Best of the Rockies 2016

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.

Nederland’s Salto and Tin Shed Sports walked away with the hardwear for best restaurant, best coffee shop and best bike retail shop.
Nederland’s Salto and Tin Shed Sports walked away with the hardware for best restaurant, best coffee shop and best bike retail shop.

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

Breckenridge, Colorado

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

“Not Telling”


Runners Up: Monarch Pass, Colorado; Teton Pass, Wyoming

Best SUP Spot

Salida, Colorado

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

Boulder, Colorado

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

Leadville, Colorado

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

Steamboat's Big Agnes was toast above the rest when it came to Reader's Choice for best outdoor gear brand.
Steamboat’s Big Agnes was toast above the rest when it came to Reader’s Choice for best outdoor gear brand.

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

Gear Tester

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

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.

Mangymoose (44)
Mating Calls: There’s no better place to get your après on than the mangy moose.

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.

Best Brewery

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.

Best Winery

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.

Best Distillery 

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.

Best Restaurant

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.

Best Dispensary

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

Walk on Water: everything is sup at the best paddling event, the golden games.

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.

Best Triathlon

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.

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