Discovering that Colorado offers an abundance of outdoor experiences in low season, on an active trip through the state
Exploring my cabin at Colorado’s Taylor River Lodge, I see they’ve thought of everything. Treats in the mini bar, posh toiletries in the bathroom and, on the bedside table, a bank of charging leads – and a bear horn.
“Sound it if one wanders into the camp and get back inside,” I’m told.
When I head for a pre-dinner G&T, I find the fur of one ill-fated intruder decorating the lounge.
Outside, cheers ring out as a bright orange raft carrying passengers flickers between the pine trees, riding the river beyond. Though we’re not far from the ski resort of Crested Butte, it’s summertime and this is a first glimpse of the snow-free Rocky Mountains action we’re here to experience.
The next morning I try not to be distracted by the antics of a blue jay and a chipmunk as I’m introduced to fly-fishing. The rod is reassuringly light for a novice angler like myself. I’m soon teasing the feather fly across the water, line looped under one thumb and my other hand ready to increase the tension. The Lodge’s practice pond starts bubbling with keen fish and, though my reactions oscillate between too slow and too panicky, I manage to pull a shimmering rainbow trout clean of the water before it twists to freedom.
Trout is on many menus in Colorado, where the often innovative cuisine proves a pleasant surprise. We’ve started our tour in mile-high gateway Denver, a foodie, arty city reminiscent of Melbourne. On our first morning we’re fortified by an enormous breakfast at trendy eatery Snooze in the art deco Union Station. In season, clients can take a ski train from here to Winter Park, but with the June sun blazing we instead board an electric tuk-tuk to explore the landmarks with a driver-guide. We end in the RiNo (River North) district for lunch in the heritage Central Market, selecting from oysters, steaks and baked treats. Then we explore the walls of surrounding streets, covered in fabulous murals that are renewed each September during the Crush festival by artists including Shepard Fairey, famous for his Obama Hope poster.
Elsewhere in town, a giant blue bear peeps through the windows of the convention centre and, outside Denver Art Museum, there’s a child climbing the bristles of a huge dustpan and brush. In fact, every development in Denver worth more than $1 million must give 1% of the build cost to public art projects.
That night in the LoHi (Lower Highland) district, after rum cocktails at the hip Mythology Distillery, we dine at The Bindery, a smart but unpretentious restaurant that surprises with its quality and creativity, serving up the likes of smoked rabbit pecan pie with mustard gelato.
Smarter: The altitude and dry mountain air can cause breathlessness and headaches. Staying hydrated is very important here, so encourage clients to pack a water bottle.
Better: Recommend quality restaurants The Bindery in Denver and The National and Allred’s Restaurant, both in Telluride.
Fairer: Book an emissions-free Denver tour with Etuk Ride (etukride.com).
With food so glorious, I welcome ways to burn the calories. At Crested Butte we’re guided through a mountain bike skills session to practise our stance – with squared arms and pedals level for hazards. We follow a picturesque trail around town through ankle-level sunflowers, beneath white-topped mountains and are charmed by baby bear prints in a patch of melting snow.
Already on our travels, we’ve seen herds of elk and, thanks to a hasty U-turn by our driver, a moose heading into a forest. We’ve also taken in the rugged beauty of Black Canyon.
While Crested Butte town has a relaxed charm with colourful fronts added to former coal mining houses, our next resort, Telluride, which once mined gold, is a swankier affair. It’s now known not only for skiing but its annual film festival, which draws Hollywood A-listers.
The first person to ride to fame here was less welcome – in 1889, Butch Cassidy made his debut bank robbery in Telluride, and the story of his escape is the subject of a colourful eyewitness account in the Telluride Historical Museum.
Our base is smart self-catering apartment Lumiere in Telluride’s Mountain Village, but we head down into the town at night on the free cable car, spotting a wildcat on the way. There’s a party feel even outside of ski season and we enjoy more excellent dining at lively bar and bistro, The National. The next night we feast on the view from halfway up the mountain through the wraparound windows of pricier dining perch Allred’s.
Our final stop feels more homely. At Smith Fork Ranch at Crawford near Montrose, there are hanging flower baskets, handmade rugs and a cosy fireplace. The UK sends 30% of the ranch’s summer guests, where most come to horse-ride.
A fat hawk watches from a treetop as we’re guided off on a horseback trek. We take stony paths to meadows of purple larkspur and blue lupins and my speckled horse snatches meals along the way – what is pretty for me is a buffet to him. Then we ascend through trees on to a plane encircled dramatically by snow-topped mountains. I don’t need to ski down them to feel exhilarated by this landscape.
BOOK IT: Red Savannah offers two weeks in Colorado including one night at Crowne Plaza Denver; five full-board nights at Taylor River Lodge; two at Lumiere, Telluride; and five at Smith Fork Ranch, from £7,798pp with 14 days’ car rental and BA flights. Based on travel 25 May to 7 June 2020.
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Getting there: Direct UK flights to Denver are available with British Airways, Norwegian and Icelandair, but Montrose is handy for internal connections.
Low season temperatures: During spring, daytime average temperatures range from 13°C to 24°C, while in summer they range from 21°C to 35°C.
Time difference: GMT -6 hours.