Don't let Denver's shiny skyline fool you: Colorado is still the Wild West at heart. Here's how to experience it for yourself.
Denver is booming, and record numbers of new residents are flooding into Colorado from other states. Natives and longtime residents know what makes our state so special, but new arrivals might be surprised to learn that Colorado’s sunny days, amazing outdoor activities and cool cultural scenes are just part of what people love about it.
Back before the towering skylines, when the West was truly wild and Colorado was a brand new state, cowboys and miners ran the show – and began traditions that Coloradoans still enjoy today. If you want to feel like a real local, you won’t want to miss these authentic western adventures the state has to offer.
1. Grape Stomping At The Colorado Mountain Winefest
In mid-September, wine lovers flock to scenic Palisade, the beautiful region known for its grapes (and its peaches!). At the Colorado Mountain Winefest, visitors have the chance to tour wineries, sample the state’s best vintages, listen to live music, enjoy food and wine pairings, and even stomp grapes themselves.
2. Eat Like a Cowboy at The Buckhorn Exchange or The Fort
Cowboys may not be known as fine dining aficionados, but they still appreciate good vittles. The Buckhorn Exchange (located conveniently at the Osage light rail stop) is Denver’s oldest restaurant, which started serving hungry miners in 1893. Their Old West fare is only part of the draw: the floor-to-ceiling taxidermy and Western memorabilia collection provides plenty of conversation starters.
At The Fort, located just southwest of Denver, diners can experience what dinner in a fort would have been like – Rocky Mountain oysters optional.
3. Hike Hanging Lake
In the heart of Glenwood Canyon is one of the state’s most popular and beautiful hikes. The three-mile trek will take you to a crystal-clear turquoise lake and waterfall. For post-hike recovery, soak in the ultra-hot mineral pools at Iron Springs, or enjoy the steamy caves at the Yampah Spa, just as Native Americans did hundreds of years ago.
4. Take a Photo with the Prize Steer At The Brown Palace
January in Colorado means the National Western Stock Show – which is why many Coloradans keep their holiday decorations up through the month. It kicks off with a herd of longhorn steer parading through downtown Denver, and ends with the auction of a steer raised by a 4-H project for scholarship. Before the steer meets its ultimate fate, though, it gets the royal treatment – it’s brought into the lobby of the elegant and historic Brown Palace Hotel, where locals have high tea before getting a photo with the steer.
5. Take a Dip at Strawberry Park Hot Springs
In Steamboat Springs, the legendary Strawberry Park Hot Springs is totally off the grid and cash-only. After dark, the relaxing 104-degree pools become adult-only and clothing optional. Whether you opt for a swimsuit or not, it’s the perfect place to soak away the aches and pains of a day on the slopes.
6. Race a Coffin at Frozen Dead Guy Days
In the notoriously kooky town of Nederland, the illegally-kept cryogenically frozen body of Bredo Morstel was discovered. What to do to mark the occasion but host a festival? Over three days in March, Nederland welcomes (live) music along with coffin racing, costumed polar plunging, a parade of hearses, frozen turkey bowling, a frozen salmon toss and an ice sculpting contest, among other wacky festivities.
7. Hike the Manitou Incline
Outside of Colorado Springs is the Old West town of Manitou Springs, situated at the base of Pikes Peak and known for its series of natural mineral springs. Not for the faint of heart, the renowned Manitou Incline is a hike made up of hundreds of steps that gain 2,000 feet of elevation in just a mile.
After you finish this brutal climb, refresh yourself with a sip of from each of the eight springs, followed by a bowl of classic Colorado-style green chile at The Loop, a legendary restaurant conveniently located at the base of Pikes Peak.