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The great getaway: Start planning your summer adventures in Colorado

No matter how long you’ve lived in Colorado and how much you love it, I’ll bet there still are places you haven’t explored.

I’ve lived here 40-plus years and continue to discover awesome places and events. We can all get stuck in ruts and visit our favorite getaway spots over and over. But if you haven’t been off your own beaten path in a while, maybe this summer is time to try something new.

Weekend or three- to four-day trips are a good way to venture beyond the known, and there’s so much out there the difficulty will be in choosing what to do.

If you tarry on that decision-making, you might miss out on some special events.

On the other hand, Colorado is a great place for short, impromptu road trips because you’re sure to stumble on something fun or interesting, said Abby Leeper with the Colorado Tourism Office.

That’s precisely what happened last summer on a trip to Glenwood Springs after we decided to drive back to the Front Range via Carbondale, Marble, Paonia and Gunnison. We scoped out a few things to do and left ourselves plenty of time to wander the route and make discoveries.

A few miles after leaving Carbondale and heading south on Colorado Highway 133 we noticed some people in bathing clothes near cars parked on the east side of the road. We stopped and peered over the bank.

It was a natural hot springs pool in the Crystal River. We joined the mellow crowd for a free soak until a thunderstorm rolled near. I later learned it’s known at Penny Hot Springs.

The next day, we had planned to stop at a winery near Paonia, although we hadn’t really settled on one. When we saw the first sign, for Stone Cottage Cellars, we turned off the highway and followed the signs into the hills.

That was fortuitous because we stumbled upon the last hours of the annual West Elks Wine Trail, which features free wine tastings and, in some cases, food pairings. We had time, so as we continued toward Paonia, we visited four more of the tasting stops (two were in a local shop) and collected our free wine glasses.

A small dirt parking area on the east side of Colorado 133 about 14 miles south of Carbondale is all that marks the Penny Hot Springs. The springs come from a bank on the side of the Crystal River and have a colorful history that includes residents of the area destroying a bathhouse because of nude bathing. There are no facilities at the natural spring site today, and local officials ask bathers to pack out trash – and wear bathing suits.

However, it was difficult to pull ourselves away from the Azura Cellars terrace, which has an expansive view of the North Fork Valley. We vowed to return and take time to enjoy a glass – or a bottle – of wine.

But more tasting awaited, so we continued along the trail. We also brought home a bottle of wine – or two – from each winery.

It was low key and lovely, and we were able to talk to several owners about their wines and the difficulties they faced with the drought last summer.

The West Elks American Viticultural Area of Delta County has two summer wine festivals to celebrate its 10 wineries, the North Fork Uncorked event in June and the West Elks Wine Trail in August. Activities for both events are at the wineries.

Festival options

Festivals, large and small, are a good place to learn about Colorado’s heritage, foods, libations, wildlife and outdoors. Many have been around for decades, but they seem to be multiplying, and most weekends you’ll find several from which to choose.

The annual Loaf and Jug Chile and Frijole Festival in Pueblo attracts thousands of people, who snatch up bushels of the freshly roasted chiles as well as the decorative ristras. It’s an amazingly accessible festival, with a city parking garage within easy walking distance and a $5 fee at the gate (children 12 and younger can attend for free, and it’s a popular family event). Inhaling the smell of roasting chiles is free.

In addition, some have added smaller, more intimate gatherings to their schedules, aiming for some of the authenticity that might be lost in a gathering of thousands.

That’s where a bit of planning comes in handy, as tickets to such things as farm-to-table and wine dinners, orchard tours and art workshops are limited and can sell out well ahead of time.

Your getaway need not revolve around a festival. Maybe you’d like to visit one of the state-certified creative districts, take photos along one of the state’s 26 scenic and historic byways or hike to a remote hut. Sometimes, solitude is the goal.

“People are so connected, they want to disconnect and are seeking more off-the-grid experiences,” Leeper said. And Colorado offers plenty in that category.

This summer also is likely to be extraordinary for activities such as river rafting because of the heavy snowpack, Leeper said. Runoff season is usually in May and/or June, and this year many are anticipating it will be longer than usual, with rivers running high and fast.

A plentiful snow year means runoff could be strong at the seasonal Medano Creek at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Family beach and boogie boarding activities are popular in May and June.

The seasonal Medano Creek at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve could provide better than average family beach and boogie boarding activities in May and June, Leeper said. The park notes that it gets crowded on weekends when the water is running high and suggests a weekday visit if possible.

Trip planning

Now, how to choose where you want to go? The Colorado Tourism Office’s website and printed or online guides offer plenty of options. Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the website and its overwhelming array of information.

The website provides sorting tools that can help you narrow it down. It even has a “trip ideas” tab to get you started.

Pick a city or town, or from one of eight regions: Pioneering Plains, Canyons & Plains, Mystic San Luis Valley, Pikes Peak Wonders, Denver & Cities of the Rockies, Rockies Playground, The Great West and Mountains & Mesas. Add a season and it will provide three or five-day itineraries.

Or you can search festivals and events – but it you do, be sure to narrow the search as much as possible to avoid repetitive entries.

Then you can check event schedules, buy tickets, make lodging reservations and scope out restaurant reviews on your favorite sites.

Just be sure to leave room in your itinerary for those things you stumble upon.

Sue McMillin, a longtime journalist and former city editor at The Durango Herald, is a freelance writer and editor living in Victor, Colorado.

Popular Festivals

Some of Colorado’s popular festivals:

Telluride Bluegrass Festival:

June 20-23,



Crested Butte Wildflower Festival:

July 5-14,



Gold Rush Days:

There are a couple of these mining celebrations, one in Buena Vista, Aug. 10-11, and one in Victor in July.





Palisade Peach Festival:

Aug. 15-18,



Pueblo Chile and Frijoles Festival:

Sept. 20-22,



Elk Fest:

Estes Park, Sept. 28-29, https://bit.ly/2QdOlMv.

Colorado Pack Burro Racing:

various locations, May-September,



More resources

Colorado Festival guide:



Uncover Colorado, travel stories and blog:



Lesser known festivals

And a few of the lesser known festivals suggested by Abby Leeper:

Spanish Peak Music Festival:

La Veta, July 5-6:



35th Ridgway Rendezvous Arts & Crafts Festival:

Ridgway, Aug. 10-11:



29th annual Rocky Mountain Folks Festival:

Lyons, Aug. 16-18:




Denver, Sept. 2-8: