Summer Bucket List: Colorado

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It’s no surprise that Colorado set a national record for most-visited state in 2014, with 71.3 million tourists. It’s got 14,000-foot peaks, world-class rivers, and hundreds of miles of singletrack. Here, we outline the 21 best ways to play in the Centennial State this summer.

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You won’t see a geological phenomenon like this anywhere else. With dunes as high as 750 feet, a mountain creek running past the base, and high peaks all around…well, just go. Camp at Piñon Flats and hike early or late to avoid scalding midsummer sand temperatures.

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The trail runner’s answer to the Tetons’ Grand Traverse, this 16.4-mile route along the crest of the Tenmile Range climbs 8,100 feet and links Frisco and Breckenridge via 10 peaks 12,500 feet or taller, topping out with Peak 10 at 13,633 feet. A few points require airy class 3 scrambling. A good time is eight hours.

Photo: BLM

The trails and trailhead camping are unmatched in Fruita. Joe’s Ridge and Zippety qualify as roller coaster-esque, and the Edge Loop is deserving of its classic status. Just beware: Campsites fill up fast on weekends.

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This 28-mile loop within the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness is one of the crown jewels of the Elk Range, itself one of the crown-jewel ranges in the state. You’ll cross four high-alpine passes—West Maroon (12,500 feet), Frigid Air (12,415), Trail Rider (12,420), and Buckskin (12,500)—and numerous creeks.

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Not only do you get to pedal the highest paved road in the U.S., you finish atop 14,130-foot Mt. Evans. From Idaho Springs, the pavement snakes up 6,724 feet and covers 30 miles, much of it above treeline. Each July, 1,200 people race the Bob Cook Memorial Hill Climb in honor of the five-time winner who died of cancer at age 23.

Photo: Michael Goldman

Arguably the world’s coolest concert venue, Red Rocks Amphitheater hosts a nonstop lineup of A-list acts from May to October. This year’s list ranges from the Lumineers to Bob Dylan.

Photo: Steven W. Krull/iStock

No urban region in America offers a better backyard workout than the Manitou Springs Incline, an old cable-car route that climbs 2,000 feet in a single mile on the flank of Pikes Peak, just outside Colorado Springs. Get there early this summer: it closes from August 22 to December 2 for repairs.

Photo: Glen Delman

It’s too late to sign up for the Leadville Trail 100 running or mountain-biking races this year (the field is picked mostly via lottery). But it can be almost as moving, figuratively speaking, to head out on course and take in the Cloud City’s most iconic events.

Photo: Scott Cramer/iStock

No Colorado adventure is more frontier-y than boarding the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad train with four days’ worth of supplies and riding into the San Juan range for a peak-bagging adventure. The Chicago Basin holds endless objectives, including fourteeners Sunlight, Eolus, and Windom.

Photo: Scott Cramer/iStock

The only problem with hiking Mount of the Holy Cross, a famous fourteener just southwest of Vail, is you never get to see the actual cross in full. Instead, summit 13,077-foot Notch Mountain for the view of a lifetime—the same one that William Henry Jackson made famous with his iconic 1873 photo, proving the cross existed.

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One of the oldest sports in Colorado’s mining-rich history involves running through the mountains while tethered to a 400-pound pack burro. The summerlong series includes six races ranging from five miles to the 29-mile world championship in Fairplay.

Photo: Ethan Welty/TandemStock

The acts are world-class at this quintessential music fest, as are the views. But perhaps the best entertainment comes in the form of observing 10,000 scantily clad humans as they free their souls under the searing Summer Solstice sun.

Photo: Dan Holz/TandemStock

Bikepacking is a great new fad, but if we’re being honest, it can be a little arduous for the average mountain biker. This is where fully stocked huts come in handy. Try the four-night, five-day Telluride to Gateway route, which offers stunning singletrack and comfy digs throughout.

Photo: Brett Stakelin/TandemStock

San Franciscans would surely argue otherwise, but there is no prettier sunset in sports than the orange and pink hue that hangs over the craggy skyline just west of Coors Field during a Rockies game. Sit in the right field stands or the Rockpile for the best view.

Photo: David Parsons/iStock

Some of the best sailors in the world test themselves in Lake Dillon’s swirling winds and thin air every summer. How thin? At 9,017 feet elevation, Dillon is home to the planet’s highest deep-water marina, where you can rent boats or take a lesson. It’s tough to beat the views, too.

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In February 2015, President Obama designated more than 21,000 acres, including a classic stretch of whitewater between Buena Vista and Salida, as a national monument. It is no coincidence this is one of the most coveted commercial rafting runs in America.

Photo: Steven C. DeWitt Jr./iStock

Some of the world’s best mountain bikers, kayakers, trail runners, slackliners, and paddleboarders will be competing in Vail this June 9-12—and so can you, since most events are open to amateurs and pros alike.

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Some people like their hot springs to feel like a bathtub. Others prefer a little more heat. If you are among the latter group, head to the Springs Resort and Spa in downtown Pagosa and slowly lower yourself into the 111-degree Lobster Pot.

Photo: Great American Beer Festival

This 34-year-old gathering of hops lovers (and more than 700 breweries exhibiting 3,500 beers) is set for October 6-8 at the Denver Convention Center. Tickets will likely go on sale in July, and be ready when they do: it sells out in minutes.

Photo: Ethan Welty/Aurora

The highest point in the state’s most iconic national park isn’t easy to reach. But like all good adventures, it’s worth it. Start early and take care on your way to Longs’ 12,259-foot summit, especially if using the Keyhole Route, where consistent exposure and inconsistent weather keep even experienced peak baggers on high alert.

Photo: Erik Charlton/Flickr

It’s easy to forget that before Steamboat Springs was known as Ski Town USA, it was cowboy country. The local rodeo, which runs weekly, sprang from bull-and-bronco roots dating back more than 100 years. It remains one of the most authentic rodeos in the state.