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Forget Utah. Explore the red rocks of Rattlesnake Arches in western Colorado. Courtesy of Taylor Franta

82 of Colorado’s Best-Kept Secrets

There are still plenty of places left to be explored in the Centennial State—like these 82 overlooked gems.

By |

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in our September 2016 issue. This version was fact-checked and updated (where possible) with current information for the 2017 edition of 5280 Traveler.


It may be difficult to believe, but our thoroughly explored state still has some secrets left to reveal. Discover Colorado’s clandestine side by seeking out these 82 under-the-radar finds, grouped by region.

Table of Contents:
Denver
Northeast
Northwest
Southwest
Southeast


DENVER

Treasure Hunting

Some legendary Colorado relics reside at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science—but you have to know where to find them.

  1. Aquamarine
    Aquamarine. Courtesy of Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

    Aquamarine: Along with collections displaying gold and minerals sits the largest pocket of aquamarine (our state gemstone) ever discovered in North America. The massive specimen, which has about 120 rods of the blue-green mineral shooting out of it, was unearthed on Mt. Antero, outside of Buena Vista, in 2004. Find It: Coors Gems & Minerals Hall 

  2. Ground Hog Wire Gold: Move over, gold nuggets: This rare find is wiry, curled like a horseshoe, and still partially implanted in rock. Even more unusual are the dark striations along the gold. The small piece of metal was extracted from the Ground Hog Mine near Red Cliff in the late 1880s. Find It: Coors Gems & Minerals Hall
  3. Folsom Spear Point: Museum researchers uncovered this spear point in Folsom, New Mexico, in 1927. Its discovery allowed scientists to postulate that humans were in North America earlier than previously thought. Find It: Prehistoric Journey area 
  4. Peace-Medals_
    Peace Medals. Courtesy of Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

    Grizzly Bear Skull: The last known Colorado grizzly bear was killed in 1979 by local hunting guide Ed Wiseman. In a story fit for the campfire, he was mauled by the animal but managed to fatally wound it with an arrow—by hand. Wiseman suffered serious injuries but survived. The grizzly’s skull is on display at the DMNS; the rest of her skeleton and her hide are kept in the underground Avenir Collections Center for future study. Find It: Bears & Sea Mammals Hall

  5. Peace Medals: In early interactions between white settlers and Native Americans—in Colorado and across the country—peace medals were traded to improve diplomatic relationships. Images, such as presidents’ faces, and epigraphs are imprinted on the silver and bronze tokens. The DMNS’ 90-piece collection is among the best in the world, but only one is on display: an 1889 Benjamin Harrison peace medal. Find It: Ute exhibit case, North American Indian Cultures Hall 

Behind the Scenes: The Avenir Collections Center opened in 2014 to house the DMNS’ entire collection in one place for the first time. You can make an appointment to visit the space—or get up close to these precious items by volunteering to work in research and collections.

Hidden Hangout: Secret Garden

Where: Up the stairs to the right of Heidi’s Brooklyn Deli at 17th and Lawrence streets in downtown Denver
Why You Should Visit: Enjoy your lunch al fresco on one of the tables or benches in this second-floor garden (stairs are located on both Larimer and Lawrence streets, between 17th and 18th). If your putter is in your car, bring it along too: There’s a small putting green. Just know that there’s zero shade.
When: Any lunch hour when the sun’s shining.

Hostel-Fish
Hostel Fish. Courtesy Hunter Lawrence.

Out-of-Site Accommodation: Hostel Fish

As one of downtown Denver’s only hostels, Hostel Fish is like that European spot you stayed in after college, insofar as it has a bar, dorm rooms, and low rates (bunks start at $45 per night). But the two-year-old lodge sets itself apart with 11 themed rooms and Wednesday bar crawls that introduce guests to the Ballpark neighborhood.

Forney-Museum-of-Transportation
Amelia Earhart”s car. Courtesy of the Forney Museum of Transportation.

Curated Discoveries

Four more secrets buried inside Denver museums.

