Summer is fast approaching in Colorado, which means outdoor recreation tourism is about to ramp up in a big way. If you're visiting Colorado, here are a few 'rules' that you should follow during your visit.
1. Pack it in, pack it out
Coloradans take pride in their trails and part of that means keeping them clean. When hiking a trail, take extra care to leave it as pretty as you found it. This means packing out all trash, including human waste in some scenarios. Plan ahead by packing some sort of trash bag. Also – don't even leave seemingly 'natural' things like apple cores and banana peels behind. While 'natural', these items aren't natural to the Colorado ecosystem.
2. Stay the trail
It's crucial to stay on the designated trail in Colorado. Not only does this help preserve the area by not disturbing off-trail ecosystems, it also helps hikers avoid unmarked hazards including mine shafts and other areas of heightened risk due to rockfalls, avalanches, and flash flooding. Plus, staying on the trail makes it less likely that a hiker will become lost.
3. Follow mountain driving norms
Stay in the right lane if you're traveling slow. Notice a line of cars behind you? Pull over and let them pass. Don't slow down for photos and always make sure your car is ready for mountain travel prior to hitting the road. Know the forecast prior to planning your trip and pay extra attention to following the speed limits in the tiny towns you pass along the way. Mountain travel can get intense, especially when the snow starts falling. Take it seriously and don't put yourself or others at risk by overestimating your mountain driving abilities.
4. Don't just pitch a tent
Long gone are the days of being able to pitch a tent with little care regarding where it's being pitched. Due to a high demand, many places in Colorado now require reservations to be made for camping, with many spots filling up months ahead of time. This can require a little bit of pre-trip work and requirements can vary greatly from destination to destination. Know before you go!
5. Your dog needs to follow the rules, too
Colorado is known for being a dog-friendly state, but there are still many rules related to pets that are in place. Rules vary depending on the park, restaurant, and trail, with some places banning dogs altogether and others allowing dogs to roam freely. Do your research and plan ahead. If there's a leash law in place, follow it, and always, always pick up your dog's poop and deliver it to a trash can.
6. Stay in control while getting extreme
It's easy to go fast in Colorado, whether you're on skis, two wheels, or driving some sort of off-highway vehicle. While getting up to speed can be quite the rush, it's also important to make sure you're always in control and following proper activity etiquette. Outdoor recreation areas are used by many people in Colorado, meaning that getting out of control can put others at risk. If you're on a snowmobile for the first time, think twice before gunning it. First run of your annual ski trip? Maybe don't start the day by straight-lining down the mountain as you try to hit a new top speed. Have fun, but always be aware of those around you to avoid collisions that can injure others and yourself.
7. Manage your risks and do your research first
Search and rescue teams in Colorado stay very busy throughout the year and the last thing they need to deal with is someone that's made a stupid decision that's put themselves and others at risk. Know your abilities and take safety seriously. Study a trail map, bring plenty of water, and always tell someone where you're headed and when you'll be back. The search and rescue service is great in Colorado and members are always happy to help those in need. However, by planning ahead and making smart decisions, it can help reduce the possibility of a preventable situation pulling resources from other places they could be used.
8. Don't mess around with fire
Colorado is extremely dry and because of this, it's extremely flammable. This means that many regions of the state enact regular fire bans. These bans may mean no campfires, but they may also extend to other behaviors, such as banning cigarette smoking outdoors. It's also worth noting that the bans can vary greatly from place to place. This is yet another reason why it's important to do a little research about the place you're planning to recreate in prior to the day of the trip.
9. Yes, those parking rules apply
Trailhead parking is something that should be taken seriously. While it might not seem like it's a big deal to simply find a makeshift parking spot, this is a bad thing to do for a number of reasons. First, illegal parking at trailheads can limit the space where search and rescue teams can operate. Many search and rescue vehicles are big, requiring a lot of space to maneuver. Parking illegally can make this more difficult, adding time to a very time-sensitive, often life-saving operation. Second, illegal trailhead parking can damage off-road areas. Not only does parking off-road kill grass, it can also change terrain and make current roadways less sustainable. And third, illegal trailhead parking can lead to more rules and regulations that limit access. For example, multiple fourteener summits in Colorado can't be reached at the time this is being published because landowners have had issues with parking and trespassing, among other things. Don't park illegally or this might lead to the area being shut down entirely.
10. Stop with the music
Don't play music out loud while on the trail in Colorado. Not only does this disturb others on the trail, it can also change wildlife patterns in a number of ways from scaring animals away from the trail to making it more difficult for prey to avoid predators. If you like to have music while you hike, toss a headphone in, but leave one ear open to hear what's going on around you, too.
11. Take altitude sickness seriously
If you're coming from a lower elevation, realize that Colorado's high elevation will likely have an impact on how you feel. Give your body time to adjust before participating in a strenuous activity or drinking a lot of booze and never forget to drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated is crucial. You'll thank me later. Learn more about altitude sickness here.
12. Yes, there are still rules about marijuana
While purchasing recreational marijuana is legal in the state of Colorado, some rules do still apply. Don't partake in public spaces and never drive while high. Follow all local rules and restrictions, as these can vary from town to town. If you plan on purchasing marijuana during your visit, ask an employee at the shop about current policies and recommended use.
13. Quit trying to pet the wildlife
There's a bunch of wildlife in Colorado, but it's best observed from a safe distance. Never feed, harass, or attempt to pet a wild animal. Not only are wild animals unpredictable and sometimes dangerous, the more comfortable they get interacting around humans, the greater the chance of a negative interaction. When a negative interaction occurs, it often results in the animal being killed. In other words, leaving food out for the bears might seem innocent, until that bear causes an issue and is euthanized as a result. Do your part to keep Colorado wild.
14. Wear your sunblock
Not so much a rule, moreso crucial guidance – but, wear your sunblock! It's bright here and you'll be getting burnt otherwise. Those goofy goggle tanlines you bring back to the office might be a great conversation starter, but you're prioritizing the health of your body's largest organ – the skin.