The ultimate compilation of only-in-our-state things you need to do before you take your last breath of thin air. *

January 2015

*Want bragging rights? Click on the black boxes below if you’ve already checked an item off your bucket list. Scroll to the bottom to get your tally—and share it on Facebook and Twitter.


Plan a 10th Mountain Division hut trip

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the activities Coloradans consider normal are escapades outsiders have never even heard of. Such was the case when I told my Atlanta-based parents I was disappearing into the snowy backcountry for a couple of days a few Januarys ago. In a by-the-by manner, I explained how a friend and I would be snowshoeing five miles into the wilderness and spending the night in a rustic cabin with 20 perfect strangers. We would haul in our own food and water (and wine and chocolate), explore the trails surrounding the hut during the day, and play cards by headlamp at night. The silence on the other end of the phone quickly reminded me just how extraordinary my little weekend jaunt would be.

A Rocky Mountain hut trip—undertaken in the winter on touring skis or snowshoes, or during the summer on foot or mountain bike—is one of the most singularly Colorado things one can do. After all, very few other places on Earth (the Alps, the Dolomites, and the Pyrenees come to mind) boast backcountry lodging like this. Take advantage: Immerse yourself in unmitigated nature, and still sleep on a real mattress. —LBK


Take a dip in 102-degree water

Colorado’s selection of hot springs, from high-end resort pools to hard-to-find thermal bodies of water, is a state treasure (not to mention one of our favorite modes of relaxation). Switch out the go-to Glenwood Springs trip for an 8.5-mile hike (one way) to Conundrum Hot Springs near Aspen. The effort is worth it for no entrance fees, stunning views (you’ll be surrounded by the Maroon Bells–Snowmass Wilderness), and a blissfully quiet dip. Don’t forget to pack a tent so you can camp at one of the 18 nearby sites. And, if you’re so inclined, you can leave the bathing suit at home. Clothing is optional.


Be in four places at once

Mid-19th-century cartographers and politicians weren’t feeling creative when they drew up the landlocked, mostly square-shaped states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. Pose at Four Corners—the spot where the quartet meets—spiderlike, with a limb in each state. You should also take time to educate yourself about Four Corners’ complete history: The region is home to several Native American nations and tribes, including the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, and Zuni Pueblo.

While you’re in the neighborhood...
›› Climb a 32-foot wooden ladder during a twilight tour of Mesa Verde’s Cliff Palace, and learn about the day-to-day lives of the Ancestral Puebloans.
›› Get covered in coal soot in the open-air car of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
›› Go heli-skiing in knee-deep powder on Silverton Mountain.



Nab GABF tickets before they sell out

...but if you can’t, sip these iconic brews where they are made:
›› IPA Odell Brewing Company
›› Surette Provision Saison Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project
›› The Maharaja Avery Brewing Company
›› Yeti Imperial Stout Great Divide Brewing Company


Be a ski bum for one season, and be on crutches after an epic crash for another

On the powder days between the two, you must survive the following:
›› Plunge, Telluride Half groomed, half moguls, this sucker drops quick from just under 12,000 feet.
›› Highland Bowl, Aspen This inbounds terrain offers a backcountry rush and views of the Maroon Bells.
›› The Grande, Silverton The ride is more than 2,100 vertical feet. Enough said.
›› Birds of Prey, Beaver Creek It’s a World Cup race course the rest of us can play on.
›› The Cirque, Winter Park You’ll hike 45 minutes for mere seconds of skiing, but you’ll love the turns.


Finish the Colorado syllabus

›› Kent Haruf’s Plainsong  This unforgettable ode to the prairie introduces the McPheron brothers, two indelible Western characters you can’t help but adore in all of their stoic, kind-hearted awkwardness.

›› Jack Kerouac’s On the Road  Memorize the scene when he first arrives in the Mile High City. “There were smokestacks, smoke, railyards, red-brick buildings, and the distant downtown gray-stone buildings, and here I was in Denver.”

