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Head for the Hills

You don't have to drive far to get away. Here, our 10 picks for off-the-beaten-path adventures in the foothills.

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1) Conquer the Buckhorn Trail

Enhance your mountain bike skills with local pro Alison Dunlap.

Gold Camp Road, Colorado Springs If your bunny hop isn’t hopping and your brakes are always smoking, maybe it’s time for a skills tune-up. Former World Champion Alison Dunlap offers private clinics throughout the summer and fall in the hills near Gold Camp Road, above her Colorado Springs home. After some flatland drills, you’ll practice technical climbing on the Buckhorn Trail, followed by fearless downhilling on Capt. Jack’s bumps and chutes, bolstered by tips from Dunlap and her pro instructors. “There’s a very difficult switchback halfway up Buckhorn that’s in a lot of loose gravel,” says Dunlap. “We’ll talk about this section, demonstrate, and then have the riders practice till they get it.” Intimidated by riding with a two-time Olympian? Dunlap swears her clinics can be tailored to any ability level—even first-timers.
-Dougald MacDonald

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Vitals: Gather a group of up to 15 friends for a low-pressure private lesson with Dunlap. Prices range from $250 to $350 per person, depending on the location and size of the group; clinics are also available in Jefferson County. www.alisondunlap.com Stay Overnight: Originally an early 20th-century gambling hall and bordello, the Cheyenne Cañon Inn is close to the bike trails of North Cheyenne Cañon Park. $105-$235 per night, www.cheyennecanoninn.com

2) Storm a Real Castle

Live it up at this mansion-cum-cultural center.

Cherokee Ranch and Castle, Sedalia Built in 1926, the Cherokee Ranch and Castle’s original purpose was to serve as the summer home and hunting retreat for Denver real estate magnate Charles Alfred Johnson and his cronies. While it has been open for tours and teas for 12 years, since 2006 it has also hosted a summer performing arts series that showcases some of the Front Range’s best talent (think: Colorado Symphony Orchestra and the Denver Center Theatre Company). Preconcert festivities include a wine tasting and dinner, but the highlight is a tour that explains the castle’s hodge-podge of architectural styles. Natasha Gardner

Vitals: This month see Lynn Baker and the Lamont School of Music (Aug. 16) or “Shakespeare’s Women: Lovers, Mothers, Queens, and Courtesans,” presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company (Aug. 24). 303-688-5555, www.cherokeeranch.org Stay Overnight: Make a rezzie to stay in one of the 55 historic rooms at the renowned Cliff House in Manitou Springs. www.thecliffhouse.com

3) Scale a Sandstone Spire

Bag the Matron, a classic Boulder climb. Southern Flatirons, Boulder County One mark of a great rock climb is that it looks much harder than it actually is. By that standard, the bulb-topped fin called the Matron should be the best climb in Boulder County. Although this spire on the flanks of South Boulder Peak appears steep from below, climbing the laid-back east ridge requires more balance than strength. The start is tricky, but the rest of the climb is a cruise, with holds you can wrap your whole hand around. After some exciting rappels, you’ll regain terra firma and be ready for an après-climb Quinn’s Golden Ale at the Southern Sun, a climbers’ pub in south Boulder. DM

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Vitals: To climb the Matron, you’ll need 5.6 leading ability (intermediate experience) and solid rappelling skills. Or, hire a guide: Veteran mountaineer Jack Roberts (www.jackrobertsclimbing.com) leads Matron climbs. Stay Overnight: Work out the kinks at the spa at the St. Julien Hotel & Spa in downtown Boulder. $269-$479 per night, www.stjulien.com

4) Crank up a Canyon

Ride the Jamestown/Lee Hill loop, a classic Foothills road bike route.

Lefthand Canyon, Boulder County A perennial favorite of local pros (and average Joes), this 30-plus-mile loop boasts great scenery, a quintessential Colorado descent, and enough climbing to justify the requisite post-ride dessert. The gentle climb up Lefthand Canyon to Jamestown is gradual enough for conversing, taking in the aspen groves, and searching for local wildlife (like the four-wheelers gearing up to tackle Carnage Canyon). Stop at the top at the Mercantile in Jamestown, a restaurant-meets-general-store, and refill your bottles at the complimentary water jug out front. There’s usually a gaggle of cyclists partaking on the porch every weekend throughout the summer. Be careful of the switchbacks on the ripping descent back to Boulder. Afterward, regale others at Amante Coffee on north Broadway, Boulder’s top spot for coffee, gelato, and people-watching Lycra-clad roadies. Joe Lindsey

