Tucked in the smaller towns in all corners of the state is where travelers will find some of their most authentic Colorado experiences:

  • elevated western hospitality;
  • farmers and producers supporting a superior local fine-dining and culinary experience;
  • small town arts and culture with urban sensibility;
  • a growing outdoor recreation scene of world-class outfitters and sporting events.

Colorado’s small towns offer unique places to sleep, with new and unexpected lodging offerings, farm stays and ranch packages rounding out a visit.

Here are ten travel experiences set to connect travelers with some of rural Colorado’s best flavors, farmers, tours and road trips, historical landmarks, festivals, markets, outdoor adventures and natural wonders for summer 2018.

horse back riding

1. SADDLE UP: Colorado’s Dude and guest ranch offerings provide an elevated western hospitality experience, with several ranches launching new activities and packagesfor 2018. While horseback experiences will always be the center of any ranching vacation, more guest ranches promoting bike programs for guests that still want to be in the saddle: Majestic Dude Ranch has extensive mountain biking programs with on-ranch trails available. Vista Verde Ranch launched Fat Biking as part of its winter activity line-up and has new top of the line mountain bikes for summer riding.Over at Cherokee Park Ranch in Livermore, kid’s bikes are dotted all over the ranch and available for smaller guest-riding. For the girls, Latigo Ranch offers women a chance to find their inner cowgirl, with a women’s only ranching week, June 3-10, 2018. In addition to playing a hands-on role on the ranch, guests are invited to try out rifle shooting, shotgun shooting, single action revolver shoot, line dancing, breakfast ride, sunset ride, horse-drawn covered wagon ride, fly-fishing lesson, all-day rides, moving cattle, hot-tub, guided hikes, swimming pool, whip cracking, tomahawk throwing, and lots more fun stuff. While guest ranches make the perfect family vacation, many ranches are holding adult-only retreats and themed weeks, often during the month of September when school break finishes. For those who can’t wait until September, Black Mountain Ranch offers adult-only weeks throughout the summer. Colorado Trails Ranch offers a painting workshop in September and The Home Ranch offers Yoga week, combining plenty of Zen with typical ranch activities.

chefs2. NEW RURAL CUISINE. Top-tier chefs are moving into rural areas—especially west of Denver—and raising the bar on the dining scene with small focused dinner events and intimate dining rooms offering fast-evolving menus that reflect seasonality and locality of ingredients. Guest and dude ranches are moving from pork and beans to offer 20-course fine tasting menus and molecular dining. Cloverdale Farm and Restaurant opened doors mid/late 2017 in Steamboat Springs offering an intimate, fine dining experience using locally grown and sourced ingredients alongside a curated old world wine list. Traditionally a hunting lodge, High Lonesome Ranch in Debeque launches its 2018 season of high-end dinners, serving a 20-course tasting menu overseen by Matt Chasseur and Patrick Ayers. Latigo Ranch in Kremmling will also offer a second program of fine dining, with a molecular dinner club.

hummingbird
A humming bird hovers above a wildflower in Northwest Colorado

3. THE YEAR OF THE BIRD: 2018 is the Year of The Bird and Colorado offers many must-see bird watching locations and events. While not an exclusive Colorado event, International Migratory Day (IMBD) is celebrated worldwide, with events in Colorado sometimes associated with it or occurring at the same time, statewide in mid-May. For details about local events visit the IMBD website. Wray’s Prairie-Chicken event attracts visitors from around the globe to see the prairie-chicken courtship calls.

Tours run from mid-March to April and must be booked. The Cheyenne Canon Hummingbird Experience in Colorado Springs (May 21) is a great opportunity to discover the secrets of the smallest birds in the world and become a “Hummingbird Expert.” The Yampa Valley Crane Festival (Aug 30-Sept 2) is a great time to view hundreds of cranes from the Rocky Mountain flock which join local birds to rest and feed before continuing their journey south. The Colorado Owl Festival kicks-off in October, hosted in Pueblo by the Nature and Raptor Center of Pueblo, Pueblo County Library District, Pueblo Zoo, Arkansas Valley Audubon Society and Mark Park Environmental Center for a weekend of all things owl. Other wildlife events and festivals can be found at the Colorado Parks & Wildlife website.