›› Katharine Lee Bates’ “Pikes Peak” Written after a hike to the top of the quintessential fourteener, Bates’ 1893 poem became “America the Beautiful.” Soprano soloists rejoiced.

›› Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars  We hope the Centennial State never resembles the post-apocalyptic landscape in Heller’s 2012 tome—but the Denver author’s depiction of it is masterful.

›› Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales’ “Yo Soy Joaquín” The Mile High City native and one of eight brothers and sisters would grow to be a founding father of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement. His poem about the struggles of being Mexican-American in 1960s America would become a literary cornerstone that still resonates today.

›› John Fielder’s A Colorado Autumn  We know Colorado is beautiful, but John Fielder’s photographs bestow our state with centerfold status.

›› Elton John’s Caribou The English crooner’s 1974 album was recorded at Nederland’s Caribou Ranch, as were albums by Chicago, Amy Grant, and Earth, Wind & Fire. The studio was destroyed by a fire in 1985.

›› John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” As one of the state’s official songs, you will need to know the words to every verse for impromptu group sing-alongs (which happen surprisingly often).

›› Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger  Not unused to long road trips, Nelson drafted the backbone themes for this critically acclaimed album on the way back to Texas after a ski trip to Colorado.

›› Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining  The movie plays on repeat on channels one and two at Estes Park’s Stanley Hotel, which inspired Stephen King to write The Shining.

›› Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s South Park  After 18 seasons, the show is still uncannily relevant and oh-so Colorado. Watch them all, but don’t miss episodes 1403, “Medicinal Fried Chicken,” and 711, “Casa Bonita.”

›› Gary Fleder’s Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead  The best part of this 1995 film is the Mile High City backdrop (there should be a supporting role credit for downtown’s alleys).


Conquer Lookout Mountain on two wheels

The ride shouldn’t be so brutal—not with all of the towering peaks around the state for practice—but the 1,217-foot rise over 4.6 miles at a steady five percent incline has made many a weekend warrior cry. Tackle it often to keep your ego in check.


Dress the part with a full Western getup from Rockmount Ranch Wear

›› One relaxed-fit, pearl-snap shirt: $80
›› One straw cowboy hat: $20
›› One pair of Corral boots: $279
›› One Pewter belt buckle: $23
Price to look like a Colorado rancher: $402
(Tax not included)


Eat This

A lifetime guide (your tummy will thank us).

›› A snifter of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey
›› Justin’s maple almond butter
›› Noosa’s strawberry-rhubarb yogurt
›› Masterpiece Delicatessen’s No. 1 breakfast sandwich (with bacon, egg, and pepper jack on an English muffin)
›› A can of Dale’s Pale Ale
›› A scoop of salted butterscotch at Sweet Action Ice Cream

›› A Palisade peach
›› A Rocky Ford melon
›› Olathe sweet corn
›› Pancake of the Day at Snooze
›› Edo-style sushi at Sushi Den
›› Cherry Cricket’s Little Cricket burger (with at least four toppings)

›› Rocky Mountain oysters at the Fort
›› Frico caldo and a glass of bubbly at Frasca
›› Meadow Lark farm dinner at sunset
›› Sopaipillas at Casa Bonita


Xeriscape your front yard

Coaxing a plant to grow in Denver’s clay—er, soil—is darn difficult. And if that green thing likes water, forget it. Without a lot of agua, which is already in high demand in the Centennial State, a verdant landscape isn’t going to happen in our semiarid heat. So more than three decades ago, Denver Water—our trusty liquid utility—developed and branded a way to get plants to live, and even thrive, here: xeriscaping. If you don’t know what that means (OK, here’s a hint: low-water-use plants), make plans to hit the Denver Botanic Gardens’ annual plant sale in the spring. You could bring home a Moonshine Yarrow to stick in the dry ground.


