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Hiking, biking, climbing, skiing, snowboarding, paddleboarding, trail running…sure, these are all terrific ways to explore Colorado’s wild places. They’re also terrific ways to wear yourself, and your joints, ragged. What if there were an easier way to get out there? What if you could catch a ride into the backcountry?
Thanks to adventure outfitters from Twin Lakes to Cañon City, you can. Trains, 4x4s, trams, pontoon boats, rafts, ziplines, and hot air balloons are standing by, waiting for the next passenger to get on board—so leave the trekking poles behind with a little help from these six operators that provide all the moving pieces for your next adventure.
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You may have looked down into 1,200-foot-deep Royal Gorge from above—but what would it be like to be inside it? Find out on the Royal Gorge Route Railroad, whose classic train—which includes refurbished cars like the 1949 Loco 403, an EMD F7 diesel-electric locomotive—follows the Arkansas River on a 1970s rail line toward Leadville’s once-rich silver mines. You’ll glide through the canyon and enjoy dramatic views of the inner gorge’s rugged terrain, bighorn sheep, and daring rafters. Choose from Coach or Deluxe Class, or purchase a ticket for the Vista Dome, which has comfy booth seating and curving overhead windows. The train runs year-round and departs up to four times daily for breakfast, lunch, and afternoon rides (all 1.5 to 2 hours long) as well as dinner trips (2.5 to 3 hours long), with food and drinks available from the on-train 403 Grill. You can also book a ticket on the First Class Dinner Train for a full meal and an included glass of bubbly.
Have you ever wanted to see where that dirt road leads but feared your Subaru wasn’t up to the terrain? With a borrowed ride from Rocky Mountain Jeep Rentals, you can hit the mild trails, the wild trails, and the backcountry trails you didn’t even know existed. While this is not a guided tour—you have to drive yourself (and really, that’s part of the fun)—the outfitter’s employees are trained to recommend the best 4WD trails around gorgeous Salida for your interests and abilities. This is the land of fourteeners like Mt. Shavano, hot springs, ghost towns, and sky-high mountain passes, and you can reach them without even owning a pair of hiking boots.
The Elk Mountains surrounding Aspen boast maroon cliffs, lush forests, and wildflower-strewn meadows in the summer and crisp white snow in the winter—and you’ll have an eagle’s-eye view of it all from your gondola as it climbs above 11,000 feet. Whether you head up Aspen Mountain on the Silver Queen Gondola or Snowmass Mountain on the Elk Camp Gondola, mountaintop restaurants let you make it a half-day adventure. Kids three and under ride free, and for every adult Sightseeing Package purchased ($41), you get one free pass for children ages four to 12. Ride times vary from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., so you’ll have plenty of daylight to ogle the mountainscape.
Find yourself far from shore without so much as dipping a paddle into the wide bodies of water that give this historical town its name. South of Leadville, on the east side of Independence Pass, pristine Twin Lakes is surrounded by the highest peaks in the state, including Mt. Elbert. Enjoy the wooded mountainsides and glassy lakes on a leisurely pontoon cruise while your guide describes the area’s colorful history and geography. (Did you know that the town of Twin Lakes was once an important transportation site between Aspen and Leadville, and known as “the most charming summer resort in Colorado?”) Boat rides last about an hour and 45 minutes, including a stop at the 19th-century Interlaken resort, where mining magnates once enjoyed their own version of backcountry luxury.
AVA Rafting & Zipline offers splashy, zoomy adventures all over Colorado, and one of our favorite rafting locations, Clear Creek near Idaho Springs, is just 45 minutes west of Denver. There, river guides can design hourslong or multiday trips suited to your group’s comfort and skill level, from lazy floats to white water blasts. If that still sounds like too much work, take to the sky. Idaho Springs’ Cliffside Zipline does require a 10-minute uphill hike, but once you reach the first platform, you’ll spend the rest of your time zipping past rock faces, through tall trees, and across the backcountry mountains above Chicago Creek and Idaho Springs. Staging platforms are built into natural cliffs and trees—not perched on artificial poles—so you feel like you’re a world away from civilization.
From June through September, Rainbow Ryders Hot Air Balloon Ride Co. will take you up, up and far away from the vantage points you’re used to on sunrise rides over Colorado Springs. Its FAA-certified balloon pilots safely guide your group (a fleet of 39 balloons of various sizes ensures the perfect fit for your party) during 45- to 60-minute flights, rising a couple of thousand feet to where air currents and the pilot’s skill determine your route. Glorious views of Pikes Peak and the Garden of the Gods are guaranteed, however, and don’t worry about getting lost: A chase vehicle follows the flight to its landing zone and returns you to your own vehicle. Commemorate your journey with a complimentary toast and flight certificate.