Where do you go if you’re interested in skiing near Chicago? O’Hare Airport. Of course, that old joke is based in the fact that while the Chicago area is blessed with many natural resources, mountains aren’t one of them. If you talk to the big western resorts, you’ll find that Chicago is indeed one of their biggest markets. People are willing to hop on a plane to enjoy skiing and snowboarding for that once-a-year mountain vacation.
But you don’t have to take to the skies to hit the slopes. Illinois may be the second flattest state in the country—Florida is No. 1—but you can still find plenty of hills that have some surprisingly good ski and snowboard options. If you’ve never tried skiing or snowboarding before, the smaller hills are great, affordable places to learn. So skip those security lines and luggage fees and take the day to explore the best slopes close to Chicago.
1. Four Lakes Alpine Snowsports
Many western suburban kids have learned to ski at Four Lakes , a big hill in Lisle that’s been around for more than 50 years and is less than 30 miles from downtown Chicago. While only about 100 feet in elevation, the hill does feature seven different lifts (all tow ropes) and a variety of slopes to test skiers and boarders as they improve. There’s even a terrain park for snowboarders to show off their skills. During the week there’s night skiing until 10 p.m., and snowmaking allows the hill to stay open as long as the temperatures cooperate.
2. Villa Olivia
Operated by the Bartlett Park District, Villa Olivia is a bit bigger than Four Lakes, with 180 vertical feet, and most importantly for a lot of skiers and snowboarders, a chairlift to the top of its longest trails. (Three other tow ropes are also on the hill). You’ll find two easier runs, two more difficult runs and one most difficult, in addition to a snowboard terrain park. Villa Olivia is located northwest of the city close to Elgin, Ill., and about 40 miles from downtown Chicago. Also available is a fun tubing hill with a magic carpet lift that makes it very easy to entertain young kids.
3. Raging Buffalo
While Raging Buffalo is open to both skiers and snowboarders, it’s a terrain park designed more for those interested taking advantage of the unique challenges on the way down, like half pipes, table tops, and rails. The hill features a 150-foot vertical drop with five runs, which will change throughout the season for more variety. It’s an excellent place to learn to snowboard, with a magic carpet lift up the beginner hill, Learn to Ride Burton Snowboards, boots, and helmets for rental, and excellent instructors. Plus you’ll find plenty of inspiration watching the tricks going on around you. Raging Buffalo is located in the northwest suburb of Algonquin, about 45 miles from downtown Chicago.
4. Wilmot Mountain
Located about 65 miles from downtown Chicago just across the Illinois border in Wisconsin, Wilmot Mountain is your closest option when it comes to a traditional ski resort. Wilmot features 25 unique runs accessed by eight chairlifts, plus three tow ropes in a separate beginners’ practice area. You’ll find long (at least by Midwest standards) green and blue runs for those who like to cruise, plus more challenging black-diamond runs and a mogul field. A terrain park is available for snowboarders interested in tricks, and there’s even a Snocross course, which features banked turns, jumps and lots of speed. Vail Resorts purchased Wilmot in early 2016, which should bring even more excitement to the resort in years to come.
5. Alpine Valley
Farther into Wisconsin and just north of Lake Geneva—about a 90-mile trip from downtown Chicago—is Alpine Valley , which features 90 skiable acres, a 388-foot vertical drop and a long run of 3,000 feet. This season it also launched a new learning-to-ski area that’s based on “terrain-based learning.” The method uses a sculpted gentle slope that will help skiers intuitively develop the methods of turning and stopping. The area is accessible by four magic carpet lifts, which makes getting back to the top a breeze. Once you get past the beginning stages, you’ll be able access the top of the mountain via seven chairlifts, including three high-speed quads. Three terrain parks are available for snowboarders, and the Alpine Valley Resort offers the only ski-in/ski-out rooms in southern Wisconsin, for those who want to spend a weekend on the mountain.
6. Chestnut Mountain Resort
Located near Galena, Ill., about 160 miles from downtown Chicago, Chestnut Mountain is more likely a weekend trip. But with 19 trails spread over 220 acres and taking advantage of a 475-foot vertical drop, Chestnut Mountain is the top ski destination in Illinois. Of course, the northwest part of the state around Galena really doesn’t look anything like the rest of Illinois, with an impressive array of rolling hills. You’ll find plenty of variety on the mountain, from the gentle glide of the bunny slope to black-diamond runs. The terrain park for snowboarders is one of the biggest in the Midwest. Stay at the nearby resort for easy access to the slopes.
7. Devil’s Head Resort
While Devil’s Head Resort is located 184 miles from downtown Chicago in Merrimac, Wisconsin, plenty of skiers and snowboarders are happy to make the three-hour trip. The resort is located atop one of the highest mountains in Wisconsin, with 500 feet of vertical drop. You have your choice of more than 30 runs groomed twice a day to ensure a smooth ride. The mountain is about evenly divided with 30 percent for beginners, 40 percent for intermediates and 30 percent for advanced skiers and snowboarders, with the longest run more than a mile and a half long. The terrain park at Devil’s Head is a big draw for snowboarders, and the ski-in/ski-out accommodations at the resort let you take maximum advantage of your time on the mountain.
Written by Jeff Banowetz for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From on-site childcare to indoor water parks, these winter destinations offer plenty of perks for the kids and you.
Hold on to your snow hats. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, “Winter is back” for 2017, with the white stuff predicted to pile up higher than mashed potatoes on a holiday buffet across New England, the Northeast and the Western States. Luckily for working moms, there are family-friendly ski and snow resorts across North America that embrace kids as well as the snow. So put on your hats and gloves and get ready to hop onto the bunny trails with your young skiers at these top family winter resorts. You'll find fun extras like fireworks, water parks and sleigh rides—something for every interest and budget.
Ski Resorts in the East
To prove its self-proclaimed title of “America’s Family Resort,” Smuggs amps up the parents-and-kids quotient with a ski school named best in the East by Ski Magazine and programs for kids as young as 2½, a high-tech GPS tracking system that keeps track of the trails kids have run, and even babysitting for tots and toddlers. Uniquely, they also have adaptive snow programs so that kids and adults with special needs can enjoy the snow fun too. The resort is particularly festive over the holidays with activities like cookie decorating, “elf” tuck-ins and story times, and “reindeer games.” And all winter long, it offers “cookie” races for kids (everyone’s a cookie winner!), bonfires and s’mores, and weekly fireworks.
Stowe is a perennially popular family ski resort, but it's the first season for the lodge's Spruce Peak Village Center, an alpine hamlet setting with the only ski-in/ski-out access in the area. The village is centered on a 10,000 square foot ice rink with complimentary skating for families. Also, new this year is the Stowe Adventure Center where you’ll find the Stowe Children’s Ski and Ride school and Stowe Rocks, a climbing gym that replicates local rock formations, plus a movie screening area and teen lounge for some off-mountain fun.
Stowe Mountain Lodge - The frozen fun continues off-peak at Stowe's ice rink.
Fulfill your family’s winter Olympic dreams at this resort that hosted the winter games twice, first in 1932 and memorably in 1980 when the USA team of college students beat the USSR powerhouse squad in the “Miracle on Ice.” At the historic Olympic Village, families can try their hand at bobsled or skeleton, skate on the Olympic oval, or watch ski jumping or biathalon. Over on Whiteface Mountain there’s some of the best ski trails in the northeast, plus tubing for those who’d rather ride sitting down. Whiteface Lodge is an all-suite resort with an ice cream parlor, indoor pool and Kamp Kanu children’s club, making it a perfect fit for families.