Run the BolderBoulder with About 50,000 new BFFs

With more than 90 waves in this iconic 10K race on Memorial Day weekend, even Methuselah could find his way to the finish line inside the University of Colorado’s Folsom Field before daylight fades. Just don’t skip the constantly changing entertainment options along the way, like the midrace slip-and-slide, 30-some bands, and the beer-and-bacon pit stop.

Three more races to partake in:
›› Colfax Marathon There is one day each year when Colfax Avenue is ruled by runners, not cruisers; this May, the race hits the decade mark.

›› Pedal the Plains If Ride the Rockies is too steep, pull on your Lycra for this September cycle through the prairie, from Wiggins to Sterling and back.

›› Leadville 100 Only 50 percent of participants complete this grueling 100-mile running (and walking and crawling) Race Across The Sky each August.


Camp above 10,000 feet

When you’re pitching a tent at this elevation, it’s easy to forget why you thought it would be a good idea. The wind batters you, you can’t catch your breath, and you realize your closest neighbors are marmots. But that’s exactly why you are there. No people. No noise. No phone service. Nothing to stop you from enjoying the most peaceful sunset of your life.


Stand at the Colorado River headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park

Five other ways to play in the water:
›› Fish Yampa River
›› Kayak Glenwood Canyon’s Class III–IV Shoshone Rapids
›› Tube Cache La Poudre River
›› SUP Buena Vista Playpark
›› Raft Arkansas River


See Denver’s art scene. in one day

From the abstract strokes of Clyfford Still to the funky, offbeat displays on Santa Fe Drive, it is possible to take in the Mile High City’s artistic highlights in a single day—or at least, many of them. Here, your guide to the ultimate First Friday. —JF

10 a.m. | The Denver Art Museum
There’s no need to be overwhelmed by the DAM’s sheer size (two buildings and more than 70,000 pieces). Don’t miss Allen Tupper True’s “A Wanderlust Memory.”

Noon | The Clyfford Still Museum
Visit the abstract impressionist’s comprehensive collection. The nearly 10-by-16-foot painting dubbed “Big Blue” by museum staffers is “the piece most likely to stop people in their tracks,” says director Dean Sobel, “because of its scale and intensity.”

2:30 p.m. | “Dancers”
This 60-foot-tall contoured couple—some viewers think they look like aliens, others tout them as graceful—dominates the view from Speer Boulevard and Champa Street.

3 p.m. | The Museum of Contemporary Art
Before you step inside to peruse the constantly changing exhibits, stop to admire the rotating “Toxic Schizophrenia” (a sword-pierced heart sculpture by British artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster).

4:30 p.m. | RedLine
This six-year-old “urban laboratory” doesn’t limit what genre of art or type of artist (including students) it displays, thanks to founder Laura Merage’s steady guidance.

6 p.m. | The Pattern Shop Studio
Meet owners Sharon and Rex Brown, who helped found the River North Art District in 2008 and continue to open up their American Institute of Architects–awarded home and studio for First Friday.

7:30 p.m. | The Art District on Santa Fe
It’d be unfair to limit Santa Fe’s First Friday to one or two galleries. But if we must, the Museo de las Americas is a quintessential stop. If you have the time, stroll the entire district.


Watch a rodeo

...and get manure on your sneakers (or boots) at the National Western Stock Show.


Take the Telluride Gondola at sunset

Normally, we rave about Colorado’s natural wonders, but here we’ve got to pay respect to a product of human labor. The gondola that connects the mountain town with slopeside amenities ferries people (and bikes, skis, and strollers) over the 10,500-foot peak every day. The ride to the slopes is spectacular as you lurch away from the station and glide up, up, up. The journey back down to town, though, is unforgettable, especially at sunset, when sunbeams warm your back as you gaze out over the box canyon.

Take It All In: Colorado has no shortage of jaw-dropping vistas. If we were forced to whittle it down to our favorite few, we’d pick these three.

›› Standing by the windows on the fifth floor of the Denver Public Library gives you dioramalike views of our government, from the City and County Building to the State Capitol—sans all the noisy political drama.