Vitals: You’ll need a bike (preferably road) with moderately low gears, good tires, and great brakes. For bike rentals, parts, repairs, and advice, hit Boulder Cycle Sport (www.bouldercyclesport.com), on Broadway. Half-day rentals, including helmet, start at $25. Wear the helmet. Plan on a couple of hours, and bring a light rain jacket in case of a sprinkle. Park at Amante and ride north on Broadway to Lefthand Canyon, then head west. Stay Overnight: Make the ride really green by staying at Boulder’s funky Outlook Hotel, a former Holiday Inn reinvented as an eco-friendly joint. $99-$120 per night, www.boulderoutlook.com

5) Channel your Inner Cowboy

Saddle up for a family-friendly horseback tour of Rocky Mountain National Park.

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Fall River Road, Estes Park There’s nothing more Western than a ride on horseback. True, you won’t be galloping at top speed—the staff at the National Park Gateway Stables provides sure-footed mounts that are prohibited by Park Service rules from moving faster than a walk—but you wouldn’t want to miss the scenery anyway. The trails starting from Gateway, just outside the Fall River entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, meander through forests of ponderosa and lodgepole pines and up and down the steep moraines left by ancient glaciers. The two-hour round trip to Little Horseshoe Park is just right for families with youngsters, with frequent wildlife sightings, many photo ops, and plenty of goofy wrangler patter (“We call this Pee Hill because we’ve never gotten all the way up it without a horse stopping for a potty break”) to keep the kids smiling. DM

Vitals: Children as young as four can take part in a trail ride; $50/person for a two-hour ride. Rides depart hourly 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. 970-586-5269, www.nationalparkgatewaystables.com Stay Overnight: The Wildwood Inn offers rooms, suites, and cabins on seven acres off Fall River Road, plus an on-site spa for post-ride recovery. $119 and up per night, www.esteswildwoodinn.com

6) Tee it Up with a Triceratops

Play a round at Golden’s fossil-rich golf course.

Fossil Trace Golf Club, Golden Although the course’s attention-grabbing dinosaur footprints line the 12th green, you can’t use them as an excuse for your poor putting. But make sure to take a few moments to peruse the 64 million-year-old prints and fossilized palm fronds before moving on to the next tee-box of this stunning course. Designed by Jim Engh, Fossil Trace was named one of the top 10 new courses by both Golf Digest and Golf Magazine in 2003—which is all the more impressive considering it’s a public course. After your round, greet “Teri” (a life-size replica of a triceratops skull) at the clubhouse entrance and settle down with a pint in the restaurant and pub. Cheryl Meyers

Vitals: Greens fees run from $18 to $75 per person for 18 holes, including carts (prices are higher for non-Jefferson County residents and on weekends). Reservations can be made up to seven days in advance by calling 303-277-8750. www.fossiltrace.com Stay Overnight: Grab a room in the Golden Hotel overlooking gorgeous Clear Creek in downtown Golden. $179-$279 per night, www.thegoldenhotel.com

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7) Recharge your Batteries

Relax in the romance of Gold Lake Mountain Resort.

Gold Lake Mountain Resort & Spa, Ward There’s something to be said for leaving the city to get rustic and simple in nature, just you and your honey. But there’s also something to be said for not having to “rough it” while you commune. Many of Gold Lake’s charming cabins offer potbelly stoves, showers big enough for two, and fluffy bedding that pampers you without feeling too chichi. Plus, the À la carte menu of nostalgia-inducing activities (canoeing on the lake, horseback riding in the hills, bocce ball on the lawn, soaking in the hot springs) gets you outside, generating endorphins together. You’ll also want to try yoga and a deep-tissue massage in the spa if you want to go a little deeper with your om time. CM

Vitals: Gold Lake Mountain Resort & Spa is located in Ward, 29 miles from Boulder. Nightly rates range from $275 to $625 depending on which cabin you rent. If you can’t swing a night away, Gold Lake offers day-trip rates. 303-459-3544, www.goldlake.com Stay Overnight: A weekend package includes a night in one of the (recently renovated) cabins, a three-course dinner for two at the Restaurant at Gold Lake, a breakfast buffet, a couple’s massage at the lakeside spa, and a bottle of wine for the room (worth it) for $545.

