Your Perfect 4-7 Days in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains
What does your dream week look like? Mix and match to create the ultimate vacation.
Paddle on Grand Lake
Colorado’s deepest natural lake sits just west of Rocky Mountain National Park, offering a gorgeous setting for water sports of all kinds. Grand Lake Marina rents pontoons, fishing boats, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards, plus runs chartered lake cruises (glmarina.com). Rocky Mountain Outfitters runs guided fishing trips on Grand Lake (along with other local waterways) and also rents paddleboards (rkymtnoutfitters.com). Mountain Paddlers focuses on kayak rentals and guided trips; target the early morning for the calmest waters (mountainpaddlers.com).
Colorado is packed with river-trip options, from scenic family floats to roiling whitewater rapids. Closest to Estes Park you’ll find the Cache La Poudre River, with options for day or multiday trips through Class II to IV whitewater. The Upper Colorado River (near Kremmling, Keystone, and Breckenridge) offers mostly calm, Class I and II waters, though the stretch through Gore Canyon is much swifter and more advanced. Farther southwest, the Arkansas River near Salida and Buena Vista features moderate to thrilling rapids; the Class III Brown’s Canyon segment is a Colorado classic.
Drive Trail Ridge Road
If you thought the journey to Rocky Mountain National Park was beautiful, just wait until you experience Trail Ridge Road inside the park. Completed in 1933, Trail Ridge Road spans the park from east to west, and links the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake, Colo. The road winds past countless 12,000-foot peaks, high-alpine tundra and some of Rocky Mountain National Park’s best views. The road is closed in winter so call 970-586-1222 for road conditions before you head out.
Climb a Fourteener
The 54 Colorado summits towering higher than 14,000 feet (“Fourteeners” in local parlance) attract hikers and climbers the world over. Many people attempt to collect all 54, which range from simple walk-up mountains to technically challenging mountaineering expeditions. After you’ve spent a few days acclimating to the altitude, choose a peak to tackle and get an early start—you’ll want to be up and back down below treeline before the summer thunderstorms roll in around noon. Beginners should head to 14,060-foot Mt. Bierstadt or state high point Mt. Elbert (the 14,440-foot summit may be the second-tallest in the Lower 48, but it’s a nontechnical hike). Hiking not your thing? You can still reach 14,000 feet by driving up Mt. Evans or Pikes Peak.
Enjoy Nightlife in Denver
Get a city fix in Colorado’s capital, full of restaurants, bars, and sporting events. On Denver’s First Friday Art Walks, dozens of galleries and studios in several neighborhoods keep their doors open late to accommodate a lively roaming party (the classic walk is held in the Santa Fe district, but we also like the River North district’s galleries). For a casual vibe, head to one of the city’s famed microbreweries—try Wynkoop Brewing Company or Great Divide Brewery downtown, or Vine Street Tavern near City Park. Baseball fan? Catch a Rockies game under the lights at Coors Field near downtown.
Go Mountain Biking
Scenic singletrack trails crisscross the mountains all over the state. Some of the best trails near the park are Pole Hill in the nearby Roosevelt National Forest and Hermit Park Open Space. Insider tip: Though the trails within the park are closed to bikes, mountain bikers can cruise the unpaved Fall River Road in spring before the road opens to cars and in fall after it closes. Mountain-biking meccas farther afield include Crested Butte, Kenosha Pass, and the lift-served trails at Breckenridge Ski Resort.
Fly-fish in Steamboat Springs
The Yampa River, which meanders right through this north-central resort town, offers year-round trout fishing for rainbows, browns, Snake River cutthroat, and brookies. Several outfitters run guided fishing trips, float trips, and fishing access on private ranches.