4. NEW RURAL MAKER SPACES. As maker culture grows in popularity, across rural Colorado more maker spaces and retail outlets are opening doors for budding artists and crafters. CoCo Crafted of Colorado Springs now offers budding crafters the chance to create wall hangings, art, embroidery, and painting. At the recently opened Pueblo House, weekly MakerSpace classes and events are available. Fort Collins is now home to Creator Hub offering workshops and classes covering everything from CAD design, soldering, and crafts. In Durango’s Powerhouse science center, the new Maker Lab is the first ever maker space for the Four Corners region, offering training and tools for budding inventors and designers. In Carbondale, a new mobile maker space, Rosybelle, rolls into events throughout western Colorado offering crafts for adult and kids alike. Mancos is already known for its Mancos School of the West, but coming soon to the town is an outdoor maker space.

boy with cow5. MEET YOUR FARMER. As one of the country’s leading agritourism destinations, there are many ways for travelers to connect with the growers and producers through farm stays and tours, farmer’s markets and foodie events across the region. Eastern Colorado’s High Plains Adventures connects vibrant communities into one visitor experience and spring and summer season are dotted with farm festivals and events.

From Aurora to Deer Trail these towns are linked by history and commerce, by pioneers and entrepreneurs, by geography, agriculture and new business, and by adventure seekers and the local folks who welcome visitors to their towns, ranches, homes and real lives. The Guest House, Carbondale brings new farm experiences, dinners, and events to a sixth-generation family ranch in The Roaring Fork Valley. The Guest House is a working permaculture farm with expansion plans that include a high-end lodge and restaurant. Focused on principles of beauty, sustainability, and transformation, The Guest House offers guests the opportunity to eat with a connection to the land, be cared for at the highest of standards, and build their own connections to themselves and their community.

Cabin hospitality experiences launched December 2017, along with a community dinner program and events each month. Rick and Kristi Cranston of Tall Grass Farms Alpacas in Bennett on the Eastern Plains are always eager to share their love for alpacas. Tours of the farm are available to get acquainted with the alpaca herd and their friends, which include dogs, cats, horses, chickens, and llamas, check out the handmade fiber products for sale at their store or request a fiber-arts class. There are many farming regions to choose from to taste Colorado’s finest local produce.

La Junta and the Arkansas Valley are famous for corn, cantaloupes and watermelons.  Farm markets are typically open between July and October to the delight of residents and visitors alike seeking the good bounty from this fertile land, and market season offers a delightful time to visit, with more than ten farms markets available.

From July through September, chefs from critic-approved restaurants in Boulder and beyond whip up meals for farm suppers under the stars at Lyons Farmette. The intimate organic farm grows ingredients for the dinners, local restaurants, and on-property weddings. The events include a tour of their fields and the chance to mingle with their alpacas, a goat named Waylon and a llama named Cuzco.

The farm also offers great workshops on chicken keeping, beekeeping, and other topics. Celebrate rural Colorado farmers & producers at one of the world’s leading event for locavores when Slow Food USA and Slow Food International comes back to Denver for its second U.S. Slow Food event, July 13-15, 2018. Slow Food Nations combines the energy of a street food festival, gravitas of a food systems conference and inspiration of a cultural exchange, while showcasing some of Colorado’s leading culinary influencers, farmers and producers who participate in markets, dinners and events that demonstrate why Colorado is one of the leading local food destinations in the country

A family watches a kayaker navigate Gore Creek near Vail.

6. REGIONAL TOURS & TRAILS: There are new ways to plan a rural road-trip, with regions offering a new lens to see the cultural, historical or epicurean highlights.