8) Snag a Giant Trout

Test the gold medal fly-fishing of the South Platte River.

Shawnee, Park County, and Deckers, Douglas County In Colorado the famed rainbow and brown trout fisheries of the South Platte River are just a quick jaunt up Highway 285. There are two ways to partake in the state’s chock-a-block waters. For superb fishing—at a moderate fee—try a half- or full-day guided fishing trip from North Fork Ranch, a high-end resort a little more than 50 miles from Denver between Shawnee and Grant. With nearly two miles of shallow, rippling private waters, North Fork offers beautiful scenery and more than 1,500 pounds of fish to hunt. If you’re not interested in paying to toss a line (other than a mandatory state fishing license), take County Road 67 to Deckers to find the public-access waters of the Platte’s main fork. Hike the Gill Trail to access the gold medal fishery of boulder-filled Cheesman Canyon, where the trout are much warier than at private reserves—making success that much sweeter. DM

Vitals: North Fork Ranch (303-478-1349, www.northforkranchguideservice.com) has an in-house guide service. In Deckers, South Platte Outfitters (303-647-0409, www.southplatteoutfitters.com) offers guided fishing and runs the Flies & Lies shop on the banks of the Platte. Stay Overnight: For the full South Platte experience, go rustic and rent a cabin by the river. Try Platte River Cabins at White Pines (www.platterivercabins.com) or South Platte River Cabins (www.southplatterivercabins.com).

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9) Poke Around the Poudre

Drive, hike, and picnic in one of Colorado’s most beautiful canyons.

State Highway 14 from Fort Collins to Walden Very few places have the geography or scenery to rival road-trips in Colorado, where the highways and byways can lead you past everything from 14,000-foot peaks to craggy canyons. For a lazy Sunday drive, head to Fort Collins, where you’ll make a quick stop in the Old Town area to grab sandwiches at the Olde World Market (236 Walnut St., 970-221-1167). Once you’re loaded up on picnic supplies, head west out of town on Highway 14 (aka the Cache la Poudre-North Park Scenic Byway), which takes you directly through rugged Poudre Canyon. This 100-mile roadway winds along the churning river and offers numerous turnouts to see waterfalls and set up picnics. Along the way, take in the sagebrush, bitterbrush, and ponderosa, and keep your eyes peeled for moose. As you near the top of 10,275-foot Cameron Pass, pull over at the Zimmerman Lake Trailhead. This 1.5-mile (one-way) path—which leads to a small but pretty lake with a well-marked loop trail—is a great way to stretch your legs before hopping back in the car. From here, make your way back to Fort Collins for dinner and a Poudre Pale Ale at CooperSmith’s Pub & Brewing (www.coopersmithspub.com). Lindsey B. Koehler

Vitals: Visit www.byways.org/explore/byways/2104/ for more info on the Cache la Poudre-North Park Scenic Byway. Stay Overnight: Try the Edwards House Bed & Breakfast in Fort Collins ($99-$175 per night, www.edwardshouse.com) for stately rooms, cookies at check-in, and a gourmet all-vegetarian breakfast of frittatas or crêpes.

10) Pick up a Pair of Wooden Skis

Shop for a piece of downhill history at Ski Country Antiques.

Ski Country Antiques, Evergreen It’s rare to find a store that’s considered a destination, but there’s so much to explore inside 25,000-square-foot Ski Country Antiques you could make a half-day out of your visit. Ski Country—housed in a building that was once a Wells Fargo stagecoach stop—is stocked with any and every artifact that could possibly evoke ski culture: Bavarian armoires, Swiss clocks, ski pins from the French Alps, snowshoes, and antler chandeliers of every imaginable shape and size. The impressive chairlift display (including an original Vail Mountain gondola) and the permanent exhibit of winter sports paraphernalia (including original Burton snowboards) will wow powder-hounds. CM

Vitals: Ski Country Antiques is located on Floyd Hill, just off I-70, and is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sundays. 303-674-4666, www.skicountryantiques.com Stay Overnight: Enjoy a little R&R at historic Evergreen’s Highland Haven Creekside Inn—a tucked-away respite with cozy cottages. $130-$350 per night, www.highlandhaven.com

Six Great Foothills Hikes

1. Arthurs Rock Trail

Lory State Park, just west of Fort Collins

At 6,780 feet above sea level, Arthurs Rock is hardly a Himalayan giant, but the 1.7-mile trail to its bald summit is a microcosm of everything you love about foothills hiking: pine-dotted meadows, a profusion of wildflowers, raptors and mule deer, and rocky outcrops. Pack a picnic for lunch with sweeping views of Horsetooth Reservoir and the plains, which spread out as far as the eye can see.

