After the snow melts each spring, Colourful Colorado can be experienced, and adventures abound across the wildflower-dotted mountains, lush forests, flowing rivers and rock formations. Colorado’s adventures throughout summer deliver an adrenaline rush for all ages – whether you prefer to raft the rapids or take a historic rail journey into the mountains – while a stacked festival and live music line-up provide a great holiday soundtrack.
Views from the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, credit Colorado Tourism Office
Here’s some of our top picks for the ultimate Colorado summer adventure:
Explore the canyons: Ouray is known for its ice climbing in the winter, but from May to October the same rocks and waterfalls can be explored by canyoning. Canyoning entails rappelling down waterfalls and exploring river canyons, andCanyoning Colorado is offering guided descents with training for all abilities this summer. Priced from US$99 for a half day course and from US$199 for a full day course.
Rappelling Ouray's waterfalls, credit Canyoning Colorado
Feel the Whitewater thrill: This summer, Colorado will debut two Whitewater rafting parks – Eagle River Park, a new world-class Whitewater park geared up for hosting competitions and events, which wraps along the Eagle River, and Poudre River Whitewater Park, which will include a boulder-lined boat chute, rock features, holes for kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, tubing and shallow play along the shore. For the more daring, Colorado’s only nationally designated Wild and Scenic River, the Cache la Poudre, carves down Poudre Canyon through narrow sections flanked by alpine mountains and natural rock cliffs west of Fort Collins. The triumph of paddling over a rapid named Devil’s Staircase is second only to the views and the chance to spot bighorn sheep and deer along its rocky hills.
Rafting the Cache la Poudre, credit Richard Haro
Scale the rocks on a Via Ferrata adventure: The excitement of climbing vertical canyon walls with amazing views makes for the ultimate Colorado adventure, with two new Via Ferrata locations in Cave of the Winds Mountain Park and Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, both accessible from Colorado Springs. A two-hour guided rock-climbing adventure at Cave of the Winds Mountain Park, is open from 24 May – 2 September for thrill-seeking visitors – including inexperienced climbers – to scale limestone cliffs and mountains that are miles above the canyon floor. The Royal Gorge Bridge and Park will also debut a new Via Ferrata along the granite walls of the Royal Gorge for Summer 2019, with mountain guide accompanied climbs starting from halfway down into the gorge.
Cave of the Winds Mountain Park introduces Via Ferrata, credit Visit Colorado Springs
Take a bike ride in Telluride: Locals will argue there’s no better way to see Telluride in the summer months than by bike, with dramatic vertical terrain and old mining roads leading to rugged mountain scenery and historic sites. New for June 2019, Telluride Ski Resort – partnering with Gravity Logic – will debut a new bike park in June 2019. The bike park will showcase miles of gravity-fed flow trails, sweeping turns and arching bridges. The terrain will include new freestyle trails and enhancements to the existing technical and cross-country trails.
Biking in Telluride, credit Visit Telluride
Summer is also the perfect time to ride the rails on a scenic rail journey, many being along the tracks first laid for the mining pioneers of the 1800s. Following the recent announcement of the Pikes Peak Cogway re-opening in 2021 – which has taken thousands of people to the 14,115-foot summit of Pikes Peak since it first opened in 1891 – we’ve rounded up Colorado’s top historical rail journeys that can take you back in time this summer:
Steam along with Brews, Views and Adventure on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
In continuous operation since 1882, the D&SNGRR was constructed to haul gold and silver from the San Juan Mountains and is estimated to have carried more than $300 million (USD) in precious metals over its history. Today, visitors can take a ride on a steam locomotive through spectacular canyons in the wilderness of the San Juan National Forest on the same tracks taken by the mining pioneers over a century ago. Full day excursions can be taken between May and October to and from the historic town of Silverton, with the option to extend a trip back in time with a stay at Silverton’s Grand Imperial Hotel. Adventure packages are also available, combining a historic steam train ride with a 4WD drive trip in the Colorado backcountry, a rafting trip on the Arkansas River or ziplining. To satisfy all senses, Summer Brew Trains, which blend Colorado craft beer with live music, steam through the mountains on select days between June and August.