Wash your hands in either first-floor restroom in the Denver Art Museum’s North Building, and you’re in for a treat: Denver-based sound artist Jim Green rigged the sinks to play one line of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

Walk through the quirky bubble garden installation on the top floor of MCA Denver and up a short ramp, and you’ll find the tucked-away Upper Idea Box. Four times a year, youth involved in the Failure Lab teen internship program curate an exhibition here. See what the next generation of artists is dreaming up when a new show opens this fall.

It’d be challenging not to find a treasure at the Forney Museum of Transportation. The often-overlooked nonprofit is home to Amelia Earhart’s car, one of only eight surviving Union Pacific Big Boy locomotives, and Denver’s sole remaining cable car.

Near the fire exit in a back hallway of the Clyfford Still Museum hangs a letter written in 1999 from Still’s widow, Patricia, to their nephew (who lives in the Mile High City). In it, she inquires about locating the artist’s museum in Denver. Twelve years later, the doors opened.

Tacos-Tequila-Whiskey
Tacos Tequila Whiskey’s surf ‘n’ turf taco. Courtesy of Tacos Tequila Whiskey.

Food Confidential

Even die-hard Denver gastronomes might not know about these covert delights. —Amanda M. Faison & Callie Sumlin

Order: A loaf of sunflower rye
At: Raleigh Street Bakery
When: Fridays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 
But: 
Arrive early because David Kaminer (who operates his bakery out of his home, thanks to the Colorado Cottage Food Act) only sells an extremely limited number of these hot-from-the-oven loaves.

Order: House-made hot sauce
At:  Brider
When: Anytime
But:
 If you want to add some heat to your Madras curry bowl, you’ll have to ask your server for the condiment; it’s stashed behind the counter.

Order: Denver sandwich
At:  George’s Cafe
When: Anytime
But: 
Be aware that the egg dish comes between two slices of bread; this is one of the only spots in Colorado that serves the original Denver omelet.

Order: Scallion pancake
At:  Zoe Ma Ma
When: Anytime
But: 
It’s not on the menu, so ask quietly if you don’t want to let everyone in line in on the secret.

Order: Litmus
At:  Amethyst Coffee Company
When: Anytime
But: 
Save this off-menu order for the a.m. It combines a small brewed coffee (choose hot or cold) and what owner Elle Taylor calls a “one and one”—a petite cortado and a short, straight espresso.

Order: Surf ‘n’ turf taco
At:  Tacos Tequila Whiskey (Pinche Tacos)
When: Anytime
But: 
You have to request this off-menu combo of crispy beef tongue and fried shrimp.

Surprising Sips

The scoop on Denver’s little-known tipples. —Callie Sumlin

1891-Bourbon
Oxford 1891 Bourbon. Courtesy of The Oxford Hotel.

Taste Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales’ experimental brews at its Platt Park taproom—or during special release parties. (On July 20, try the brewery’s new series of fruited beers.)

At the Oxford Hotel, sample the Oxford 1891 Bourbon, a single-barrel batch by Laws Whiskey House that you can’t find anywhere else.

For four years, a secret brewed in Black Shirt Brewing Co.’s cellar: the Unrehearsed Ale Project, a series of brews made with wild yeasts hand-collected on the Western Slope. A new lambic-style beer will be tapped this summer.

State 38 Distilling’s WI McKenzie is the first made-in-Colorado Scottish peat-smoked whisky.


NORTHEAST

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Land of Plenty

When they have a free weekend, most Denverites head west. But there’s good reason to instead drive toward the Eastern Plains, where unexpectedly cool scenes are (almost) as common as cattle. Let us introduce you to the flatlands’ eclectic, less-visited offerings.

M12-Studio
An exhibition from the M12 Studio. Courtesy of Anthony Cross/M12 Studio

The Inn at the Feed Store: After stopping at the Feed Store in Byers—current headquarters for M12 Collective, a nonprofit arts organization—head next door to drop your bags. The unassuming brick building is actually a modest bed-and-breakfast ($115 per night for single occupancy). Call ahead if you want to make reservations. 303-822-5625

M12 Collective Experimental Site: A couple of miles south of the dilapidated Last Chance Motel (on CO 71), eight wooden squares stand tall among the prairie grasses. The Last Chance Module Array is one of M12’s latest projects. Visit at sunrise or sunset when the light perfectly aligns with the crossbars.

