A year's worth of ideas for what you should do when 5 o'clock on Friday (finally) arrives.
Take Thee to the River
Get your feet wet in the water of Rancho Del Rio.
Along the Colorado River Headwaters Scenic Byway between Bond and Kremmling lies a river-sports outpost ideal for those looking for a good adventure and camaraderie. Fair warning: This is a straight-up river rat's paradise; the folks who visit Rancho like to paddle hard and play hard—there's never a lack of patrons (or cold brews) at the outdoor bar and restaurant, KK's BBQ. Crash in one of the basic log cabins (bunks, microwave, and fridge) or pitch your tent on Rancho's 20 acres of riverfront for some late-night revelry before hitting the froth in the a.m. With some of the finest white water in the state, the Colorado River offers everything from beginner-friendly floats to Class V rapids through Gore Canyon.
More of a fisherman than a paddler? The water flattens out beyond Gore Canyon into a stretch deemed Wild Trout Water by the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Take a fly-fishing tour and pull out foot-long rainbows. During spring runoff, the salmonfly hatch produces huge catches. Whatever your goal for the weekend—lazy float, big white water, fishing escape, beer and burgers—you'll find it at Rancho. www.ranchodelrio.com
Soak Up Some R&R
Dunton Hot Springs' rustic elegance soothes the soul—and hiking-weary bodies.
A three-night spa package getaway at Dunton Hot Springs near Dolores, Colorado, will set you back a month's pay (approximately $3,980 for two), but this ultra-exclusive San Juan Mountains retreat (a lovingly restored mining town complete with a saloon, general store, and chapel) leaves little—OK, nothing—to be desired, even during the shoulder season.
You'll start each day with a yoga session, move onto the forested hiking trails for some muscle-tormenting exercise, spread out a picnic in a high meadow (weather permitting), soak in hot springs (Dunton has six pools that range in temperature from 85 degrees to 106 degrees), enjoy a massage with all-natural products, and savor a delicious meal in the old saloon.
Depending on the spring snowpack, Dunton offers snowshoeing, heliskiing, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing as well. Trust us, it's worth every penny. www.duntonhotsprings.com
Camp under the stars—way under—on the floor of the Black Canyon.
The tallest sheer cliffs in Colorado tower above the Gunnison River and shimmer with the setting sun at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The 53-mile-long gorge is worth a trip for profound scenic value alone, never mind the endless adventures it offers. There's camping to be had on both the north and south rims, but the most secluded sites are at the East Portal on the canyon floor, just steps from the river and excellent fishing. The 15-site wooded area lies at the bottom of a winding, steep road with a 16 percent grade. The turnoff is just past the park entrance station on Highway 347, and the tricky drive down is worth it.
The vistas are spectacular along the rim trails, which offer jutting overlooks of the frothy river below. For the more adventurous, try an inner-canyon hike such as the Gunnison Route, a plunging, mile-long descent that begins at the South Rim Visitor Center and includes an 80-foot, hand-over-hand scramble along a chain halfway down. You'll work up an appetite and fall into your sleeping bag that night—if you can tear your gaze away from the endless blanket of stars above the canyon walls. www.nps.gov/blca
Be There With (Maroon) Bells On
Trek from Aspen to Crested Butte during festival season.
For an archetypal Colorado hike, take the West Maroon Pass Trail from Aspen to Crested Butte during wildflower season (July through August). Allow five to eight hours to cover the 11-mile trail, which starts at Maroon Lake on the Aspen side and ends at Schofield, a former mining encampment just outside Crested Butte. The cardio kicks in early as you climb steadily upward, crossing rivers and rock fields, but the astounding views of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area are more than worth it.
Carry a change of clothes in your pack and stay a night or two in the Butte before looping back to Aspen. Call Dolly's Mountain Shuttle to prearrange pickup at the Schofield trailhead, and the driver can take you to your lodging of choice—try the Ruby of Crested Butte for a cozy B&B stay in the heart of town. Time your weekend with Crested Butte's Wildflower Festival (July 12-18) to get your fill of CB's summer festivities before hitting the return trail. www.gunnisoncrestedbutte.com/hiking-info; www.dollysmountainshuttle.vpweb.com; www.therubyofcrestedbutte.com
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
Romp in the Snow Enjoy the spoils of winter atop the Grand Mesa.
Here in Colorado we dig the ubiquitous pointy peaks. But our square state is also home to the largest flattop mountain in the world. A towering block of a mountain—it's about 800 square miles of geography—Grand Mesa juts out of the earth just east of Grand Junction. Atop this behemoth you can frolic in nearly 35 feet of the white stuff—some of Colorado's deepest snow totals—which make for world-class snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. Our advice? Hole up in one of Grand Mesa Lodge's rustic cabins (request the one with the lake view and wood-burning fireplace), sign up for a half-day snowmobiling tour, rent a pair of skinny cross-country skis (trails start from your cabin's front door), and simply enjoy the snow globe-worthy landscape. www.coloradodirectory.com/grandmesalodge
Be a Romantic
Just outside Rocky Mountain National Park rests Della Terra Mountain Chateau, a 10-month-old retreat perfect for a dreamy escape. Della Terra rests just up the hill from the famous Stanley Hotel, but it feels worlds apart. Fourteen lavish suites are finished with giant, walk-through showers for two, copper tubs, king-size beds, see-through fireplaces, and private balconies with hot tubs. The two-night, romantic-getaway winter special ($550) offers champagne, candles, rose petals strewn across the bed, breakfast in bed, and a couple's massage. www.dellaterramountainchateau.com