2. Twin Owls Loop

Lumpy Ridge Trailhead, northeast of Estes Park on Devils Gulch Road

Ditch the crowds on this 11-mile loop through an untrammeled corner of Rocky Mountain National Park. While the tourists pack into shuttle buses to Bear Lake, you’ll enjoy a lonely and lovely circuit below the granite turrets of Lumpy Ridge, with panoramic views of snow-capped peaks and frequent elk sightings. It’s a long jaunt; remember to bring water and a generous bag of trail mix.

3. Heart Lake

East Portal Trailhead, end of County Road 16, west of Highway 119

The South Boulder Creek Trail is an oft-uncrowded alternative to the hectic Indian Peaks trails above Brainard Lake. The 4.6-mile (one-way) trail climbs to Rogers Pass and Heart Lake, nestled below the Continental Divide in the James Peak Wilderness. This area is also perfect for overnight backcountry camping. Visit or call (303-541-2500) the Boulder Ranger District for more information.

4. Mt. Galbraith

Cedar Gulch Trailhead, 1.3 miles west of Highway 93 on Golden Gate Canyon Road

Looming over Golden, Mt. Galbraith Park is a gem of Jeffco open space that’s only half an hour from downtown Denver yet much less crowded than better-known parks like Apex and Mt. Falcon. Even better for walkers: No bikes are allowed on the 4.2-mile lollipop loop around Galbraith’s summit.

5. Chief Mountain

about 12.5 miles west of Bergen Park on Highway 103

Chief Mountain is hyper-popular, and for a good reason: Leaving a high trailhead on Squaw Pass Road, the trail climbs just 1.5 miles and 1,000 vertical feet to Chief’s 11,709-foot summit, with stupendous views up and down the Front Range.

6. Catamount Trail

Green Mountain Falls, about 16 miles west of Colorado Springs on Highway 24

Who wouldn’t love a stroll through the Garden of Eden? From the village of Green Mountain Falls, walk up Hondo Avenue to the trailhead and then climb 22 switch­backs to the Garden of Eden Meadow, a lush valley flanked by funky rock formations. Continue to the Catamount reservoirs for views of Pikes Peak’s steep north face. DM

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An Ode to Thirteeners

Every Coloradan’s vernacular includes the word “fourteener,” which we say with complete reverence and veneration. These 14,000-foot-plus behemoths are our state’s claim to fame. New residents and out-of-towners quickly learn the lingo—and the fact that unless you’ve scaled their lofty heights you’ve still got something to prove. Yet, there’s something to be said for a slightly less soaring set of mountains that also call Colorado home: thirteeners. Some mountains you climb for the way they make you feel. Struggle atop 14,255-foot Longs Peak, for example, and you’ll swell with achievement as you drink in the privilege of reaching one of the state’s highest points. But if you want the best views of Longs—or any of Colorado’s fourteeners—you need to climb a less glamorous neighbor. That’s the perch that affords an unforgettable (and slightly easier to reach) front-row view of the superstar. Longs’ supporting cast includes 13,223-foot Mt. Audubon. It’s not a jaw-dropper of a peak, and journeying up its treeless slopes feels like a great hike rather than a rite of passage. But standing on the summit, I saw Longs Peak exposed like I’d never seen it—the scars of its deep couloirs cutting down a face that hulked intimidatingly close. Mountains are multidimensional, and the mightier they are the more facets they seem to reveal. Standing on the summit is one very cool way to meet a peak. But another, as I learned that day on Audubon, is to stand atop a thirteener, facing the giants chin-to-chin. Kelly Bastone

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Six Not-So-Touristy Tourist Attractions

1. Great Stupa of Dharmakaya
Where: Shambhala Mountain Center, Red Feather Lakes
Go Because: You can’t miss seeing a 108-foot monument to Buddha in the middle of the Rockies.
What to Do: Take one of two weekend guided tours of the grounds. But note: It’s a 20-minute walk in from the parking lot. Wear comfy shoes.
More Info: www.shambhalamountain.org