For Summer 2018, The Colorado Creative Corridor will offer visitors to the State an invitation to pair destinations for a unique arts and cultural experience. The “Corridor” will take visitors some 331 miles through five Creative District destinations, traveling through several different regions that tell the rich story of Colorado mountain culture.

The arts communities of Carbondale, Salida, Crested Butte, Delta County/ North Fork and Ridgway all offer unique event programming and activities, alongside mountain town eclecticism, outdoor recreation, and authentic Colorado flair. The Colorado Distillers Guild is launching a Colorado Spirits Trail in 2018 inviting visitors to discover the spirits of the West.

The trail highlights more than 50 participating distilleries from every corner of the state, and offers a map and interactive website to folks interested in tasting the amazing and creative spirits being produced across Colorado.  Individuals can pick up a map at participating distilleries, Denver International Airport and tourist information offices throughout the state.

Each travel season, the Colorado Tourism Office brings a new collection of inspiring travel ideas via its online trip-building platform, the Colorado Field Guide, which is designed to take travelers off the well-trodden path and into new corners of the state where untapped and lesser-known experiences are for the taking. Summer travel highlights include Lamar to La Junta via the Santa Fe Trail, Three Days of Heritage Sites on the Royal Gorge, All About Wildflowers in Crested Butte, and Zero Impact in The Vail Valley.

An oncoming Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

7. RIDES THE RAILS: A symbol of a bygone era, Colorado’s historic railroads have been lovingly restored and expertly maintained so riders can relish access to jaw-dropping landscapes and a steady supply of family-friendly fun. As if spectacular views of the Royal Gorge weren’t enough, Cañon City’s Royal Gorge Route Railroad doesn’t shy away from a themed outing. Soak up the splendor of spring while sipping craft brews paired with chef-created appetizers during Ales on the Rails, from mid-March to late May.

In springtime, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad sets a course for Cascade Canyon, a 26-mile journey through the San Juan National Forest along the Animas River. Opt for a Historic Narration Coach to hear tales of what it took to build the rails, or combine the trip with a Snowmobile Adventure Package for two hours of thrills around Molas Pass.

Scenic wonders are revealed around every curve as the Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad’s century-old steam engine takes you back in time to the gold-mining days of these eponymous towns just west of Colorado Springs.

The relaxing, four-mile round trip passes the old Midland Terminal Wye, historic mines and Echo Valley, all set to an educational narration. Departing from Alamosa with a stop in Fort Garland, the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad chugs toward Fir Summit on weekends June through September, where an outdoor amphitheater awaits at the top of La Veta Pass.

This one-of-a-kind concert venue is home to the Mountain Rails Live concert series, an occasion to see how the West was sung. Another way to connect with Colorado’s railroad culture is through a visit to the Colorado Model Railroad Museum which hosts themed events throughout the summer season, starting with Dinosaur Days (June 8-9) bringing dinosaur-related activities into the railroad space.

8. NEW OUTDOOR ADVENTURES: The Eagle River Park will open Summer, 2018, unveiling a world-class whitewater park featuring an in-stream design optimizing the river’s natural morphology, and will offer riverside recreation areas, where there will be riparian plantings and restoration.

The Eagle River Park with its layers of recreation opportunities and proximity to I-70 will be a gathering spot for is destined to attract tourists/travelers, athletes, and events from around the region. Splash-In Sea Planes (July 14) offers a highly unique spectator event as seaplanes land in Kenney Reservoir, Rangely. The Seaplane Pilots Association is taking advantage of one the two private lakes where the aircraft can land in Colorado.

Kenney Reservoir is owned by the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District. A new outfitter is offering week-long classes in the art of elk hunting and butchery. Timber to Table of Hotchkiss, empower first-time hunters with specialized courses—including special programs just for women hunters— to hunt the land and then butcher and cook the game.Timber to Table aims develop respectful and ethical hunters, who understand the benefits of defending public lands while responsibly sourcing their food.

