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A Summer Road Trip Through Southwest Colorado
Although this is technically central Colorado, it's an excellent starting point for your road trip, especially since you'll most likely be flying into there. The city is full of great activities that can be enjoyed during the summer, like exploring the numerous museums, taking in a comedy show at Comedy Works, strolling down 16th Street Mall or around the trendy Larimer Square. My top suggestion for a great summer experience in Denver, is sampling some of the artisanal flavors of the city. Visit D'Vine Wine, a boutique winery offering inexpensive vino tastings of unusual blends, and The Truffle Cheese Shop, where you'll be able to try free samples of rare cheeses and cured meats. For those interested in uniquely flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegars, Marketplace EVOO features a giant tasting room, where the owner will help you put together and try the perfect blends. If you're hungry, Biker Jim's serves up exotic meat hot dogs, like elk, rattlesnake and pheasant, while the numerous local breweries can give you a taste of Denver's famous beer scene.
Located 30 minutes west of Denver, this tiny town may look unassuming, but there are actually a lot of worthwhile activities in the area. For some adventure and culture, tubing down Clear Creek is a popular local activity. Moreover, a trip to the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre offers picturesque hiking trails of moderate intensity, with opportunities to get close to the glowing red rocks. Additionally, Golden is the home of the Coor's brewery, which gives tours Thursday through Monday. I would recommend, however, going to the 2nd largest brewery, and only other brewery, in town, The Golden City Brewery. It's tiny, and housed in an old carriage house. They serve delicious wraps, and you can order a flight of their brews for about $6. At night, drive up Zion Mountain for an all-encompassing view of the city and surrounding areas lit up in the dark.
About 90 minutes west of Golden you'll find the charming mountain town of Breckenridge. This is one of my favorite cities – not only in Colorado, but also in the world. Summer travelers will love the endless amount of hiking trails available, to lakes, peaks, gorges and waterfalls. Furthermore, the town has an endless amount of boutique shops selling food, art, clothing, accessories, massages and gear. A stop at Breckenridge Distillery, the highest distillery in the world, is a must, as you can try free samples of their vodka, bourbon and bitters. I'd also suggest buying some elk and buffalo jerky from Climax Jerky, to sample some local flavor.
Drive three hours west, and you'll get to Grand Junction. Here you'll find Colorado's undiscovered wine region. Because of its very high altitude, rich soil, cool winds and mild climate, the area is able to make some of the world's best wines. Furthermore, the altitude allows for fruits to grow close to the sun, bringing out their intense flavors. The area here produces 70 percent to 80 percent of the state's wine grapes, as it has the longest growing season. This is in part due to the cooling effect from nearby canyons, and milding effect from the Grand Valley. Visit Carlson's Vineyards, a winery featuring a wide selection of wines and quirky concoctions, and Colorado's oldest winery, Colorado Cellars Winery.
Additionally, you can partake in some of the state's most scenic hiking at Colorado National Monument. This red rock canyon is over 200 years old, and features towering monoliths, expansive plateaus and panoramic views. It's 450 feet tall from its base to its top, and is 5,739 feet in elevation. Common wildlife includes bighorn sheep, eagles and collared lizards.
About 45 minutes south, you'll come to Crawford. This is a great city to really feel like you're in the middle of nowhere, and experience the beauty of nature. Here you'll find the country's newest national park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison. There are moderate hiking trails, which allow you to view the famous Black Canyon, which some say is even more impressive than the Grand Canyon. Moreover, this is a great place to stay on a ranch and partake in activities like horseback riding, archery, fly-fishing, trekking and line dancing. When I went, I stayed at the Smith Fork Ranch. While a bit pricey, you'll have all your meals and alcohol included, and the atmosphere will really help you assimilate into country culture.
Drive an hour south, and you'll get to the adventure-rich town of Ouray. It's similar to Breckenridge in that it's full of scenic hikes, boutique shops and outdoorsy locals; however, Ouray has a bit of a grittier exterior. The city was once an old mining town, which is apparent by looking at the historical buildings, many of which haven't been changed since the late 1800s. There are many adventurous options for the summer traveler, like canyoning, off-roading, rock climbing and alpine hiking. I'd highly recommend canyoning with San Juan Mountain Guides, as you get to repel down an 80-foot waterfall into a deep, narrow slot canyon. Additionally, there are many unique food shops and boutiques in town. Stop in Mouse's Chocolates & Coffee for their locally famous Scrap Cookie. After making their chocolates, they take the scraps and save them to add into their homemade cookie batter. Each cookie is a surprise, as you might get nuts, toffee, caramel, turtles or other sweet possibilities depending on what was left over. By the same token, they have unique chocolates like bacon clusters with chardonnay salt and "Dark Hippie Bark," a mix of coconut, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. For a unique brewery experience, visit the Ourayle House, where you'll be heckled by Hutch, the owner, who made the bar out of scrap wood in his garage.
If you're flying back, you can make your way to the airport at Grand Junction, which is about an hour away.