Whether you’re into music, sport, food, film or culture, our guide to this season’s best festivals is your roadmap to summer and fall fun. Plus, we recommend the best eats and rides, climbs and other outdoor activities in close proximity to the hubbub. Mark your calendar, pack the Subaru, and don’t forget the hula-hoop.
Boulder Dirt Days Earth Day Fest
When/Where: April 19, Boulder
What: The brain child of world-class climber and founder of the Adventure Film Festival Jonny Copp, Dirt Days is an all-ages event that includes everything from climbing wall contests to exhibits on how to save the planet.
Local Adventure: The time (and flows) should be ripe for tubing down Boulder Creek. Beware high water.
Eats/Drinks: Try the vegetarian BBQ plate at Leaf (303-442-1485; leafvegetarianrestaurant.com).
New Belgium Fruita Fat Tire Festival
When/Where: April 23–26, Fruita
What: The singletrack in Fruita is pure, built by mountain bikers for mountain bikers. The festival celebrates that vibe with tons of social rides and a beer garden.
Local Adventure: Want a day off from singletrack? Paddle the Colorado. Ruby/Horsethief offers easy class I–II water, while Westwater is a wild class IV ride.
5Point Film Festival
When/Where: May 7–10, Carbondale
What: More than a sports movie testosterone fest, 5Point is focused around athletes who want to make movies that go beyond athletic achievement to actually make some type of difference in the world. Don’t miss the panel on Saturday with Jenni Lowe-Anker and Conrad Anker on the Khumbu Climbing School.
Local Adventure: Take a spin on the singletrack on Red Hill or a road ride on the Rio Grande Trail, both just outside town.
Eats/Drinks: Two words: Phat Thai (970-963-7001; phatthai.com).
MountainFilm in Telluride
When/Where: May 22–25, Telluride
What: More of a social happening than just a film festival, MountainFilm is an artistic happening including art, conversation and, of course, movies. This year’s thematic focus will be on food—looking at everything from obesity to overpopulation. Keynote speaker Bill McKibben is not to be missed.
Local Adventure: The gondola that runs between Telluride and Mountain Village is free, giving access to the entire mountain. Trek back to Prospect Ridge and dip into Alta Lakes for an epic ride on singletrack.
Eats/Drinks: Sushi in the mountains? Despite a complicated formula involving distance from the ocean, size of airport and relative isolation, Honga’s Lotus Petal may be the best in the country. Don’t miss the mojitos (970-728-5134; hongaslotuspetal.com).
Teva Mountain Games
When/Where: June 4–7, Vail
What: There is as yet no other event like the Mountain Games, a spectator friendly celebration of outdoor sports. The kayak action in the middle of town is the big highlight but we are partial to the big splashes of the mountain dog contest. And it’s not just for the pros—anyone can enter contests that range from a mud run to a multi-sport Ultimate Mountain Challenge to a fly-fishing contest. Plus, films, concerts and Vail nightlife keep it all pumping.
Eats/Drinks: We’re partial to pizza at The Blue Moose (970-476-8666; bluemoosepizza.com).
Palisade Bluegrass and Roots Music Fest
When/Where: June 12–14, Palisade
What: Held on the banks of the Colorado, this laid-back festival features bluegrass, roots, Celtic, old-time and other acoustic music. The lineup this year includes Cadillac Sky, Moira Smiley and Voco, and Kane, Welch and Kaplin. And remember, this is the heart of Colorado wine country and local vintages will be a featured.
Local Adventure: Get a little dose of Colorado Plateau red rock hiking at nearby Colorado National Monument.
Eats/Drinks: You can’t visit Palisade without partaking in a wine tasting, but instead of opting for the juice of grapes why not try some honey wine? The Meadery of the Rockies (970-464-7899; rocky-mountain-meadery.com) is the place to feel like a Viking.
When/Where: June 18–21, Telluride
What: What to say? It is still the bluegrass festival in Colorado, perhaps in the world—and despite clichés and complaints about the music straying from roots fare, it’s still something you have to experience at least once in your life. This year’s lineup includes Elvis Costello and David Byrne alongside Yonder Mountain String Band, Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin and, as always, Sam Bush.
