If spring 2020 were a jelly bean, it would be black licorice. Dropped in an alley off Colfax. And then stepped on.
For tourism-dependent towns across Colorado, these unprecedented times — and the economic downturn they’ve inspired — have been particularly hard to swallow. Tourism is the state’s second-largest employer, bringing in more than $22 billion in 2018. And as restrictions ease and visitors return, towns that rely on tourism must balance attracting much-needed revenue with taking precautions to safeguard public health.
Right now, visitor bureaus and tourism organizations across the state are rolling out new programs that address potential concerns about travel...and starting a second wave of the pandemic. “Our new ‘The Adventure Is You’ campaign is proactive about promoting travel when the time is right for their comfort level,” explains Alexea Veneracion, communications manager for Visit Colorado Springs. “While in this ‘Safer at Home and in the Vast, Great Outdoors’ phase, we’re highlighting things like scenic drives and activities that can be done while social distancing, and emphasizing new measures to keep everyone safe.”
“We’re not aggressively marketing,” echoes Tom Wilkinson of Visit Telluride. “This is a very small town, and a lot of our second-home owners are here more permanently this summer. Telluride is not just looking at the money, but at the overall good of our community. And we definitely do not want to do this again.”
While most of the festivals that add fun to a Colorado summer have been canceled this year, the state has no shortage of open space and “life is good” landscapes. Campground sites and hotel rooms could be hard to come by, though, so you’ll want to plan early and well. The Colorado Trail Explorer (COTREX) app has up-to-the-minute info on trails, parks and open spaces, campgrounds and other closures; colorado.com is full of ideas and information on reopening attractions. Or you can always reach out directly to the town you want to visit.
Here are ten great destinations for an in-state road trip this summer, in alphabetical order:
Colorado’s glitzy sister resort towns aren’t giving up on summer — not by a long shot. Sure, a few festivals won’t be happening, the Belly Up is still distressingly silent and the Canopy Run Zipline tour at Lost Forest is currently off limits. But the Audi Power of Four Trail Race and Snowmass 50 Mountain Bike Race are taking registrations, and the party is ON. Morning yoga on top of Ajax? Check. Maroon Bells? Open, though you have to use the shuttle from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and reservations are most definitely required. Sundeck Restaurant, gondolas and chairlifts? Scrubbed and ready for your sipping, snacking and sightseeing enjoyment. A few miles away, the Snowmass Bike Park continues to expand, and restaurants, galleries and boutiques are as ready as they’ve ever been to collect all those tourist dollars. See you at the Caribou Club, dahling.
Summit County has canceled most of its events this summer, setting its sights on September. But there’s still plenty to do in Breckenridge and nearby towns. The area has zipline and rafting adventures, and too many trails to hike in a lifetime. Marinas in Dillon and Frisco are just waiting for water lovers to enjoy their liquid assets. For liquor lovers, Breckenridge Distillery is open for tastings (no tours), and the restaurant is serving (if you don’t eat all the brisket, we will). And at Country Boy Mine, visitors can tour a real gold mine and enjoy other activities, including ax throwing. If there’s one thing we want to do in 2020, it’s throw a big ol’ ax...at the entire year!
Find out more at gobreck.com or call 970-453-2913.
The Springs is welcoming summer guests with open arms (from six feet away, naturally) while maintaining a focus on outdoor activities — which is easy to do when you’re in the land of Pikes Peak and a stone’s throw from Garden of the Gods. But the great outdoors isn’t the only draw. The legendary Broadmoor Hotel reopens on June 28, and with 5,000 acres, the historic “Grand Dame of the Rockies” will offer guests plenty of room and exclusive private wilderness experiences, along with social distancing-friendly sports like golf, tennis and pickleball. Animal lovers will rejoice at the reopening of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, where the peacocks are ready along with precautions including a reduced number of timed admissions. The city is also exploring solutions such as synchronized fireworks to celebrate holidays.
Find out more at 719-635-7506 or visitcos.com.
Get Rocky Mountain high at this gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, beloved for ambling herds of elk and hometown hospitality. Whether you choose to stay in a serene cabin or at the spooky-cool Stanley Hotel, you’re never far from outdoor adventure and family-friendly fun in Estes Park. Stroll the downtown Riverwalk, where the Big Thompson and Fall rivers converge. Grab an ice cream cone and check out the shops. The popular aerial tram isn’t currently open to visitors, but that may change. Rocky Mountain National Park is operating a timed reservation system to reduce crowding; try to get a red-hot reservation at recreation.gov. Or try Hermit Park Open Space or Roosevelt National Forest, both of which offer incredible views and many of the same activities as their better-known neighbor — but with fewer crowds. And as always, maintain a healthy social distance...from wildlife!
Find out more at visitestespark.com or call 970-577-9900.