2. Phoenix Mine
Where: Idaho Springs
Go Because: It’s a totally nerdy but interesting way to learn about our state’s mining history.
What to Do: Take the tour with mine co-owner Al Mosch. Then learn to pan for gold in the creek and keep what you find.
More Info: www.phoenixmine.com

3. The Stanley Hotel
Where: Estes Park
Go Because: This 1909 hotel inspired Steven King to write The Shining.
What to Do: Take a picture out front doing your best Jack Nicholson (“Here’s Johnny!”), then grab a drink in the bar.
More Info: www.stanleyhotel.com

4. The Fort
Where: Morrison
Go Because: Ordering bison marrow bones and Rocky Mountain oysters is a Denver right of passage.
What to Do: Eat, drink, and pretend you don’t know that an “oyster” really isn’t an oyster.
More Info: www.thefort.com

5. Tiny Town Railroad
Where: Tiny Town
Go Because: It’s a kid-size replica of an Old West town—complete with a functioning railroad.
What to Do: Ride the train. Wave at the conductor. Feel like a kid.
More Info: www.tinytownrailroad.com

6. Garden of the Gods
Where: Colorado Springs
Go Because: This cluster of red-rock formations is otherworldly…dare we say divine?
What to Do: Take the one-mile Siamese Twins hike for an iconic view of Pikes Peak.
More Info: www.gardenofthegods.com
-CM

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How To Climb a Rocky, Snow-covered Peak

The north ridge of Mt. Neva is a classic Indian Peaks scrambling route, curving elegantly around a snow-filled basin to a 12,814-foot summit. “Scrambling” covers the ground between hiking and rock climbing; you’ll use your hands to clamber up the rock, but acrophobia-free hikers will rarely feel the need for a safety rope. Neva’s north ridge is a perfect introduction: Go with an experienced partner and a rope in the rucksack just in case—if you feel comfortable on Neva’s scrambling, you’ll discover 49 other routes to try in Dave Cooper’s Colorado Scrambles. DM

Getting There: Fourth of July Trailhead, 12 miles northwest of Eldora

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A Brewery Tour of the Front Range

I’m a different kind of Colorado gal. On a beautiful Saturday I don’t grab my hiking boots or my padded bike shorts. Instead, I prefer to partake in a different Rocky Mountain tradition: imbibing at some of the nation’s best breweries—ones hidden right here in our own foothills.

My love for Colorado beer is rooted in its approachability. Sure, we may have some complex craft beers, but they all originate from a blue-collar culture. As such, the first stop on this tour is the homey Golden City Brewery (920 12th St., Golden, 303-279-8092, www.gcbrewery.com), where the no-frills presentation makes everything taste better somehow. Inside the tiny tasting room (a carriage house), be sure to grab a pint of the crisp and bitter Evolution IPA and head to the backyard to enjoy it while sitting on a plastic lawn chair.

While rocking back on those plastic legs, you should contemplate Colorado beer’s rich 30-year history—as well as the next stop on the tour, Boulder Beer (2880 Wilderness Place, Boulder, 303-444-8448). This brewery has the distinction of being Colorado’s first microbrewery; it was founded in 1979, in a goat shed no less. Today, it’s a sprawling brewpub serving up lunch and dinner. But I suggest heading to the outdoor beer garden so you can sunburn your nose with a pint of one of Boulder Beer’s best, the Sweaty Betty Blonde—an unfiltered Bavarian-style wheat brew.

There’s a good chance all this daytime drinking will give you the sleepies—especially after basking outside at the last two breweries. So the next stop, Avery Brewing (5763 Arapahoe Ave, Boulder, 303-440-4324, www.averybrewing.com), is full of high-octane beer and a high-energy staff. As soon as you walk into the tasting room, you’ll be greeted with an enthusiastic beer pourer, and by the time he’s described all the brews you’ll be ready for a pint of each. Don’t miss the Ellie’s Brown Ale, named after owner Adam Avery’s late chocolate Lab.

Our last stop represents the overflowing innovation of Colorado’s brewing scene. Oskar Blues (303 Main St., Lyons, 303-823-6685, www.oskarblues.com), home of locals’ fave Dale’s Pale Ale (yes, it comes in a can), offers yummy grub upstairs (can’t miss the chicken-fried steak) and blues music downstairs—where you can dance off your buzz before the drive home. Jennie Dorris

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