Colorado is world-famous for wintertime snowboarding and skiing on its majestic Rocky Mountains covered with white powdery snow. But The Centennial State has more to offer than just winter sports. Much, much more.
The state’s diverse landscape — equipped with canyons, arid deserts, sand dunes, blue glacier lakes and many more terrains — makes it, quite literally, an outdoor paradise that has something to offer nearly everyone.
Add an altitude of almost 2 miles above sea level, very low humidity and cool temperatures from Spring through Fall and you’ve got yourself an outdoor paradise that’s ripe for exploring almost seven months out of the year.
Best Time to Visit Colorado
Spring has its beautifully colored flower blooms and its rushing rapids. Summer has its glacial lake swims and diverse wildlife sightings and Fall has its changing colors with a slight decrease in tourism.
If you’re visiting outside of snow season, you’ll get to experience the following seven things to do firsthand.
1. Rent UTVs
Renting a UTV is now within the top-five best adrenaline-fueled experiences of my entire life. Seriously. It was an unforgettable escapade, and I’ve gone skydiving from the tallest tandem in the world and am just an all-around adrenaline junkie.
Navigating that open-air, four-wheel-drive vehicle up and down mountainous terrain, getting it up to 51 miles per hour on a straightaway while bottoming out a few times and getting sketched out a few more, is an experience I’ll never forget.
I’m not gonna lie, there were a few times I thought we were gonna flip it (it comes with seatbelts and a roll bar, so you’d be OK), but we managed to get it back on the other two wheels and get back on track.
Imagine yourself ripping and roaring down carved out dirt paths, helmet and goggles strapped to your head and holding on for dear life. UTVs, also known as a Utility Side-by-Side vehicle, are basically the equivalent of real-life rollercoasters — except there’s no designated track you must stick to and anything can happen at any moment in time.
Cost: $100 per person for 3 hours
2. Go Whitewater Rafting (Or Floating)
It depends on which season you head out to Colorado (Spring, Summer or Fall), but you’ll get to choose how difficult you like your rapids. Since it’s extremely mountainous with lots of snowfall, you can begin with Class II rapids and go all the way up to Class V.
Let me just start by saying that I’ve done Class IV rapids before this trip and they’re reasonably difficult. I’d recommend only doing Class V if you’re an expert rafter, strong swimmer and want to have a hell of a day.
Since we visited within the first weekend in October, a few weeks before the snow is set to fall again for the season, most of the rafting companies were actually closed for the season. Many close after Labor Day weekend because the rapids slow down and so do the travelers seeking the cold waters of the Rockies.
With that being said, we still got small Class II rapids that were fun enough to float around on. It really matters more about who you’re with. The scenery is still phenomenal! In fact, it worked out just fine because we were able to take in the scenery around us while we floated through canyons and alongside wildlife.
Taking in the scenery and spotting some wildlife was seriously one of the best things to see in Colorado.
Cost: $65 per person for 3 hours
3. Hit the Links on a Mountainous Golf Course
I’m a self-admitted golf nut. There’s just something so peaceful and serene about hitting the course and immersing yourself in nature for a few hours. I’ll also admit it’s waaaay more fun when I shoot 9-over par instead of 18-over, but I’ll take a day on the golf course over a lot of other things.
Skip the courses in Denver and head for the mountains. You won’t regret it. From elevated tee boxes that sit a few hundred feet above the green to the thin mountain air with spectacular views, it was the most amazing golf course I’ve ever played (and a stark difference from the flatness of courses in Florida).
Even if you don’t play golf regularly, I highly suggest hitting the range for a little while and sneaking in a cool nine holes.
I’m telling you, hitting a driver 300 yards because of the elevation, lack of humidity and elevated tees will make you feel like a pro — another plus because the view of mountains completely surrounds you. It’s one of those Colorado activities you can do around the world, but it’s just a little better in the mountains.
Cost: $35 to $70 per person for 4 hours
4. Hike a 14er (Or Smaller Peak)
There’s nothing quite like conquering a mountain in a few hours, stepping up to the 360 view at the peak and taking it all in. Especially if you’re like me and rarely get to see mountains.
I just got back from Colorado on October 6th and I’m heading back out on the 11th, so I will definitely add more!
5. Take a Scenic Drive and Enjoy the Beauty
If you’re not from a mountainous region or you just don’t get to see mountains all too often, one of the cheapest things on this list is to take a scenic drive through these majestic mountains and enjoy the beauty unfolding before your eyes.
I’ve been a mountain-loving person ever since my first solo trip to Asheville in 2013, so it’s kind of funny I ended up in South Florida, about 600 miles from the nearest mountain or decently difficult hill. So anytime I get a chance to drive through the mountains, I jump at it.
You’ll have to drive your own vehicle, rent a car, have a friend take you or take the public-ish transport to really get a look. But it’s well worth it! Even if you’re only visiting Denver, I highly suggest renting a car for a day and taking a drive through the mountains.
I also highly suggest getting off the main highways and coasting down winding back roads navigating through canyons, in and out of tunnels and next to scenic viewing areas.
- Cost: $20 to rent a car for an entire day
6. Relax in the Natural Hot Springs
Hot springs in Colorado were an entirely new experience for me. Through all my trips out to the West Coast, I somehow managed to miss the hot springs every time until October 2019. And, ohhhh my, I’ll certainly make a stop at a hot spring every time I go out to Colorado from here on out.
A hot spring is created due to geothermal-heated groundwater rising from the earth’s crust and penetrating the surface, gathering in a pool of water that is basically a 90- to 100-degree natural hot tub.
Because of its location and amazing Rocky Mountains, Colorado is a breeding ground for hot springs and hot springs resorts. But you don’t have to go to a fancy resort to get to a hot spring. They’re spread all through the Rockies and you can hike to one for free.
However, if you don’t want to hike or if you’re OK with paying a little bit of money to get into a hot spring, I still suggest you go for it! It’s a nice way to warm up in the cool Colorado air.
Cost: Free to $20 for a few hours
7. Jump off a Cliff into Ice-Cold Waters
Yes, the waters in Colorado are cold year-round. They’re pretty freezing cold to be exact. From the banks of rivers to lakes in the mountains, you can expect the water to be a brisk 30- to 60-degrees Fahrenheit, the latter being during the perfect time at the end of a hot summer.
We had the leisure of jumping off a 20-foot cliff into 40-degree, ice-cold water in the Colorado River. I was actually more nervous about the cold waters than I was about the 20-foot jump. The jump was easy. And, surprisingly, the water felt pretty nice on a 70-degree sunny day.
Cost: Free to jump
Of course, there’s much more to do in Colorado (like fly fishing, downhill mountain biking, ziplining, visit one of the many national parks or national forests, or wildlife viewing), but these are just personally my seven favorite things.
Who knows, maybe I’ll end up out there someday and be able to expand on this list. I do always seem to find myself yearning to go to Colorado.
- Copper Mountain, Colorado Travel Guide: Winter & Summer Activities
- Ice Lake Basin Trail: The Best Hike in San Juan National Forest