By Katie Coakley
If you’re anything like me, the changing seasons bring a plethora of emotions. Yes, I’m sad winter is over, but the spring days of snow/rain/hail/sun/snow (all in one day) usually lift me out of the funk. The next emotion is something like panic. All of a sudden it’s Memorial Day and summer is here and there’s a limited amount of time to fit in everything I want to do: hiking, biking, SUPing, rafting, tubing, camping.
But then I sit back, crack a Colorado craft beer and give myself a talking-to: It’s going to be all right.
One of my favorite ways to adventure in summer is to pick an activity and location where I can try some of Colorado’s other gold (ahem, craft beverages). I’m not a hardcore cyclist, but if you promise me a beer, I’m in. Climb a mountain? Sure, as long as sufficient libations follow. With this in mind, here are four ideal itineraries:
Tackle a 13er
Sure, Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks get the love—and the endless cardboard cut-out summit photos—but climbing one can also involve traffic jams on the trail and crowded vistas. A better idea? Try a 13er, like Square Top. Everyone else will be headed for Bierstadt, Grays, and Torreys but not you. You’ll hike a gorgeous route with far fewer people, climbing only 271 feet shy of Bierstadt’s summit. And the views are arguably just as good.
Where to imbibe: The trailhead for Square Top is off of Guanella Pass, so it only makes sense to stop into Guanella Pass Brewing in Georgetown after your hike. This brewery is small but mighty with a nice range of American-style beers from amber and brown to IPA; I was a big fan of the Aoraki Rye IPA.
SUP the Colorado
If you think living in a dry, landlocked state means forgoing water sports, think again. There are lakes for sailing and boating plus rivers for kayaking, rafting and my favorite, stand-up paddle boarding (SUP). Though the lakes and reservoirs make decent paddles, the rush of the river is what I’m looking for on my SUP. There are myriad put-ins on the Colorado. Make the trip to Grand Junction and you’ll be rewarded with some excellent stretches of flat and whitewater. Need a board and/or lesson? GJ SUP will take you out and have you conquering the river before it conquers you.
Where to imbibe: The beauty of this particular plan? You’re in an aprés hotspot. Make your way to nearby Palisade, and take your pick of sipping options. For pints, head to Palisade Brewing Company for an Off Belay IPA. Cocktails more your speed? Peach Street Distillers will whip you up a mean mule. If it’s wine o’clock, multiple wineries will let you sip and sample until you find your favorite.
Raft the Poudre
This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, and it protects one river in Colorado: the Cache la Poudre near Fort Collins. Yes, you can enjoy whitewater rafting on several of the big rivers in the state, but running the Poudre’s Class III and IV rapids is its own experience. Because of Roosevelt National Forest restrictions there are fewer rafting outfits on the water, which means less crowding.
Where to imbibe: If you haven’t seen a show at Poudre Canyon’s Mishawaka Amphitheatre (aka The Mish), put it on the list. The Mish is the perfect place for a little post-Poudre imbibing, and you don’t have to go for the music. The restaurant is open daily. Chow down on a burger while you sip beer from Odell in the fading sun.
Run through the Boneyard
Eagle, Colorado has made its mark as a mountain bike destination in the past few years—after all, there are more than 100 miles of singletrack in this small town west of Vail. You don’t have to bike to earn your beer in Eagle, though. Plenty of folks, and I am one, use the trail for other pursuits, like trail running and hiking. For example, Boneyard: it’s a popular mountain biking trail, but it’s also good moderate choice for trail running. About six miles long, the uphill is gradual. The second half rolls mostly downhill, making it a winner in my book.
Where to imbibe: Eagle’s a small town, but it’s got its priorities straight. You’ll find not one, but two craft breweries here: Bonfire and 7 Hermits. Both have their standouts, but I’m a particular fan of Bonfire. Peruse the various beers on tap (a few one-offs often grace the board) and pick your pint. The bonus: pups are regulars in the tasting room, so even if you don’t bring your own, you’ll get to drink while you pet a canine. And that’s what summer in Colorado is really all about.
Bonus: Bike for BOGO
We’ve already extolled the virtues of Fort Collins’ craft beer scene. But you don’t have to have a strenuous adventure to enjoy it. Just hop on a bike. Check out a guided “beer and bike” tour, or you can DIY and plot your own path.
Where to imbibe: Don’t miss the BOGO offer from Intersect Brewing and Rally King Brewing, both of which are conveniently located near the Spring Creek Trail (it connects the east side of Fort Collins with the west side). Here’s how it works: Hop on a bike; start at either brewery; buy a beer; ride down the Spring Creek trail (almost five miles exactly) to the other brewery and get your second beer free (through Aug. 31).
Another place with abundant imbibing? The Pacific Northwest. Plan your adventure getaway.