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Arapahoe Basin Ski Area's new via ferrata. Courtesy of Arapahoe Basin Ski Area
The 2021 Colorado Summer Guide

New Summer Adventures in the Colorado Mountains

Where to climb, paddle, and plunge your way to adventure this summer in Colorado’s mountain communities.

Colorado’s natural playground calls to us with its spectacular trails, peaks, and rivers. For many, those at-our-fingertips outdoor opportunities drew us to the Centennial State in the first place.

Now, mountain towns across the state are taking advantage of what Mother Nature bestowed to create even greater outdoor adventures this summer. Whether you climb, ride, or paddle (or all of the above), sate your thirst for adventure this summer with these all-new opportunities.

North America’s Highest Via Ferrata

One of the breathtaking views along Arapahoe Basin’s new via ferrata route. Courtesy of Ian Zinner/Arapahoe Basin Ski Area

Rising 800 feet up Arapahoe Basin’s striking East Wall, the ski area’s new via ferrata, or “iron way,” will lead daring souls up a climbing route of iron rungs to the top-out point, nearly 13,000 feet in the air. The reward: 360-degree mountain views across the jagged peaks of the Continental Divide, not to mention a well-deserved ego boost. “Because of the elevation, it’s all high-alpine [terrain] above treeline. You’re just out there on the rock,” says Katherine Fuller, A-Basin’s communications manager, noting that the ski area’s route will be the highest via ferrata in North America and the second highest in the world. “It’s just so rugged and natural. It’s an adventurous, challenging activity.”

Those up for the challenge will choose either the half-day route, which stops at an abandoned mine (but doesn’t hit the apex), or the full-day route that goes all the way to the top. Both options require a guide and include a boxed lunch, scenic lift ride, and all necessary climbing equipment. Some fitness and elevation acclimation are required, but previous rock climbing experience is not. “For some people, it’s going to be the wildest thing they’ve ever done,” Fuller says. “And for others, we think it might inspire them to pick up rock climbing.”

Mustang Mountain Coaster

The view from the new Mustang Mountain Coaster. Courtesy of Sombrero Ranch

Owned by the Walker family for three generations, the 400 acres of Sombrero Ranch have long been a destination for Estes Park visitors looking to take in the Rocky Mountain landscape from a different point of view. (The ranch’s horse and wagon tours and trail rides started in 1959 for just $1.25 a trip.)

This summer, the Walkers are upping the adrenaline-fueled ante with the new Mustang Mountain Coaster, situated in the middle of their family ranch. In what owner Cody Rex Walker calls a “horseless trail ride,” guests step into the cart and begin a 750-foot vertical ascent to the top. That’s when gravity takes over (though there’s also a handbrake, so guests can control their speed) as the cart arcs around banked turns, weaving through the ranch’s giant ponderosa pines while offering unparalleled views of Longs Peak and Rocky Mountain National Park. “I really think of it as a $20 view with a free ride,” Walker says. (Riders must be at least three years old and 36 inches tall.)

Palisade Plunge

Grand Junction’s Palisade Plunge. Courtesy of Danylo Jaremczuk

Ready to take the plunge? Palisade’s long-awaited downhill mountain bike trail system, the Palisade Plunge, drops 6,000 feet over 32 miles, making it one of the longest singletrack descents in the country. Riders begin at 10,700 feet on the Grand Mesa, the largest flattop mountain in the world, and look out over a landscape of 300 lakes, the San Juan Mountains, Uncompahgre Plateau, Colorado Monument, and the Book Cliffs. The trail descends through alpine forests and high desert as it drops into the Grand Valley, ending in the town of Palisade. Large swaths of the terrain have been privately managed by cattle ranchers for more than four generations, making this the first time it’s been available for public use. “A lot of what people will see on the trails has never been seen before by recreationists,” says Elizabeth Fogarty, director of Visit Grand Junction. “It hasn’t been accessible.”

Although it’s now open for anyone’s use, Fogarty advises that only advanced and intermediate mountain bikers attempt the route—and intermediate riders should plan to walk more technical sections. “Expert riders are just gonna fly,” she says, “but we encourage people to slow down and take in the views.”

Shady Island River Park

The terms “shady” and “island” have not historically been associated with Colorado, but Gunnison’s newest community project is hoping to change that. Nestled along the Gunnison River, just a mile and a half north of Gunnison itself, Shady Island River Park will bring easier river access, in-stream habitat improvement, and better facilities to boaters, anglers, campers, and more. This year, the new boat ramp and small watercraft (think stand-up paddleboards and kayaks) launch site will be ready for the public. Construction of picnic facilities and 19 first-come, first-served campsites are expected to be completed this year, too, but they won’t open to the public until 2022. Development was supported by roughly $1 million in grants from organizations including Great Outdoors Colorado, the Colorado Department of Transportation, Gunnison County Metropolitan Recreation District, and others.

“We really wanted to put in a park that was sustainable for users and from an environmental perspective,” says Cathie Pagano, director of Gunnison County Community and Economic Development. “We think that it will be a first-class amenity for our residents and visitors to utilize and something that we can all be really proud of as a community.”

Riverfront at Las Colonias Park

SUPing at Riverfront Park. Courtesy of Riverfront at Las Colonias Park

In what’s described as a “lifestyle business park,” the 140-acre Riverfront at Las Colonias Park offers as much for thrill-seekers and outdoor adventurers as it does for foodies, shopaholics, and budding horticulturists. The $30 million, multi-use development—which sits adjacent to downtown Grand Junction along the banks of the Colorado River—includes bike and pedestrian trails, several ponds, Butterfly Lake (great for paddleboarding), a beach, and a boat launch. There’s also a botanical garden and an arboretum on site with retail shops and restaurants in the works. Come fall, a zipline created by Grand Junction–based Bonsai Designs will launch from Eagle Rim Park and extend 1,311 feet across the Colorado River before landing at Butterfly Lake.

More than anything, the development project will bring the town back to its roots. “Grand Junction is named for the junction of two rivers, but we’ve never really had that riverfront community. It hasn’t been an area where people really hung out,” says Cilia Kohn, director of marketing and communications for the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, which is spearheading the effort. “It’s really exciting for us to bring life to an area that we were named after in the first place.”

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