The wind whips wild and free through the northern reaches of Colorado. In the east you will find vast stretches of grasslands, and playful nights and more brewpubs than people in the foothills college town of Fort Collins. Continue west through vertiginous canyons to the snowcapped peaks, wildflower-choked meadows and towering mountains of Rocky Mountain National Park. Further toward the Western Slope you will also find world-class skiing and gorgeous hot springs in Steamboat. While in the places in between you will find laid-back adventures by horse, by foot, by mountain bike and by boat.
After you pass the Continental Divide and head toward the western edge of the state, the landscape turns from green to red. This desolate landscape offers up amazing slickrock biking excursions, river trips and the chance to connect with the past at Dinosaur National Monument.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Northern Colorado.
The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya has an electrifying energy and is one of the most significant examples of Buddhist architecture in North America. It's really powerful coming here, and worth the extra miles to get down to the Shambhala Mountain Center Buddhist retreat, which supported the creation of the 108ft tall structure. The stupa is located a short walk up from the center of Shambhala village, taking you over little bridges and past prayer flags to an arching meadow.
Just 5 miles out of town, Fish Creek Falls is a wonderful hike for families. The 0.8-mile loop takes you to a scenic overlook with views across to the 283ft waterfall. From there, you can cut down past picnic areas, and hook up to a bridge that sits below the falls. The overlook section is wheelchair accessible. To get here from Hwy 40, go north on 3rd St then take a right on Fish Creek Falls Rd. It's 4 miles to the parking lot and trailhead.
Bill Swets, a former farmer, volunteer firefighter and insomniac, created a scrap-metal menagerie during his restless nights, a whimsical roadside curiosity. Swets’ creations are a coy lesson in creative recycling – everything from the grinning spider made from a VW bug to the heavy metal caricature of Monica Lewinsky.
A glorious spot for camping and canoeing, this small alpine lake backs up to aspen and evergreen forests, and has some excellent lake-front campsites ($20) . Try to get a lower campsite bordering the lake; numbers 24 to 32 are best. They have two yurts ($80) here too, plus a short trail to Coulton Creek.
On top of the world, this mighty national park is home to loads of wild animals, plenty of great backwoods hiking and top scenic drives that are choked with RVs in summertime. As in most of America's national parks, the key is leaving the road system and getting into the backcountry.
Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1923 and once the park’s proud visitors lodge, this building has been renovated in recent years to host exhibits on geology, glaciers and wildlife. Kids will like the interactive exhibits and half-mile nature trail out the door.
Flat Tops wilderness sits in the White River and Routt National Forests. It protects some 230,000 acres of designated wilderness. There's over 160 miles of trail and 100-plus lakes and ponds in this wilderness.
Straddling the Utah-Colorado state line, Dinosaur National Monument protects one of North America's largest dinosaur fossil beds, discovered here in 1909. Though both states' sections are beautiful, Utah has the bones. Don't miss the Quarry Exhibit, which is an enclosed, partially excavated wall of rock with more than 1600 bones protruding – quite the sight to see.
This large 720-acre wildlife sanctuary is about 30 minutes east of Denver by car on your way to Fort Morgan. It has over 400 large predators – including lions, tigers, bears, mountain lions, wolves and more – that have been rescued from zoos, circuses and abusive roadside attractions. The highlight of the visit is a cruise along the 1.5-mile elevated walkway (a Guinness record holder). At the end, the tiger round house gives you a pretty close view of these massive cats.