The past two years, due to day-to-day changes brought on by the pandemic, many Coloradans have found more time and freedom to cross off their outdoor bucket list.

But the opportunities are endless in every colorful corner of this state. Some ideas for your new year:

Unlock your skiing potential

Entering its second full season, a ski area unlike any other in Colorado has garnered a following. And that’s without a chairlift.

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Adam Christopher of Denver drops into the West Bowl in March at Bluebird Backcountry Ski Area.

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Along a mountainside in the northwest part of the state, between Kremmling and Steamboat Springs, Bluebird Backcountry rose to meet a growing sector of enthusiasts. The idea is to teach the ways of self-powered skiing and provide a safe, avalanche-controlled arena for the well-traveled to build muscle.

Already, Bluebird is growing. Operators announced 12 new trails for 2021-22, some gently descending meadows and old-growth aspens and others dropping steep couloirs.

When to go: Winter, spring

Sentinels on the plains

Driving northeast of Fort Collins, the mountains fade in the rearview mirror, and the prairie becomes all-consuming, like an ocean. On Pawnee National Grassland, the waving plains mingle with the sky. It’s all somehow nostalgic, the silence somehow eerie.

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The 300-foot-tall sandstone Pawnee Buttes are located in the Pawnee National Grassland about 40 miles east of Alt, in the northern Colorado eastern plains of Weld County.

The Pawnee Buttes emerge out of nowhere, like two ancient castles. These aren’t Colorado’s iconic Rockies, but they’re iconic nonetheless. Take it from John Fielder, Colorado’s famed nature photographer who has journeyed the state more than most: “The buttes are one of my favorite places on Earth.”

A 1 1/2-mile trail leads to the towering rock. Signage at the parking lot notes the nearest grocery store 56 miles away in Ault, the nearest hospital 73 miles away in Greeley. Go prepared and with directions handy.

When to go: Cooler temperatures in spring and fall

The other side of Mesa Verde

Widely known is Mesa Verde National Park, an archaeological expanse in the Four Corners region with remains of Native life from 1,400 years ago. Lesser known is the even larger expanse on the other side of the park.

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Ute Mountain Ute guide Rickey Hayes climbs down a ladder toward the Tree House cliff dwelling Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021, while giving a tour of the Ute Mountain Tribal Park.

Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Park is reserved for tribal members and visitors who schedule tours that aren’t always available. Ute Mountain Ute guides share history and stories as they lead through a landscape that has been left wild. None of Mesa Verde’s pavement, bathrooms or barriers. Cliff dwellings, rock art and artifacts are at one’s fingertips.

Tours $30-$49 per person; book by calling 970-565-9653. More information at www.utemountaintribalpark.info.

When to go: Tours from late April to October

Ultimate refresher

If you know Colorado’s outdoors, you know the state’s tallest waterfall. Maybe you’ve already driven or hoofed up the four-wheel drive road to the top of Bridal Veil Falls, the 350-foot cascade gracing a Telluride cliff.

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Hikers stand below the 365-foot Bridal Veil Falls outside Telluride in July. The falls can be reached by hiking a rugged 1.1-mile trail or by a 1.5-mile 4x4 road. 

Now there’s a new, better way to see the marvel. That’s on the new Bridal Veil Trail, the foot path ascending a mile through woods and rock gardens to the base of the waterfall.

When to go: Summer

Soar like an eagle

Colorado’s central mountains are synonymous with crowds. The grand exception is Eagles Nest Wilderness. At least, the masses thin the deeper you embark into this wonderland of lakes, waterfalls and wildflowers, guarded by the sharp, craggy faces of the Gore Range.

One launch point is the North Tenmile Creek trailhead in Frisco, right off Interstate 70. You won’t be alone in the parking lot, but the backpacking could go on for miles, connecting with Gore Range Trail. Also on this east side of the range, from the portal at the end of Heeney Road near Silverthorne, one could venture about 10 1/2 miles, making a loop around Tipperary and Surprise lakes.

East Vail is the entry point to the other side of the wilderness. Pitkin Lake is an unforgettable destination, also covering about 10 1/2 miles from Pitkin Creek trailhead. Another option is the trip over Red Buffalo Pass, from the Gore Creek trailhead.

When to go: Summer, early fall

Sweetness over the border

While Trinidad and southern Colorado eagerly await the development of Fishers Peak State Park — the state’s second-largest state park at about 19,200 acres — so too does Raton, the New Mexico town 20 miles down Interstate 25. Raton leaders hope Fishers Peak brings attention to their neck of the woods. The scenery is similarly marvelous.

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Scenes from Sugarite Canyon State Park near Raton, New Mexico on Nov. 18. Sugarite Canyon State Park spans 3,600-acres of the Colorado-New Mexico line and was once home to a thriving coal camp town.

Sugarite Canyon State Park (pronounced sugar-eat) is a beautiful chain of lakes tucked between enchanting hillsides. It’s impossibly green in summer, “like the British isles,” a ranger told us. For the angler, trout is stocked in Lake Moya. For the hiker and mountain biker, you’re likely to have the trail to yourself to the panoramic top of Little Horse Mesa. And for the history buff, a loop visits crumbled ruins of a once-bustling coal camp.

When to go: Summer, fall

Take the plunge

Colorado’s most-anticipated mountain bike trail in decades opened in 2021. That’s the Palisade Plunge, a 32-mile descent twisting and turning from the top of the Grand Mesa through desert canyons and ending in the town famous for fruit and wine.

Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association, the nonprofit that raised funds and helped blueprint the route, has compared the Plunge to the vaunted likes of Salida’s Monarch Crest Trail and Moab’s Whole Enchilada Trail.

Like those, this one is not for the faint of heart. Bureau of Land Management warns that the trail “navigates remote, backcountry terrain with some sections of extreme exposure only for experienced riders.”

When to go: Fall, seasonal closure December-end of April

Golden drive

In Utah’s Fishlake National Forest, Pando is considered the world’s largest aspen clone. That’s really only because it has been studied with some depth, unlike other counterpart organisms responsible for twin trees that glow in autumn.

Once, we asked experts around the West to think of what might be the contender in Colorado. A consensus: Kebler Pass near Crested Butte.

The dirt road, passable for passenger cars, is lined by thick, towering groves. The granite, crown-like feature known as the Dyke provides more eye candy, scraping the sky over the multicolored canopy.

When to go: Peak color varies year to year, but typically late September-early October

Contact the writer: seth.boster@gazette.com

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A pair of horseback riders make their way toward Beckwith Pass on the Cliff Creek Trail as the aspens on Kebler Pass near Crested Butte show a full palette of colors in October 2019.

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