We’re all about extreme here in Colorado.
Many people live or come here to visit our lofty mountains, raging rivers, and deep powder snow – all of which, compared to most other places in America, may be considered quite extreme. Then there are man-made adventures—from climbing walls and ziplines to high-altitude bridges that penetrate the Rockies. So, if you can’t find something intense to do here– something to get your heart pumping and maybe put a little fear in your soul–you’re just not trying hard enough.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of ways to pursue adventure in Colorado. Each is rated on a scale of one to five screaming emoji; one being suitable for all ages and five being something you’ll want to bring along your health insurance card.
Ride a scenic train (rating: 1 scream)
Railroads helped to build Colorado and connect isolated mining towns. These days most remaining tracks are for outdoors-loving visitors, who can experience the mountains the old-fashioned way without worrying about having to drive. All the better to take in the gorgeous views.
More information: https://www.colorado.com/articles/complete-guide-colorado-train-trips
Explore a cave (rating: 1 to 3 screams)
The geologic forces that formed the Rockies left behind subterranean labyrinths, and one of the most popular is Cave of the Winds outside Colorado Springs. You can take the family on the Discovery Tour with a half-mile of walking (1 scream), take the Lantern Tour to explore deeper into the dark (2 screams) or become a spelunker on the Caving 101 tour (3 screams.) Once you’re back in the open air you can also get a little adrenaline on their zipline (4 screams.)
More information: https://caveofthewinds.com/
If history is more your cup of tea, the nearby Manitou Cliff Dwellings are a realistic facsimile of the ancestral Puebloan cities that dotted the Southwest a millennium ago, though not here in Manitou. The houses were brought rock by rock from the desert.
More information: https://www.cliffdwellingsmusuem.com
(Editor’s note: At press time, certain restrictions were in place for the caves and ruins. Please check current openings before you head out.)
Seven Falls (rating: 1 scream)
This popular tourist destination in the canyons above Colorado Springs has been called “Colorado’s Grandest Mile” for the waterfalls that cascade down from Pikes Peak in steep, narrow canyons. The hike to explore them is exhilarating and the views incomparable.
More information: https://www.broadmoor.com/broadmoor-adventures/seven-falls
Dog-sledding (rating: 1 scream)
Experience Colorado’s snowy mountains, Eskimo-style, by booking a dog-sledding trip. You’ll tear through the snow on a bumpy sled at breakneck speed, pulled by a pack of dogs that love nothing more to run. (Imagine what it must be like for the Iditarod racers who spend up to 15 days doing this. Imagine how sore their bottoms must be!) Many mountain towns have commercial dog-sledding companies. One of the nearest to the Pikes Peak region is Monarch Dog Sled Rides, where you can take a tour of the gorgeous valleys along the Continental Divide. Most tours are an hour or less, though there are other options. For example, Grizzle-T Dog and Sled Works offers a longer 12-mile trip. Or you can dog-sled by headlamp under the stars at Durango Dog Ranch.
Hike an easy fourteener (rating: 2 screams)
Colorado has more peaks that rise above 14,000 feet than any other state in the Lower 48, and conquering these mountains is one of the state’s most popular summer activities. Some are steep, jagged and dangerous, that require helmets, ropes and other mountaineering gear. Fortunately, many others are simple walk-ups from trailheads accessible to any vehicle. “Easy” is a relative term, since you’ll still have to slog up for a few thousand feet in the thin air, exposed to afternoon thunderstorms. But once you reach the summit, you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world. Some of the best beginner fourteeners include Mount Sherman, Mount Bierstadt and Quandary Peak. No matter how high you climb, remember to bring snacks, good boots, lots of water and weather for all four seasons. Always get an early start, because nobody wants to be up above timberline when the summer thunderstorms hit.
More information: https://www.14ers.com
Royal Gorge Bridge (rating: 2 screams)
This scenic bridge in Canon City is the highest suspension bridge in the world, spanning a dizzying gorge with the Arkansas River nearly 1,000 feet below. There are also ziplines, a roller coaster and many other attractions. For a true rush, book a rafting trip and see the gorge from the churning whitewater below (4 screams.) There are many rafting guiding companies located in Canon City from which to choose.
Sandboarding at the Great Sand Dunes (rating: 2 screams)
The highest sand dunes in North America are located right here in southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, where the wind blows sand up against the jagged wall of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. There are many ways to enjoy this natural wonder, but the most daring way is on a sandboard. It’s similar to snowboarding, but on a board designed specifically to glide down sand. Normal sleds and snowboards won’t work; it takes a special design and wax. You can rent boards at several businesses in the San Luis Valley.
More information: https://www.nps.gov/grsa/planyourvisit/sandboardingsandsledding.htm
Snowmobiling (rating: 3 screams)
For eight months of the year, much of Colorado’s high country is buried in snow and inaccessible to all but the hardiest adventurers. While you can ski or snowshoe for miles, snowmobiling provides less effort and better views. Today’s powerful snowmobiles can rip through both deep powder and groomed trails, and you don’t have to shell out thousands of dollars to try it. Many mountain towns have commercial snowmobile companies, where you can take a guided tour or explore the mountains on your own. Cottonwood Pass, the Leadville area, Vail Pass and Rabbit Ears Pass near Steamboat offer some of the best riding. Dress warm and don’t forget a camera.
