We uncover more than 60 supersecret restaurants, vistas, hikes, attractions, and quirky, only-in-Colorado experiences you probably don't know about—but should.
4 UNSUNG PLACES TO PEER INTO COLORADO'S PAST
[165 Million Years Ago]
Picket Wire Canyonlands in Comanche National Grassland
Rattlesnakes, scorpions, drop-offs, flat tires, flash floods: If you think the dangers on the safety checklist for the Picket Wire Canyonlands guided auto tour (May, June, September, and October) sound scary, imagine how it would have read 165 million years ago, when allosauruses—pint-size, equally lethal versions of T. rexes—roamed what was then a tropical landscape. Yeah, we’ll risk the rattlesnakes, too. Especially if it means seeing this Jurassic jackpot, home to one of the largest collections of dinosaur tracks in the world: 1,300 dino prints dot a half-mile stretch near the Purgatoire River. Don’t have a high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicle? You can take a 10.6-mile round-trip hike. 719-384-2181
[800 Years Ago]
Ute Mountain Tribal Park
The Ute Mountain Tribal Park comprises 195 square miles of canyons, cliffs, and ancient dwellings. Nearby Mesa Verde National Park encompasses just 82. Yet Mesa Verde packs in more than a half million guests annually while Ute Mountain’s visitation figures never tick past four digits. All the more reason to cruise 25 extra miles down Highway 160 for an uncrowded glimpse of 800-year-old Anasazi dwellings like the Eagle’s Nest House, an abode set 50 feet up an overhanging cliff. The only way to see these amazing structures is on a tour with a Ute tribal member, who provides historical and cultural context along the way. Tours start at $29. utemountaintribalpark.info
[140 Years Ago]
Despite its status as Denver’s oldest cemetery, 77-acre Riverside often gets overlooked in favor of its fancier cousin, Fairmount. Established in 1876, Riverside’s stone tapestry reads like a Colorado history book: More than 1,000 Civil War veterans are buried here, as are three Colorado governors, four Denver mayors, and the state’s first poet laureate. Riverside had fallen into disrepair until 2008, when the Fairmount Heritage Foundation and the Colorado Association of Lawn Care began to restore order to the forgotten site. Dead trees and toppled markers have been removed, tulips line the roads, and many sections now have native wildflowers and grasses. fairmountheritagefoundation.org
[100 Years Ago]
In 1890, Robert Miller Womack discovered gold in Cripple Creek, bringing tens of thousands of people to the area. More than 22 million ounces of gold eventually were dug out of the Cripple Creek Mining District. But by the 1940s, it was all over. Today, the false-fronted buildings along Main Street bathe in the neon glow of signs from 11 casinos. You can still get a taste of Cripple Creek’s past at the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine, where you’ll descend 1,000 feet underground to look at Colorado’s gold veins. The real treasure, though, is up the road, where the view from above town—a panorama of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains—will leave you feeling rich, no matter what’s in your wallet. visitcripplecreek.com
The Lincoln Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and even the New York Municipal Library share something in common: They all contain a little (and in some cases, not-so-little) piece of Colorado from the Yule Marble Quarry. Discovered in 1873, the quarry produced marble for myriad state and national projects until it shuttered in 1941. Reopened in 1990, the mine now provides stone to the Marble Sculpting Institute of Colorado for artists of all abilities looking to channel their inner Michelangelos at weeklong summer sculpting seminars. marbletourismassociation.org
This northeastern Colorado town specializes in craft beer, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other options on tap. At the 11-month-old Scrumpy’s Hard Cider Bar, located in the Old Town district, quaffers can try flights of hard cider or simply order a pint—if they can decide among the 19 varieties available. We dig Blue Mountain Dry from Oregon and Wyder’s Pear Cider from Vermont and also the house-made Hopricot and Tart Cherry ciders.
Coloradans’ love for all things craft extends to beanies, too. At least, that’s what Suzanne Akin has learned since opening her Fort Collins clothing store, Akinz, in 2012. The Old Town storefront carries a variety of shirts, hoodies, scarves, and accessories, but it’s the customizable beanies that have really taken off. We’re particularly fond of the Colorado flag version, but Akinz can stitch up vintage stripes, bright neons, or slouchy wool to your liking. akinz.com
Planted in a clandestine back alley in Old Town, the Forge Publick House is a classic brewpub—dark woods, exposed brick, a roaring fire, and cozy furniture—that caters to a more discerning crowd (read: few rowdy CSU students). You won’t find a drop of hard liquor and not every Colorado craft brew is available (gasp!), but the Forge hosts a regular brewer series (meet Verboten Brewing on April 10). Plus, the pub’s 19 rotating taps ensure patrons aren’t left wanting—as long as they have cash; plastic isn’t accepted here.