Local Adventure: Burn off your hangover on the Jud Wiebe Trail. This 2.7-mile loop leaves from town. It’s a short, but steep hike, climbing rapidly to a 10,200-foot ridge overlooking the ski area.
Eats/Drinks: You will need to recover in the morning. La Cocina de Luz’s breakfast burritos are worth the wait (970-728-9355; lacocinatelluride.com).
When/Where: June 18–21, Salida
What: For 61 years, boaters have converged on the Arkansas River in Salida to celebrate the joy of paddling. Anything you can race down a river gets in on the action here—from raft races to freestyle comps. There are even non-river events including a bike race and skate park comp.
Local Adventure: The Monarch Crest Tail gets all the mountain biking love, but local activists have built a brand new and very enjoyable trail system on S Mountain that’s well worth exploring. Ask for info at Absolute Bikes (888-539-9295; www.absolutebikes.com).
Eats/Drinks: The Boathouse Cantina (719-539-5004; boathousecantina.com) is the place to munch on a brat while taking in the happenings on the river.
Jazz Aspen Snowmass
When/Where: June 18-27, Aspen, and September 4-6, Snowmass
What: One of the greatest jazz happenings on the planet has been expanded to 10 days in downtown Aspen this year. Though it may not espouse the hula-hooping festivarian vibe of other events, it’s certainly got the chops. The Labor Day edition at Snowmass focuses more on rock, R&B and world music and will feature Michael Franti and Spearhead.
Local Adventure: Leaving straight out of Snowmass and ending in Aspen, The Government Trail is a prime mountain bike ride or trail run (it is after all the course for Aspen’s Golden Leaf Half Marathon each fall).
Eats/Drinks: Snowmass’ crown jewel for libations is Sneaky’s Tavern (970-923-8787; sneakystavern.com) in the base area. Modeled after Aspen’s Ajax Tavern, its eats drinks and atmosphere are first-class.
Fat Tire Bike Week
When/Where: June 24–28, Crested Butte
What: This festival honors Crested Butte as the birthplace of mountain biking and includes everything from guided rides for newbies to a chainless race. Need we say more?
Local Adventure: For a little yin to balance out all the yang of hardcore biking, go fly-fishing on the Gunnison and its tributaries with Troutfitter Sports (866-349-1323; troutfitter.com).
Eats/Drinks: Nothing beats Teocali Tamale after a hard ride (970.349.2005).
Gunnison River Fest
When/Where: June 26–28, Gunnison
What: While all the cyclists grunt it out up in CB, the folks downriver are getting wet. This soulful paddlefest features a whitewater play hole comp and a fun build-your-own-boat Hooligan race that’s worth trying.
Local Adventure: Gunnison lays claim to some fine, under-hyped mountain biking, including the Rage in the Sage trail, scene of the eponymous race.
Eats/Drinks: Soul food in the middle of Colorado? Hell yes. Head to Sugah’s Café (970-641-4990; sugahscafe.com) for your fix of grits and Po’ Boys.
Crested Butte Wildflower Festival
When/Where: July 6–12, Crested Butte
What: If you ever stopped for a second instead of bombing down that singletrack you might notice that Crested Butte is full of wildflowers. For those who aren’t stuck with the fat tire fetish, this festival offers a chance to smell the roses, or, um, elephant head. Take part in guided hikes or—wait for it—mountain bike rides.
Local Adventure: Few people talk about the climbing in CB, but the trad routes at Taylor Canyon are well worth checking out.
Eats/Drinks: Did we already tell you that we dig Teocali Tomale (970-349-2005)?
When/Where: July 24–26, Lyons
What: Adherents refer to it as the “real” bluegrass festival, and this year’s lineup adds credence to that claim: There will be the obligatory (Sam Bush and Del McCoury), as well as the eclectic (Alaskan band Barefoot) and political (Steve Earle and the Bluegrass Dukes). Plus, it’s the best place to hop in an after-hours picking circle.
