Rocky Mountains, we made sure it was our readers nominating and then voting for the winners (it’s an election year after all). So here they are, the democratically elected people’s choices for the Best of the Rockies. Dig in. Enjoy. Get outside and play.
Best Hiking Trail
Four Passes Loop, Aspen, Colorado
Runner Up: Teton Crest, Wyoming
Racking up 26 miles in the heart of Aspen’s Maroon Bells, this classic two-to-four-day backpacking loop is one of the best hikes anywhere.
Best Colorado Trail Section
Segment 13 Silver Creek Trailhead to Chalk Creek Trailhead
Runner Up: Segment 25
Touring 19 of Colorado’s Fourteeners in the San Isabel National Forest, this 22.8-mile leg of the 486-mile epic stands out as a highlight for thru hikers or just as a day trip or backpack all on its own.
Best Running Trail
Mesa Trail, Boulder, Colorado
Runner Up: Snodgrass, Crested Butte, Colorado
It’s no surprise that the winner here came from Boulder, where running is a requirement for residency. But honestly, it does not get much better than a 13.4-mile round-trip jog (oh, excuse us, training session) on the Mesa Trail, which offers a perfect mix of up and down and big views along the base of the famed Flatirons. Dogs are allowed, too (but need to be on leash, so be aware).
Best Whitewater Run
Browns Canyon, Arkansas River, Colorado
Runner Up: Westwater Canyon, Utah
There’s a lot of worthy whitewater in the West, but class III–IV Browns Canyon rose to the top in our poll mostly because of the vocal local community who helped convince President Obama to create a brand-new national monument around the place last year.
Best Climbing Crag
Eldorado Canyon, Colorado
Runner Up: Ten Sleep, Wyoming
It’s not just that the climbing in Eldo is so sublime that it attracts rock jocks from across the globe; it’s about the community that has grown up around this charmed spot. From the early days, when Layton Kor first started putting up routes here, to the current flood of gym-trained Millenials, climbers come here both to try classics like The Yellow Spur (5.9) and The Naked Edge (5.11a/b) and to find likeminded partners.
Best Climbing Route (Sport)
Animal Instinct, Boulder Canyon, Colorado
Runner Up: Pump-o-Rama, Rifle, Colorado
This one-pitch 5.12c is a must-do if you want to show off your stuff in the Boulder Bubble. Plus, it gets lots of sun, making it nice in winter and late in the day.
Best Climbing Route (Trad)
Casual Route, Longs Peak, Colorado
Runner Up: Exum Ridge, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Rated at 5.10a, the 1,700-foot Casual Route is the easiest way up Longs’ Diamond, and it’s truly a premier big alpine climb, right in Denver’s backyard.
Best Boulder Problem
Biggest Tits in Country Music, Vedauwoo, Wyoming
Runners Up: The Kind, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado; Monkey Traverse, Boulder, Colorado
Who can resist, right? Vedauwoo’s favorite V3 is a roof-crack boulder problem that will have your chest, well, um, heaving.
Best Mountain Bike Trail
Monarch Crest Trail, Salida, Colorado
Runners Up: Captain Ahab, Moab, Utah; 401, Crested Butte, Colorado; Mary’s Loop, Fruita, Colorado
Sure, there may be better sections of pure singletrack and rides with more tehcnical fun, but the 14.1-mile Monarch Crest offers up the whole package with neverending views and a highpoint at 11,962 feet. Be prepared for burning lungs and white knuckles on the ripping downhill.
Best Road Bike Ride
Colorado National Monument, Colorado
Runner Up: Independence Pass, Colorado
Who would have thought that the Rockies’ best road ride is in the desert? It makes perfect sense when you consider that this 23-mile loop through Colorado National Monument takes cyclists way above the red rock and is rideable all year long.
Best Ski/Snowboard Resort
Crested Butte, Colorado
Runners Up: Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Snowbird/Alta, Utah; Arapahoe Basin, Colorado
It may not claim the most vertical, the most terrain or the most snow, but all those superlatives don’t mean much when it comes to what really matters when it comes to skiing and snowboarding—soul. Crested Butte can’t be beat when you consider the vibe, from the core intensity of its extreme terrain and contests to the still-an-actual-town charm of downtown. Check out the new Teocalli 2 Bowl this year (see the October, 2015 issue of EO).
Best Inbounds Ski/Snowboard Terrain
Back Bowls, Vail, Colorado
Runner Up: Highlands Bowl, Aspen Highlands, Colorado
Each one of Vail’s legendary Back Bowls could be a ski area all on its own in some places. And no matter the weather, you are sure to find something to suit your fancy in the 3,000 acres that include Blue Sky Basin and all its good.