›› We’re pretty sure there’s not a bad place to take in the view at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, where the river has carved cliffs and spires over the course of two million years. Still, we typically prefer to observe Mother Nature’s work across from the Painted Wall’s pink-white veins or by the Chasm View, which marks the narrowest part of the canyon.

›› Near the Utah border, the Colorado National Monument’s swath of canyons, eroding cliffs, and multihued sandstone is best absorbed from the Book Cliffs Viewpoint, near the end of the half-mile Canyon Rim Trail.


Find your groove at the ’Pec

Weeks after moving to Denver, a colleague noticed a copy of the Horace Silver Quintet’s Song For My Father on the passenger seat of my Ford Focus, took me for a jazz fan, and recommended we grab a drink at El Chapultepec, better known as simply “the ’Pec.” We arrived sometime after 9 p.m. on a weeknight, settled in at the bar, and each ordered a beer. Not long after we showed up, the soulful sounds of a hard-chargin’ blues group filled the dive bar. We ordered another round.

Since that night, I’ve been to a dozen or so other venues around Denver and loved many of them—the Bluebird, the Ogden, the Meadowlark, and, of course, Red Rocks. But there’s something about the raw intimacy of the ’Pec that has always drawn me back. I’m not alone. Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and even Bill Clinton have graced the stage.

So, while seeing a show at the natural amphitheater carved into the hills above Morrison is undoubtedly a spiritual experience for many, the ’Pec, with its classic jazz lineups, gritty atmosphere, and occasional $2 cover, has never failed to deliver a memorable night. —CO


Indulge in the ultimate hazy day

Early on, you’ll want to stick to sativa-based strains (the more energetic ones) to ensure that the lure of the couch doesn’t veto all your plans. Make it an in-town getaway at the Adagio, a “bud-and-breakfast” inn near Cheesman Park, where you can start your day with a “wake ‘n’ bake” hit or two while the lodge’s chef cooks up a gourmet breakfast.

Then stroll on over to Colfax Avenue’s Tattered Cover and Twist & Shout to browse their books and vinyl. You’ll no doubt be a little peckish afterward, so resist the urge—powerful as it may be—to lunch at Taco Bell or Wendy’s, and instead hit Steve’s Snappin’ Dogs for some tasty tube steaks. From there you might wander through downtown and soak up some people-watching (and some sun). Reload at one of the plethora of weed retailers (try LoDo Wellness Center) before you make your way up to LoHi and score a scoop of salted Oreo at Little Man Ice Cream.

Properly refueled, it’s time to head for the hills (with a possible detour back to the Adagio for its happy hour selection of multiple strains, as well as beer and wine). Take an afternoon drive out to Morrison—chauffeured by a non-stoner, of course—for a quick hike along Trading Post Trail. You probably won’t get very far, but you’ll really enjoy the views.

As evening approaches, head to Red Rocks and start tailgating for that night’s show from Big Head Todd & the Monsters, probably the closest thing Colorado has to a state band. Their annual gig here always has a huge turnout, and most of the crowd will be, uh, enjoying the experience much like you are. Afterward, it’s back to the Adagio, which will welcome you with homemade THC edibles before sending you off to what should be the most restful sleep you’ve had in ages. —LH


Take a selfie on a fourteener

You need evidence that while the rest of us slept, you climbed a 14,000-foot peak—in the dark. And there it is, at arm’s length: a you-want-to-have-my-life pic on the top of 14,131-foot Capitol Peak near Aspen. Now, inundate your Facebook friends with additional pics—but if we see one fish face, this friendship is over.


Visit all 46 of Colorado’s state and national parks

To get you started, spot...

