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Walk the Line

This is part of a weekly series, published fresh on Thursday mornings.

While it resembles something seen in a galaxy far, far away, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is just about a four-hour drive from Denver. Scientists believe a combination of volcanic eruption, lake erosion, and sediment carried from the mountains formed the dunes, which are exhilarating to hike and sandboard. Bonus: Read more about hiking the dunes here. —Derek Kessinger

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Walk The Line

Telluride’s via ferrata offers an aerial hiking thrill unlike anything you’ve experienced.  

—Photo by Brett Schreckengost

In a state known for adventures in high places, Telluride owns Colorado’s most vertiginous hike. The “Krogerata” (named after longtime Telluride resident Chuck Kroger) is the Centennial State’s first recognized “via ferrata,” a path along the side of a cliff—in this case, a two-mile round-trip trek in the town’s spectacular box canyon—where ladder rungs serve as hand- and footholds. (Via ferrata means “iron way” in Italian.) Once a locals-only secret, it’s slowly gained popularity in the past few years; the U.S. Forest Service has also started providing permits to guides. We asked Josh Butson, owner of San Juan Outdoor Adventures, one of the guiding services leading hikes along the route, what you need to know to walk where only rock climbers have stepped before.

Gear Up

The most important piece of gear you’ll wear—along with a climbing harness, helmet, and hiking boots—is a via ferrata safety lanyard. These shock-absorbing tethers connect your harness to cables strung along most of the route to protect you in case of a slip. They come in pairs so that one tether remains connected to the safety cable as you move the other to the next rung.

Entrance Exam

After scrambling up a gravel hill, you reach the first ledges. Be forewarned: You’re tiptoeing above a sheer drop of at least 200 feet almost immediately. It’s tempting to hug the rock wall on your right, but that can lead to a slip. “Keep your body vertical and your weight over your feet,” Butson says. “Don’t try to lean into the slope.”

Hanging Forest

The via ferrata traverses the southwest face of 12,785-foot Ajax Peak, a Telluride landmark. Some of the route—in places, the path is less than six inches wide—follows old mining trails, with rusty cables and broken wooden structures along the way. Crossing a grove of old-growth firs on a broad ledge feels like regular hiking, not airy rock scrambling. But you’ll know this isn’t a typical day when you pass a sign warning hikers to beware of kicking rocks onto climbers below the trail.

The Main Event

After a quick rest on Kroger’s Bench, a handcrafted memorial to Chuck Kroger (the route’s chief architect and builder), comes the wildest stretch of the via ferrata: The route cuts along a towering rock buttress, where you’ll have several hundred feet of air under your feet. It’s like shuffling along a ledge outside a skyscraper. At the crux, you’ll be swinging from rung to rung like a kid on monkey bars.

Tree Hugger

Guides recommend hiking out and back on the route to avoid entering private property and having to shuttle cars. This means squeezing past other hikers—an interesting proposition at a section such as the Tree Hugger, a tight shuffle between a gnarly fir and the rock wall. Your reward: stellar views of 365-foot-tall Bridal Veil Falls.

If You Go

When: Weather-dependent; typically June to September
Ages: 12 and older
Cost: $300 per person for full-day guided trips (less if your group is larger), including necessary gear and lunch
Wear: Hiking clothes, securely tied sneakers or hiking boots, and a small pack for rain gear and water
More Info: San Juan Outdoor Adventures, 970-728-4101,