Access and Resources
ANNUAL VISITS: 3,200,000 (high: July, 695,250; low: February, 54,877)
CONTACT: 970-586-1206, www.nps.gov/romo
MILES FROM NEAREST MAJOR AIRPORT: 65 (Denver)
DON'T MISS: Unkink your biking calves or indulge in a massage at Strawberry Park Hot Springs, a natural spa seven miles north of Steamboat Springs that's built around steaming creeks.
ROUTT NATIONAL FOREST
ANNUAL VISITS: 1,689,000
PARK HEADQUARTERS: 970-879-1870, www.fs.fed.us/r2/mbr/
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
JUST AN HOUR AND A HALF'S DRIVE from Denver and less than an hour from Boulder, Rocky Mountain National Park draws legions of Front Range residents with its elk meadows, hikes to chilly alpine lakes, and Trail Ridge Road, the Divide-straddling highway. Less appreciated is that when it comes to CLIMBING, the park's got something for every subculture: alpine routes, sport climbs, bouldering, and ice climbs. At 14,255 feet, Longs Peak is the granddaddy of the fourteeners, says Jim Detterline, a ranger who's summited Longs 220 times and counting. Thousands of other people also reach the top each year, most of them by the Keyhole Route (the most popular path), and most in July or August. Very few brave the Stettner's Ledges route on the mountain's east face. Their loss. Rich with alpine history, the climb, rated a Grade III, 5.7-5.8, was first ascended in 1927 by a pair of German-American brothers from Illinois; at the time, it was among the country's toughest routes, and it's still no gimme, even for those acclimatized to high altitude. Stettner's entails a pre-climb backcountry bivouac, a glacier crossing, and six pitches over fractured granite, chimneys, cracks, and ledges, all capped by another 600-foot scramble to the top. Typically, this means six to eight hours of heroics after a 4 a.m. start to avoid afternoon lightning. But you'll still want to pause to catch your breath and take in your surroundings, which include a close-up view of the Diamond, an 800-foot-tall face. Contact the Colorado Mountain School in Estes Park (970-586-5758) for lessons and guided climbs.
ROUTT NATIONAL FOREST
ONE OF Colorado's greatest untrampled MOUNTAIN-BIKING play spots is tucked away in the northernmost reaches of high-elevation Routt National Forest, two hours from Rocky Mountain National Park. For three days of wheeled heaven, head west from the park on Highway 40 (you'll hit the Continental Divide at Rabbit Ears Pass) and continue north of Steamboat Springs to Routt, named for the state's first governor. The formidable Nipple Peak/Lopez Creek Loop, accessed via Forest Road 487, near Hahn's Lake will humble even hardcore riders. This 16-mile burner follows nappy Trail 1156 through dense conifers and lupine-sprinkled meadows before a four-mile grind to the saddle near 10,324-foot Nipple Peak. Then it's up over a divide, down along Willow Creek, and onto Trail 1147. Call it a day at the Hinman Park Campground, next to the Elk River, east of the town of Clark. It's a delightful, lodgepole-pine-dappled camp, somewhat less used than its neighbor sites in the area. The following day, your riding agenda focuses on the Big Red Park/Manzanares Trail, which wraps along Big Red Park, a large mountain meadow, and has stellar views of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area next door. If you've got juice left, there's still the Hinman Trail, also known as Trail 1177, near your campsite, which unleashes seven miles of aspen-fringed, rolling singletrack studded with roots, rocks, downed trees, andjust for extra credita couple of stream crossings. In Steamboat Springs, Sore Saddle Cyclery (970-879-1675, www.soresaddle.com) has bikes and maps.