Grand Junction might not have the same reputation for prehistoric holdings as northwest Colorado’s Dinosaur National Monument, but it’s one of the few places where you can actually search for the Jurassic giants yourself. The Museum of Western Colorado’s Dinosaur Journey Museum lets fossil fiends join half- and multi-day digs during the summer. Trips start at $35; museumofwesternco.com/dino-digs
You can hardly drive a country road in this farm-rich part of the state without passing a fruit stand. One you shouldn’t miss: Alida’s Fruit Stand in Palisade, where the overall-clad farmer Bob Helmer—who also stars in YouTube videos about life on the farm with his wife, Alida—sells fresh fruits, jellies, chocolate-covered, uh, everything, and real fruit jelly beans. If you pass it, don’t worry. You can also try the shop on Grand Junction’s Main Street. alidasfruits.com
Take a meal at Cafe Sol, an eight-month-old Grand Junction restaurant that uses locally grown fruit and veggies from nearby Field to Fork CSA—an organic Palisade farm—to craft delicious sandwiches and salads such as La Fruita (mixed greens, apples, mandarin oranges, strawberries, bananas, and peach mint vinaigrette). Wash it down with a glass of local wine (we like Plum Creek’s Palisade Festival white table wine) or a Colorado brew, such as Odell’s Cutthroat Porter. cafesolgj.com
Don’t tell our mamma, but we found a rival to her pecan pie at the easy-to-miss Front Range Barbeque in Old Colorado City. Owner Brian Fortinberry uses a 100-year-old recipe from his grandma to craft this rich, nut-packed dessert, then tops it with two scoops of house-made vanilla ice cream—a gluttonous delight that probably qualifies as the eighth deadly sin, but we’re willing to risk it. frbbq.com
Snuggled next to Garden of the Gods sits a fairy-tale-worthy castle: Glen Eyrie, or “Valley of the Eagle” (there’s a massive eagle’s nest near the entrance gate). Originally the home of railroad baron General William Jackson Palmer, Glen Eyrie’s stone towers now belong to the Navigators, a Christian organization that offers daily tours of the 110-year-old structure and its manicured grounds. Play royalty for a night with a stay in one of its 17 guest rooms, or make a reservation for afternoon tea—a fanciful affair full of the pastries, tea sandwiches, and dainty dishware that every princess deserves. gleneyrie.org
5280.com Exclusive: More Locals' Secrets
Colorado Springs | Inside downtown’s cute King’s Chef Diner, you’ll find one of the best examples of green chile Colorado has to offer. Made fresh with locally grown chiles (including habaneros), owner Gary Geiser’s cornstarch-free version will leave you wearing the sweaty sheen that comes from a perfectly spiced bowl of chile. Little wonder Food Network magazine named the colorful diner’s green chile–covered breakfast burrito the tastiest breakfast in Colorado in 2010. kingschefdiner.com
Grand Junction | No visit to Grand Junction is complete without a stop at Colorado’s original house of sole, Benges Shoe Store. At 102 years old, this third-generation shoe retailer is the oldest in the state. Part store, part museum, Benges still sports its original tin ceiling, under which you’ll find funky old cash registers, antique button machines, and 45 brands of good-for-your-feet shoes to fit every kind of Cinderella.
Colorado Springs | Skip the stroller-packed pathways at Garden of the Gods in favor of an equally impressive stretch of stone and sky just five miles away at Red Rock Canyon Open Space. Families can take in the gorgeous rock formations of the 1,474-acre park along the moderate Red Rock Rim and Red Rock Canyon trails, while more adventurous hikers (and bikers and climbers) might opt for the 5.5-mile trek through mountain splendor along the Palmer Red Rock loop, which begins at the Section 16 trailhead.
5280.com Exclusive: Secret Places to Stay Across Colorado
Wake up to eye-widening vistas of the Colorado National Monument without changing out of your pj’s at Grand Junction’s Los Altos Bed and Breakfast. The seven-room guesthouse is perched on a cliff above the southwestern edge of the Grand Valley and serves up spectacular views of Grand Junction; enjoy them with your gourmet breakfast. At suppertime, watch the fading sun set the Bookcliffs aflame and just try not to gasp. Nightly rates start at $95
Teddy Roosevelt once stayed at the quaint two-acre Red Crags Estate just outside of downtown Manitou Springs. A massive two-story stone fireplace welcomes guests at Rockledge Country Inn, one of three buildings on the property, and plush furnishings await inside the eight stately rooms. Our favorite: the Spindletop Suite, a luxe 700-square-foot space with a marble fireplace, oversize Jacuzzi tub, and 18 windows through which you can steal glances at the nearby peaks.
With a bus stop to Crested Butte just one block away, the Wanderlust Hostel in Gunnison makes a great budget option for skiers or summer revelers. You won’t find a bunch of bells and whistles at this quaint cabin, but you will find a communal kitchen for cooking and great rates—so what you save on your room you can apply to your lift ticket (or white-water rafting trip). Bonus: Spot can stay too for a few extra bones in one of the private rooms. From $23 per person