Lake Placid Olympic Museum - The nearby Lake Placid Olympic Museum is a perfect ski-break for sports' history buffs.
A favorite ski area of TriState residents for its easy access from Philadelphia and New York as well as its ski lessons and varied trails, Camelback is also a magnet for families who want skis-free snow fun. Here you’ll find the largest tubing park in the United States, complete with laser-lit “Galactic” lanes; winter ziplining; even snowy mountain “coaster” rides. For many kids, however, it’s what’s inside that makes the difference: After a day of winter play, you can all splash it up in Camelback’s Aquatopia indoor waterpark, with free entrance when you stay at the lodge. All in all, a super winter vacation destination.
An indoor water park at a ski resort? Yup! Dive right in.
[Mont Tremblant, Quebec](https:/www.tremblant.ca/?dom=newscred&src=syn)
Just north of quaint Quebec City, this European-style ski resort really pulls out all the stops for families. There's TAM TAM Zone, a learning area for kids 3 and 12 that's enhanced with games as it winds its way through forest and glades. And after a day on the trails, families can enjoy free tubing and skating, all within walking distance, since the resort is a car-free, easy ski-in/ski-out zone. Tremblant is even more skier-friendly this winter: With the purchase of a weekday flight, guests receive either two free day lift tickets or free airfare for one child when accompanied by an adult. Plus, with the positive exchange rate for Americans, it’s as though everything is discounted an additional 25 percent to boot.
Mont Tremblant - The resort's TAM TAM zone lets kids ski their way through a learning exercise.
Ski Resorts in the West
Any spot that features a “Kidtopia” snow play area is obviously going to be a good fit for families, but Keystone offers more than just super-cool snow tunnel mazes. The resort, which feels like a small town, is centered on the largest maintained skating lake in North America and also has one of the biggest ski camps for kids in the west. (There are also group family lessons.) Accommodations throughout the resort are great for big families, including full-service condos with ski-in/ski-out access available at reasonable rates. And if you book a two-night stay, kids 12 and under ski free—no blackout dates. Don’t miss a trip up the gondola for some of the best fondue this side of Switzerland at Der Fondue Chessel—at 11,500 feet the highest restaurant in the U.S.—which caters to kids with magicians and balloon artists to accompany the massive mounds of molten cheese.
Keystone Resort - Family-friendly ski trails are a popular fixture at Keystone.
Beaver Creek area offers an easy-to-navigate outdoor-mall-like resort with an outdoor skate rink at its core haloed by casual spots to eat, shop and relax (there’s even a theater)—all without having to hop in a car—making a great fit for families. The Park Hyatt is right at the center of all the activity with a prime ski-in/ski-out location near the ski school. At the end of each day, the hotel hosts a complimentary s’mores happy hour at an outdoor fire-pit, the perfect spot to watch the weekly Thursday night fireworks on Beaver Creek Mountain. Nearby are opportunities to explore the snowy terrain on sleigh rides, by dog sledding or in heated snow cats.
Park Hyatt Beaver Creek - Kids and adults alike love the resort's free s'mores happy hour. Cheers!
Love the idea of a winter vacation but really don’t want to downhill ski as part of your getaway? This rolling ranch in the heart of the Blackfoot Valley in western Montana’s big sky country has spacious luxury homes (bring your bonus check) featuring hot tubs with fireplaces roaring, snow falling and sleigh bells jingling (really). On-premises winter activities include dogsledding, horse-drawn sleigh rides, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, winter ATV riding and even “skijoring”—where you’ll be pulled on skis by horse or dogs. (How fun is that!) Plus there’s western-dude-ranch fun with horses at an indoor equestrian center. After all that, if you change your mind about downhill skiing, they’ll arrange that nearby too.
The Resorts at Paws Up - Yes, you really can take a sleigh ride through a winter wonderland.
Lake Tahoe is renowned for both its fabulous skiing and gorgeous setting, but it’s also surprisingly family friendly if you head to Northstar. In addition to all levels of skiing, there are family snowshoeing adventures that end with hot cocoa and warm cookies. In addition, skating, tubing and an outdoor bungee trampoline are among the resort's winter activities.
Northstar California Resort - Snowshoeing: Fun that doubles as exercise at Northstar.
Tracing the Grand Tetons and nestling against Yellowstone National Park, few winter resorts have the stunning landscape and views that are on offer at Jackson Hole. In addition to 2,500 acres of skiable terrain, Jackson Hole offers unique winter family activities such as horse-drawn sleigh rides through the National Elk Reserve or dog sledding to nearby Granite Hot Springs, where the kids might spot bald eagles, bison or bighorn sheep. For classic winter thrills, there’s also sledding, tubing and skating. Great deals are on offer here, too: Choose any of the affordable condos or home rentals for a minimum of four nights and receive a 10 percent discount, with all children under 14 skiing for free.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort - Snow tubing is a perennial family favorite at Jackson Hole.
Written by Melissa Klurman for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.
By the time I skied my 100th day this season—skinning up Alta at sunset after a rogue May storm dusted the mountain with a few inches of fresh snow—the outing felt both special and normal. Special because every ski day is a high-five from life. Normal because I’d spent the whole season getting re-accustomed to skiing multiple days per week like I did ski-bumming for many years.
These days, I am a homeowner. I have a career; I have garden tools; I fill out weekly timesheets at work. But I found myself putting off too much of my weekly fun until Friday happy hour. Yes, I still skied every weekend and holiday, with frequent dawn patrols thrown in for good measure. But skiing, to me, is what tennis balls are to Labradors. So, realizing that my indoor days had grown a bit more frequent than my outdoor days, I felt a wistful pang in my soul.
So, this season I decided to fully renew my vows with skiing and see what would happen if I balanced my full-time job with skiing 100 days, which is the elusive numeric benchmark at which a skier knows they’ve proverbially gone all-in.
It meant balancing work and mastering life logistics—and, oddly, I often had to defend the way I chose to spend my time to people who see “priority” and “play” as separate line items on the schedule. Here’s what I learned—and how some of my hard-earned lessons might help other people trying to do a better job of getting out more.
1. There’s quality in the quantity.
By doggedly committing to multiple dawn or dusk patrols per week, and skiing every single Saturday and Sunday between November and May, I rode through some amazing days and some laughably poor conditions. This gave me the opportunity to remember why skiing in any conditions is always more fun than not skiing.
By pushing through all the cruddy and icy snow days, I was in strong shape to shred all day long on good days. The “bad” days just felt like training for the great ones—and they weren’t exactly a chore. Not with Passion Pit on the playlist, toddy in the Thermos, and swooshing to be done.
I also found creative ways to take photos even when the snow was not prime for hero shots. I documented backlit clouds against the silhouette of the chairlift cables. I photographed the way raindrops looked on my goggle lens on the soggiest day of the season. I filmed a blustery storm rushing in and blanketing Solitude resort after it fell silent, closed for the season, with no one present but the mountain and myself.
When you find quality in the quantity, you revel in the imperfections of any mountain day. The point is rolling with whatever the day brings, and photographing your adventures is a fun way to celebrate their uniqueness, warts and all.
