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The (New) Royal Gorge

Five ways to explore the Rocky Mountain treasure.

August 2014

—Image courtesy of Echo Canyon River Expeditions; iStockphoto

WALK

For 72 years, the 1,053-foot-high Royal Gorge Bridge ranked as the highest span in the world; that changed in 2001—and then again in 2009 when engineers constructed a bridge high above the Sidu River in China. Today the Royal must settle for simply being the highest bridge in the United States—an honor best appreciated from its halfway point where, beneath your feet, you’ll see the turquoise Arkansas River carving through the deep granite chasm. But be forewarned: At a length of four football fields, the wooden bridge sways a bit, especially on windy days. (Not that the eventual alternative, a gondola ride over the gorge, which will open in October, will be any less frightening.) 

FLY

Forget Space Mountain. The Royal Rush Skycoaster ($25) is the Rocky Mountain version of an amusement park thriller. Perched on the edge of the canyon, the aptly named Skycoaster swings harnessed-in riders of all ages over the lip of the Royal Gorge. Without a plane, this is about as close to flying over the Rockies as you’re going to get. 

FLOAT

Most people spend their time looking down at the Royal Gorge. For a different perspective, float the Arkansas River and spend your time looking up. Considered one of the premier rafting rivers in Colorado thanks to its myriad technical descents (think maneuvering around large boulders while navigating tight slots), the Arkansas promises an endorphin buzz to go along with your ogling—especially on the half-day tour ($76) with Echo Canyon River Expeditions, during which Class IV rapids will redirect your attention away from the walls above you to the white water below you. raftecho.com

RIDE

Dial back the adrenaline with a train tour of the gorge on the Royal Gorge Route Railroad, which begins and ends in Cañon City. The two-hour-long ride snakes through narrow granite cliffs along the banks of the Arkansas River for 12 miles before stopping in Parkdale and returning by the same route. Splurge by booking the glass-top dome car for a dinner ride that comes with a glass of Cabernet and some of the region’s best views (from $39 per person). royalgorgeroute.com

ZIP-LINE

Last year’s fire destroyed the zip-lines running along the edge of the Royal Gorge, but park officials are set to bring back an even-more-bad-ass version this fall: The new 2,200-foot, two-section line ($40) soars across the gorge, 1,000 feet above the frothy
Arkansas River.