Underground Jail: A secret lies beneath the second bridge west of Last Chance on U.S. 36. Pull your car off the road and walk down the hill on the north side. There you’ll see a small barred window. Peek through with your flashlight (or open it if the latch isn’t set) to find a large room with a dirt floor. This gloomy space is rumored to have once been a below-ground jail intended to house prisoners who were helping build the new highway.

Deer Trail Pioneer Historical Museum: Schedule a tour of this small reserve of historic memorabilia with proprietor Susan Eldringhoff, whose great-grandfather moved to the railroad town in 1882. The main building holds photos, turn-of-the-century items and clothing, and Eldringhoff’s grandfather’s old chuck wagon. Also on the property: part of an authentic 1880s log house, a one-room schoolhouse, and a railroad depot and freight room.

Donkeys
Longhopes Donkey Shelter. Courtesy of Matthew Kirkman

Longhopes Donkey Shelter: Down a dirt road in Bennett, around 40 donkeys roam. They’re tenants of Longhopes, a nonprofit shelter for Colorado’s “forgotten pioneers.” Since 2000, Longhopes has rescued more than 900 donkeys from being put down, 869 of which have been adopted by ranchers and, yes, families looking for atypical pets. (You can also sponsor a donkey awaiting adoption via the E.A.R.S. program.) Visits are by appointment only.

High Plains Diner Fuel up for the 40-minute drive back to Denver with a slice of homemade pie at the High Plains Diner in Bennett. The cherry and pecan varieties are mighty tasty. Order them à la mode, of course.

On the Calendar

Find inspiration in three unexpected places this year.

“ROAM”
Black Cube, a nomadic contemporary art museum, presents “Roam” by artist Jon Geiger: a billboard-shaped sculpture of five neon tumbleweeds that are lit in sequence to mimic rolling. View it at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs Galleries of Contemporary Art in December.

JESSUP FARM SUMMER FESTIVAL
An abandoned farmstead in Fort Collins has found new life as Jessup Farm Artisan Village. The buildings—which are more than 100 years old—were restored and opened to the public in 2015 with a coffeeshop, brewery, restaurant, and more. Visit during the summer festival (date TBD).

ARTLAB EXHIBIT
In August, students from PlatteForum’s ArtLab (an after-school arts program for underserved youth) will work together with nomadic museum Black Cube (see “Roam,” far left) to curate an exhibit. Check out their finished project: a gallery of works by local artists at the Temple.

Phantom-Canyon-Preserve
Phantom Canyon Preserve. Courtesy of Audrey Wolk/The Nature Conservancy

Hidden Hangout: Phantom Canyon Preserve

Near: Fort Collins
Why You Should Visit: The only way to experience one of the Front Range’s last remaining roadless canyons—home to nesting bald eagles!—is to participate in a guided hike or volunteer to help protect it by restoring trails or planting seeds. The 1,120 acres of land were purchased by the Nature Conservancy in 1989. Since then, the nonprofit conservation group has worked to protect the area’s rare and diverse flora and fauna.
When: April through September, when you can sign up to volunteer or join free informational hikes.

What’s that?

If you manage to climb the popular Bastille Crack in Eldorado Canyon State Park, you might spot a seemingly random piece of one-inch-thick wire and bolts at the top. Those pieces of hardware are leftovers from Colorado high-wire artist Ivy Baldwin’s dozens of canyon crossings, which he continued to make into his 80s.

Claremont-Inn-Winery
Claremont Inn & Winery. Courtesy of the Claremont Inn & Winery

Out-of-Site Accommodation: Claremont Inn & Winery

Ditch your everyday obligations and escape to the 10-room Claremont Inn & Winery in Stratton, 150 miles east of Denver. The Taste, Dine, and Stay package (starting at $350 per couple per night) includes your accommodations, a happy hour wine tasting, a chef’s menu dinner, and a full breakfast. The bed-and-breakfast added an on-site winery in 2012 (the grapes are imported), so make sure your visit coincides with the inn’s private dinners with the chef and winemaker.

