What am I most thankful for when it comes to the outdoors? A tough question for anyone living in Colorado.

But I’ll go with Red Mountain in Manitou Springs. It is a humble summit, plenty scenic and mysterious, its crumbled cement foundations recalling a bygone era. You can marvel at Pikes Peak in one direction and gaze at the endless plains in the other.

Yes, in this season of thankfulness, I’m most grateful for the trail I can reach easily from home, always providing a physical strain and mental refresher over the pine-scented course of 2 miles and 1,000 feet.

How might others answer that question? I asked some of the more outdoorsy Coloradans I know. May their responses inspire you to opt for fresh air this holiday.

Lance Benzel, mountain biker, Gazette reporter

Red Rock Canyon in Colorado Springs
Red Rock Canyon Open Space.

What a sinking feeling when snow and ice come for Colorado Springs’ best riding spots, reducing so much glory to a few frozen ghettos, and just when peak fitness has been achieved. It’s a kick in the chamois, sure, but this is mountain biking, and there’s no room for despair. Only new ways of suffering. At Red Rock Canyon Open Space, there’s almost always a reward for suffering.

Colleen Cameron, Women’s Mountain Biking Association board member

Captain Jack's Trail, Colorado. Photo By: Tasha Heilweil.
Captain Jack’s Trail, Colorado. Photo By: Tasha Heilweil.

Cap’n Jacks Trail in North Cheyenne Cañon in Colorado Springs is usually in excellent condition at this time of year, especially if there has already been an early snow. (It) is a fast, flowy downhill with a gratifying luge-like section that always puts a smile on my face when I can ride it without putting a foot down. This trail is guaranteed to provide an exhilarating ride and anticipate a smile plastered across your face the entire time.

Liz Forster, backcountry skier, Gazette reporter

Monarch Pass
Monarch Pass area.

How can a tree be perfect? For a skier, it’s not one tree; it’s a collection of many that somehow grew far enough apart to pass through but close enough to require quick, finessed turns. Yes, you can find them at Breckenridge or Vail or my home mountain, Steamboat. But backcountry skiing on a run dubbed the Perfect Trees on Monarch Pass, there’s no chairlift above or train of people below. It’s calm, quiet, slow.

Stewart Green, Pikes Peak Climbers Alliance

Cove Campground. Elevenmile Canyon. Photo Credit: Stewart M Green - OutThere Colorado.
Cove Campground. Elevenmile Canyon. Photo Credit: Stewart M Green – OutThere Colorado.

The intimate cliffs tucked into Elevenmile Canyon form my favorite climbing area. It’s a glorious place on warm summer days to edge and smear up sunny granite walls to airy perches high above the South Platte River, the dusty canyon road and anglers far below feeding hand-tied flies to the trout. Elevenmile is also away from well-traveled climbing areas, so it’s easy to find solitude, birdsong and a wilderness experience on the rocks.

Andrew Hamilton, mountaineer

Maroon Bells
Maroon Bells

I’m thankful for the Maroon Bells. They were the scene of my spectacular failure in (my) 2014 attempt to break the fourteener speed record, (when) I was injured and couldn’t find my way down in the dark so spent the night shivering on a ledge with my friend. On another climb of South Maroon, I met Andrea, who eventually became my best friend and soul mate. Finally this winter, the Bells were my last difficult challenge of my attempt to climb the fourteeners in a single winter. It was extremely challenging, but I was blown away by the beautiful mountain goats running up and down cliffs.

Alyson Kirk, mountaineer

I am most thankful for Green Mountain in Lakewood. Summer, winter, spring or fall, this is my peak. I have been to its summit 882 times. Sometimes I drive to the trailhead and do the big singletrack loop, and sometimes I run there from my house to the summit and back as a 16-mile run. This peak is great during the day or night. From the summit on a clear night, you can see all of the Denver lights.