Best Terrain Park
Runner Up: Winter Park, Colorado
It’s hard to argue with Breck’s prominence with those who want to go big and show off. You’ll find local Olympians like Bobby Brown getting after it here in the Freeway park, but Trygve’s is ideal for little rippers, too.
Best Backcountry Stash
Runners Up: Monarch Pass, Colorado; Teton Pass, Wyoming
Best SUP Spot
Runner Up: Glenwood Canyon, Colorado
In just a few years, SUP has become the king of paddlesports. And here in Salida on the Arkansas River, stand-uppers can take part in every aspect of the sport: attacking the whitewater course, chilling on slow water and heading out on long, downriver adventures. Or just play a bit and enjoy a beer by the river right in town.
Best Fly Fishing River
Wind River, Wyoming
Runners Up: Taylor Fork, Colorado; Roaring Fork, Colorado; Madison, Montana
Considering all the iconic trout streams in the West, this was a bit of a surprise. But it shouldn’t be. With its waters coming from the glaciers of the high Wind River Range, this stream regularly rewards anglers with 20-plus-inch rainbows and browns.
Best Wilderness Area
Indian Peaks, Colorado
Runners Up: Frank Church-River of No Return, Idaho; Holy Cross, Colorado
The high peaks closest to Boulder and environs can certainly get crowded, but there’s also enough room to get lost in these 76,711 untrammeled acres.
Best Kid-Friendly Outdoor Destination
Glenwood Caverns and Adventure Park, Colorado
Runner Up: Snow Mountain Ranch YMCA of the Rockies, Colorado
The munchkins get the best of both worlds here: Find natural adventure with a tour deep into Fairy Cave and then ride the 3,400-foot alpine coaster.
Best Dog-Friendly Outdoor Destination
Crested Butte, Colorado
Runner Up: Buena Vista, Colorado
The Butte’s a real mountain town, which means the petty tyrants don’t try to keep you and your best friend from having fun. Most lodgings in town are pet friendly.
Best Place for Outdoor Singles to Live
Runner Up: Denver, Colorado
Do singles in Boulder just love the outdoors or do they take to the outdoors just to find love? Either way, it’s the ideal spot for a date. Impress each other climbing at Movement gym and then head to a spot like Zeal for foodie-centric eats and drinks.
Best Place to Engage in Illicit and Nefarious Activities
Runner Up: Summit County, Colorado
You didn’t hear it here.
Best Place to Raise an Outdoor Family
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Runner Up: Sheridan, Wyoming
Want your kids to grow up to rip? Move to Steamboat Springs, home to a record 88 U.S. Winter Olympians and the roost of choice for Eugene Buchanan, author of Outdoor Parents, Outdoor Kids.
Best Luxury Destination
The Little Nell, Aspen, Colorado
Runner Up: The Ritz Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, Colorado
Beyond the world-class service and food, the legendary slopeside digs offer amazing programs that range from stargazing hikes to clinics with Chris Davenport.
Best Zip Line
Cliffside Zipline, Idaho Springs, Colorado
Runner Up: Devils Thumb Ranch, Colorado
There are six different lines to play on here, which is a blast, but the fun in between rides includes a “bridge of doom,” 50-foot cliffside freefall and a “surf” zip.
Best Outdoor Gear Brand
Big Agnes, Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Runners Up: Voormi, Pagosa Springs, Colorado; Green Guru Gear, Boulder, Colorado
Big Agnes co-founder Bill Gamber is not some slick executive looking to put ads in the Super Bowl. The man will hammer you on Steamboat’s singletrack and the brand reflects that love-to-live-in-my-mountain-town mentality he espouses. Big Agnes found a sweet spot with smart tents for both car camping and ultra-light fastpacking missions, and has recently been producing some of our favorite insulated jackets for winter. Plus, it supports nonprofits like the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, She Jumps and Leave No Trace.
Best Outdoor Startup
Gociety, Denver, Colorado
Runner Up: Mountain Standard, Boulder, Colorado
It makes sense that a company whose mission is to connect likeminded people who want to play in the outdoors would win our online-based poll. Gociety lets you follow along when other folks get out in the wild or post your own adventures. That’s spreading the love.
Best Job Title
Runner Up: Gaper Patrol
Oh, you like our lives, do you, readers? Because this is what we do. We get people to send us gear and then we play hard in it and tell you all about it. Let us know if you would like to join in and add this illustrious title to your resume (go to ElevationOutdoors.com).
Best Yoga Studio
Tadasana Mountain Yoga, Nederland, Colorado
Runner Up: Corepower Yoga
Our readers rejected all those fancy, tight-butt studios and chose this local favorite which offers classes in a wide range of styles as well as massage and life coaching.