Drinking Games

Disc-Golf
Play disc golf at Dry Dock Brewery. Courtesy of Dry Dock Brewing Co.

Doing downward dog at your local brewery has almost become cliché. But fear not: There are less obvious ways to earn your pint(s). —Lauren Saxe

CYCLING Taste samplers of beers at Odell Brewing Company and three other breweries of your choosing while taking in FoCo’s scenery; you’ll pedal three to six miles around town (wheels are provided) during Bike & Beer Tours’ daily Brew Cruises. $50 to $65 per person (beer not included)

DISC GOLF Drink a Sour Apricot at Dry Dock Brewing Co.’s North Dock location while enjoying friendly competition on the Aurora brewery’s 18-hole, nautical-themed disc golf course out back. Free

ROCK CLIMBING Sip a Joe’s Pils at the Spot Bouldering Gym while doing your best to ignore your burning forearms after you explore the Boulder venue’s six climbing areas; a selection of Avery beers is available anytime after 4:30 p.m. $18 for a day pass, $5 for shoes

Did you know?

There are 11 decommissioned nuclear missile silo complexes in Colorado—all of which are scattered around the eastern portion of the state.


NORTHWEST

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Preserving the Past

In 1997, nonprofit Colorado Preservation Inc. launched the Endangered Places program. The goal: to raise awareness of historically significant but threatened buildings and landscapes in order to inspire communities to find creative ways to conserve them. Since then, CPI has identified 113 sites, 41 of which have been declared “saved.” Of course, that means many more are still vulnerable. With the help of CPI, we selected four once-forgotten pieces of Colorado history worth a visit.

Crossans-Market
Crossan’s Market. Courtesy of Colorado Preservation Inc.

Crossan’s Market
You may not be allowed inside this dilapidated building—yet—but you should still stop to photograph the faded white exterior the next time you’re driving through Yampa. (May we suggest boating on nearby Yamcolo Reservoir or hiking in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area?) Preserved inside the mercantile building were still-stocked shelves and calendars forever turned to 1964. A dedicated team of volunteers has been working to conserve the venue, but there is still a lot left to do.

Satank-Bridge
Satank Bridge. Courtesy of Thad Roan.

Satank Bridge
You may not realize it when you reach this Roaring Fork River crossing in Carbondale, but you’re biking over a bit of Colorado history. Likely the last remaining 19th-century timber wagon truss bridge in the state, Satank is the perfect stopping point along the Rio Grande Trail (between Aspen and Glenwood Springs) to hydrate and take in the view of 12,965-foot Mt. Sopris. Plan your bike trip at sunrise or sunset, when the bridge, which CPI pronounced saved in 2011, takes on a pinkish hue.

Hahns Peak
Fire Lookout In the early 1900s, the U.S. Forest Service began constructing lookouts for fire management. The one on Hahns Peak, outside of Steamboat Springs, was among the first in Colorado. It was decommissioned during the middle of the 20th century as airplanes came into favor for fire-spotting. Today, you can view the structure (which CPI has marked as saved) at the end of the 1.4-mile (one way) Hahns Peak Trail.

Interlaken-Resort
Interlaken Resort. Courtesy of Coloradopast Photography.

Interlaken Resort
You could ride a boat across the Twin Lakes to reach this former resort community, but we recommend going by foot. The three-or-so-mile hike (one way) begins at the eastern end of Independence Pass. Dexter Cabin (named after founder James Dexter) is the first building you’ll reach. Explore its two stories before heading to the resort. In its heyday—the late 1800s—the property boasted a hotel with two dining rooms, a dance hall, and a barn. More than $1 million has gone into restoring the buildings.

