Colorado is one of my favorite states in the US. Not only is it beautiful and historic, but it is also full of some of the nicest citizens of any state I have ever been too. While I have long since said I will always call Austin, Texas home, if there is any place I did leave there for it would be somewhere in Colorado. Never been? I recommend checking it out. Below are seven unique choices to help get your plans started:
Old Hundred Gold Mine Tour
$10-20/person depending kid/senior/adult
With history dating back to the 1870s, the Old Hundred Gold Mine hit pay dirt just after the turn of the century when they began supplying gold bars to the Denver Mint for use in coining. However the ever-increasing yields from the mine were the begin of the end and before long it was officially "mined out".
All-in-all the tour lasts almost an hour. After getting loaded up (and bundled up, it is a little chilly underground) you board the railcars and proceed underground. There we explored a couple of the original veins with a guide who gave us a firsthand history lesson of both the mine and mining processes. But the scenery does not stop there; even outside of the mine shafts the backdrop of the local mountains is breathtaking. One neat part of the tour includes a view of the original miners' cabin, which if I remember correctly dates back to 1904. The thing is perched way up on the mountain and just barely is hanging on. As a matter-of-fact, when they first built the cabin they had to secure it to the nearby rock face with metal cables to prevent it from falling down the mountain. Wild!
And of course no tour of a gold mine would be complete without a stop at a real-life sluice box where you can take your turn at panning for gold, silver, and other semi-precious stones just like the gold-panners of the past did. And, yes, no worries: you get to keep whatever you.
Due to the local weather this tour only operates during the warm season, from May to October. And, as with any decent tour, there is also a gift shop selling all sorts of related souvenirs and trinkets as well as snacks and drinks. Check the official web site for more information on directions, rates, and operating hours.
Royal Gorge Bridge & Park
$19-25/person depending kid/senior/adult
Official Web Site
Wow, where to start. Think amusement park combined with natural wonder and you might be headed in the right direction. Covering 360 acres and featuring nearly two dozen rides, shows, and attractions to keep you amused, it is hard to get in and out of this place in less than a couple hours -- but then again, why would you want to rush it.
The prime attraction and namesake of this park is the Royal Gorge and its sky high suspension bridge, one of the highest in the world. It was built in 1929 for only $350,000 but the cost today would exceed $15,000,000. You can walk or drive across it but I definitely recommend walking, as that allows you to better enjoy the scenery as well as take some fantastic pictures using the 360° view. There is also an aerial tram that is apparently the world's longest single-span tram.
After enjoying the view from above, you can also admire it from below by riding down the 45° incline railway. Seeing it from this angle really puts it all in perspective; the towering bridge you just walked across is nothing more than a thing string stretching across the canyon like the tight-wire of a circus performer.
But the sights don't stop there! You can explore the gorgeous countryside by taking a mule rule ride through the pines and evergreens or strolling the Wapiti Western Wildlife Park. There is one of those free-fall skycoasters and a plaza theatre, a Mountain Man Trading Post (not sure what that is actually, I skipped it), and even a mountaintop lodge for those wanting to stay overnight.
The park is open year-round but some of the attractions may be seasonal or weather-permitting. I'm sure the official web site provide you with up to date information.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary
$10/person, $5/kids ≤12 yrs
Official Web Site
Located just 30 miles northeast of Denver and covering a grand total of 720 acres and sheltering around 300 lions, tigers, leopards, mountain lions, bears, wolves, and other large carnivores, the Wild Animal Sanctuary of Colorado is the first sanctuary of its kind to create large acreage species-specific habitats for its rescued animals. Since 1980 the Wild Animal Sanctuary has responded to nearly 1,000 requests from private citizens and government agencies to rescue animals from across the United States and even in Mexico.
After breaking free of the Welcome Center & Gift Shop, with a guide book in hand, you'll be set free to wander. They have huge closed-off habitats surrounding the main complex but by far the best thing is the observation ramps and decks that stretch over the animals in the center of the park. Walking up ramps and along observation decks suspending above the animals you can get a birds-eye view of some of nature's most impressive and majestic mammals.
