I first visited Denver back in January 2008, after getting funding to learn a new research technique in a lab at the University of Colorado. Denver seemed like a nice, pleasant city. Lots of strip malls. HUGE cars. The kind that require a step ladder to even reach the first step. Huge food portions. Huge apples! My first experience at a drive-thru Starbucks was here and it was oddly thrilling at the time. That and the fact that I could ask for an extra hot latte with 2% milk, 1.5 pumps of sugar free vanilla syrup and half an inch of extra foam without the barista looking at me as though I had just ordered a cup of sewage.
But it was the mountains that stole the limelight. Visible from virtually every part of the city, the Rockies provide year round adventures in the form of trail running, hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, ski mountaineering. You name it, Colorado has it. Including the most PHENOMENAL Aspen trees which glow like pure gold during the autumn months.
Having fallen head over heels for this vast area of the country, there was no hesitation on accepting a postdoctoral position offer in Denver starting March 2009. The following 3 years were filled with 40 days / year of skiing, weekend camping and backpacking trips and so much laughter amongst good friends. Colorado made a deep impact in my heart which still exists today – a large part of that is the type of people and their laid-back and open nature, which strongly reminds me of Australia, where I grew up.
A recent visit to up catch up with good friends left some spare time to revisit some of my favorite places in the mountains, reminding me even more so what an extraordinary place Colorado is to visit. If you are ever in Colorado, here are a few of my recommendations….
Frisco is a beautiful town nestled close the ski areas of Breckenridge and Copper Mountain. A great place to stop and recharge your batteries and only 1.5 hours from Denver.
Thirty minutes further on is the funky town of Leadville, most famous for the ‘Leadville 100’ ultrarunning race. Stay at the Colorado Trail House where Rick and Bec, an American / Aussie husband and wife duo, do an exceptional job at running their 10-roomed Airbnb with communal living and dining areas (photos below) Extremely cosy with a bed so big I nearly lost my husband in it! Located a few steps away from the Main Street and a bunch of restaurants and shops. Eat at The Treeline – a newer addition to the collection of eateries here, offering cocktails made with Colorado-produced gins and whiskies and a menu that’ll leave you asking the waitress to choose for you since it’s impossible to make up your mind …
Whilst you are in Leadville, drive 25 minutes further to Twin Lakes. In the summer, you can keep driving past these and up over Independence Pass into the town of Aspen. It is a breathtaking area, surrounded by some of Colorado’s 14,000ft mountains. This video was taken on leaving Leadville, en route to Twin Lakes. W.O.W!
If you have time, stop off at Mayflower Gulch on the way back to Denver (between Leadville and Copper Mountain). It is only about 1.5 miles to the location shown in the picture and a pretty magical hike. The altitude and cold temperatures will leave you breathless, but so too will the views.
Estes Park is another of my favorite places in CO. Also known as the gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park (and home to the Stanley hotel which is famous for being in ‘The Shining’), views of the shimmering mountains from the sweet town are wild and the locals treat you with the same curiosity and kindness they would a friend. By paying $20 per day (or $60 for the year) you gain access to the park and a multitude of magnificent hikes. Plus a multitude of deer and elk. One of my favorite hikes is to Loch Vale, an expansive lake surrounded by steep mountainous cliffs and jagged peaks. Attempting this hike in the summer will put you in line with hundreds of other nature lovers, eager to see the stunning nature unfolding. Attempting it on a week day in the winter will leave you very much isolated and free to immerse in the surroundings without the constant chatter of others. We felt extremely privileged to be there on that day.