More information: https://www.colorado.com/activities/snowmobiling
Indoor rock-climbing (rating: 3 screams)
If you’ve never experienced what it’s like to defy gravity with just a piece of rope between you and a long fall, then visit a climbing gym. With climbing routes of all difficulties, you can navigate a giant wall with the aid of artificial hand and foot-holds and experience a safe version of what it’s like to climb the rugged cliffs of the Rockies. City Rock in Colorado Springs is a great place to give it a try. There’s even an alcoholic bar if you need a little boost of courage.
More information: https://climbcityrock.com
Ride a mountain roller coaster (rating 3 screams)
You don’t need skis or a bike to experience the thrill of soaring down the mountains. Amusement-park style rides abound across Colorado where you can feel the wind rush by while your stomach drops out. Cave of the Winds has a unique plunging experience at the Terror-Dactyl. Your shrieks will echo across the canyon. You can also visit one of several ski resorts that have built roller-coasters that operate year-round. Copper Mountain, Breckenridge, Steamboat and Purgatory are among the resorts where you can rock and roll.
More information: https://caveofthewinds.com/tours-and-adventures/
Whitewater rafting (rating: 4 screams)
Many of the West’s major rivers begin in Colorado, fed by snowmelt as they rush downhill through steep canyons; the Colorado, Arkansas, and Rio Grande generously supply much of the drinking water for the Southwest and Great Plains. They also offer a thrilling whitewater rafting experience. The Arkansas is the most popular, with legendary rafting runs like The Numbers, Browns Canyon and The Royal Gorge. Make sure you have a professional guide who knows the river and can safely navigate past the rocks and waterfalls. Many commercial outfitters are available throughout the state.
More information: https://www.croa.org
Outdoor rock-climbing (rating: 4 screams)
Once you’ve “learned the ropes” in a climbing gym it’s time to try it out on the real thing. Scaling sheer cliffs and scrambling up boulders in the pristine mountains is a unique experience, but it can also be a very dangerous, so first-timers may consider a professionally guided trip. The Pikes Peak region has several outfitters to supply you with the gear and know-how to conquer gravity safely. You can also experience the new Via Ferrata at Cave of the Winds, which will have you navigating cliffs hundreds of feet above the canyon floor while safely latched onto supports.
Zip-lining (rating: 4 screams)
Soaring hundreds of feet above the rocky ground is a great way to enjoy Colorado and defy gravity at the same time. There are dozens of zipline companies around the state where you can get such a thrill. You’ll be harnessed to a cable and led by knowledgeable guides and make memories for the whole family. Three great locations on the Front Range are Castle Rock Adventure Park and Adventures Out West (in Manitou Springs.) You can also experience the wonder of Seven Falls from above on their zipline course.
More information: Castle Rock Adventure Park, https://castlerockziplinetours.com/; Adventures Out West https://www.broadmoor.com/broadmoor-adventures/soaring-adventures/soaring-tickets-and-hours
Downhill mountain-biking (rating: 4 screams)
Most people come to Colorado’s ski areas for the snow, but from June (sometimes July) through October (sometimes September) many lifts spin for the pleasure of mountain-bikers. Imagine
experiencing all the joy of cruising downhill through the Rockies without the effort of biking miles uphill. It’s an adrenaline rush to rival skiing, especially if you own or rent a full-suspension bike, which will absorb the rocks like a tank. Ski areas that offer summer biking include Crested Butte, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Granby Ranch, Keystone, Purgatory, Snowmass, Steamboat, Telluride, Vail and Winter Park.
Bungee-jumping (rating: 5 screams)
It doesn’t get more extreme than this: Leaping off a cliff or bridge with only an elastic cord to stop you from crumpling in a heap on the ground. You can do it safely at one of several commercial operations around Colorado. The most famous is at the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, where you can plummet 1,200 feet above the Arkansas River. Or try the Glenwood Canyon Adventure Park, a 1,300-foot drop. Stay in downtown Denver and ride the Slingshot at amusement park Elitch Gardens. Bring an adult diaper.
More information: https://royalgorgebridge.com/rides-attractions/royal-rush-skycoaster/
Ice climbing (rating: 5 screams)
If you’ve ever looked at a frozen waterfall and thought, “I wonder what it’s like to climb that,” then head to Ouray in southwest Colorado, the ice-climbing capital of the West. The Ouray Ice Park is a man-made ice-climbing mecca, with more than 100 named routes, formed by water dripping from a pipe. It’s located in a stunning box canyon that will take your breath away at the bottom and awe you senseless at the top. If you’re new to the sport, take a lesson because ice does not forgive mistakes.
More information: http://ourayicepark.com/
Four-wheel drive the Alpine Loop (rating: 5 screams)
The San Juan Mountains are Colorado’s largest mountain range, and within them is Colorado’s greatest four-wheeling adventure. The Alpine Loop is a legendary 63-mile loop between Lake City, Ouray and Silverton. You’ll drive rough roads past mining ghost towns and traverse mountain passes through mountains so steep they’re known as the “American Alps.” If you don’t have a four-wheel-drive, high-clearance vehicle you can rent one in any of the aforementioned towns. The roads are closed in winter and muddy through early summer.
More information: https://www.codot.gov/travel/scenic-byways/southwest/alpine-loop
And there you have it. There’s no excuse for having a boring vacation – or even a boring afternoon – in the great state of Colorado.