Hidden Hangout: McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area

Near: Fruita
Why You Should Visit: Some call this hiker’s heaven Colorado’s Moab because of the winding trails and curious rock formations—such as the Aztec Window, a lone slab of rust-colored rock with a small hole in the middle, and Rattlesnake Arches, a geologic stunner just begging to be photographed. Both are located in the protected McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, so the only way to see these wonders is to hoof it yourself or to let a horse do the hoofing for you.
When: Fall offers ideal temperatures for a day of hiking. —Molly Longman

Magic-Meadows-Yurt
Magic Meadows Yurt. Courtesy of Xavier Fane.

Special Menus

Three mountain-town dining experiences foodies should know about but probably don’t. —Callie Sumlin

Win The Potluck At Broken Compass Brewing Company
During Monday night fall and winter potlucks in Breckenridge, locals and visitors come together to dine and compete. Attendees vote on the top three dishes; winners receive a BC growler. It’s free to participate.

Ride A Snowcat To Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro
Hop on a snowcat for a 30-minute ride to this cabin at the top of Aspen Highlands’ Cloud Nine lift for a four-course meal (think: squash risotto with pork belly and Colorado beef tenderloin). You’ll never look at après-ski the same way again.

Cross-Country Ski To Magic Meadows Yurt
You’ll have to work for your supper at Crested Butte’s Magic Meadows: Cross-country ski or snowshoe one mile on a groomed trail to reach the large yurt. Inside, you’ll find a roaring fire, live music, gourmet eats, and a signature cocktail.

Villard-Ranch
One of the wagons at Villard Ranch. Courtesy of Villard Ranch

Out-of-Sight-Accommodation: Villard Ranch 

At this 89-year-old working ranch near Craig, you won’t just be counting sheep in your head—they’ll be right outside your front door. Book an overnight stay (starting at $150) in one of the three mobile sheep wagons (actual wagons that sheepherders sleep in while on the job), and you’ll get to pick where to sleep, whether it’s tucked away in the aspen trees or at a campsite overlooking the property. The primitive accommodations sleep two to four people and have propane and wood stoves.

Flammulated-Owl
Flammulated Owl. Courtesy of Coconino National Forest.

Wild Life

Impress your friends with your ability to locate, and identify, some of Colorado’s difficult- to-find creatures. —Mary Clare Fischer 

Critter: Flammulated Owl
Features: Picture your average screech owl—and then shrink him down to six inches tall.
Spot ’Em: The trunks and branches of ponderosa pines serve as highly camouflaged owl living rooms. Scientists once believed the birds to be incredibly rare; turns out, it’s just really difficult to detect them. Get your binoculars ready the next time you’re trekking through Pike National Forest.

Critter: Pine Marten
Features: Chocolate brown with an orange chest, this weasel has a catlike face and whiskers to match.
Spot ’Em: Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, pine martens play in subalpine coniferous forests. Keep your eyes peeled on hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Critter: Pika
Features: Put Stuart Little’s face on a hamster’s body, and you’ve got this adorable fur ball.
Spot ’Em: These pint-size animals enjoy rocky terrain and cooler temperatures. Catch a glimpse on Loveland Pass when they’re gathering food for the winter after their breeding season in late May and early June.

Critter: Cave Worm
Features: Thin and long, these blood red worms look like the kind of creatures you’d see on Bones.
Spot ’Em: Scientists equipped with special breathing equipment safely locate and study this newly discovered species in a cave in Steamboat Springs—which has toxic hydrogen sulfide gas inside. If you’d like to stay alive while viewing these slimy invertebrates, visit the DMNS’ Avenir Collections Center.

Did you know?

There are 13 designated rock art sites, created primarily by the Fremont and Ute peoples, near Rangely. You can even take self-guided tours.


SOUTHWEST

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Underexplored

Everyone knows about the Great Sand Dunes, but beyond those geologic wonders sits the rest of the San Luis Valley, just waiting to be discovered. Here are four ways to survey one of Colorado’s least-visited regions. —Chris Outcalt

Rio-Grande-Scenic-Railroad
Courtesy of the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad.

