27 Reasons to Love Colorado in the Summer
Everyone knows about our famously beautiful winters, but Coloradans know that our summers are equally stunning—and, dare we say it, maybe just a little bit sweeter.
Because white-water rafting guides have their own language
Colorado is a rafter's paradise, with diverse river sizes and environments. Most people who go rafting do so on commercial trips with guides, so come early May each year, raft guides come from all around to train or be trained on what it takes to get a boat safely down the river. This rigorous guide training generally entails rowing and paddle-boat instruction, river rescue skills, medical training, and a crash course in the hospitality skills needed to be a likable guide. During the weeks of training and boating, a kind of subculture emerges, with a language all its own. Here, a few terms you might hear from the back of the boat.
Because the heavens really are beautiful when you can actually see them
With multiple meteor showers expected to light up the night sky this summer (Delta Aquarids, July 29, and Perseids, August 12 and 13) we hunted down three of the best places to watch the stars sans city lights. —Daliah Singer
Head southwest to Del Norte (4.5 hours from Denver) to hang with the locals under a starry sky. Elk Park's open meadow lies adjacent to a ridge, 12 miles outside of town. Bump along a gravel road before laying out a sleeping bag under the Milky Way. www.fs.fed.us/r2/riogrande
Reserve a night at Piney Guard Station. The one-room hut, one hour northwest of Vail, has a wood-burning stove and a bunk bed. Grab a blanket and take a short walk into the night to discover a breathtaking spread of stars. Tip: You'll need a four-wheel-drive vehicle with high clearance to get there. 970-827-5715, www.recreation.gov
Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve offers more than sandboarding. Park in a nearby lot, snap on your backpack, and hike through the day-use area, up a 750-foot dune, and into the pitch darkness of the dune field. Pitch a tent right on the sand and lie back to take in panoramic views of the constellations. A free permit is required for camping on the dunes. 719-378-6399, www.nps.gov/grsa
Because of larkspur, columbine, rushpink, fireweed, and tansy aster
Author Pamela D. Irwin has written the book (the Colorado's Best Wildflower Hikes series) on where Colorado's most spectacular wildflower displays explode each summer. She and her husband have criss-crossed the state since the mid-'90s in search of the most brilliant blooms. Here, a handful of hikes that stick out in her mind.
Elk Valley Trail in Roxborough State Park is a newer, 7.8-mile loop trail that accesses lower-altitude Carpenter Peak. During the second week of June, the areas adjacent to the trail offer spectacular viewing for wildflowers.
The Diamond Lake Trail (3.6 miles one way) shoots off of the Arapaho Pass Trail just a mile from the Fourth of July Trailhead in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. The gorgeous lake sits in a valley with a large grassy meadow to the north and east. Visit during the third week of July for the best flower viewing.
Forgotten Valley in Golden Gate Canyon State Park (hike along Burro Trail to Mountain Lion Trail to get there) is a relatively short jaunt that ends up at a wonderful little pond, with a late 19th-century homestead overlooking the water. Colorful wildflowers abound.
From the Dos Chappell Nature Center on Mt. Evans, hike up the Walter Pesman Trail to the Mt. Goliath Natural Area. This trail offers views of ghostly bristlecone pines and some very beautiful wildflowers. Once up top, take the half-mile Walter Pesman Alpine Garden Loop to see abundant and gorgeous wildflowers, from subalpine to alpine types.
Because we hire for cool summer jobs
Colorado kids don't have to flip burgers or spend their summers logging hours at the Gap. Nope, they have the opportunity to get outside, put in an honest day's work, and experience some of the most stunning geography around. —Jessica Farmwald
You'll wanna be a...
- Conservation Crew Corpsmember
With: Southwest Conservation Corps in Durango or Salida; www.sccorps.org. Because: Four weeks of trail construction, fence laying, habitat improvement, hazardous fuels reduction, and revegetation will earn you $240-$300 per week and killer backcountry stays in places like Mesa Verde National Park, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, San Juan National Forest, and on the Continental Divide Trail.
- Camp Counselor
With: YMCA Camp Santa Maria in Grant; 303-413-9622 ext. 4450; www.ymcacampsantamaria.org Because: Living with and leading 10 to 12 young campers in daily activities like rock climbing or filmmaking gives your resumé a boost for future recreational careers. Plus, your room and board are paid for, and you'll pocket $200 a week.
- Summer Program Attendant
With: Winter Park Resort in Winter Park; www.skiwinterpark.com Because: A few months of rotating through ticket scanning, giving safety presentations for outdoor activities, and working through the family and kids' area (at $9 an hour) will get you discounted employee housing (utilities included), a pass for downhill trail access, 25 percent discounts on resort food, and deals at rental and retail shops.
- Rafting Guide I (beginner level)
With: Arkansas Valley Adventures in Granite; www.coloradorafting.net Because: After three weeks of intense training you'll get on the regular schedule to guide boats full of people, which pays $27 or more per trip (depending on your seniority) and allows you to work on the water and outside in the Colorado sunshine.
- Hiking/Mountain Biking Guide
With: Vista Verde Ranch in Steamboat Springs; www.vistaverde.com Because: Leading hiking and biking trips into the surrounding Routt National Forest and pitching in with ranch chores will net you $7.29 per hour and give you free room and board at one of Colorado's prettiest guest ranches.
Because getting dirty, wearing silly gear, and riding horses into the middle of nowhere are sought-after activities
Sable Mountain Outfitters, Adams Lodge Outfitters, and JML Outfitters are three of Colorado's premier backcountry outfitters—and all of them offer alluring summer fishing trips. The multiday adventures—guests ride horses from one camp to the next or use them for day trips—often endeavor far into the Flat Tops Wilderness, known for its hundreds of lakes and more than 100 miles of fishable streams. Campers spend their days clip-clopping among volcanic cliffs and through scenic subalpine terrain to find creeks and rivers full of trout. The excursions are rustic, but with horses carrying the load, camp cooks preparing the food, and fishing guides pointing out the sure-fire honeypots, you have little else to do but revel in the fact that you haven't been this dirty in months. www.sablemountainoutfitters.com; www.adamslodge.com; www.jmloutfitters.com