If you’ve never been on a Colorado adventure during the summer you’re missing out! The State has highest concentration of 14K peaks in the contiguous U.S., seemingly endless stretches of white water rapids and literally thousands of miles of trails dedicated to everything from hiking to biking to off-roading and you can even visit the highest sand dunes in North America! But with so much to do, and often so little time, you may feel a bit overwhelmed planning your next visit. No worries! If you want to experience a bit of everything Colorado you can stay near the Arkansas Valley. And if you’re game, here are some amazing things I’ve experienced that will sure to keep your heart racing, your eyes busy and put your adventurous spirit at ease… at least until you’re ready for the next day.
- Establish your base camp
Finding an amazing camping spot in Colorado is so easy since options are almost limitless. Just down the road from cities like Leadville and Buena Vista, you can find everything from maintained “glamping” resorts and established campgrounds to more primitive options off the heavily traveled roads (Primitive = no toilets or treated water). If you’re new to the area and want the best of both worlds I recommend Lake View Campground. Nestled in the shadow of Mt. Elbert, the tallest peak in the Rocky Mountains, this not only camp provides potable water and clean rest rooms, but you gain epic view of the Twin Lakes, the Arkansas Valley and some of the highest peaks in the nation. And with 7 separate camping loops, chances are you will find a nice little place where you can rest your exhausted body after a full day of adventure.
- Go peak bagging!
Establishing a base camp in the Arkansas Valley area provides access to Colorado’s Swatch Range and the largest concentration of 14K peaks in the lower 48 states. From here your climbing options are totally yours to choose!
Do you want a long hike? Go try to bag Mount Massive!
Do you think you can get two peaks in a single day? Try Mt. Shavano and Mt. Tabeguache
Or… do you want the tallest in the state? If so, there are two excellent and easy (if climbing to over 14,400 ft. above sea level is easy) trails that will give you the chance to climb Mt. Elbert and gain you some of the best views in all of Colorado! And since this peak is so accessible you will probably get to enjoy the hike with like-minded peak baggers. Bring extra water and extra snacks and no kidding… start your hike early! Summer time thunderstorms move in quickly and believe me you do not want to be above tree line when that happens. FYI – I was once caught above tree line as a storm approached. Literally the hair on my arm stood up and I could hear the rocks humming with energy around me. I kid you not, I ran down that mountain! It was freaking scary!
- Hit the white water!
Staying in central Colorado gives you the chance, if you’re bold enough, to raft the mighty Arkansas River. The headwaters (aka – where a river begins) of the Arkansas are located in this Colorado and you should not miss your chance to splash and play in the 6th longest river in the country. (Don’t worry… you don’t raft the entire river.) I’ve personally rafted the Arkansas through several reaches of the river and I recommend rafting the Royal Gorge if you want a challenge and if you prefer a milder experience I would head to Browns Canyon – though there are some epic plunges in this section too. If you have the time, I also recommend a full day excursion to truly experience the might of the Arkansas. Also make sure to choose your white-water experience based upon what type of rapids you want to battle. Rapids are defined by the class and the closer you get to Class 5 the more fun (and dangerous) the rapids become. So take some time and consider the numerous options and companies that float this river. Then choose your favorite based on your willingness for adventure and your willingness to swim.
FYI – Most full days last until about 4 pm so once you are done you have the remainder of the afternoon to rest, recover and rebound. (*see the extra credit section below if you prefer to get a brew or two instead)
- Get off road
Sometimes it’s nice to ditch the trail runners and exhaustion and trade it for a jeep and some nice tunes – John Denver is always a go to when I am in Colorado. Hmmm… wonder why. With old mining roads on darn near every mountain you can see, your off-road adventures abound. I have a couple of friends in Colorado who have jeeps and know the trails but if you are looking to rent an off-road vehicle or prefer a guided jeep tour, there are some great companies you can reach out to! If you’re a first timer, then I would recommend heading towards the Lincoln Creek trail and head towards Ruby Mine.
*Extra Credit – hit a local brewery or check out the Great Sand Dunes!
Ok… you can’t visit Colorado without a quick visit to some local pubs. Here are two of my favorites near the Arkansas Valley area.
Eddy Line Brewery – Located in the City of Buena Vista, Eddy Line Brewery is a beer lovers dream! I recommend trying the Raspberry Wheat (seasonal) and you must try the knock you on your butt Epic Day Double IPA (10% ABV so get ready to party and remember… you’re at elevation!)
Periodic Brewing (Pb) – Located Leadville, this brewery is a great place to stop in for a beer, a snack and some much needed Wi-Fi. And if you didn’t get that Pb is the periodic symbol for lead well then don’t worry… you do now! Drink happy and mind the elevation!