Colorado » Summer Bucket List Experiences
Nothing beats summer in Colorado. The mountain air is perfectly cool, yet the sun manages to keep you warm. Wildflowers cover the lush forests and the unusually green alpine valleys. High mountain peaks are clear of snow and ice (for the most part, at least!). Water sports are abundant.
During summer in Colorado, the opportunities for adventure are endless. My personal bucket list for here runs incredibly long. However, this post covers broader categories of Colorado summer bucket list items. Your list can be as broad as you’d like (i.e., I want to swim in an alpine lake) or detailed and specific (i.e., I want to swim in ALL of these alpine lakes). Please let me know in the comments if you’d like me to write deeper into any of these topics.
12. Go on A Scenic Drive
Colorado has 26 nationally recognized scenic byways. Some of these include high mountain passes that are only open during summer & early fall. The best way to tackle a scenic drive is to make it a full day of adventure. Figure out what stops are on the way – get out to hike, swim, take epic photos, etc. Are there any interesting restaurants or shops along the way? Have a loose plan, but stay open for adventure! You never know what you’ll come across while exploring. For more info, check out this list of the best scenic drives in Colorado.
11. Visit a Local Brewery (Preferably in the Mountains!)
There’s something special about getting a fresh beer after adventuring in the mountains. If you know, you know. Luckily, Colorado is the craft beer capital of the U.S. There are over 400 breweries spread throughout the state. So, after your big adventure, hit up the nearest craft brewery. Bonus points if they have a patio with amazing views. Fill up on a burger while you’re there! Pub food hits different after a long day in the mountains.
Interested in learning more? Here’s a list of Colorado’s most popular breweries by city. (note: although this site lists Coors for Golden, I HIGHLY recommend checking out the nearby New Terrain Brewing instead!)
10. Board the ‘Dunes
Yep, you can surf in Colorado. But not in the way you’re imagining. Rent a board and surf down the Great Sand Dunes in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Although the sand formations change often, there are always short, medium, & tall dunes to choose from. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can surf down the tallest dune in North America – the Star Dune. If standing up makes you uneasy, consider renting or bringing a sled. While sandboarding is the most novel activity, there’s lots to do at The Great Sand Dunes. Take advantage of the other outdoor activities while you’re there! Remember, The Great Sand Dunes is a national park. You’ll need to pay to get in if you don’t have a National Park Pass.
9. Climb a Via Ferrata
So, what is a via ferrata? It’s like rock climbing but with a little extra spice. Via ferrata is Italian for the iron path. It’s a climbing path made of iron rails, cables, & ladders attached to rock. It’s kind of like a ropes course, but with metal, and you’re climbing up rock. Climbers secure themselves by attaching their harness to the metal fixtures with a metal rope. Although via ferratas are gaining popularity, they’re rare in the U.S. As of writing this, there are 8 via ferratas in Colorado. Many courses offer different routes for varying skill levels. If it’s your first time or you’d like to improve your skills, consider hiring a guide! Interested in learning more about via ferratas in Colorado? Check out this post by Uncover Colorado.
Red Rocks Amphitheater is an iconic Colorado music venue. It’s situated in Red Rocks Park in Morrison, which is only a 30-minute drive from downtown Denver. The entire venue is built into the natural red rock formations. You can watch your favorite bands play while the sun sets over Denver in the background. After nightfall, the stars will be shining brightly upon the amphitheater. It’s the perfect blend between nature and music. You can see a list of upcoming shows & events here.
Bonus: Grab a pre-show meal or drink in Morrison. It’s a tiny mountain town with a cute downtown next to Red Rocks Park. Check out the RMD list of the best restaurants in Morrison for more info.
Colorado has thousands of miles of backpacking trails. You can choose from simple weekend trips to months of backcountry adventuring. Some trails wind through valleys & forests. Some will take you to the top of Colorado’s tallest peaks. Either way, it’s the most remote option for camping – more easy-to-access sites fill up quickly. You’ll get to test your survival skills and find the best views possible. What’s not to love?