2. Savor the rewards of getting out no matter what the weather.
My friend Elizabeth and I hiked up Brighton in a wild spring lightning storm. We acknowledged that this didn't align with safety protocol, but we were pretty sure the lift poles would get zapped first. Halfway up the mountain, we were drenched and ready to surrender. But suddenly the rainstorm subsided, the clouds parted, and we finished our adventure beneath an otherworldly, fiery sunset. If not for this 100-day goal, we never would have thought to go ski touring that evening, and that magical sunset would have never imprinted our memories.
The bottom line: You’re outside. You’re so, so lucky.
3. Learn to embrace slap-happy exhaustion.
I made good use of the resorts that allow inbounds skinning before they opened for the season (thank you, Brighton and Alta ) then jumped into full throttle mode in December. Holiday time off work conveniently coincided with a prodigious storm cycle, so I skied 17 days in a row. I gobbled each day’s powder refills like a glutton; my energy sharply deteriorated on the 14th consecutive day, when every chopped-up snow patch threw me like a bucking bronco. (That day I ended up leaving the hill early and then slept for 10 hours, which recharged me enough to respectably click into my bindings the next day.)
As the season continued, I incorporated dozens of backcountry dawn patrols, dusk patrols, shared moments of inbounds play with friends, and mind-clearing solo outings into my quest. Soon I broke past the exhaustion barrier, and my energy picked up steam. I got used to skinning back-to-back days lugging a heavy pack. I made a game out of timing my mogul turns to the tempo of Scissor Sisters’ “Running Out,” repeating the exercise for hours on end, laughing at the fact that I was training so hard just for the sake of it, not for any particular event.
And wouldn’t you know it: I got stronger as a skier and could push through big days without flagging. I was already a competent skier, but now I laid into my turns faster, more aggressively and confidently than I ever have before.
4. Become a master juggler.
I generally mapped out my ski schedule a week or two in advance, studying multiple weather forecast websites and placing my bets accordingly. I found a few committed dawn-patrol comrades, and we decided together which days were most likely to be good. We all had to be at work by 9 am, so we were on the same strict timeline. Trailhead by 5:30, summit by 7:30, back to the car by 8, and rush off to work after a three-minute shower. These days always left us a little short on sleep, but we felt like we had a special secret coming into office meetings after sunrise powder turns.
I set Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays aside to ski, heading to quieter backcountry enclaves on busy resort days. The day-job folks in the ski crew coordinated days of paid time off to line up with the snow forecast. Often, the bet paid off handsomely. Other times, storms came late or underperformed, leaving us using precious time off to ski dust on crust—then watch as others posted glorious powder shots on social media the next day when the storm finally set in. But in the end, all that careful planning was crucial in hitting my 100-day mark.
5. Cross-training is key.
Doing any one sport repetitively in your teens and 20s is no big jazz. But in your 30s and beyond, it calls for committed cross-training and stretching. Skiing four days a week was cause for my lower back to threaten mutiny unless I added two or three weekly yoga classes to my schedule too. This meant I was investing even more time to be able to ski, but it was well worth the effort.
All this high-elevation activity also meant I had roughly the daily caloric requirements of an adolescent rhinoceros. I ate and ate and ate, carrying Thermoses of stew or macaroni and cheese in my backpack. I bought Kind bars in bulk and never turned down a glass of nature’s recovery drink, beer.
My gear took a slightly heavier beating than usual; I broke three boot buckles and logged three visits to the shop to repair the core shots suffered by my ski bases. I ran my aging touring bindings into the ground.
6. Find support in unexpected corners.
I did have to defend or at least explain my 100-day ski season to some, but I was overwhelmed by positive support from many others in my life, some of whom don’t ski but were simply happy to watch me insist on having fun and see my goal to completion. Coworkers cheered me on with supportive comments on my Facebook page. My roommate pre-programmed our coffee maker the night before so it would help me wake up for dawn patrols. One friend told me she’s terribly intimidated by skiing but got a pleasant thrill from my accounts of high-up couloirs and chutes.
And I realized along the way: Happiness isn’t an insulated emotion. It isn’t contained. When you’re happy, people around you are a little happier too.
7. Never underestimate the power of play.
Ultimately, I sure slept less and multitasked more. But I insisted on spending a baseline amount of time outdoors doing something I care deeply about. Playtime is encouraged for kids, but as adults, we often cave to the notion that we just don’t get to do that anymore. We live lives with infrequent reprieve from tension, to-do’s, and screen time.
But a miracle drug is out there—literally, out there. Outside. It’s where we blow snow off pine boughs just for the fun of feeling like a smoke-blowing dragon. Where we howl like coyotes at the bottom of powder runs. Where we crank the pre-game music in the parking lot. Where we get numb, dirty, tired, silly, runny-nosed, sore, and … fulfilled.
Having hit my numeric goal, I’ve discovered the real goal that underlies it, which is prioritizing play amidst a full adult life. I’ll keep going out until summer shrivels the Wasatch’s last lingering snow patches. And I’ll await impatiently for next October’s snowflakes to fly. I may or may not carefully count my ski days next season, but prioritized play is definitely my new normal.
Written by Beth Lopez for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Park City is nestled in the Wasatch Mountains, and is a short drive away from the Uinta mountains. With two major ski resorts close by and great nightlife, it’s a solid spot for a winter vacation, but there is also world class hiking nearby. Whether you’re looking to hike right from downtown Park City or take the scenic drive to the Uinta mountains, there are great options for any skill level. There are also plenty of family- and dog-friendly trails. From the steep cliffs of Bald Mountain to the convenience of Round Valley, the Park City area truly delivers when it comes to hiking.
1. Lofty Lakes Loop
Distance : 4 miles, round-trip Difficulty : Easy
The Lofty Lake Loop is a classic high-alpine trail that passes three of the Uintas’ beautiful lakes. Make the trek in August and you’ll likely see some gorgeous wildflower scenery in the many meadows you’ll pass. You’ll start at the Pass Lake Trailhead off Mirror Lake Highway, then pass Scout Lake before ascending to Lofty Lake at about 10,850 feet. Kamas Lake is only a short distance after, and there’s great fishing (high-altitude lakes that are frozen most of the year makes for hungry fish!).
2. Round Valley Trail System
Distance : Up to 6 miles Difficulty : Easy
Located right next to Highway 40 and a mere 5-minute drive from downtown Park City, the Round Valley Trail is a local favorite. Park at the Quinn’s Junction Trailhead and choose from any number of options. There’s a classic loop through the rolling hills of sagebrush, and a large network of side trails if you’re feeling adventurous. Bring your pooch, too, because off-leash dogs are welcome.
3. Bald Mountain
Distance : 5 miles, round-trip Difficulty : Hard
As far as views go, it’s hard to top the nearly 12,000-foot summit of Bald Mountain. Located in the High Uintas, this short but steep day hike is challenging but well worth it. The 360-degree views of the High Uintas and Mirror Lake are beyond epic. Park at the Bald Mountain Trailhead and give yourself about 5 hours. Switchbacks ascend past scree fields and up a ridge to the summit. The high elevation means there’s a lot of snow accumulation, sometimes until mid- or late July. It’s also highly exposed to lightning, so check the weather before going and be conservative if you see a storm!
