Colorado fourteeners among your 2019 resolutions? Go ahead, join the masses.
Here, we aim to point you off the beaten path. Carry this bucket list with you into the new year:
1. The Beavers and Steep Gullies
Arapahoe Basin has been waiting many years for this moment. Last season, in a less-than-ideal snow season, the ski area provided a taste of what was to come. Now A-Basin is set to roll out the full 468 acres of The Beavers and Steep Gullies. If you’ve got the skills, you can be the first to experience the terrain taking the modest area to a new level.
The Beavers, to be accessed by a new four-person chairlift, boasts a high-alpine bowl and rolling glades — the marketing team is calling it some of the best tree skiing in Summit County. Two intermediate groomers, Loafer and Davis, will be introduced this year.
You’ll have to be willing to hike back — only about 20 or 30 minutes to the bottom of the Pallavicini lift, operators say — and wield double-black diamond mettle to take on the Steep Gullies. Early reviews from last year say the chutes put A-Basin on par with some of the state’s fiercest mountains, such as Crested Butte and Telluride.
When to go: Terrain opening to be announced, possibly as early as this month or next.
2. McInnis Canyons
One of Colorado’s three national conservation areas, this 123,000-acre paradise is beloved by those who flipped the script of nearby Fruita, a town on the brink of collapse-turned-cycling capital. The Kokopelli Trail has become a mountain biking rite of passage, while hiking- and horseback-only trails also encompass the area’s sprawling network. McInnis Canyons is a great getaway for off-roaders, too.
All will want a high-clearance, four-wheel drive, especially if one is wanting to reach North America’s second-highest concentration of natural arches. Rattlesnake Arches hide in a portion of McInnis that was once almost claimed by the bordering Colorado National Monument. The road to the geological wonders can be accessed through the monument’s gates, but do your research and be prepared for the journey.
On our visit earlier this year, we kept it simple, snagging a campsite near a ledge overlooking the Colorado River. Splitting the canyon’s red walls, the water complements the far-reaching mosaic of sage and mesas.
When to go: Spring is busy season. Hot in the summer, but smaller crowds.
3. Hartman Rocks
Gunnison’s tourism office declares it “one of western Colorado’s best-kept secrets.” That’s becoming less true as more mountain bikers add Hartman Rocks to the top of their itineraries — and for good reason. The 8,000 acres are a singletrack feast.
Locals say they can spend a lifetime on the saddle without discovering every bump and chute in the splendid playground, designed by riders, for riders. Hikers might not get much of a kick, though The Ridge is known as a fun scramble, and the views of the Elk and San Juan mountains are lovely. And everyone can enjoy a night here under a frothy sky. Stick to campsites designated by the Bureau of Land Management.
By day, riders flow through sagebrush and shoot down rock guts. There’s something for all levels, but thrill-seekers go for Josho’s, one of the faster options, and the shreddy Rattlesnake. The recently cut Graceland and Aberdeen loops are gentler tours through riparian sectors.
When to go: Late spring through fall
4. Dixon, Lake Moraine trails
The Pikes Peak region’s two most anticipated trails of the decade opened in 2018. Cheyenne Mountain finally has a summiting path with the Dixon Trail, the dream of the state park since it was established along Colorado 115 in 2006. And Colorado Springs’ trusted mountain biking advocates with nonprofit Medicine Wheel were pleased to announce the Lake Moraine Trail, otherwise known as the Missing Link, touring unrealized swaths of America’s Mountain.
If you didn’t get around to the trails before winter, 2019 is the time to do it. You’ll need the better part of the day for each and, along with that, the proper mindset and fitness.
The out-and-back round trip on Cheyenne Mountain, starting from the Limekiln parking lot, runs about 15 miles and collects upwards of 3,000 feet in elevation. The Dixon Trail is hiking-only, while cyclists are likely to be the majority of users on the Lake Moraine Trail. The “link” itself is about 4 miles, but users must account for the distance to either of its two ends: Jones Park in North Cheyenne Cañon and across from Mountain View off Barr Trail.
