A year's worth of ideas for what you should do when 5 o'clock on Friday (finally) arrives.
Play in the Sand
If your previous visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park went something like this—drove four hours from Denver, walked through the visitors' center, hiked up one dune, and left—then you missed out. This park has so much more to offer than you can absorb in one hour. In early September, make plans to spend the weekend camping along the Medano Pass Road, which has 25 first-come-first-served, primitive campsites near the dune fields. You can spend time exploring the dunes as well as splashing in Medano Creek and sandboarding. Plus, camping along the pass road means you can hike through the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, one of Colorado's most beautiful natural areas. Tip: You'll need a high-clearance, 4WD vehicle on the pass. www.nps.gov/grsa/index.htm
Full of Hot Air
Rise to the occasion at the festive Colorado Balloon Classic.
The drive is relatively short, but Colorado's longest-running hot-air balloon event, on Labor Day weekend, is worth a couple nights' stay in Colorado Springs—especially since the spectacular launching process begins at 6 a.m. each morning. Consider staying at the Holden House, a quaint Victorian bed-and-breakfast with an Early Riser's breakfast so you can enjoy your ruffled crêpes Isabel and still catch the early balloon launch at Memorial Park. After takeoff, watch the balloons attempt the tricky Splash and Dash maneuver as they dip to skim the surface of Prospect Lake. Stick around for lively concerts, the Pikes Peak Powered Paragliding Club, and other morning entertainment. Thrill-seekers can even hop in a basket and take their own balloon rides. Your afternoon will be free to explore—hit the Pikes Peak Cog Railway or Cave of the Winds—before returning to the park for the Evening Balloon Glow, a gorgeous spectacle of illuminated balloons that softly light the black sky for a surreal effect. www.balloonclassic.com; www.holdenhouse.com