Best Outdoor-based Company to Work for
Backbone Media, Carbondale and Denver, Colorado, and Jackson, Wyoming
Runner Up: Colorado Wilderness Rides and Guides
Founders Penn Newhard and Nate Simmons love to play as much as they love to slay the world of public relations and media. No surprise they recruit top talent who choose Backbone for the job as well as the policies that encourage serious adventure time as part of the job.
Best Outdoor Retail Shop
Bentgate Mountaineering, Golden, Colorado
Runner Up: Neptune Mountaineering, Boulder, Colorado
To survive in the wild West of retail these days, a local shop needs to make itself an essential part of the community. Bentgate has done that and more, offering up classes, training sessions and quick service as well as sales staff who want to get out on the crags and trails both to have fun and to learn about the gear they are peddling. That experience keeps customers coming back.
Best Bike Retail Shop
Tin Shed Sports, Nederland, Colorado
Runner Up: Absolute Bikes, Salida, Colorado
You are just as likely to see Tin Shed head honcho Josh Harrod out on the trails as you are to see him manning the store. That type of passion makes for a shop our readers trust.
Best Climbing Guide Service
Pikes Peak Alpine School,
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Runner Up: Colorado Mountain School, Boulder, Colorado
Local outfitter Pikes Peak Alpine School holds the only year-round permit to get out on the rock, snow and ice of Pikes Peak. Plus, they focus on avalanche education and learning mountain judgment.
Best Hiking Guide Service
Highline Running Adventures, Ridgway, Colorado
Runner Up: Irwin Guides, Crested Butte, Colorado
Don’t just hike, run the San Juans!
Best Whitewater Guide Service
Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center, Salida, Colorado
Runner Up: 4 Corners Whitewater, Durango, Colorado
It’s no surprise that the outfitter who won this category operates on the same stretch of river that won best whitewater in this poll. But these guys are far more than a bunch of river rats who will drag you through the rapids. They also offer a kayaking school so you can learn how to navigate that water on your own.
Best Bike Guide Service
At Your Pace Freestyle Cycling, Loveland, Colorado
Runner Up: Colorado Wilderness Rides and Guides
At Your Pace does just that, offering self-guided tours in Colorado and Arizona that eschew the drag of a big group that often feels more like a class trip than an adventure.
Best Environmental NonProfit
Idaho Conservation League, Boise, Idaho
Runner Up: Leave No Trace, Boulder, Colorado
The true mark of a nonprofit with a focus on conservation is if it can negotiate protection that makes both Democrats and Republicans happy. Idaho Conservation League did just that last year when it helped shepherd in a new 275,000-acre Boulder-White Clouds wilderness in Idaho via Republican Representative Mike Simpson and Senator Jim Risch. The group, which runs a community retreat at Redfeather Lake every year, spent time with Simpson out in the proposed area, so that the congressman felt it really had to be protected. Finding that type of common ground out in the mountains is something we would like to see a lot more of in Washington.
Elevation Beer Co., Poncha Springs, Colorado
Runner Up: Upslope, Boulder, Colorado
This was the hardest-fought category in our poll, but Elevation (hey, we like that name) came out on top. The beer—try the 7437 Double IPA—is the main draw here, but the location near Monarch Pass and deck with big views of the Sawatch help, too.
The Infinite Monkey Theorem, Denver, Colorado
Runner Up: Two Rivers Winery, Grand Junction, Colorado
There may be a plethora of great wineries out on Colorado’s West Slope, but these simian oenophiles based in Denver’s oh-so-urban Rino district blew away the competition. The vinters haul in their grapes from the Western Slope and other locales and make it right in the city (show up on the first Friday of the month when the winery is open to the public). Infinite Monkey can be found at stores and drinking establishments throughout the state, but the best place to enjoy it is out on the deck at the winery on a Saturday summer night when bands play and you can enjoy some post-outdoor-play grape juice.
Wyoming Whiskey, Kirby, Wyoming
Runner Up: Woody Creek Distillers
Who doesn’t love a family-owned independent distillery making world-class spirits in some of the most beautiful country on this planet? Oh, and also–whiskey. The distillers at Wyoming Whiskey are making and packaging three kinds of whiskey: a Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey, a Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey, and a Barrel Strength Bourbon Whiskey–all of which can be purchased at account all across the United States.
Salto Coffee Works, Nederland, Colorado
Runner Up: The Shed, Santa Fe, New Mexico
The key to any good eatery: location, location, location. Salto certainly has that in spades, nestled into the funk of Nederland with rollicking singletrack, Eldora Mountain Resort and the Indian Peaks Wilderness right out the door. It also serves up delicious food such as a griddled brie plate with charred scallion, honey and crostini.