...a moose at State Forest State Park
...a sandhill crane at Highline Lake State Park
...a coyote at Eleven Mile State Park
...a mountain lion at Golden Gate Canyon State Park
...a bald eagle at Barr Lake State Park
...a marmot at Vega State Park
...a bear at Mancos State Park
...a rattlesnake at Roxborough State Park elk at Rocky Mountain National Park


Watch a Broncos game from the south stands

I’ve got no business being a Broncos fan. As an Oregon kid, I went to my first NFL game in the Kingdome and once slept in my dad’s Brian Bosworth jersey. But as an adult and a Mile High City transplant, I realized the 12th Man is a nitwit. Denver fans are (more or less) a group I can get behind, particularly as a part of the orange sea at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

That’s where you’ll not only see the Mile High Salute, but also where you will hear Broncos fans hold their team accountable in a collective groan. It’s where you’ll get goose bumps watching the Thunderstorm parachute team drop into the stadium before the game. It’s where you’ll see Thunder’s mane streaming behind him as the white horse gallops the length of the field when the Broncos score. And it’s where fans celebrate the big moments with as much enthusiasm as the smaller ones.

I know, because I’ve been there. I heard fans roar when Peyton Manning hit Julius Thomas for a touchdown that marked the 500th time number 18 had connected with a receiver in the end zone—and again when Wes Welker set his own record. The cannons sounded, the cheerleaders waggled, and 76,985 people celebrated together in a kind of giddy groupthink that can only happen inside a stadium, on not just any given Sunday. —KC

And also...
›› Suffer taunts from Mascot-Hall-of-Famer Rocky at a Denver Nuggets game.
›› Balance your beer and watch the sunset from the Rooftop during a Colorado Rockies game.
›› Jump in your seat when an errant puck—or a body-checked Colorado Avalanche player—hits the glass at the Pepsi Center.
›› Have your cheers drowned out by the cannon when one of the Colorado Rapids’ strikers scores a goal at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.


Attend Sunday service at a megachurch in Colorado Springs

Or find your faith, wherever you feel it: on a mountain trail, in the aisle at Trinity United Methodist Church (Denver’s oldest congregation), or meditating at the Shambhala Mountain Center.


Hike more than 500 miles

This accomplishment is all about quantity. Fortunately, when hiking in Colorado, the quality points are high, too. Here’s a challenge for every season.

›› SPRING Blue Lakes, Ridgway
The trek to Hanging Lake outside Glenwood Springs is a stunner, but if you want the same effect without hundreds of your closest hiking friends tagging along, go to the Blue Lakes, where a trio of pools sits in the shadow of 14,157-foot Mt. Sneffels.
5.7 miles (round-trip)

›› SUMMER The Colorado Trail
Block off four to six weeks of vacation time, set your “away” email notification, and start what will likely be the longest walk of your life along all 28 segments of this path from Denver to Durango.
486 miles (one way)

›› FALL American Lake
Catch the changing aspens on this hike through shimmering stands and spruce forests to, of course, a postcard-worthy alpine lake.
6.4 miles (round-trip)

›› WINTER Manitou Incline
It took four months and $1.6 million, but the face-lift to this quad blaster (you hoof it up about 2,000 feet of steps) is now complete.
1 mile (one way)


Get a parking ticket on Larimer Street

...while you are enjoying a $200 meal.


Find your adrenaline fix

There was a split second after I jumped out of the plane—with a parachute and a mustachioed skydiving instructor named Bob hooked to my back—when my resolve faltered. The words “big mistake” flashed through my head. Then the parachute opened, and I was looking out at an expanse of blue sky so far-reaching that I gasped. My mind emptied. I felt free, infinite, enraptured—and addicted to the rush.

Many people (including my mother) ask me why I put my life at risk for something so unnecessary. I tell them it’s because I still can’t forget that moment in the clouds: that heart-pumping version of meditation. I’ve felt that same bliss skiing my first powder run at Wolf Creek Ski Area or floating down the Yampa River in inner tubes with friends.