Ride A Train
The most relaxing way to climb the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is the Old West way: by train. The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad (tickets are $99 for adults) sets off from Alamosa and traces steep and rocky La Veta Pass on tracks that were laid in 1878. The area isn’t accessible by car, so you’ll get a peek at panoramas that few Coloradans have seen. But the scenery isn’t the only treat: If you book a ride that stops at Fir Summit Amphitheater, you’ll get to experience Colorado’s only music venue accessible exclusively by train. Shows are held weekly on Saturdays and Sundays, from June through September.

Hop On A Bike
Get your fat-tire fix in Del Norte. Last September, the Bureau of Land Management and the Del Norte Trails Organization opened another 9.5 miles of singletrack just south of town (adding to the dozens of already-built trails). The remote slickrock routes in the Pronghorn area remind us of Moab, Utah. A visit to the more established Lookout Mountain trails adjacent to town isn’t optional, mostly because you can finish your ride with a cold one at Three Barrel Brewing Co.

Penitente-Canyon
Penitente Canyon. Courtesy of Jen Judge.

Take A Hike
Penitente Canyon, about 18 miles northwest of Monte Vista, is known as a rock climbing destination. But the desertlike landscape’s 22 miles of trails are also hiking-boot-ready. Get an easy introduction on the 1.5-mile-long Penitente Canyon Trail near the canyon’s entrance. At the top of the loop, you’ll spot wagon wheel tracks—approximately 160-year-old leftovers from traders’ and settlers’ wagons bumping along the Old Spanish Trail en route to California.

Get Cultured
In Conejos, visit the oldest church in Colorado: Our Lady of Guadalupe, which opened in 1858. Pop over to neighboring Antonito to get your Hollywood fix; Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and A Million Ways to Die in the West were both filmed, in part, in the tiny town. Then head north to Westcliffe, where a former Hollywood actress restored the Historic Jones Theater to show first-run flicks and quality stage productions. (This month, nab $15 tickets to a stage adaptation of Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie.) Afterward, visit the town’s Smokey Jack Observatory to take in a spectacular view of the Milky Way.

Unaweep-Canyon
Unaweep Canyon. Courtesy of iStock.

Hidden Hangout: Unaweep Canyon

Near: Grand Junction
Why You Should Visit: If they’re willing to spend a little extra time in the car, rock climbers will be rewarded with hundreds of routes and problems of varying difficulties. Two creeks split at the Unaweep Divide, and the granite walls rising up from them are ripe for exploration. Check out the Fortress and Hidden Valley walls, where routes go up to 5.12.
When: Spring and fall offer cooler temps. —Molly Longman

fishing
An angler’s paradise. Courtesy of Alamy

Searching For Seams

Think there aren’t a lot of lonely stretches of public water left in Colorado? We know otherwise. Clearer water, spawning brown trout, and less varied food options mean September can be an angler’s paradise. We consulted the experts* to find trout-full holes you may have all to yourself. —Lindsey B. Koehler

Fish for browns
On the:
Rio Grande
In the:
Palisade Campground area
Near:
Creede
And don’t forget to bring:
 Plenty of nymphs (el diablos and flashback pheasant tails) and streamers (black, yellow, and green woolly buggers and conehead muddy buddies)

Fish for rainbows and browns
On the:
Roaring Fork River
In the: 
Roaring Fork SWA–Burry Parcel area (mile marker nine on the south side of CO 82) 
Near:
Carbondale
And don’t forget to bring: 
Blue-winged olives and fall caddis

Fish for rainbows and browns
On the:
Dolores River 
In the: 
Nearly 12 miles of tail water from below the McPhee Reservoir dam to Bradfield Bridge
Near:
Dolores
And don’t forget to bring: 
Blue-winged olives, hoppers, and sculpin streamers

Fish for rainbows and browns
On the:
Animas River
In the: 
Stretch of public water from the north end of downtown Durango to the Purple Cliffs, near the Rivera Bridge 
Near:
Durango
And don’t forget to bring: 
Caddis, blue-winged olives, midges, tricos, and streamers