From Hanging Lake to the historic Hotel Colorado to Halvor Flowstone — a friendly fourteen-foot troll — the attractions of Glenwood Springs await visitors seeking a summer escape. Famed for its geothermal offerings, this resort town has a bounty of outdoor activities and a lively dining scene that’s been augmented with temporary pedestrian malls. The whitewater park and activity area welcomes kayakers and paddleboarders, but they’re limited to 25 people at a time. Reserved one-hour entry slots for the gondola up to Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park ensures plenty of room to spread out while enjoying that family-friendly theme park. In town, Iron Mountain Hot Springs is employing online reservations for 2.5-hour soaks, while tickets to the large Hot Springs Resort pool are on a first-come, first-served basis. The popular Tuesday Night Market is spaced out along 7th Street — which is also home to the award-winning Glenwood Canyon Brewpub. While festivals are currently on hold, you can still snag a seat on Amtrak’s daily run from Denver’s Union Station.
Learn more about Glenwood Springs at visitglenwood.com or by calling 970-945-6580.
Denver’s neighbor to the north is slowly reopening, and makes a great day trip. Historic Old Town is best explored by bicycle or on foot, which allows you to stay with your own pod while keeping a safe distance from others. Whether they stock Western wear, antiques or the latest outdoor equipment, the shops are open and happy to accept your touchless Apple Pay. On the beer front, New Belgium Brewing has resumed tastings and food trucks, though tours are closed through the summer; other taprooms are following suit. Nearby Horsetooth Reservoir is ideal for water sports of all kinds, and surrounded by trails perfect for hiking, biking and horseback riding. And the Poudre River is a perennial favorite for whitewater rafting, with tours ranging from mild to wild.
Find out more at 970-232-3840 or visitftcollins.com.
Regardless of restrictions, there’s still an amazing amount to see and explore in the southwestern part of the state. Mesa Verde National Park (including the lodge and campground) is open, though without the ranger-led tours of the three largest cliff dwellings; visitors can still drive the mesa loop, and an abbreviated guided bus tour is available. For a different look at ancestral Pueblan culture, the nonprofit Southwest Colorado Canyons Alliance (swcocanyons.org) offers tours of the wild and fascinating Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. At the Cortez Cultural Center, free Native American dances are still on (with distancing) Thursday through Sunday.Nearby, the award-winning Sutcliffe Vineyards has ample space for tastings, and the freestanding guest houses at the Canyon of the Ancients Guest Ranch are the perfect choice for socially distanced stays. (Fair warning: The ranch’s lambs and baby goats will get as close to you as they like.) Check out the tiny, art-filled gem of Mancos where, in addition to galleries, restaurants and the outstanding Fenceline cidery, there’s a new RV park right on the river. And Durango is definitely throwing out the welcome mat for visitors, with plenty of lodging and restaurants now serving. For a special treat, hop on the famed Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, now with reduced seating and more open-air cars.
Ready to get on board? Call 970-565-8227 or go to mesaverdecountry.com for more information.
Want to stick closer to home? Throughout the pandemic, Longmont has boasted about its Strongmont program, and it makes a strong case for a day trip. Three distilleries, a whole bunch of breweries, plenty of “crazy good” restaurants and a bountiful farmers’ market (reservations required) give tourists plenty to explore. While the Brewhop Trolley is sadly still for now, most outfitters and activities are open. You can paddleboard at Union Reservoir or get up, up and away in a hot air balloon, catch a canoe tour along the St. Vrain River or go skydiving (if 2020 hasn’t already spooked you silly). Would-be ninjas can test their skills at the Warrior Playground (by appointment only). And if that sounds a little too strenuous, pop into Cheese Importers to pick up some pecorino and other artisanal goodies, then stroll around Old Town.
Learn more at visitlongmont.org.
Cowboy hospitality is a hallmark of this historic Western town, and Steamboat isn’t letting COVID-19 put a damper on its summer season. While First Friday Art Walks are virtual and most big events are canceled, farmers’ markets now include food vendors, and the vast system of trails outside of Steamboat invite hiking and biking. If your preferred trail involves walking between watering holes, the town’s four breweries and one distillery are ready and waiting. While Old Town Hot Springs is open only to members, Strawberry Hot Springs welcomes guests (by reservation only) for stress-relieving soaks. (You’ll want one after a challenging hike around Fish Creek Falls.)
Get more information at steamboatchamber.com or call 970-879-0880.
The stunning, tightly knit town of Telluride is famed for its festivals, but there won’t be many of those this summer. This box-canyon beauty wants to protect the health and safety of its 2,400 full-time residents as well as that of tourists. Half of Telluride’s picture-perfect Main Street has been closed to cars to accommodate more outdoor dining and pop-ups by the art galleries and boutiques that line each block; the closure makes this a perfect place to amble and window-shop. The gondola is open, whooshing visitors 9,500 feet up to Mountain Village for astounding views and incredible sunsets. Allred’s Restaurant is open by reservation only, the legendary bar repurposed as a dining area. Just be sure to venture beyond the town: The hairpin roads and million-dollar views can’t be quarantined. Fair warning, though: Hotels are operating at only 25 percent capacity, so get that reservation soon, or you could be making a long trip back to Denver in the dark.
Find out more at visittelluride.com or call 970-369-2106.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.