Solve a Murder Mystery Aboard The Royal Gorge Route Railroad
The Royal Gorge Route Railroad is located in Cañon City and takes travellers on a scenic 2-hour train ride along what is considered to be the most famed portion of the former Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, described by President Theodore Roosevelt as “the trip that bankrupts the English language.” Special events are hosted on board throughout the year, including The Wine Express from 24 June – 8 August 2019, where visitors can marvel at the Royal Gorge views with a charcuterie board and four-wine flight tasting from Cañon City’s own Holy Cross Abbey Winery. The Murder Mystery Dinner takes place on selected dates between March and October, with different murders for travellers to solve each time, from the Murder in Buffalo Chip to the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.
Channel Indiana Jones on the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad
A movie star in its own rights, featuring in 20 films and documentaries, such as Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade in 1989 and A Million Ways To Die In The West in 2014, theCumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad explores the unspoiled Western scenery of Colorado and New Mexico. The route takes passengers across the state border 11 times throughout its 64-miles, which are mostly off-grid with views into canyons, over ridges and wildflower-filled meadows that can’t be seen in any other way. Visitors can take full or half day trips aboard the narrow-gauge steam trains, with daily excursions from 25 May – 20 October 2019, or choose from a range of special events taking place throughout the summer, including a Geology Train, 4th of July Dinner Train, a Speakeasy Sunset Dinner Train and a Wildflower & Botany Train.
Experience Colorado’s Mining History on the Georgetown Loop Railroad
Opening for the season on 27 April 2019, the Georgetown Loop Railroad is located just 45 miles from Denver and takes passengers high into the Rocky Mountains. With a number of departures each day, visitors can combine their train journey with a hike, alternatively, mine tours and gold panning provide a fun throwback to Colorado’s mining days for the whole family.
Left: Royal Gorge Route Railroad, credit Matt Inden; Right: Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, credit Denise Chambers
Colorado has more than 300 festivals each year, with the summer schedule for 2019 delivering music and cultural experiences to attract all travellers. Highlights include:
The Red Rocks Summer Concert Season, Morrison (2019 line-up includes Grammy-winning Australian EDM Producer, FLUME; Snoop Dog; The 1975; Stevie Wonder; Norah Jones; Diana Ross; Weird Al Yankovich with the Colorado Symphony and more) April – September
Mountainfilm Festival, Telluride – 24-27 May
Denver Day of Rock, Denver – 25 May
Larimer Square’s Denver Chalk Art Festival, Denver – 1-2 June
FIBArk – America’s Oldest Whitewater Festival, Salida – 13-16 June
The first Boulder Beer Chase, Boulder – 15 June
Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Telluride – 20-23 June
Greeley Stampede, Greeley – 26 June-7 July
Crested Butte Wildflower Festival, Crested Butte – 5-9 July
Hot Air Balloon Rodeo, Steamboat Springs – 13-14 July
Clockwise from top left: Red Rocks Amphitheatre, credit Steve Crecelius; Denver Day of ROck, credit Visit Denver; Greeley Stampede, credit Colorado Tourism Office and Hot Air Balloon Rodeo, credit Noah Wetzel
So what’s new in Colorado for the 2019 summer season? Here’s just a sample:
- A new Glenwood Gondola debuts this month at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, which will transport 1,000 guests per hour to and from the mountain-top theme park.
- Cheyenne Mountain State Park’s Dixon Trail is now open to the public, after nearly a decade of planning. The trek to the top of Cheyenne Mountain navigates 914 metres elevation gain with a challenging upper section hike.
- ColorRADo Adventure Hostel opens in Colorado Springs, the city’s first hostel.
- Denver’s newest foodhall, Broadway Market, to open in Denver’s Golden Triangle Neighbourhood.
- Mesa Verde National Park receives Rockefeller's Native American art treasures, including 115 works of art purchased from living artists during Rockefeller family trips in 1920s and 1930s.
- The first ever Southwest Chief Bicycle and Comedy Festival follows the route of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief and will stop at the route’s center station in Trinidad, Colorado, 2 – 5 May.
- Solar-powered backcountry lodging, Thelma Hut, is now open in the San Juan Mountains for off-grid adventurers.