Eats/Drinks: The Stone Cup (303-823-2345; thestonecup.com) is so hip to sustainability issues that they even use uncooked spaghetti noodles as coffee stirs. Brilliant.
Crestone Music Festival
When/Where: August 7–9, Crestone
What: Ah, Crestone. Vortex of transcendental oneness where Christians, pagans and adherents of the flying spaghetti monster have all learned to get along. So it is at the music festival, which includes all the expected food, art and community that draws festivarians from around the nation. Previous years’ lineups have featured artists such as Richie Havens, Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, and Leon Russel.
Local Adventure: Hike to Willow Creek Lake, one of the most beautiful spots in the Sangre de Cristos.
Eats/Drinks: For gastronomic enlightenment, head to the Shambala Café (719-256-4959)
Palisade Peach Festival
When/Where: August 13–16, Palisade
What: It’s far more than fruit (though make sure to take a bite of some mouth-watering Western Slope peaches right off the tree). Events include wine tastings, a five-mile run, a car show and, of course, the peach-eating contest.
Local Adventure: By August, often overlooked mountain bike rides on Grand Mesa are open for singletrack business—the Crag Crest Trail is great place to start.
Eats/Drinks: Opt for a different fruit—the grape—with a tasting at the Colorado Cellars Winery (800-848-2812; coloradocellars.com), the oldest winery in the Colorado.
When/Where: August 14–16, Lyons
What: With far less of the festivarian fanfare of Telluride Bluegrass and Rockygrass, Planet Bluegrass’ Folks Festival is a good choice if you just want to relax in your lawn chair and take in the tunes. On the docket for the 2009 edition are Susan Tedeschi, Rufus Wainwright and Scottish legend Dougie MacLean.
Local Adventure: Pull yourself together for a big road ride climb up to Allenspark—and prepare yourself for a screaming ride down.
Eats/Drinks: Grab a Dales Pale Ale at Oskar Blues (303-823-6685; oskarblues.com) and you just may rub elbows with some grizzled folkies—or catch an impromptu show.
Four Corners Folk Festival
When/Where: September 4–6, Pagosa Springs
What: Maybe not as well known as other more hyped festivals, Four Corners draws star power. This year’s lineup includes Anne and Peter Sibley, Tim O’Brien, and The Subdudes, and past highlights have included performances by Delbert McClinton, Nickel Creek and Del McCoury. A true grassroots effort, the non-profit festival asks attendees to join its “street team” to engage in guerilla marketing for the event.
Local Adventure: Pagosa is famed for its developed hot springs, but for a soak in a natural tub with a view, make the 13-mile hike to Rainbow Hot Springs.
Eats/Drinks: Grab some goodies or just a plain, delicious baguette at the Pagosa Baking Company (970-264-9348; pagosabakingcompany.com).
Monolith Music Festival at Red Rocks
When/Where: September (dates TBD), Morrison
What: Monolith not only takes advantage of the dramatic panorama of the main stage at Red Rocks as a showcase for Indy rock, but also features four other stages throughout the area’s grounds. Last year, Vampire Weekend, Silversun Pickups and Devotchka brought power to the main stage, while Del the Funky Homo Sapien got butts moving in the pavilion and Liam Finn absolutely rocked the club-style stage in the visitor’s center.
Local Adventure: Remember this mountain bike ride: Lair O’Bear.
Eats/Drinks: Grab a beer and burrito at the Morrison Inn (303-697-6650) and you’ll be in the company of a diverse group that includes everyone from iPod head-boppers to Hell’s Angels.
When/Where: October 9–12, Taos
What: Since 2001, this mountain-focused film festival has featured impassioned work from across the globe. Last year’s winners included Journey of a Red Fridge, the story of a Nepalese porter who hauls a Coke fridge across the Himalaya, and Nick Waggoner’s Hand Cut, a ski movie that explores the soul of the sport alongside the adrenaline.
Local Adventure: The highest spot in New Mexico, 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak is just outside of Taos and a good objective for a well-planned one-day assault.
Eats/Drinks: Yes, there are a ton of spots for your typical New Mexican fare but we can’t stay away from Taos Pizza Out Back (505-758-2374).