Hilaree Nelson, ski mountaineer

Hilaree Nelson on Lhotse Credit Nick Kalisz
Hilaree Nelson on Lhotse. Photo Credit: Nick Kalisz

Bear Creek (in Telluride). This 2-mile trail is the most special place on the planet for me. I’ve carried my babies as infants up and down the trail to calm them and calm myself. I’ve ridden my bike here. I’ve come off this trail bloody from wiping out on one of its many rocks while running. I’ve been ice climbing on the flanks of the path and, most beloved, I’ve skied out this trail hundreds of times. Bear Creek has seen my every mood and my every emotion. Time and time again, it’s offered me solace, it’s listened to my woes and given me a place to think and a place to simply be quiet.

Jennifer Peterson, Rocky Mountain Field Institute executive director

Photo Credit: Matt Enquist.

The Lost Creek Wilderness, just about an hour northwest of Colorado Springs, is my go-to place for adventure and solitude. Nearly 120,000 acres of beauty, geologic diversity, history and exploration at your fingertips. … I’ve been back dozens and dozens of times, backpacking and fly-fishing, hiking and exploring, summiting distant peaks and can’t ever seem to get enough.

Gerry Roach, author of “Colorado’s Fourteeners”

I am often asked the question, “What’s my favorite mountain in the world?” The questioner then steps back expecting a glorious answer like Everest. With the answer, I get replies ranging from silence to, “Huh?” Yes, the 8,144-foot Green Mountain above Boulder. It has everything you need to train for all those other peaks, and you can walk there any time you want. … More important, Green Mountain is home to the Flatirons. There are hundreds of rocks up there, some with 1,000-foot faces that will easily generate the joy of moving over rock, and some with overhangs on their backsides that will challenge the best rock climbers in the world.

Dave Wiens, International Mountain Bicycling Association executive director

Climbing - Hartman Rocks - Western State Colorado University
Climbing at Hartman Rocks. Photo courtesy of Western State Colorado University.

I’m most thankful for the Hartman Rocks area right outside of Gunnison and Crested Butte Mountain Resort 31 miles to the north. I can hop on my mountain bike from our house in town and be riding world-class singletrack within 15 minutes. Likewise, in the winter, I can drive 45 minutes and have access to the best steep terrain skiing at a resort in Colorado. The longer I live here, the more I appreciate the variety, the views and the challenges offered by both of these iconic locations.

Phil Wortmann, Pikes Peak Alpine School

Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak. Photo Credit: Stewart Green.

Flat land refugees like myself are drawn to Pikes Peak’s hazy summit like a talisman. It’s where I learned the difference between the creamy manufactured snow of ski resorts and the unforgiving boilerplate ice that sent me over my snowboard edge and face down a couloir for 500 feet of terror. It was a perfect place for me to look between established climbing routes and venture up faces without direction and have faith that I would somehow find a way to the top. I’ve been fortunate to climb scarier and steeper mountains in bigger ranges, but my hometown mountain will always be my favorite place to find adventure.

Sharon Wright, angler

I am most grateful for the small stream stretch of the upper South Platte River that flows east of Fairplay, through the Tomahawk State Wildlife Area. This is a classic, beautiful small stream that meanders through a broad valley, with easy access and limited crowds. You probably won’t catch a 24-inch trout in this stream, but there are numerous colorful trout, always eager in the warmer months to take a dry fly.

Spencer McKee, OutThere Colorado

Spencer McKee Narrows Longs Peak
Here’s a shot of me taken by my partner on the Narrows section of the climb. As you can see, the path gets pretty narrow, and there’s a big drop.

If there’s one spot I’m most grateful for around Colorado, it’s Longs Peak. Nestled in near view of much of the Northern Front Range, it has a way of beckoning urbanites into a world of adventure that’s so different from the one they live in day-to-day. Longs is a constant reminder of what’s out there and waiting for those willing to take a break from hectic city life. Plus, climbing it is an amazing and unforgettable experience, so that helps.

What Colorado thing are you thankful for? Let us know in the comments.

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