Platte River Fort
Courtesy Platte River Fort Facebook page

For an unforgettable frontier experience, nothing beats a weekend getaway to Platte River Fort, a working cattle and guest ranch with some serious Western flair. Platte River Fort is open for visitors year-round, but our favorite time to visit is in the fall, when Colorado history comes alive right before your eyes on "roundup" weekends. During roundups, guests hop onto ATVs and follow cowboys and girls as they herd dozens of longhorn cattle on the 235-acre property. After the roundup, learn to use a lasso, try skeet shooting and archery, pet an alpaca, and visit the resident bull. There's always plenty of good down-home cooking prepared in an on-site gourmet kitchen. For overnight guests, we highly recommend hunkering down in the covered wagon.

Best Place to Make an Olympics-Style Clean Sweep

Denver Curling Club

Denver Curling Club
Courtesy Denver Curling Club Facebook page

As folks across the country watched the U.S. men's team win a gold medal in curling, their thoughts were the same: "This is amazing! But what the hell's going on? And why do those guys have brooms?" The answers to these questions and plenty more can be found at the Denver Curling Club, one of the few rinks dedicated to curling in the West; the next closest centers are in Bismarck, North Dakota, and Tempe, Arizona. The huge center is easy to find and regularly sponsors two-hour introductions to the sport that cost $40 per session or $130 for a five-to-six-session curling course and mini-league membership. Taking part requires a strong back; the so-called rocks that curlers slide along the ice weigh 42 pounds. But four years from now, during the next Winter Olympics, you'll be one of the lucky few in the know.

Best Mountain for First-Time Skiers and Snowboarders

Eldora

Eldora Mountain Resort
Courtesy Eldora Facebook page

Think Eldora is too close to Denver to be a "real" ski resort? Think again. Located in Boulder County a few miles west of downtown Nederland, Eldora gets over 300 inches of snow annually and has 680 acres of skiable terrain that's perfect for a low-key but insanely fun experience for beginner skiers and snowboarders — or anyone looking to dodge the crowds in Summit County. Eldora's Mountain Explorer package is the best way to introduce skiing and snowboarding to children ages four to fourteen. Since 2016, the resort has also offered its Woodward Experience for those looking to develop skills. Adult beginner group lessons for ages fifteen and up teach newbies everything they'll need to know to get after it on the slopes, chairlift basics included. Reservations are recommended for lessons, but walk-up registration is also available on a first come, first served basis seven days a week, beginning at 8:30 a.m. in the Indian Peaks Lodge. For cross-country enthusiasts, nothing beats Eldora Nordic Center's forty kilometers of scenic trails weaving through quiet forests.

Keystone Resort
Keystone Facebook page

If there's anything more embarrassing than face-planting off a rail in front of a full chairlift, we don't want to make that mistake, either. The truth is, the intimidation factor cannot be overstated when it comes to terrain parks, and so we fully appreciate the lengths to which Keystone Resort keeps going to help riders and skiers get better the right, and easy, way. Enter A51, the name for the resort's six terrain parks in one sixty-acre area, with lines that lead from beginner to expert, all served from one dedicated lift. With 116 features and more on the way, the park offers extra-small, small and medium features — a variety of pipe sizes, along with boxes, barriers, rails, ramps, tubes, tables, jibs and jumps — plus a staggering selection of big ones, with each skill level smoothly transitioning to the next. Start extra-small on Easy Street, then head to I-70 and the Alley, with their slightly larger features. By the time you hit the hardest area, Main Street, you'll be ready to go pro.

Readers' Choice: A51 Terrain Park

Aspen/Snowmass

If you're looking for a double-diamond run that will scare the ski pants off you and possibly make you weep, S1 is the one and only. The second in the series of north-facing (and thus snow-holding) steeps known as the Dumps, S1 flows from International off Ruthie's lift (you can also link runs to access it from the Silver Queen Gondola, which allows you to check it out to the right on your way up). This shorty is so vertical that it feels like you're standing on top of an eighty-story building, albeit one covered with rocks and lined with tight, tight trees. You have two choices here: Take the blind rollover and hit the air to drop in, or curl up in a little ball and hope some other crazy person finds you.