4. Iron Canyon Trail
Distance : 2 miles Difficulty : Medium
The Iron Canyon Trail is located right above the McPolin arm in the Iron Canyon neighborhood, less than 5 minutes from downtown Park City. It’s a quick, steep jaunt through aspens and pines that will take you up to an overlook. Views of Park City and the surrounding ski areas are plentiful. This is a dog-friendly hike, so bring your pet along. Go during mid-September to get panoramic views of the fall colors both on the hike and surrounding Park City from the overlook
5. Dawn’s Trail
Distance : options for 3.3- or 4.9-mile loops, when paired with the Armstrong Trail. Difficulty : Medium
This trail, named for a local volunteer, was created to to provide a shorter hiking option at the base of Park City Mountain. Dawn’s Trail branches off of the Armstrong Trail a little more than a mile up. While the trail is uphill only for bikes, it’s multi-directional for hikers. (The Spiro Trail is popular for cyclists in both directions, making Dawn’s Trail a much better option for hikers.) Starting from the start of Dawn’s Trail, the hike is 3.3 miles; from the base of Park City Mountain, it’s a total of 4.9 miles.
6. Glenwild Loop
Distance : 8.5 miles or a shorter 4-5 mile loop. Difficulty : Easy
Located right off the Kimball Junction exit on I-80, the Glenwild loop is a mellow but lengthy loop hike. There are excellent wildflowers in late summer, and beautiful rolling sagebrush throughout. It’s highly sun-exposed, making one of the quickest trails to dry after a storm and one of the earliest to melt out in the spring. Start at the Spring Creek trailhead and take the Stealth Trail until you meet up with the loop, and enjoy great views.
Written by Jed Doane for RootsRated in partnership with Visit Park City and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.
Home of majestic mountains, immense national forests, and seemingly infinite stretches of pristine coastline, North Carolina is not only laden with stunning natural landscape, it is also full of gritty and grueling outdoors adventures. Take your pick: churning whitewater, storm swollen Atlantic swells, high peaks of the southern Appalachians—if you can dream it, you can do it in North Carolina. These are just a few of the Tar Heel State’s most thrilling outdoor adventures.
1. Thru-Hike the Mountains-to-Sea Trail
Stretching 1,150-miles from the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains to the sand dunes of Jockey’s Ridge in the Outer Banks, North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail is nearly half the length of the Appalachian Trail. Winding past rolling blue-tinged peaks, tannin-stained swamps, and mixed hardwood forests all the way to the coast, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail is also arguably one of the country’s most unique thru-hikes, rambling over both the loftiest peak (Mount Mitchell 6,684 feet), the highest sand dunes on the East Coast, and past the country’s tallest lighthouse (Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, 207 feet).
2. Paddle the Intracoastal Waterway
Running 3,000-miles along the Atlantic coast, the Intracoastal Waterway was once a major trade artery, offering vessels a sheltered route protected from the perils of the open ocean. Today, the extensive thoroughfare offers excellent recreational paddling, especially along North Carolina’s coast. Sometimes offering up vast stretches of open water, in other places reduced to a narrow channel fringed by tracts of maritime forest, the Intracoastal Waterway passes everything from biodiversity-rich wildlife refuges to historic coastal towns like Beaufort, the 17th-century haunt of the pirate Blackbeard.
3. Navigate the Narrows
Featuring rapids with names like “Pincushion,” “Nutcracker,” and “Go Left and Die,” the Narrows section of the Green River is no float trip. The Class V run’s most notorious stretch is undoubtedly a section known as “The Gorilla.” This segment requires paddlers to thread a narrow, 4-foot-wide slot called The Notch before taking on not one but two waterfalls, including the 18-foot Flume and the 10-foot Scream Machine. The churning, whitewater obstacle course is celebrated every November as gutsy paddlers from all over the globe make the annual pilgrimage for the Green River Race, one of the most treacherous and technical kayak races in the country.
4. Cycle 100 Miles in the Piedmont
Savor the stunning landscapes of North Carolina’s Piedmont with an extensive ride in one the state’s most eclectic regions. Cycle past groves of towering pines, sprawling horse farms, historic tobacco towns, culture-loaded colleges, and some of the country’s most legendary fairways. Cover some serious mileage on the nearly 200-mile Piedmont Spur, stretching from the edge of the Blue Ridge to the outskirts of Charlotte. Concoct an iconic century loop linking Southern Pines and Pinehurst, known as the home of golf in America, or cycle a circuit on the 30-miles of bike-able roadway in the 7,000-acre Duke Forest.
5. Climb the Biggest, Baddest Cliff on the East Coast
Rising 4,930 feet above the massive Nantahala National Forest, Whiteside Mountain is one of North Carolina’s most iconic summits—and one of the East Coast’s gnarliest climbs. Streaked with shimmering slivers of quartz and feldspar, the stunning slab of rock is also laced with formidable climbs, from the long routes on the southeast face to the less frequented approaches of the northwest face. If the mountain’s sheer cliffs are a little too foreboding, hit the two-mile hiking trail leading to the summit and admire the weather-warped tangle of red oak trunks crowning the summit.
6. Mount Mitchell Challenge and Black Mountain Marathon
Tackle some of the toughest terrain in in the Tar Heel State with western North Carolina’s most arduous duo of adventure races. The Black Mountain Marathon and Mount Mitchell Challenge both begin together, in the mountain-framed town of Black Mountain. For a stretch, both races follow the same route, but while the marathoners turn around at Black Mountain Gap overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the challengers continue to the 6,684-foot summit of Mount Mitchell, covering a total of 40-miles with a staggering 4,324-foot elevation gain in the first half of the race.
7. Blowing Rock Fall Classic
Featuring a 72-mile loop circling the massive Pisgah National Forest—and 6,000-feet of elevation gain—the Blowing Rock Fall Classic is no Sunday afternoon ride in the park. The late September bike race is a part of the Triple Crown of Carolina cycling, which in addition to the Blowing Rock Fall Classic, includes the 90-mile Blood, Sweat, and Gears loop in late June, beginning just outside Boone, and the Beech Mountain Metric in May, which features 8,000-feet of climbing, culminating at the summit of Beech Mountain.
8. Surf a Stormy Swell
North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a slender string of nearshore barrier islands, offer not only seemingly endless stretches of pristine Atlantic beaches, but they also serve up some of the premier swells on the East Coast. The combination of exposure and location, and merging forces like the chilly Labrador Current and warm Gulf Stream, make the Outer Banks, and especially Hatteras Island, consistently surf-able any time of year (wetsuits sometimes required). Even better, with an off-road (4X4) vehicle and a little wanderlust, it’s legal to drive along the Hatteras Island National Seashore until you find your own secret surf spot.
9. Slickrock Singletrack
Ride the rugged, view-laden ridgelines of the sprawling, 10,400-acre DuPont State Forest. Aside from the quad-burning climbs and technical, white-knuckle descents, both the Big Rock and Cedar trails include expansive stretches of granite slickrock dappled with plenty of dips, divots, drop offs, and sweeping Blue Ridge vistas. Craft your ideal singletrack expedition on the forest’s 80-plus miles of rideable roads and trails.