Your threshold for thrills will be different from mine. Which is why we’re lucky to live in a place like Colorado where the adrenaline quest isn’t something you need to actively seek. It’s simply in your backyard—whether that backyard is in a canoe on the reservoir, 14,000 feet up a mountain, or 13,000 feet up in the sky. —DS

Five more ways to score a thrill:
›› Ride the Royal Rush Skycoaster at Royal Gorge Bridge & Park
›› Go night-skiing at Keystone Resort
›› Wrangle an alligator at Colorado Gators Reptile Park in Mosca
›› Ice climb Hidden Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park
›› Snowmobile the wide-open meadows surrounding Granby


Spend a day time-traveling

First, fill up on a spilling-off-your-plate breakfast burrito at Pete’s Kitchen, which has been serving greasy hangover cures since 1942. With a full belly, you’ll have plenty of fuel for a tour of the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown’s home. (Feel free to fall in love with this rags-to-riches suffragist and Titanic survivor.) Then learn about the rich history of the Five Points neighborhood—once referred to as the “Harlem of the West”—at the Black American West Museum. Break for a burger topped with cream cheese and a brew at one of the Mile High City’s oldest watering holes, My Brother’s Bar, which was built in 1870 and served Jack Kerouac liquid inspiration. Save some room for afternoon tea, though, at the Brown Palace Hotel. While you’re checking out hotels, stroll over to the recently renovated 134-year-old Union Station. The Crawford Hotel and 10 eateries are a draw, but we’re just as content to sit with a book on one of the dark wood benches or people-watch. When you need to refuel, swing over to the Buckhorn Exchange for a plate of smoked rattlesnake. If that’s too adventurous, sidle up to the bar, which received Colorado’s first liquor license in 1893, for an elk steak and an excellent vantage point to gape at the more than 500 stuffed animal heads on the walls. To wrap up the night—and satisfy your flapper side—sip a Whiskey Clover Smash (made with Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey and fresh raspberries) at the 81-year-old Cruise Room. The retro space opened a day after Prohibition was repealed—and the good times haven’t stopped. We hope they never do. —MCF


Register as an independent and vote

Independents—36 percent of Colorado voters—drive our politicians berserk, confuse big donors, and frustrate both blue and red campaigns. Join the chaos and make our politicians court you. It’s part of their job description.


Try for a hole-in-one at Ballyneal Golf Club’s third tee

A membership at this course, which is lauded by just about every golf publication out there as one of the top 100 courses in the world, will set you back at least $4,000 a year—and there are only 250 spots. Don’t fret: Nonmembers are allowed one opportunity (really, you can only do this once) to experience the pride of the Eastern Plains—a walking-only, links-style course designed by renowned architect Tom Doak—for around $550.

Four other reasons to go east:
›› Pawnee National Grassland
›› Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site
›› Picket Wire Canyonlands
›› Monte Vista Crane Festival


Cruise Colfax Avenue on a Friday night

Sure, Playboy once called this 26-mile stretch of asphalt and concrete “the longest, wickedest street in America.” But that was in the ’70s, and Colfax is constantly changing. See these vintage signs before they vanish.

Follow our map of Colfax's coolest signage here.

Edited by Jerilyn Forsythe and Natasha Gardner

Contributors: Kasey Cordell, Danielle Ennis, Mary Clare Fischer, Luc Hatlestad, Lindsey B. Koehler, Lindsey R. McKissick, Chris Outcalt & Daliah Singer

—Photo credits from top: Whit Richardson; Craig Hoffman; Jack Brauer; iStock (2); courtesy of Colorado Brewers Association; Sarah Boyum (2); Getty Images; Sarah Boyum; Shutterstock; Michael Nyffeler; Shutterstock; Tandemstock; Courtesy of Denver Art Museum; Getty Images; Whit Richardson; Jeremy Wade Shockley; iStock (2); Eric Bakke; Shutterstock; Tandemstock; Sarah Boyum; Courtesy of Daliah Singer; Courtesy of Buckhorn Exchange; Shutterstock; Dick Durrance; Sarah Boyum