Readers' Choice: Pallavicini

Vail Ski Resort
Courtesy Vail Facebook page

Most ski areas struggle at some point with the flow of skiers and snowboarders, and the sheer size of the 5,289-acre Vail means it has bigger problems than most. What makes the popular resort stand out, though, is its willingness to address the issues, and a big schuss in the right direction was the upgrade of the Chair 11 lift on the front side to a faster six-pack. The revamped Northwoods Express — the resort's tenth new lift in eleven years — debuted in December, and it immediately had the intended effect of shortening lift lines and wait times for folks trying to access Vail's intermediate and expert terrain, as well as helping everyone move more efficiently through to the Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin. It also means getting to the area's namesake trail quicker: the popular and super-wide Northwoods run, a beautiful blue with a moderate pitch and plenty of space for big carving, with access into the trees that border both sides.

Readers' Choice: Northwoods Express (#11)

Sunlight Mountain Resort
Courtesy Sunlight Mountain Resort Facebook page

Considering that a pair of wooden skis or a snowboard from Meier — handmade in Colorado, btw — is going to set you back at least $700, Sunlight's deal is pretty sweet. For that same $700 ($600 for snowboarders), you get the skis (or snowboard), plus a single-day lift ticket (which usually costs $65) to a ski area famous for its 67 mostly intermediate trails, free parking and no lift lines, plus a day pass to soak away your sore quads at the lovely Iron Mountain Hot Springs (regularly $20), with its seventeen pools of varying sizes and temperatures and enviable mountain views. Don't need new sticks? Spring for the Slope & Soak four-pack for $249, a bargain that gets you access to either the Iron Mountain or Glenwood hot springs.

Readers' Choice: Epic Pass

Dinosaurs roamed the volcanic buttes formed 65 million years ago in Golden — and there are still traces of them everywhere. The first T. rex specimen was discovered on South Table Mountain, and if you're interested in playing paleontologist, hop onto the Camp George West trailhead for 4.1 miles of low-key scenic hiking with panoramic mesa-top views and plenty of dinosaur tracks for those who are looking. Just remember to stay on the trails, as undesignated paths degrade the mesa ecology.

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge
Courtesy Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge Facebook page

Less than fifteen miles from downtown Denver, the free and open-to-the-public Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge offers a fresh-air escape on nearly 16,000 acres of grassland, wetland and woodland that more than 300 species call home. You're not going to see them all while wandering the ten miles of easy, flat trails — the meandering 1.8-mile Ladora Loop Trail is a good introduction — but definitely seek out the herd of more than eighty bison and keep your eyes peeled for coyotes, deer, bald eagles, burrowing owls and a plethora of prairie dogs. Folks come here just to fish the small lakes and ponds for largemouth bass and northern pike in an area that attracts a lot of migrating waterfowl as well as a staggering variety of birds, and the floating boardwalk leads to a more tucked-away and quiet space with viewing benches. Time your visit for sunrise or sunset to get the best photo ops, complete with the Rocky Mountains and the Denver skyline.

Readers' Choice: Chautauqua Park

Sometimes it just feels good to spend a night under the stars, but the commitment required to do a multi-day hike can be exhausting. Red Deer Lake Trail, in the Indian Peaks Wilderness just north of Nederland, is just right: a 14.2-mile out-and-back that sits comfortably in the intermediate skill range, with waterfalls, meadows and elk and moose sightings as rewards along the way. The final payoff of the lake itself sits at slightly above 10,000 feet (net gain: 717 feet), with plenty of secluded backcountry campsites. You'll wind up leapfrogging the day-hikers for the first few miles of the four-wheel-drive Buchanan Pass Trail that connects to the Red Deer path, but most of them fall away at the big switchback that veers toward the St. Vrain Glacier. The killer views include several of the Indian Peaks, including Sawtooth, St. Vrain and Mount Audubon, and fly-fisherfolk will find trout in the lake and Middle St. Vrain Creek along the way. A $5 permit per group is required for camping through the Boulder Ranger District.

Readers' Choice: Castlewood Canyon State Park

Indian Peaks Wilderness

fs.fed.us

Best Of Denver®

Best Of