Colorado Weekend Getaways: Expect the Unexpected

USA,
Laura Lopuch

I climbed the steep hill, slipping between white-trunked aspens, their golden leaves shivering in the cool breeze.

Ahead my two dogs bounded over fallen logs, nosed dead bushes, and circled back to check on me with a quick glance.

At the hill’s crest, I looked over the small valley to white-capped mountains beyond. Late afternoon sunlight torched the countless aspen’s gold leaves which glowed brighter than sun-streaked California girls with their slim trunks and graceful bows. Later that night, the campfire never felt so warm.

In the dark tent, I curled up tight to warm dogs but still shivered due to improper planning for a brisk fall mountain night (yup, I forgot a hat, wool socks, sweatshirt… the works, thanks very much). And except for our sole drunk camping neighbor who shot off his pistol in shattering bursts, we were alone in Colorado’s woods — an unexpected delight.

Fall is the perfect time for Colorado weekend getaways. As for what to pack: to expect the unexpected.

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Ghost Mining Towns

Colorado was born as a true Old West mining state. Gold, silver and lead flowed through her mountains’ veins. And men flowed from the east to tap her wealth, leaving once they’d drained her dry.

Now you can wander through her old mining towns and imagine what life was like back then.

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Hot Springs

Ah, hot springs — a fun, naturally occurring way to relax and enjoy the outdoors for a weekend getaway. Just a short drive from Denver, you’ve got your pick of hot springs to choose from:

My favorite is Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge (3 and a half hours away from Denver). It’s the proud owner of the world’s largest hot springs pool, two water slides and a mini-golf course.

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Best Drives to See Colorado’s Aspen Trees

A great way to enjoy Colorado’s famous golden aspens is, simply, to head west on I-70 and try to stay on the road while gazing at their beauty. Or, check out the towns of Silverthorne and Aspen (more info below).

If you’re looking for a day-drive, here are the best drives to see the aspens changing to gold:

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Fall Festivals

By the time October hits, most of the Oktoberfests have come and gone. But that doesn’t mean you’ve missed out on Colorado’s great fall festivals.

Here’s a quick list of the fall festivals happening in and around Denver:

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Don’t-Miss Towns

Some of Colorado’s best towns are found after a scenic drive west, clear of Denver’s sprawl. Most of these towns are stocked with soaring mountain views, small town charm, and oftentimes, a bit of Colorado history thrown in.

Aspen

Founded as a silver mining town, but now known for being a swanky ski town, this not-really-small-town is worth visiting for the drive to get there and its spectacular aspen groves.

Instead of the normal route of I-70, take CO 91 to US 24. I dare you to keep your eyes on the narrow, guardrail-less road as you twist through winding mountains, a waterfall splattering onto the road, and cresting a hill that feels like you’re breaking into the sky itself.

Oh, and this town in aptly named: you can’t escape the rustling beauty of gold aspens here.

Like most mountain towns in Colorado, you’ll find tons of great camping, fishing, and hiking spots in adjacent White River National Forest. My favorite is the hike up to Maroon Bells, then follow the trail past the lake towards a hidden, less touristy lake book-ended by two mountains kissing.

Drive time from Denver: 4 hours

Silverthorne

A small ski town sandwiched between Lake Dillon and Keystone Ski Resort, you can find lots of spots for fall camping. Around the town, great swaths of aspens paint the mountains gold.

The town is fully stocked with grocery stores, a brewery, movie theater, and shopping outlets in case you need a break from the rustic life. You’re just a 10 minute drive over to Lake Dillon where you can enjoy late-season fishing or hiking around the glittering lake.

Check out these back-country hikes for an intimate view of Colorado’s famous aspens.

Drive time from Denver: 1 hour and 45 minutes

Estes Park

Best known for The Stanley Hotel, the infamous setting of Stephen King’s popular novel, The Shining . You don’t have to stay at this sprawling white mansion to roam its halls with the rumored ghosts. Daily tours are available, complete with ghost stories and history.

Stand on the front lawn to enjoy the panoramic views of the Rockies and revel in the fact that construction on this century-old house was begun in 1907 with supplies painstakingly carted over rough roads.

Or, venture into Estes Park, right outside Rocky Mountain National Park, now celebrating its 100th anniversary.

Enjoy camping around the lake, horseback riding in the mountains, or cross your fingers to hear some rutting elk bugling to each other (’tis the fall activity up here!).

Drive time from Denver: 1 hour and 30 minutes

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TL;DR

Colorado has a wealth of awesome weekend getaways for you to explore in gorgeous fall weather. Most are found only a short drive out of Denver. Avoid the ski season tourist rush by visiting in the fall to enjoy Colorado’s quaking golden aspens and its other charms.

Don’t forget to pack these key items:

Photos credited to Imfromdenver.com, Glenwood Hot Springs.

Image: Don Graham (Flickr)