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.

August 2008

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

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


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.

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

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).

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