10. Bag a Brag-Worthy Day Hike
Take on one of the most challenging hikes in North America, the 13-mile Slickrock Creek Trail in the Joyce Kilmer Slickrock Wilderness, spread between North Carolina and Tennessee. Fondly nicknamed “The Ballbuster” by intrepid locals, the trail includes more than a dozen stream crossings and a total of 3,700-feet of elevation gain. Besides earning bragging rights, hardy hikers are rewarding with stunning vistas of untouched wilderness.
Written by Malee Baker Oot for RootsRated in partnership with Visit North Carolina and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By now, you’ve probably heard that Colorado is consistently ranked among the healthiest states in the nation. As of 2016, it’s been designated the leanest state for more than a decade by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Centennial State is home to some of the lowest rates of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension in the country, and fewer Colorado residents are considered physically inactive than in any other state.
But why? What are Coloradans doing that puts them above the rest? From mountain climbing with co-workers to being mindful of what goes on their dinner table, people in Colorado incorporate a healthy lifestyle across all areas of their lives.
It Starts with the Commute
With infinite recreational opportunities at their fingertips, it’s no wonder that 90% of Coloradans report that they participate in some form of outdoor recreation every year. It’s not just for fun, though. Thanks to efforts by communities around the state, many Coloradans begin their work day with an active commute. In 2015, Bicycling.com named Boulder, Denver, and Fort Collins the 10th, 11th, and 12th most bike-friendly cities, respectively, in the country.
That bike-friendly attitude reflected statewide: the League of American Bicyclists ranked Colorado as the seventh-best state in the nation for bicycling in 2015, citing its high percentage of bike commuters and cyclist-friendly laws. Also in 2015, Governor John Hickenlooper announced the multi-million dollar Colorado Pedals Project initiative, which seeks to make Colorado the #1 state for bicycling.
Pedaling to work rather than sitting behind the wheel in rush hour traffic definitely has an impact on Colorado’s health. Bike commuting burns an average of 540 calories per hour, according to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, and an Australian study found that men who cycle to work are significantly less likely to be obese than their non-cycling counterparts. The League of American Bicyclists points out, too, that on average, bike commuters lose 13 pounds during their first year of taking two wheels to work.
Colorado: The Best Place to Work?
No wonder Coloradans are happy, healthy, and fit: their workplaces make it easy. Colorado companies are consistently heavy hitters on *Outside *Magazine’s annual list of Best Places to Work. Thirty-six Colorado-based companies made the list in 2016, up from 30 the previous year. The list uses criteria like a company’s commitment to work-life balance, policies and perks, role satisfaction, and work environment to determine best companies, then has a neutral third party conduct employee satisfaction surveys.
Perks offered by Colorado companies on the list include unlimited paid time off, office-sponsored yoga and meditation breaks, paid time for volunteer work, free season-long ski lift tickets, and some even have a policy of closing the office for a "Powder Day" when more than six inches of snow falls. As *Outside *Magazine puts it, “All the outdoor access in the world doesn’t mean much if your job keeps you chained to a desk with no time to enjoy it.”
It’s not just outdoor-centric or adventure-based companies who value their employees’ overall health and fitness. The list includes several marketing firms and other non-outdoor organizations.
What’s On the Table
It’s not just the active lifestyle that keeps landing the Centennial State among the healthiest in the nation. Coloradans tend to eat healthier than other states, too.
Colorado is home to 270 individual certified organic farms and ranches statewide. That’s over 161,000 acres of organic farmland, and access to locally grown organic food is only getting easier for Coloradans, as organic acreage has skyrocketed by 40,000 acres since 2014.
The state is working to bring healthy, nutritious foods to more residents, too. In 2015, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment made it a flagship priority to increase access to healthy foods and beverages in worksite and government settings. By 2020, CDPHE plans to have even healthier food and beverage standards for government agencies and hospitals, a trend that could carry over into workplaces in the private sector.
A 100,000-Square Mile Playground
In the end, even when they’re not at work or around the dinner table, Coloradans are ahead of the fitness curve. With thousands of miles of trails in 42 state parks, five National Park Service units, and 8.4 million acres of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, it’s no wonder Coloradans are so active—there’s no shortage of opportunities to play. And with views like the one above, how could they resist?
Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated in partnership with Choose Colorado and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.
Quick Workout, Most Of A Day, Good For Beginners, and Good For Experts
On Leash Only
Palos Trail System - Mountain Biking
Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter
Time To Complete
Near the junction of I-55 and I-294 is the mountain biking Mecca for the Chicago area—Palos Forest Preserve. Well, technically it’s several forest preserves that are part of the Cook County Forest Preserve system, but to anyone who enjoys riding off-road, you only need to know one word: Palos.
The trail system in the preserve features nine trails of varying degrees of difficulty, with plenty of singletrack mixed in with some multi-track roads. With crushed limestone making up the vast majority of Chicago-area trails, this is the one place to truly take advantage of actual mountain biking just a 30-minute ride from downtown—at least when there’s no traffic early mornings on the weekends. This is also as close as we get to the “mountain” in mountain biking. While those in states with actual mountains may rightly scoff at that notion, Palos does offer plenty of hills to test the mettle of those who do most of their training on the Lakefront. And several challenging switchback climbs would be difficult for any rider.
What Makes It Great
Singletrack in Chicago. Chicago mountain bikers have fought hard for decades to keep Palos singletrack open for cyclists. Organizations like the Chicago Area Mountain Bikers have helped with trail maintenance and education to make sure cyclists are riding responsibly. The result is a trail system unlike any other in the area—a natural retreat that offers a something unique in the area.
The yellow trail is the longest at 8.3 miles, which offers a big loop in the middle of the preserve and is about a 50/50 mix of singletrack and multiuse road. You can start at the mountain bike staging area at Grove 2 in Pulaski Woods. (Use the map produced by CAMBR here, it’s much better than the one produced by the forest preserve). The more fun singletrack section includes the Bullwhip switchback and view of Maple Lake and Long John Slough. The 6.3 mile Orange West Trail is nearly all single track, with some excellent sections through Three Ravines and the Psycho Path, which gives you an idea of what to expect.
But that’s not to say that all of the trails are for experts. The Blue North (1.2 miles) and Blue South (2.9 miles) offer some great stretches that are more moderate. And there’s plenty of trails with no singletrack to get a taste of off-road riding.
If you’ve never taken your mountain bike off-road before, this is the best place to do it in the Chicago area. All but the most experienced riders will be tested by the difficulty of at least some of the trails.
Who is Going to Love It
Anyone who loves mountain biking, but particularly riders who are looking for a challenge. You’ll definitely improve your bike handling skills riding at Palos.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Parking at the Palos Forest Preserve is easy. Cook County Forest Preserve Hours are from sunrise to sunset. You can find trails all over the park, but the mountain bike staging area is in the center of the park, which offers great access to several trails. Take Archer Avenue to Pulaski Woods and look for signs to Grove 2.
Written by Jeff Banowetz for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’ve spent any time in Colorado, you know the Centennial State takes its beer just as seriously as its outdoor pursuits. With nearly 300 craft breweries statewide, the possible combinations of awesome hiking, biking, paddling, and climbing, followed by your choice of incredible microbrew, are nearly limitless. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the San Luis Valley, where you’ve got thousands of square miles of playground, including Great Sand Dunes National Park, the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan Mountains, and the Rio Grande River, just to name a few. Here are a few of our favorite trail-to-ale pairings to get your creative juices flowing.