Fish for rainbows and browns
On the:
Arkansas River 
In the: 
Ruby Mountain fishing easement
Near:
Buena Vista 
And don’t forget to bring:
Hoppers and blue-winged olive patterns (emergers and small dry flies)

*The Experts: Stuart Andrews, ArkAnglers; Raymond Kemper, Rio Grande Anglers; Will Sands, Taylor Creek Fly Shop; and Rob Schmidt, Duranglers

Starlite-Campground
Starlite Classic Campground. Courtesy of Robert Hicks

Out-Of-Sight Accommodation: Starlite Classic Campground

After enjoying the decidedly modern offerings at Royal Gorge Bridge and Park (zip line! skycoaster!), travel back a few decades at nearby Starlite Classic Campground. Here, nine vintage trailers (starting at $85 per night) await your family (up to six people) with linens, towels, and dishes provided. Try out the Flamingo Lounge camper—where adorable pink plastic birds greet you in the front yard—before the campground closes for the season on October 1; it reopens in May.

What’s That?

A Colorado landmark is hiding in plain sight in Delta: the 215-year-old Ute Council Tree (located near G96 Lane). The Ute tribe’s Chief Ouray would meet with white settlers under the 85-foot-tall cottonwood. His wife, Chipeta, is said to have been the only Ute woman permitted to sit in on council meetings, also held at the site.

Do This: To The Bat Cave

Bat-Cave
Courtesy of Phil Mainelli

Find your Halloween spirit a little early this year.

Since at least 1967, the abandoned Orient Mine near Villa Grove has been the summer home of 250,000 Brazilian free-tailed bats. See the mostly male colony for yourself during a free two-mile guided hike from the Orient Land Trust Welcome Center to the cave opening. Concerns about white-nose syndrome, which can wipe out entire colonies, mean visitors cannot currently enter the mine, but as dusk settles in (bring a headlamp) you can watch the winged creatures’ evening outflight, which sometimes lasts up to 30 minutes. Visit from mid-June through mid-September; call ahead (719-256-4315) for the best time to arrive.


SOUTHEAST

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Trail Guide

The 1,200-mile-long Santa Fe Trail was built in 1821 as the country’s first commercial highway. More than a century later, the 184 miles of former trail (which often overlap with modern highways) inside Colorado were designated a National Historic Trail. Since then, the roadway has been relabeled the Santa Fe Trail Scenic and Historic Byway—and you can follow it to a variety of attractions, both old and new. Get started with seven of our favorites. —Haley Gray

Santa-Fe-Trail
Illustration by James Grover
  1. Monday, Bloody Monday In April 1914, members of the Colorado State Militia engaged in a gunfight with striking mine workers and torched their encampment. At least 20 people were killed. Learn more at the Ludlow Massacre Memorial monument, erected on the site of the burned camp, located outside Trinidad.
  2. Westward, Ho During your travels, be sure to check out the Iron Spring Historic Area viewpoint, where you’ll find a natural spring that served as a popular water-supply stop. There, focus your camera north to glimpse six 15-foot-wide swales rising over the hill; they were pounded into the earth, in part, by the trail’s travelers.
  3. Leading Ladies Just south of Las Animas, you’ll find a pair of homes that were the dwellings of two pioneering women: Rumalda Luna Boggs (the Boggsville settlement that was once in this area was named after her family) and Amache Prowers, daughter of Cheyenne Chief Lone Bear. Learn about their lives with a visit to these well-preserved abodes.
  4. Show Time In 1935, the Grand Theater of Rocky Ford was a bustling vaudeville entertainment hall. Almost 60 years later, the bootstrapping Rocky Ford community restored it to its former glory. Today you can enjoy contemporary flicks on its new silver screen Friday through Sunday; tickets top out at $5.
  5. Wind Powered The past meets the present around Lamar. Drive south on Highway 287 and you’ll spot more than 160 wind turbines rising from the grass. Many of them are part of a massive wind farm that occupies the property of locals Bob and Helen Emick. At their ranch, you can contrast those modern marvels with 30 antique windmills.
  6. Farm Hands Hanagan Farms was founded in 1905 and remains in the Hanagan family. Visit the 1,500-acre homestead south of Swink to get a taste of ranch life by picking your own tomatoes and chiles (the staff will even roast them for you). Then muster some courage to taste the Mirasol chile—this local favorite is too spicy for most palates.

