I mean, we love barreling down an untracked bowl of fresh powder as much as the next person, but Oh Colorado in late summer! All that snow melts away, filling the streams and rushing off overhangs to uncover Colorado’s true hidden gems. In most years this would mean backpacking for us – Maroon Bells or Chicago Basin or even RMNP – but this year we decided to treat ourselves. The family would have beds every night.
It’s not hard to find adventure in the Centennial State but it can be a challenge to do it affordably in the middle of peak summer season. This led us to think about some of those second tier mountain towns, with just as much action but fewer Hollywood action stars than Vail or Aspen or Telluride. Our main destinations were Glenwood Springs, Crested Butte, Ouray and Buena Vista in a big sprawling loop through Colorado mountain country.
Our road trip would take us far from the bustle of the Denver sprawl and deep into the land of 14’ers, one of which we were planning to attempt. The peak of Mt. Sneffels, looming fourteen thousand feet over the Uncompaghre River Valley, would become our ultimate destination.
The itinerary, planned to fit into one very action-packed week (Sun-Sun):
Day 1: Fly, drive from Denver Airport to Glenwood Springs and go climbing at Rifle Mountain Park
Day 2: Hike the Hanging Lake Trail in Glenwood Springs, stop in quirky little Marble for lunch and land in Crested Butte after driving the gorgeous Kebler Pass
Day 3: Hike the Scarp Ridge, a gorgeous high elevation route that tops out on Mt. Emmons above Crested Butte
Day 4: Hit the Skyland Boulders in CB early then transition to Ouray via Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Day 5: Enjoy a rest day looking up at Ouray’s vertical box canyon from a couple of rooftop bars
Day 6: Hike/scramble Mount Sneffels (14,157′) via the 3rd class southwest ridge route
Day 7: Start the journey back to Denver via Buena Vista, another sweet little mountain town with a plethora of climbing options and a sweet whitewater park
Day 8: Drive back to Denver International and fly home
Elevation is a real concern when heading to Central CO and the stop in Glenwood Springs (5,761′) will give your body a little chance to acclimate before heading up to Crested Butte at 9,000′. Consider staying another day or two at this middle elevation if you’ve had issues with elevation in the past.
Now you might be thinking this sounds like a lot for vacation. Or maybe you’re not so into climbing (or hiking). As an alternative, simply drop the climbing and/or hiking outings and you’ll have a lot more time to find that perfect microbrew! For us, half of the family did everything and half enjoyed the hikes and more time in town.
For those seeking a true multi-sport adventure, it’s hard to beat the density of high quality hiking, climbing and whitewater in this area. For climbers, Rifle Mountain Park near Glenwood Springs claims North America’s best hard-grade limestone climbing, with some quality easier routes for beginners too. We found the Skyland Boulders in Crested Butte to be spectacular, where the wide range of boulders sit in a gorgeous aspen grove. The Southwest Ridge of Mount Sneffels offers legit 3rd and a bit of 4th class scrambling, where a rope is not needed but you will get a serious dose of high elevation exposure. Some climbing experience is recommended for this route.
For those more interested in hiking, this week’s line-up offers a small/medium/large progression starting with the 1.2 mile Hanging Lake Trail (2.4m round-trip). This might not sound like much until you learn that the trail climbs 1,200 feet over that distance. This trail is rugged but well travelled and ends at a spectacular waterfall above enchanting Hanging Lake:
The ‘medium’ hike climbs to the Scarp Ridge above Crested Butte. Once you reach the ridge, this dramatic exposed trail stays around 12,000 feet for most of it’s length:
The last hike in the progression is Mount Sneffels itself. If you don’t feel comfortable scrambling up the Southwest Ridge try the standard southern route which, while steep and talus-covered, requires little in the way of exposed climbing movements.
Keep an eye out for more details on these Colorado adventures in the Yonderlust app – with planning guidance, food & lodging suggestions, daily itineraries, maps and more!