Established in 1878 as a rail center on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, Alamosa—whose name, fittingly enough, means "of cottonwood" in Spanish—is a central hub of the San Luis Valley, and it’s the perfect base camp for your adventures. From town, take a quick drive to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, where you can hike out to Star Dune, the tallest dune in North America at 750 feet off the valley floor. The rest of the dunefield is open to hiking and backpacking, too, along with sandboarding, which is exactly as much fun as it sounds. When you’re ready to refresh, head back to town and enjoy an Alamosa Amber at the San Luis Valley Brewing Company. The Alamosa Amber is a classically Colorado brew, and at just 5.2% ABV, it’s one of the lighter microbrews you’ll find on the market.
Ride the Rails
The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad is a significant piece of the San Luis Valley’s history, but it’s also an important part of its present. Today, you can hop aboard the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad from its historic depot in downtown Alamosa, then check out the scenery (and scope out your next big adventure) as it heads up and over LaVeta Pass. Along the way, guides regale passengers with mining history and local folklore. The train also stops in the tiny mountain village of La Veta, where passengers can explore before heading back to Alamosa. There’s no better way to debrief your journey than over a Scenic Rail Pale Ale, another SLV Brewing Company beer made in partnership with the railroad.
Float the Rio
The mighty Rio Grande River offers adventure possibilities galore, and, conveniently enough, it runs right through Alamosa. Whether you’re a fly-fisherman looking for a quiet afternoon to cast for trout outside Del Norte or an adventure junkie looking to hit whitewater rapids on the Lower Rio Grande, you’re in luck—the San Luis Valley has room for both. A couple of local outfitters, including Mountain Man Rafting in South Fork, offer guided fishing and half-day whitewater trips. Once you’ve had your fun on the river, belly up to the bar for a Grande River IPA by SLV Brewing Company for bold hops and a crisp finish.
Climb High at Penitente
Once the sanctuary for Los Hermanos Penitentes, the brotherhood of Catholic monks who were active in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, Penitente Canyon is chock-full of history, some of which visitors can still see today. Head to Penitente to view the blue Madonna the Hermanos painted on what’s now called Virgin Wall, where you can also do some world-class sport climbing. These days, Penitente is home to more than 100 high-quality climbing routes, not to mention its excellent (and continually developing) mountain bike trail system. There’s also a BLM campground at Penitente, where you can enjoy one of Three Barrel Brewing Company’s special series of Penitente Canyon Sour Ales.
Take a Spin at Stone Quarry
The Del Norte area is a rising star in the Colorado mountain biking scene, and it’s continually being improved. Among its best-loved trails is the Stone Quarry system, just a few miles east of Del Norte proper. Stone Quarry has about 7.5 miles of singletrack and slickrock, and it’s been compared to some of the new mountain bike trail developments in the Moab area, thanks to its flowy riding and beginner-friendly features. When you’re ready to unwind, refresh with a cold beer at Three Barrel Brewing Company in Del Norte. Three Barrel is hugely supportive of local recreation efforts, even brewing a special beer, the Sweat Equity, for volunteers who worked on a MTB trail building project with Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado in 2016. The Hop Trash IPA and Burnt Toast Northern Brown Ale, both brewed with local Colorado ingredients, are crowd favorites.
Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated in partnership with Alamosa CVB and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.
Everyone and their mother knows that Colorado is a place of unending beauty and incredible geographic diversity. From the infinite plains in the East, to the craggy spine of the Continental Divide in the center of the state, to the arid desert landscapes in the West, it's almost unfair how much outdoor goodness exists in Colorado.
Editorially speaking, you could spend a lifetime creating lists and stories of things to do and places to see in the state. So why add to the content clutter? Well, because maybe, just maybe, we'll mention a spot where you haven't been or that you haven't heard of, which you can add to your CO bucket list and hopefully experience one day.
In this slightly differentiated list, Hanging Lake will not make an appearance. Nor will the Great Sand Dunes or Garden of the Gods or plenty of other sweet spots. Rather, these 21 spots, which vary in popularity (and in epic-ness), were all places that the RR Road Tour team was lucky enough to hit on their 20,000-mile journey across the United States....Will we be moving the company to The Centennial State in the next few years to come? Let's just say we won't rule it out.
1. Gross Reservoir
Up and over Boulder's Flagstaff Mountain (a classic road ride for many area cyclists), and nestled in a gorgeous area of the Front Range, Gross Reservoir is a 440-acre dammed mountain lake that's teeming with recreational opportunities. On the western banks, people with high enough suspension on their vehicles can arrive at a remote lakeside campsite and enjoy free-of-charge camping and cold-water fishing access. And for flat water paddling enthusiasts, it doesn't get much better than exploring the countless little inlets and coves along the 11-miles of shoreline. Beware though: if you're planning on parking above the reservoir at the Gross Dam Road lot, the uphill hike back to your car with a board or boat in tow is a heart-pumping, quad-burning thorn in the ass. (But it does make for a great photo op!)
2. Ypsilon Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain is one of the most visited national parks in the country. Yet only a few of the thousands who visit ever venture more than a mile or two into the heart of its wilderness glory. And it's a crying shame, because the area is home to some of the most stunning natural scenery in the country. One particular hike that offers an exemplary sampling of some of the park's best features is the 9-mile route to Ypsilon Lake. It's more of a strenuous trek in the woods than a casual 'walk in the park'—and you may even need snowshoes for the higher elevations early in the season—but if you manage to make it to the lake, you're in for a waterfall-fed treat of gorgeous proportions. The lake pristinely sits in a little pocket below a commanding cliff face and among sweetly-smelling cedar trees. Enjoy a lakeside picnic and maybe even a frigid swim, but be sure to hike back to the trailhead before the inevitable 3pm thunderstorms come clapping and exploding your way.
3. Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park
Okay, so we may have just had a little knock at the people who experience the park only by car, but this road is just too epic not to mention. For 48 miles, Trail Ridge Road—the highest continuous paved road in the US—wraps and winds its way from Estes Park in the east through alpine and evergreen forests and over colossal mountain passes all the way to Grand Lake on the western edge of the park. Some of the views along the way are so incomprehensibly vast, they'd leave Shaquille O'Neal feeling small. ( And he's not a small guy !) It's the kind of road that not only makes you marvel at the dramatic natural beauty, but also makes you wonder how in the hell humans were able to execute such a logic-defying feat of engineering.
4. Lincoln Creek Campground
The 22 primitive campsites along the equally primitive Lincoln Creek Road, just outside of Aspen, offer the kind of car camping experience that dreams are made of. What you'll remember? Well, first, you'll remember being jostled about on one of the gnarliest, bumpiest forest service roads you've ever been on. Then you'll remember arriving at your campsite to enjoy a secluded night of sitting around a campfire, listening to the namesake creek babbling on by, and sleeping under a huge Colorado sky with very little light pollution. Of note: Cars without high suspension or 4-wheel drive need not apply.
5. Independence Pass/Highway 82
At 12,095 feet, Independence Pass is the highest paved crossing of the Continental Divide in the United States. Sure, the Pass itself is worth pulling over to snap a photo or two, but really the entire route along Highway 82 between Aspen and Twin Lakes is pretty exceptional. On the Twin Lakes side, the road abruptly ascends from the valley floor, charging up some of the steepest switchbacks imaginable and unveiling better and better views of the surrounding Sawatch Range as it goes up. Once to the top, the treeless alpine tundra allows for incredible views in all directions, and then it's back down the other side toward Aspen for some more scenic splendor. We're talking glimmering aspen groves, enormous crags and boulders , and the raging Roaring Fork River, which parallels the road for a number of miles.
