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Your 2018 Colorado adventure bucket list, with many destinations awaiting discovery

January 1, 2018 Updated: January 2, 2018 at 12:33 pm
Caption +
Hikers make their way into Chicago Basin with 14,042 foot Windom Peak at center left in the background. Chicago Basin is deep in the San Juan Mountains and is most easily accessed by riding the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and being dropped off at the Needleton stop. Mark Reis photo (note, I've avoided a date reference because these photos were not taken on David Philipps' trip in 2003 but were taken by Mark on a trip in a different year - hopefully that's OK)

Don't let another year end with you wishing to have spent more time in Colorado's great outdoors.

The choices are limitless, but don't be overwhelmed. The key is to make a checklist.

We hope you'll find this one useful heading into 2018, whether you're a native or a newbie:

Catch yurt fever

In case you haven't heard, "glamping" is in, and at the heart of the fad is the yurt. More and more are coming to Colorado's tourism industry. Here are two recommendations:

◘ Spanning 71,000 acres in the state's northwest mountains, State Forest State Park is an underappreciated gem with several groomed and ungroomed trails for winter adventure. Eight yurts can be reserved through Never Summer Nordic (970-723-4070,

◘ A more expensive ($240 a night) and more luxurious option (a gourmet meal in the snowy mountains) would be Tennessee Pass Nordic Center, Cookhouse and Sleep Yurts. Outside Leadville, cross-country ski or snowshoe to your meal and your yurt, enjoying sweeping vistas along the way.

When to go: Winter/early spring

Ski with Olympic royalty

America's first man to win a medal in alpine skiing in 1964 is alive and well. Indeed, Billy Kidd is skiing almost every day of Steamboat Resort's season. And he wants you to join him.

No guarantees he's there - he travels quite a bit - but often at 1 p.m., he's at the top of the gondola, ready to greet you with tips and stories. Good luck keeping up with him down the intermediate Heavenly Daze run.

When to go: Winter/early spring

Behold the dunes

The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is no secret. Still, if you haven't been, make 2018 the year. It is a true western oddity, a sci fi-like scene where huge waves of sand meet sparkling waters and snow-capped peaks. Less than a three-hour drive from Colorado Springs, take a day to boogie board the dunes - running down is also a thrill - or camp out and see the stars as you've never seen them before.

When to go: Summer/fall/spring

Soak on the wild side

Also in the San Luis Valley but not nearly as well known as is Valley View Hot Springs. A year in Colorado's natural places is not complete without a dip in its geothermal waters, and this is the enchanting place go.

Unlike more developed setups across the state, these mossy ponds up in the woods certainly feel natural. They're perched high on a mountainside with wide, open views of the valley floor. Clothing optional at all times.

When to go: All seasons

Bag a 13er

Usually the term "bagging" is reserved for the state's highest summits above 14,000 feet. But why not buck the trend in favor of slightly lower peaks that are sometimes just as glorious and challenging? We propose a trip that will earn you a pair of thirteeners in Colorado's premier outdoor hub:

Drive almost 7 miles on Rocky Mountain National Park's lesser-loved but incredibly scenic Old Fall River Road, parking near the Chapin Creek trailhead. You'll steeply ascend to Mount Chapin, then follow the trail on to the tops of mounts Chiquita and Ypsilon, both above 13,000 feet. At the end of an 8-mile round trip, you also can say you got some of the best panoramic vistas RMNP has to offer.

When to go: Summer/fall

Stay in mountain heaven

Even if you're not feeling up to the task of fourteeners Mount Eolus and Windom and Sunlight peaks, we implore you to venture to the camping outpost they share. The Chicago Basin is a lush haven that you'll want to stay in at least a couple of nights.

Hop on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad train (craft beer is served on board) and depart halfway at the Needleton stop. Backpack about 7 miles to paradise.

When to go: Summer/early fall

Achieve riding glory

Assuming you're well-traveled on your mountain bike - as it goes for Colorado's singletrack addicts - we offer three must-hit destinations, hoping you have yet to get at least one under your belt:

- 18 Road in Fruita, mixing in nearby Kokopelli and Rabbit Valley trail systems

- Phil's World near Cortez, mixing in Durango's Hermosa Creek Trail

- Oil Well Flats system near Cañon City

When to go: Summer/fall

Discover hidden Colorado

A dirt path behind a nondescript fence off U.S. 287 leads to a rare, wild place that is off the radar of explorers. About 30 miles northwest of Fort Collins is the Phantom Canyon Preserve. "How does this even exist?" a Nature Conservancy supervisor asked during our visit in 2017, as she stood above a verdant floor where a river ran and the views of granite walls joined those of the distant Mummy Range.

Access is limited to one of the state's last roadless canyons. Go to the Conservancy's website for scheduled field trips in the summer: Email or call 970-484-9996.

When to go: Summer

Experience another side of Pikes Peak

Many interested parties are still waiting their turn to enter a pristine quadrant of America's Mountain. The South Slope Recreation Area opened in 2014 after a century-old gate was lifted, and city parks continues to issue a select number of permits for summer weekends.

The word is out among anglers scoring big trout in Mason Reservoir, and more hikers and mountain bikers are raving about the trails around the secluded chain of lakes. For information on registration, visit the area's webpage:

When to go: Open Memorial Day through Labor Day

Raft remote waters

People from around the world come to Colorado for rafting trips. We as residents should seek less famous rapids, such as those on the Dolores River.

Few can say they've ventured the majestic stretch through sandstone cliffs and unspoiled desert, and that's because the Dolores has a short running season. When we get closer to April, check with outfitters near Cortez and Durango, including Mild to Wild Rafting and Arkansas Valley Adventures.

When to go: Late spring/early summer

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