Yes, there are some hidden gems on the western slope of Colorado … some that are new to us, and some that we re-discovered in June. After spending a week in one of our all-time favorite campgrounds in Rocky Mountain National Park, my husband, Ron, and I headed west to Rifle. This area is one of my son’s favorites, as it is a mecca for world-class rock climbers.
3 state parks near Rifle
Rifle Gap State Park is located nine miles outside of the City of Rifle on the gorgeous 360-acre Rifle Gap Reservoir. The five recently renovated campgrounds here are absolutely delightful. We easily backed our new Lance trailer into a roomy site overlooking the mountains and the blue waters of the reservoir. The campgrounds offer a range of sites — from the waterfront to those high up on the hillsides, and from primitive to full hookups. After a week in RMNP with no hookups, we were ready to embrace glamping in the upscale Lakeview campground.
About five miles up the road is Rifle Falls State Park. Here is a wonderful place to hike, have a picnic, and view the breathtaking triple waterfall. The East Rifle Creek waterfall thunders over a cliff into pools below, spraying visitors with a mist that shelters a world of moss-covered rocks, lush foliage, and hidden caves. In 1910 the City of Rifle built the Rifle Hydroelectric Plant at the falls that supplied the town with electricity for the next 50 years.
Knowing there was yet another state park close by, we traveled east through a scenic valley of ranches. We were almost ready to turn back when we drove around a bend in the road coming upon a stunning glacial-blue lake at Harvey Gap State Park. The color of the water on this bright sunny day was completely gorgeous and reminded us of glacial lakes in the Pacific Northwest. There is no camping available at Harvey Gap, but there is a boat launch, picnic grounds, fishing, and a swim beach. It is definitely worth a visit for a picnic and outdoor fun.
We had never visited the Rifle area before, but our son visits there frequently. Rifle Mountain Park is owned and maintained by the City of Rifle. Simply put, Rifle Mountain Park offers the best limestone sport climbing in North America. This very scenic, riparian mountain canyon is arrived at by driving over a narrow dirt road through the meadows. Gradually the canyon comes into view and the walls of limestone rise up on either side of the road. Even on the weekday we visited there, the 2½ mile-long canyon was full of climbers hanging precariously off the cliffs.
No visit to these three state parks and city park would be complete without a visit to the small City of Rifle. We found a friendly town with all the amenities including supermarkets, restaurants, and a plethora of second-hand shopping. There are antique, thrift, and consignment stores galore.
This friendly and historic hotel welcomes visitors to roam the downstairs lobby, dining room, and other public areas. Ongoing recent renovations of this masterpiece, opened in 1893, have revealed long-hidden fireplaces, original longleaf yellow pine flooring, and even a hidden door. Pictures of famous visitors such as Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, the “Unsinkable Molly Brown,” and various Chicago gangsters line the walls. Victorian gardens overlook the charming town of Glenwood Springs, which is a tourist’s delight complete with a local strawberry festival, unique shopping, dining for every taste, and the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.
We love to make a side trip to the always delightful City of Aspen. A helpful visitor’s guide suggested we visit the John Denver Sanctuary, located along the Roaring Fork River that cascades through town. The park took more than 15 years to complete after construction was started in 1998. This is truly a gem of a place! The perennial flower gardens were in full bloom on the day we visited. Paths meander through the serene gardens and picnic areas, over bridges, and through the sanctuary centerpiece — large boulders upon which the lyrics of John Denver’s popular songs have been carved. It is a truly moving and timeless “Rocky Mountain High.”
Libby Kinder is a freelance writer and retired clinical mental health counselor. She and her husband have lived in southwest Colorado Springs for 14 years. Contact Libby with comments and travel ideas at email@example.com.