Best Vegetarian Restaurant
Rootz, Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Runner Up: Leaf, Boulder, Colorado
You could go all Food Nework with your vegetarian fare or dig in to an old-school, comfy spot like Rootz, where you can buy local art or a mala, as well as enjoy smoothies and meat-free food such as the Lomi Lomi bowl.
Best Farm-to-Table Restaurant
Black Cat, Boulder, Colorado
Runner Up: Ajax Tavern, Aspen, Colorado
The best farm-to-table eateries need to represent a connection to the soil of the local community as much as they must offer up one of the best menus in town. Black Cat does both, with a farm that is currently experimenting with vermiculture as well as a menu that changes every day and a booth at the Boulder Farmers’ Market. Oh, and be sure to try a craft cocktail like the Hairless Ape.
Best Après Spot
Mangy Moose, Jackson, Wyoming
Runner Up: Dillon Dam Brewery, Dillon, Colorado
Really this is a no-brianer for anyone who has ever skied at Jackson Hole. The Moose is no fru-fru spot for mixology, but it’s also far more than a dive bar. Simply put, it is a vortex of true ski and snowboard culture. At least that’s what the guy doing Jägerbombs next to us said.
Best Coffee Shop
Salto Coffee Works, Nederland, Colorado
Runner Up: Ozo, Boulder, Colorado
Yep, Salto became the only nominee to take two categories in our poll.
Terrapin Care Station, Denver and Boulder, Colorado
Runner Up: The Greenery, Durango, Colorado
Terrapin is taking the cannibis experience a step, well, higher. You can shop for just the right bud, but you can also join a community that is advocating for smart, enjoyable use of weed and edibles.
Best Running Event
Ned Ned, Nederland, Colorado
Runner Up: Steamboat Springs Running Series
Nederland says, “Keep your Bolder Boulder. We have our half-marathon and 5K with costumes and dogs encouraged.” This is Ned.
Best Road Bike Event
USA Pro Cycling Challenge, Colorado
Runner Up: Salida Classic, Salida, Colorado
The bad news? It ain’t going to happen this year. The good? New owners promise that the best road stage race in North America will return in 2017.
Best Mountain Bike Event
Grand Junction Off-Road, Grand Junction, Colorado
Runner Up: Breck Epic, Breckenridge, Colorado
Dig into the 15-, 30- or 40-mile courses in GJ’s classic red-rock backcountry.
Best Cyclocross Race
Old Man Winter Adventure Bike Rally and Run, Lyons, Colorado
Runner Up: Urban Assault, Denver, Colorado
These core 50K and 100K races sponsored by Oskar Blues bring out the folks who truly like biking to be “to the pain.”
Best Paddling Event
Golden Games, Golden, Colorado
Runner Up: FIBArk, Salida, Colorado
Held in the end of May, these low-key games focus on river sports and include events like a screaming quarter-mile kayak race, SUP yoga, a Rocky Mountain luau and a fly-fishing contest.
Frisco Triathlon, Frisco, Colorado
Runner Up: Curt Gowdy Tenderfoot, Cheyenne, Wyoming
It’s simple. Summit County is home to people who like to crush. Can you beat them? Are you one of them?
Best Mud Run/Obstacle Course Race
Hard as Nails Obstacle Run, Westminster, Colorado
Runner Up: Diva Dash, Copper Mountain, Colorado
Want to dive into dumpsters, climb rubber ladders and deal with a “surprise event”? This 5K for adults and 1K for kids will make you feel like something between a commando and a reality TV star.
Best Music Festival
Four Corners Folk Music Festival, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Runner Up: Telluride Bluegrass
This rootsy happening beat out so many bigger festivals to take first place in our readers’ hearts. Credit the dedication to authentic music including Trout Steak Revival (see page 37) and a killer location.
Best Costumed Event
Steamboat Springs Mustache Ride, Colorado
Runner Up: FIBArk Hooligan Race
Benefiting the Routt County Humane Society, this ride/pub crawl gets hairy.
Rowdiest Outdoor Event
Frozen Dead Guy Days, Nederland, CO
Runner Up: Testicle Festival, Rock Creek, Montana
Deceased grandpa Bredo Morstoe is chilling out in dry ice and the living are celebrating with coffin races, a salmon toss, 30 live bands and a new free bus from Boulder.
Toughest Race or Event
Hardrock 100, Silverton, Ouray and Telluride, Colorado
Runner Up: Grand Traverse, Crested Butte to Aspen, Colorado
It’s hard to argue with the Hardrock taking this title. The 100-mile race climbs 33,992 vertical feet and requires its lucky (?) lottery-winner participants to make use of mountaineering and survival skills to endure in the peaks of the San Juans.