The very best hiking, camping, paddling, fishing, climbing, mountain biking, and road cycling within two hours of Denver.
This article was a finalist for the 2013 City and Regional Magazine Award in the leisure/lifestyle interests category.
Get outta the house, go get a little dirty…but don’t go too far, OK? That’s what your mom always said, right? School was out, the weather was hot, and the whole day stretched out in front of you. It was good summertime advice—so we used it as a guide for creating this year’s rundown of 21 amazing, warm-weather adventures. We give you a taste of the hiking, camping, paddling, fishing, climbing, mountain biking, and road cycling within two hours of Denver. Plus, we’ve found the best spots to eat, drink, refuel, and stock up for your journey, whether you’re running the rapids, hitting the trail, or throwing out a line.
Still Learning Clear Creek Canyon West of Golden Sweeping vistas extend for miles as you approach Clear Creek Canyon on U.S. 6 heading west, where you’ll find a solid mix of easy and advanced routes. Using an area-specific guidebook (you can pick up Clear Creek Canyon Rock Climbs  by Darren Mabe at any local mountaineering store) to identify the routes, look for High Wire Crag’s Stone Cold Moderate route or the Canal Zone, both of which are typically shaded from the blistering sun. These popular beginner sport climbs have bolts permanently installed in the rock so you can hook in as you climb without worrying about placing your own safety devices. The sandy gneiss and schist walls are dotted with solid grips, and the ascent offers panoramic views that make your sweating, grunting, and achy triceps worth it. If you need a break, just take a seat and watch the experts do their thing up and down the 400-foot facades. rockclimbing.com
Revive: After a tough day on the rocks, get your energy back at Golden’s D’Deli; order a hearty baguette stuffed with your favorite fixings, including roast beef, Italian meatballs, or honey BBQ chicken. 303-279-8020, ddelisubs.com
Seeking a Challenge Eldorado Canyon State Park Eldorado Springs If you’re any sort of climber—seasoned or aspiring—you’re aware of these walls, but we just can’t ignore a spot with more than 500 routes. Seven miles south of Boulder, these majestic sandstone cliffs shoot 700 feet above South Boulder Creek. To protect the rock, the majority of the action here is multipitch—a pitch is about one length of rope, 50 to 60 meters—traditional climbing (meaning, the routes don’t have preplaced bolts to hook into; it’s the climber’s task to place his or her own protective gear in the rock). This is focused, cerebral climbing at its best. Get loose with the famous Bastille Crack—a five-pitch route that starts beside Eldo’s entrance (look for belayers on the left side of the road)—before moving on to more challenging options such as the Yellow Spur or the Naked Edge. 303-494-3943, parks.state.co.us/parks/eldoradocanyon
Quick tip: Got old climbing rope you were planning on trashing? Keep it out of the landfill by donating it to Boulder’s Green Guru, which will “upcycle” your used gear into bracelets, key chains, dog leashes, rugs, and chalk bags. (The company also repurposes equipment such as bike inner tubes and neoprene wetsuits.) 303-258-1611, greengurugear.com
Best-Kept Secret The Maiden Flatirons, Boulder The Flatirons get mobbed on the weekends—you’ll find yourself with dozens of other folks unless you make the effort to avoid them. To do that, park at the South Mesa Trailhead and hike a couple of miles on a semi-tricky trail (we suggest first-timers go with someone who’s been before) until you see the Maiden, a 350-foot spire with a daunting overhang that you can trad climb (placing your own anchors and devices) via medium to difficult routes and rappel down. (Note: Approach the Maiden from the east.) If you’re up for a longer hike later in the summer, head to Fern Canyon in the southern part of the Flatirons. (Climbing routes are closed through July 31 to protect roosting and nesting raptors.) The hour-long walk leads you to an expansive set of ridges with pitches of varying difficulties and both sport (devices permanently installed in the rock) and trad climbs. mountainproject.com
Before You Go: Forgot a carabiner? Short on rope? Need some snacks? Swing by Boulder’s Neptune Mountaineering, the Holy Grail of outdoor gear. Open seven days a week, the shop has everything you could possibly need for a safe—and fun—day of climbing. 303-499-8866, neptunemountaineering.com
ASK THE EXPERT E.J. Nogaski Rock climber and head of sales and marketing, Colorado Mountain School
Q: Can I go multipitch climbing my first time out?
A: Yes you can, but to have a more enjoyable time I would recommend doing some top-roping or single-pitch climbing for a first day out before doing something longer. It gets people dialed in and gets them prepared for what’s to come. Deb Grass Co-owner, Rock’n & Jam’n indoor rock climbing facility
Q: I have a serious fear of heights, but I’ve always wanted to try rock climbing. Can I do it?
A: I will never totally overcome my fear of heights, but when I’m on a rope, I’m in control and can focus all my efforts on climbing and not be overwhelmed by the exposure. It’s amazing what you can overcome when you have a goal in mind. It’s 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical. You never truly get over your fears, but you certainly can control them a lot better once you face them—and climbing is a great way to go about doing that.