6. Grotto Walls
Approximately nine miles from Aspen, with one of the easiest approaches, Grotto Walls has been called the centerpiece of Independence Pass. With a parking lot at the bottom of a winding bend in the highway, this wall attracts crowds of climbers as well as spectators. This is one of the few climbs on the pass that stays dry when the rain rolls through, as it usually does in the summer afternoons in Colorado. Cryogenics Corner is definitely the flagship crack of this wall. To tackle it, you’ll need a lot of gear, ranging from nearly off width at the bottom and finger-sized crack holds near the top. The crack is rated 5.10a with a bonus climb on the second pitch above, rated at 5.10+.
7. Lost Man Loop
Despite its name, the Lost Man Loop is not an actual loop; rather, it connects two trailheads on Highway 82 close to Independence Pass. The Lower Lost Man Loop starts in some trees and ascends gradually, before opening up into a large, gorgeous alpine meadow valley. You are below treeline, but since there’s mainly scrub oak and sage brambles, the vistas are beautiful, with high ridges in just about every direction. If you make it to Upper Lost Man Lake, the views of Geissler Mountain and the surrounding peaks are incredible, especially when bedecked in snow in the spring or fall. (Probably best not to attempt this run or hike during mud season; you'll encounter snow in the upper stretches, and the trail will resemble more of a creek than a trail in some places.)
8. Sunnyside Trail
Aspen’s Sunnyside Trail offers unobstructed views of the Roaring Fork Valley and surrounding mountains. As its name implies, Sunnyside enjoys a good deal of sun and offers exceptional sunsets, as the trail faces southwest. Accessing the trail via Rio Grande requires a winding uphill climb through scrub oak and sage bushes, but the views become more and more spectacular as you ascend. Once you’ve reached the top of the ridge, it’s time to come back down. And what a descent it is! For trail runners and mountain bikers, it doesn't get any better. You can positively fly down the straightaways and smoothly roll through the switchbacked berms.
9. Maroon Bells
Ah, the Maroon Bells. Sure, you'll likely never have this spot all to yourself—and you can't even get there between 8am and 5pm from mid-June until Labor Day unless you want to hop on an overcrowded bus. That said, you can't deny how breathtakingly gorgeous the bells are. And there are, in fact, a number of ways to experience the beauty without getting jabbed in the face by a stray selfie-stick. Roadies can cycle up through 8-miles of glorious aspen groves (and then quickly coast back down). Hikers can get lost on some lesser-known—yet easily accessible—trails in the National Forest. And seriously skilled alpinists can attempt the exhilarating (and dangerous) traverse of the twin summits .
10. Rim Trail Snowmass
The Rim Trail , just outside of Snowmass Resort, is a beautiful, non-technical loop with fun, swooping singletrack and mind-blowing views of the snow-capped Rockies. In a maze of ribbon-like switchbacks, the Rim Trail winds up the 700-foot ridge on smooth and immaculate trails until reaching a lookout platform and memorial alter at the summit. From here, you can turn around and zoom back down the way you came or keep going and traverse the scenic ridgeline before dropping into serene aspen and sage meadows and ending at the Rodeo Parking Lot, where you can hop on the Snowmass Village bus back to your car.
11. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
The Black Canyon—one of the deepest canyons in North America—is a place of sheer, dramatic beauty and ancient superstition. Thousands of years ago, Ute Indians knew about this fearsomely steep crevasse in the earth and avoided it at all cost. When European explorers stumbled upon it in the 1800's, they left no written record of the discovery, and not until 1853, when one John Williams Gunnison rounded the southern rim of the canyon, was there ever any official account made. Later that year, Gunnison was killed and mutilated by Ute Indians. Was his ill-fated end the result of passing over this cursed canyon? You can't rule it out.
12. Silverton, CO
Home to a grand total of 638 full time residents, Silverton, CO is an old mining town in the San Juans that really gets the wild, wild west nostalgia flowing. The main drag is littered with colorfully painted buildings—running the gamut from old-timey hotels, to dingy restaurants with bison burgers on the menu and elk heads on the walls. And the 'Notorious Blair Street,' in the Red Light District, features even more lawless western charm, with an old jailhouse, plenty of authentic saloons with "batwing" doors and wooden balconies, and yes, a handful of buildings that were once brothels back in the day. Arguably, few places in the country so perfectly capture the essence of the early American West as Silverton does. As you walk the streets, it's impossible not to imagine a bunch of gun-slinging, gold-chasing outlaws marauding the streets, wreaking havoc, and just counting the seconds until high noon.
13. Animas Mountain
Animas Mountain is the trail Durango runners love to hate. The six-mile loop climbs to a high point and runs along the circumference of the local hill. No matter which way you cut it, you will run uphill for some 2.5-miles. The trail is rocky and uneven, and requires constant attention. But, for nearly the entire run, you’ll have amazing views of Durango to the South, the Animas River Valley to the North, and the stunning La Plata Mountains to the West. Animas Mountain is a tough, but extremely rewarding run, providing stout climbs and spectacular scenery.
14. Weminuche Wilderness, San Juan National Forest
Located within the San Juan National Forest, the Weminuche Wilderness is the largest wilderness area in Colorado. Roughly 500,000 acres in size, this place is positively enormous in size and mostly untouched. Sure, there are a few abandoned mine shacks randomly sprinkled here and there, but for the most part, it's a rugged land of thick forests and gigantic mountains. (There are three 14ers that call the Weminuche Wilderness home.) If a weekend is all you have, camping in the Vallecito Campground is an easy and memorable experience. There are 80 sites, well-spaced out and perfectly serene, and there are horse trails and hiking trails, which lead directly from the campsite into the heart of the wilderness.
15. Mesa Verde National Park
Excuse the pun, but these intricate cliffs are the culmination of over 700 years of living life on the edge. What began as pueblos on the roof of the mesa for the Ancestral Puebloans, slowly transitioned into cliffside palaces and villages etched into the sides of red rock ledges. Some of the dwellings contain over 125 rooms and once provided shelter for up to 600 people at a time. Today, visitors walk through the park with their jaws dropped and eyes wide with awe. Officially named a national park in 1906 by President Roosevelt to “preserve the works of man,” there are more than 600 cliff dwellings, 4,700 archaeological sites, and innumerable stories breathing from the rock at this truly special national park .
16. Phil's World
Simply put, Phil’s World is amazing. This 28-mile trail network is known far and wide for its flowy build and smooth loops, but what’s undersold is its variance. True to its name, it really is an entire world down there. Riders can pick and choose from singletrack as clean-shaven as a sixteen year old, or test their technical prowess and get bumpy on the rock ledges, shelves, and drops. Beginners can acclimate to Phil’s World on Trust Loop and Hippy House, while the ambitious and experienced cyclists can head straight to Lemon Head and Ledges. No rider, however, can ever have an excuse to visit Phil’s World and leave without riding Rib Cage, the most (deservingly) famous trail in this paradise of a mountain biker’s labyrinth.
17. Bridal Veil Falls
Stroll down Telluride’s main street, Colorado Ave, and you’re staring down one of the most photographed views in the region. Back against the valley wall, Ingram Falls topples down from the basin above and flows into the San Miguel River. However, turn the corner, and not visible from Colorado Ave, yet still the most famous waterfall in the valley, Bridal Veil Falls thunders over 365 feet down. To get there, drive up the Black Bear Pass Road and take a chilling shower in the mist of Bridal Veil. Seriously: you can't get any closer to the base—the switchback nearest to the falls is so close you need to use your windshield wipers. After you've had your fill at the base of the falls, you can continue driving up a few more minutes (and a few hundred vertical feet) to walk around the Lemony Snicket-like power plant that balances on the edge of the waterfall's cliff face. Originally used to power the town’s Smuggler-Union Mine, today, roughly 25% of Telluride’s electricity comes from Bridal Veil Falls.
18. Alta Lakes
In a time when campsites (understandably) charge fees for their use, it's a breath of fresh air when you pull off a dirt road to find pristine campsites for the price of nothing. Literally, nothing. Just good ‘ol, classic, free camping. No amenities, just first-come, first-serve campsites surrounding two tranquil lakes. Wake up with the sun and wade into the waters with your fly rod, or gently push off the shore for an early morning paddle. Alta Lakes, about 15 minutes up a dirt road (and then only another 10 minutes) from downtown Telluride, is also surrounded with a vast collection of prime singletrack hiking and biking trails. Best campsite in Colorado? It's definitely in the running.
19. Prospect Trail
Prospect Trail is roughly 10 miles long, criss-crossing beneath Palmyra Peak’s shadows and climbing a couple hundred feet in roundabout fashion before freeing you to descend. And damn, what a descent! Whether you choose to ride the loop to Mountain Village or continue and drop in all the way to the valley floor, Prospect shoots through tight trees, blending the smooth singletrack with technical root sections and skintight turns. Ride it fast, ride it casual; ride it dry, ride it in the rain; either way, ride it. All that, and we didn’t have space to even mention the countless jaw-dropping viewpoints that will tempt you to “catch your breath.”
20. San Miguel River
While kayakers and rafters flock to the forks of the San Miguel River beneath Telluride, it’s the portion in town and through the valley floor that sees just as many smiling faces. Grab your tube and head up to the Town Park at the end of town and hop in. Or rent a paddleboard and test your balance and paddling skills as you navigate a few miles out of town and reach the Highway 145 roundabout the wet way. You might have to duck under an occasional bridge, and the water is shallow in some places, but ultimately, the paddle is a unique way to see the valley floor. Odds are, you’ll see an elk, or two, or fifty. If you can brave the chilly evening, time your paddle with the sunset and watch the summer sky behind the mountain peaks.
21. Via Ferrata
There might not be a hike quite like the Via Ferrata anywhere else in the country. How many trails do you know that require a harness, helmet, a few locking carabiners, and two 48-inch slings? Built in 2006, this "hike" is more of a scramble, or even a climb at times, across the east end of Telluride's canyon walls. You transition from careful trail scrambling to doing your best crab impersonation as you stretch across the face of the wall, using iron ladder bars that were drilled into the route. It goes without saying that you are always, even on the trail, clipped into a cable. The 2-3 hour traverse has become one of Telluride's most popular outdoor adventures. The views farther back into the canyon and Bridal Veil Falls are stunning, especially in the fall, and looking back down on town is just as breathtaking. Be sure you're ready for sweaty palms, big heights, and don't look down—or do!
Written by RootsRated for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking for an outdoor adventure mecca, mixed with all the things you love about living in a mountain town? Take it from the locals: Durango is the place to be. Whether you’re a climber, paddler, mountain biker, hiker, or any kind of outdoor enthusiast, you’ll find plenty to keep you entertained in Southwestern Colorado.
"One of the things that makes Durango so cool is that even in just a day and a half, you can pack so much in," says Molly Mickel, owner of local outfitter Mild to Wild Rafting & Jeep Tours. She’s not exaggerating in the least. From the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad to the Animas River to the Colorado Trail, which stretches 486 miles to Denver, Durango is truly in the heart of the action. Here’s what the locals say you shouldn’t miss.
Best Mountain Bike Ride
Lots of locals will tell you to head to the Test Tracks at Overend Mountain Park. But David Moler, longtime resident (his wife’s family has been in Durango for five generations) and owner of Durango Rivertrippers & Adventure Tours, has another favorite. "Horse Gulch is great," he says, “You can go out there and either spend all day or just do a quick 45-minute lunch ride.” If you’re an intermediate-or-better rider, Horse Gulch is the place to be, since you can either do a mellow meadow loop or do a lungbuster climb up Telegraph. As Moler puts it: “Get ’em to the Gulch!”
Best High-Adrenaline Experience
Whitewater rafting is exciting in general, but the Upper Animas River cranks it up a notch, according to Mickel. "The Upper Animas is considered one of the toughest commercially run stretches in Colorado," she explains, adding that the take-out is only accessible via the Durango & Silverton Railroad, making for a unique shuttle out. On top of all that, Mickel says, you’re looking at continuous Class III, IV, and V rapids. “People have to be in really great shape to do this,” she says.
Best Right-in-Town Adventure
The best spot for an in-town run? Overend Mountain Park, says Mary Monroe Brown, Executive Director of Trails 2000. Founded in 1989, the local nonprofit organization works with the community to plan, build, and maintain trails, so their staff is certainly in the know when it comes to local trails. Her favorite run is the Hidden Valley/Grabens Loop.
Best Historical Experience(s)
Long past when you might think the novelty would’ve worn off, locals are still smitten with the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, thanks in part to its ability to shuttle adventurers to their rafting or backpacking experiences. But an even cooler cultural experience, says Mickel, is to head to the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park, where visitors can take a tour of the Ancestral Puebloans’ homes and learn about the area’s natural history. "You just can’t get that from a history book," Mickel says, “You don’t totally get it until you walk down there.”
Best Family-Friendly Activity
Both Moler and Mickel enthusiastically endorse jeep tours as an excellent way to get the whole family outside. "We have some of the best trail networks in the United States here in the backcountry of Colorado," Moler explains, and families can feel safe even on self-guided tours, thanks to GPS technology and, in Durango Rivertrippers’ case, “stop alerts” that let the company know when a vehicle hasn’t moved for awhile. Jeep tours allow families, including kids and older folks, to explore the backcountry without the physically taxing part of the journey.
Best Wilderness Experience
"One of the advantages of southwest rivers is that they’re less accessible," says Mickel, pointing to the Piedra River between Durango and Pagosa Springs, an intermediate stretch of whitewater with no road running alongside it. Unlike many rivers in the Front Range, you get a true wilderness experience with an overnight trip on the Piedra. If you’re not an experienced boater, sign on with an outfitter, including Mild to Wild, which combines Piedra wilderness trips with outings on the Upper Animas.
Best Post-Hike Watering Hole
"Derailed Pour House serves the coldest beer in Durango," says Moler. Derailed has beer on tap from a huge variety of Colorado breweries, including local favorites like Durango Brewing Company and Ska. There’s also a full food menu, including delicious shareable small plates and phenomenal burgers. You’ll also find a wide selection of handcrafted cocktails to leave you feeling refreshed after a day on the river or the trail.
Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated in partnership with Durango Area Tourism Office and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.