Insider Tip: John Carson, great-grandson of Western folk hero Kit Carson, is one of the rangers leading tours at Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site, a reconstructed 1833 trading hub near La Junta. He’s on-site Wednesday through Sunday; call ahead to find out what times. You won’t want to miss the amusing stories about his famous ancestor.

La-Veta-Art
Next time you visit La Veta, Colorado make sure to check out the thriving art culture. Courtesy of Beth McCoy Evans

Open Studio

No matter where you point your Subaru in Colorado—outside the metro area—you’re nearly guaranteed to drive through a small town (or five). But some, like La Veta (population: 800), are worth hitting the brakes for. Over the past couple of years, this undiscovered enclave has been evolving into something of an arts hub; there’s even a Fourth Friday art walk. It’s no RiNo, but La Veta offers at least four reasons you should stop by on your next road trip.

Tim-Art-Quilt-Studio
Tim Art Quilt Studio. Courtesy of Ricky Tims

1. Discover striking designs and hand-dyed fabrics at Tims Art Quilt Studio; a Tokyo quilting show once named Ricky Tims one of the 30 most distinguished quilters in the world. ricky tims.com

2. The 41-year-old nonprofit Spanish Peaks Arts Council (SPACe) is showcasing bronze replicas of clay studies Michelangelo made while working on his large-scale sculptures. The exhibition runs from September 2 (when there will be an opening reception from 5 to 7 p.m.) through September 30. spanishpeaksarts.org

3. Visit Desert Expressions, an eclectic shop that’s bursting with everything from locally made jewelry and home decor to scarves and eye-catching wall art, for a souvenir with Southwestern flair.

4. At Kathy Hill’s Studio, take a bit of that southern Colorado view home with you after perusing oil, watercolor, and acrylic paintings that depict the nearby Spanish Peaks. kathywhill.com

This Fall: Visit La Veta from September 21 to 24 for the annual Spanish Peaks International Celtic Music Festival—and don’t miss the outdoor concert at the top of La Veta Pass. 

Tuned In

A Pueblo vintner pairs its wine with a show.

Check out Songbird Cellars’ four-month-old winery in the Historic Mesa Junction area. Not only are there appealing new vintages to taste, but the venue also hosts some of the coolest concerts in the area (folk musician John Craigie recently stopped in). Check the website for upcoming dates and times; tickets range from $10 to $60 for intimate—and tasty (bring your own food!)—musical experiences. 

Hidden Hangout: Trinidad Lake State Park

Near: Trinidad
Why You Should Visit: This small southeastern city isn’t on most people’s lists of places to recreate, but the 800-acre lake just west of town offers a wide array of outdoor opportunities: fishing, boating, waterskiing, and even geocaching (visit geocachingcolo.com before you go). In the evening, head to the amphitheater to cook your catch on the horno stove, a replica of the adobe ovens used by Spanish settlers and Native Americans in
the late 1800s.
When: September, so you can take in the fall colors. —Molly Longman

Out-of-Site Accommodation: A Three Dog Night Guesthouse

Three-Dog-Night-Guesthouse
Stay for a night at the Three Dog Night Guesthouse. Courtesy of Kiki Monnet Medina

After your morning exploration of Bent’s Old Fort, unwind in this tucked-away guesthouse ($95 per night) outside of Sugar City (it’s about 40 minutes from the historic site). The small space includes a queen bed, twin sleeper sofa, and kitchenette. It also sits right on four-mile-long Lake Meredith, so bring your fishing gear and motorized boat; the public dock is just three miles away. 

What’s That?

If you’re in the Broadmoor Valley and notice a pleasant ringing carrying on the wind, you’re not hearing things. The Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun—a 114-foot-tall granite monument above Colorado Springs—plays a recording of Westminster chimes every quarter hour.

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