When to go: Summer, fall
5. Crested Butte wildflowers
One of Colorado’s most enchanting mountain towns is all the more so in July. That’s when flora mecca Crested Butte hosts its annual wildflower festival.
The celebration encourages you to “surround yourself in the symphony” of surrounding hills and meadows. A unique soil type here is credited for storing water and nutrients that let flowers grow bright.
So mark your calendar for July 5-14, the week locals will devote to nature’s miracle, showing visitors to some of the most vibrant landscapes. You can register at crestedbuttewildflowerfestival.com.
Or, if wanting to enjoy the serenity on your own, eye any of the Crested Butte trails named for the displays you can expect: The Lupin Trail runs 5 miles round trip, with the Columbine Trail slightly shorter. Great variety blooms along the Schofield Pass 5-mile loop.
But maybe 2019 is the year for that required pilgrimage over West Maroon Pass, an epic trip covering 11 miles between Crested Butte and Aspen.
When to go: Best viewing typically late June through early August.
6. Lone Eagle Peak at Crater Lake
The impossibly regal mountain over deep-green water calls crowds to its glacier-formed corner of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. It stands to represent our wilderness problem. Crews cleaned up 450 illegal fire rings here in 2017, the ranger overseeing this backcountry told us.
So do us all a favor: Be respectful of this recommendation. In Lone Eagle’s gaze are 12 campsites typically reserved well in advance of summer. They are first-come, first-served by mid- to late-September.
The Cascade Trail is aptly-named for the waterfalls along the way, amid the mixed woods and stream-fed meadows beneath soaring promontories. To do the 15-mile round trip in a day, stay the night in nearby Granby or Winter Park or at a campground along the road to the trailhead at Monarch Lake. You’ll want to start the arduous trek early.
When to go: Summer, fall
7. Wheeler Geologic Area
Hiding in a widely untrammeled valley near 11,500 feet, the place has defied description. “Hauntingly beautiful” is one way to put it, a sandy collection of volcano-formed spires, bunched and rising to ashy tips, like a Crayola box set. It’s bizarre enough to have been called “The Gnome City.” Though mythical appearing, creatures don’t linger in Wheeler Geologic Area — including human beings, who don’t often venture to the remote outcroppings.
Once, in the wagon days, the site was considered one of Colorado’s top tourist attractions, second only to Pikes Peak. President Theodore Roosevelt made it the state’s first national monument in 1908. But that designation didn’t last, as management wasn’t feasible in such a wild realm. As automobiles and pavement boomed, the area fell out of favor.
But for those who like their adventures on the rugged side, Wheeler Geologic Area should be high on the bucket list. In a Jeep or ATV, start on the gravel Pool Table Road, 2 miles east of Creede, 24 miles from South Fork. The road climbs about 10 miles to the old sawmill called Hanson’s Mill, where begins Forest Road 600, the gnarly four-wheel drive.
The narrow, rutted path stretches only 14 miles to the formations, but South Fork’s visitor center says to be prepared for a bumpy, three-hour trip. Before you go, check road conditions by calling Creede’s ranger district at 719-658-2556.
Others backpack in on East Bellows Trail, listed as No. 790, one of several lengthy foot paths to the site. Research your options at the Forest Service website: bit.ly/2EIQeyZ
When to go: Accessible as early as May and as late as September.
8. Alpine Loop
The way to Colorado heaven is the Alpine Loop. The 63-mile drive is a real-life fantasy, touring mining history, pristine forests, unspoiled valleys and treeless tundra above 12,000 feet. San Juan mountain majesty spans as far as the eye can see.
Engineer Pass is the highest point, with another popular stop being wildflower-splashed American Basin. Get a map and pick your route. But first, pick your starting point between the loop’s three bases: Lake City, Ouray and Silverton, all with outfitters renting ATVs and Jeeps.
When to go: Snow-free and accessible between June and September
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