After several days of adventuring, you may ask yourself, “do I want to explore the mountains more or take a day to relax?” Well, why not do both? Colorado has several beautiful train routes. After boarding, you can sit back, relax, & enjoy the views as the train winds through the mountains. Some will even serve you food and drinks.
Thinking about taking a train ride? Check out these routes:
The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (Best Overall)
Georgetown Loop Railroad (Closest to Denver)
The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway (Takes you to the top of a 14er)
Royal Gorge Route Railroad (Best for the mid-to-southern front range)
Amtrak (traveling along the i70 area via train)
5. Hike a 14er
Colorado has 58 peaks above 14,000 feet. We call these 14ers. Hiking to the top of any of these gives you a metaphorical badge of honor. Even the “easy” ones are a challenge (to non-mountaineering gods, that is!).
If you’re new to mountaineering, do your research, get prepared, & respect your limits. Any 14er can become deadly if you make the wrong mistakes. I don’t mean to scare you – be smart, prepared, and find a challenge reasonably suited for you & you’ll do great!
The Colorado 14ers website provides the most comprehensive info. They provide information on all 14er routes. This includes difficulty, current conditions, and challenges you may face. They even have a list of the “easiest” 14ers. Experienced mountaineers – 14ers.com has plenty of information for you too. But you already knew that, didn’t you?
What better way to explore nature than an overnight stay in the backcountry? Colorado offers camping for all sorts of adventurers. You can go on a multi-day (or even month long!) backpacking trip. If comfort & ease are priorities, plenty of well-maintained campgrounds feature full amenities. Many National Forests & BLM land offer free dispersed camping. Additionally, Colorado has 8 designated International Dark Sky Locations. These are the best places for unobstructed views of the stars.
Whether you like to swim, paddleboard, boat, or fish, there are TONS of summer bucket list activities on the water. Colorado has endless alpine lakes, several clear creeks and rapids, & reservoirs galore. Relax while you tube down the creek in Golden or Boulder. Unwind on a SUP in the mountains. Feeling adventurous? Check out white water rafting on the Arkansas River or Clear Creek. Take a cold plunge after hiking to an alpine lake. The opportunities are endless here.
Hiking to an alpine lake on a trail surrounded by wildflowers is my personal favorite. You get a little bit of everything here. You’ll often start in a lush forest or meadow before going above the treeline. When the trees have cleared, you’ll get incredible views of the surrounding mountains. Blooming alpine flowers and plants are everywhere. There’s a high chance of seeing wildlife. I’ve seen yellow-bellied marmots, deer, and mountain goats on summer wildflower hikes.
When the wildflowers bloom can vary. Weather, elevation, and flower species all factor in. In the Rocky Mountains, wildflower season peaks in July. Wildflowers begin to bloom early to mid-summer at high elevations. In some areas, they stick around through the first part of fall (or the first snow!) At lower elevations, wildflowers bloom much earlier. A good rule of thumb – expect wildflowers to grow after the snow melts. They generally begin to peak about a month after.
Here are my favorite hikes to see wildflowers in Colorado:
Other wildflower trails I’d love to check out:
Mayflower Gulch near Copper Mountain (about an hour and a half west of Denver)
If you’re like me, visiting every national park is on your to-do list. But did you know that Colorado has four? That’s right – in addition to the Rocky Mountain National Park, there’s :
• Black Canyon of the Gunnison
• Mesa Verde, &
• The Great Sand Dunes
Each one features wildly different terrain and experiences.
Visiting a national park also covers many of the other bucket list experiences on this list! In Rocky Mountain National Park, you can camp under the stars, hike to an alpine lake, or climb to the top of a 14er! You can sand surf the Great Sand Dunes. Stargaze, hike, or go on a scenic drive at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
My recommendation – get the America the Beautiful National Park Pass. It gives you unlimited visits to ALL U.S. national parks for an entire year. Remember, several require timed entry permits AND a pass (daily, seasonal, etc.). The pass only guarantees that you don’t have to pay the entry fee!
I truly hope you have a BLAST this summer!! Take advantage of all the fun activities here. I know I’ll be planning adventures every weekend. Do you know of something that should be added to this list? Please share them in the comments below!