The Run, Rabbit, Run 50 and 100 Mile Endurance Runs of Steamboat Springs recently announced the creation of the inaugural $100,000 “Rabbit Cup.” Paired with the Run, Rabbit, Run’s existing $65,000 purse, the combined $165,000 prize package makes this – by far – the largest trail ultra purse in the world. The Rabbit Cup also is the first event of its kind in the world. Run, Rabbit, Run returns September 14-15, 2018.

9. NEW CULTURAL VENUES TRANSFORMED FROM OLD SPACES. Rural communities are rebirthing old or unusual spaces into venues for culture, the arts and music: The Tank Center for Sonic Arts  is a former silo in Rangely now renovated into a stunning music venue with outstanding and renowned acoustics.

The 1887 brick building that was originally the Salida Edison Electric Light Co. is now the Steamplant Event Center, drawing guests to its scenic riverside location for community gatherings, art showings, movie screenings, live music and a sculpture garden.Established in 1915, The Sherbino has been the heart of Ridgway, providing a venue for community events ranging from music to poetry.

Now in a period of rebirth, the Sherbino continues to stand out as the hub of community activity throughout Ouray County. The Rocky Mountain Land Library is a former historic ranch dating to 1862 in South Park, taken over by Jeff Lee and Ann Martin, two longtime bookstore employees who have stockpiled some 32,000 natural history books over the years for an ambitious library project.

Renovations at Buffalo Peaks Ranch are ongoing, but visitors can already participate in workshops on poetry, ecology, botany, painting and more — or simply come to soak up the invigorating Southwestern landscape that inspired so many of the books in Lee and Martin’s collection.

A former Western-style dry goods shop in downtown Trinidad. The A.R. Mitchell Museum has brought this vintage gem back to life and filled it with artist Arthur Roy Mitchell’s work and collected pieces on subjects like cowboys, horses, cattle and frontier landscapes. The horseshoe-shaped mezzanine is something to behold, and the building’s original pressed-tin ceilings and wood floors are beautifully intact.

10. ON YOUR BIKE: It’s no secret that Coloradoans love their bikes and there’s plenty of cycling events all over the state throughout 2018. From the quirky to the fat tire, to the high-altitude to the scenic prairies, there are many events to watch or participate in.

Known as one of the most unique and quirky festivals in the country, Frozen Dead Guy Days (March 9-11) takes place in the Colorado mountain town of Nederland — three days of frosty merriment featuring 30 live bands in heated super tents and outrageous events like coffin racing, costumed polar plunging, frozen t-shirt contests and much more.

Celebrating its 17th year in 2018, Frozen Dead Guy Days continues to be a world-renowned spectacle. The Fruita Fat Bike Festival (May 4-6) is in its 23rd year and celebrates the best of the Western Slopes mountain biking offerings. The Pony Xpress Gravel 160  (May 19) takes competitors on the twisty, rolling gravel roads northwest of Trinidad for 70 or 160-kilometer timed races.

The Death Ride Tour (June 9-11) is an epic 235-mile three-day charity bike tour through beautiful Southwestern Colorado and the San Juan Mountains supporting ALS Research. The tour covers Five Mountain passes and 16,500 of climbing on magnificent Colorado roads including the Million Dollar Highway over Red Mountain Pass. Cyclists ride Silverton to Telluride Day One.

Telluride to Durango Day Two and Durango back to Silverton Day Three. Pedal The Plains launches into its seventh year (Sept 15-17) Governor Hickenlooper and The Denver Post launched a one-of-a-kind cycling event celebrating the agricultural roots and frontier heritage of Colorado’s Eastern Plains, with a loop beginning and ending in Ordway. Described by the Governor as “a ride for the rest of us,” Pedal The Plains seeks to engage riders of all abilities, from seasoned cyclists to first-time riders, in an educational and recreational experience.

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