Vail Daily travel feature: Less popular — but still beautiful — Colorado and Utah destinations
The days are growing cooler and the aspen trees have shed their glorious golden gowns, but there are still several weeks until ski season starts. What’s an outdoor adventurer to do? Before packing up the hiking boots and hanging up the bikes, consider these opportunities for fall frivolity that can take you far from the maddening crowd — and the beaten path.
If you like Moab, then try Goblin Valley
Moab is a favorite spot for hikers and mountain bikers in the fall months — it’s still warm when the Vail Valley is receiving snow. Find the temperate weather but beat the crowds in Moab and Canyonlands National Park by visiting Goblin Valley State Park. A unique and alien vista full of the sandstone sculptures carved by wind and erosion known as hoodoos or “goblins,” Goblin Valley is also known for its variety of pictographs and petroglyphs. Camp and explore the various nooks, crannies and gnomes that populate this area of Utah.
Located in the San Rafael Swell, a geological feature called an anticline, the area in and around Goblin Valley is also ripe for exploring, with slot canyons like Little Wild Horse Canyon (one of the most beautiful in the area), Temple Mountain and vistas that are still being shaped by the wind and rain. Be sure to take a good map and plenty of supplies; though there are several towns around the Swell and Goblin Valley, the interior affords plenty of opportunities for isolation.
If you like Arches National Park, then try Rattlesnake Canyon
Yes, Arches National Park in Utah is impressive with its thousands of natural stone arches, pinnacles and precariously perched rocks. However, there are plenty of other folks that have heard of the charms of Arches and head there in droves. Instead, consider Rattlesnake Canyon, just west of Grand Junction and part of Colorado’s Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness. Rattlesnake Canyon has the second largest concentration of arches outside of Arches, plus spires and alcoves and plenty of gorgeous desert hues.
However, due to its isolated location and the work that it takes to get there, far fewer visitors make it to Rattlesnake Canyon. Access the canyon after a strenuous 7-mile hike from the Pollack Bench trailhead, or utilize the Black Ridge access roads, adjacent to Colorado National Monument. The loop will take you by notable arches such as Hole in the Bridge Arch and Cedar Tree Arch before the ascent to the top of the canyon. As there is no overnight camping at Rattlesnake Canyon, it’s worth combining it with a trip to Colorado National Monument.
If you like Independence Pass in Aspen, then try Colorado National Monument in Grand Junction
Road bikers count Independence Pass as one of the most iconic rides in Colorado — for good reason. However, with the current colder weather, it’s worth considering a trip to Grand Junction to ride Rim Rock Drive in Colorado National Monument. This route was part of the Coors Classic in the 1980s, a precursor to the current USA Pro Cycling Challenge, which climbs over Independence Pass. By itself, this ride is 23 miles, but you can ride connecting roads to make a grand loop of 33 miles with a 2,300 vertical foot aggregate climb.
With an 1,800-climb in the first 6 miles, plus plenty of switchbacks and a narrow tunnel (make sure you are property equipped with lights visible from the front and rear to go through the tunnels at both entrances), the east entrance of the Colorado National Monument Cold Shivers Point provides a great start to your ride. Add in spectacular views of the red rock canyons and rock sculptures and it’s a classic ride that must be pedaled to be believed.
If you like Boulder, then try Colorado Springs
Boulder is a popular destination in the fall due to its warmer weather, great outdoor activities such as hiking and climbing and a wealth of breweries and nightlife. However, if Boulder has become a bit too Boulder for you, then try Colorado Springs. The Springs has many of the charms of Boulder, such as climbing in the Garden of the Gods or hiking on or near Pike’s Peak, but it also has a different attitude than Boulder. On the first Friday of every month, explore the galleries and culture of downtown while enjoying performances and art openings. Crazy about craft beer? Colorado Springs has more than 20 breweries to try, with several that have opened just south of downtown in the past few months. And, if you’re missing the vibe of Boulder, Manitou Springs is just a short drive from Colorado Springs and offers plenty of local color.
If you like the Roaring Fork Valley, then try Crested Butte and Gunnison
For those caught with the fly-fishing lure, there’s nothing like fall for wading and floating. While the Roaring Fork Valley is a close and popular spot to cast, consider the Crested Butte and Gunnison area to satisfy your fish wish. Head to the Gunnison River, Taylor River and East River to try your hand at rainbow, cutthroat, brook and brown trout; there’s also Blue Mesa Reservoir and the Black Canyon of Gunnison to explore.
However, what sets this area apart is the opportunity to catch salmon — in Colorado. Colorado has the largest salmon population in the continental U.S. and also has the longest salmon run in the entire country. In nearby Almont, anglers have the opportunity to fish for Kokanee and, while most salmon can be found in the Almont area, some make it all the way up the Taylor and up to Crested Butte. November is one of the last times to look for salmon before winter, but the trout are waiting year-round.
If you like Rocky Mountain National Park, then try the Grand Lake entrance
While you may know the Estes Park side of Rocky Mountain National Park, when was the last time you visited from the Grand Lake side? Autumn is a fantastic time to visit and, while Trail Ridge Road may be closed, there are plenty of opportunities to get out and explore the park with plenty of hiking, horseback riding or even hot air ballooning. Now through Sept. 4, 2015, Rocky Mountain National Park and its communities will be celebrating the park’s 100th anniversary with various programs like special seminars and speakers as well as concerts and other events, so get in on the celebration early.
There is plenty of wildlife to be spotted — the hike from Green Mountain to the Big Meadow not only affords great scenery, but also the chance to see moose. Then, there’s the elk: Fall is elk bugling season and, while the majority of the bugling can be heard in September and October, the mating season sometimes lasts into November. Described as a combo of high-pitched shrieks, shouts, grunts and screeching trumpets, an elk’s bugle is one of those things you have to hear to believe. No cover charge required.
When wanderlust kicks in and the urge to explore outside of the Vail Valley’s confines kicks in, consider these alternate destinations. Though the familiar is comforting, there is plenty to explore off the beaten path.