Each of the main observation decks was thoughtfully designed with picnic tables and chairs, as does the small garden area at the foot of the main ramp. Visitors are encouraged to bring a picnic lunch, or if all else fails the gift shop does also sell a few drinks and snacks.
This is a great family expedition, absolutely perfect for the kiddos.
Beer? I like beer. DEREK
Fort Collins, Longmont, Boulder, Golden, & others
Colorado Brewers Guild
Craft beer is one of my loves. It is said that pairing beer and cheese is akin to holding hands, whereas wine and cheese is like arm wrestling. If you are drinking good beer than that is so very true. And if you are like me then it gives me pleasure to inform you that Colorado has a lot of microbrews, good microbrews. As a matter-of-fact they have more breweries per capita than any other state in the US. And for those that like the [ugh] mass-market beer, you probably know that Colorado is where Coors proudly calls home. They even offer tours. I didn't go on one; I have no interest in learning how to mass-produce crap.
Almost all of the larger cities have breweries. If in doubt just inquire in a local bar. I even found a restaurant in downtown Colorado Springs that has a glass-encased brewery right in its main dining room. The food was good and the beer was better. If you are in the area, definitely look up Phantom Canyon Brewing Company.
Have you been to any of the breweries in Colorado or tried any of the local beers? Share your thoughts and/or recommendations at the end of the article!
- Other notable breweries include:
- New Belgium Brewing Company (Fort Collins)
- Boulder Beer Company (Boulder)
- Twisted Pine Brewing Company (Boulder)
- Crabtree Brewing Company (Greeley)
- Left Hand Brewing Company (Longmont)
- Golden City Brewery (Golden)
Entrees @ $15 - $20
Official Web Site
Forever immortalized by South Park, Casa Bonita offers an eating experience unlike any other and I just had to check it out for myself. True to the episode, this restaurant actually features shoot-em up gunfights, cliff divers, strolling mariachis, puppet shows, magicians, games, prizes, and more.
The restaurant is huge, covering over 50,000 sq ft and with a maximum seating capacity of over 1,000 people, even featuring an indoor 30-foot waterfall. You pay for the show though with the cost of the food. Casa Bonita specializes in Mexican cuisine, but their menu is very limited and stereotypical. Everything except the kids meals is over-priced and none of what we ordered stood out or overly impressed us. But the sights, now that was a different story!
Kids will never want to leave this place, but even for adults it is worth at least one visit. Just one though.
United States Mint
How can you beat free? You can't! So why not visit the Denver location of the US Mint and learn a little bit about the coin and currency we Americans use every single day.
Tours are fairly short, only about thirty minutes, but the the guides are very knowledgeable in all aspects of the Mint from the gold rush days up to its present day production of coins. There wasn't too much to see as far as the machinery that actually produces the coins, but there are some interesting displays and videos. And of course the mandatory gift shop.
However, there are a few warnings: first off, you must make a reservation online first or you will not be allowed entry. Additionally, don't plan on taking any pictures for obvious security reasons. And as security is just as tight as at the airport, don't bring with you what you do not need. Finally, there is no public parking. Not a big deal but noteworthy nonetheless.
Colorado has 54 "Fourteeners," otherwise known as mountains with peaks over 14,000 feet above sea level. One of the most well-known however is Pike's Peak. With a 19-mile paved road that winds and stretches all the way up to its 14,110 foot summit, it is no wonder this is the most visited mountain in North America.
Pike's Peak National Park is open year round, weather permitting. You can see it in the picture above (the red rocks in the picture are the Garden Of The Gods). Be warned, in addition to extreme winds, the temperatures at the 14,110 summit can easily be 40°F less than at the base, which is only at around 8,000 feet elevation. The road to the summit, although just recently fully paved (apparently the last stretch used to be gravel), still features on a couple guardrails, sheer drops, breathtaking views, and scenic view spots you can pull over to park and take pictures.
Here are a few of my photos from the top of Pike's Peak VIEW MORE
Know of any other sights that make Colorado stand out from it's nearby neighbors? Share them with us!