Colorado is a land of great natural diversity and wonder. From the highest mountain peaks to the endless expanse of the eastern plains, this region of the central US boasts a treasure trove of stunning sights and outdoor activities to fuel the explorations of weekend warriors and intrepid adventurers alike. Old timers will tell you that if you flattened all of the land here the state would become larger than Texas and more rugged and wild to boot. With much of that territory being vast wilderness here’s a glimpse of a few hidden gems worthy of pursuit.
Ironton and the Million Dollar Highway
The ghost town of Ironton offers a dramatic glimpse into Colorado’s mining past and provides views that conjure a sci-fi stay on Mars. Nearby Red Mountain gets its otherworldly appearance from large deposits of iron ore making it a great spot for photos to prove the states’ namesake. The 25 mile stretch of US 550 between Ouray and Silverton is dubbed the Million Dollar Highway and full of hair raising turns and off road options. Visit the area in the Fall for stunning Aspen colors and avoid the white-knuckle drive when the snow starts blowing.
Located near Dolores, CO and nestled in the majestic San Juan National Forest, a moderate hike will lead you to the grey-blue waters of the only true geyser in the state. This little known pool won’t provide the epic eruptions you might find in Yellowstone but you won’t find the crowds either and if you hang around for a half hour you’ll likely see it bubble and boil. Fairly unknown but easily accessible, this geo-thermal gem makes for a great afternoon picnic or mini-adventure amongst a multitude of options in the region.
Mesa Verde National Park
Perched on a striking cuesta in the Four-Corners region of the southwest, Mesa Verde is a must see destination and sometimes overlooked National Park. The site is home to an array of cliff-dwellings that show the artistry and ingenuity of the Pueblo people and the thriving civilization they maintained for centuries before mysteriously disappearing around 1140 AD. Ranger guided tours are a must to gain access to the most renown dwellings – Cliff Palace and Balcony House – but there are a number of hiking trails scattered within the park boundaries that lead to other ancient sites that stoke the imagination. Make sure to visit the less frequented Weatherhill Mesa and take the Long House tour to gain a real sense of amazement at what these ancient people were capable of.
The Maroon Bells/Conundrum Hot Springs
Outside of Aspen, CO the Maroon Bells rise up as two crimson tinged monoliths, vividly scraping the deep blue sky above and providing an iconic backdrop for hikers, skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts. One of the most iconic views in Colorado, these two royal 14ers are stunning to say the least. The 8.5 one-way hike to Conundrum Hot Springs leads up an impressive valley through old growth aspen groves. The trail immerges around 11,000’ to a small campground and several hot pools to soak your weary bones under vivid Rocky Mountain stars. A permit is now required for overnight stays at the springs so be sure to reserve a spot ahead of time for your chance at true Colorado adventure.Written by Caleb Summeril