In the fall, the colors on the trees in Colorado turn all the colors, sweater weather sets in, and these places are primed for a weekend of outdoor adventure. With 48 or 72 hours to spend, you want an activity worth traveling for, a convenient and comfortable stay, and the best casual comfort food in town.
An afternoon at Rotary Park feels quintessentially Durango: The roar of Animas River is audible, with hoots of river rafters coming around the bend. Everyone has a dog, a bike, or well-worn running shoes, and they are meeting a friend post workout at Animas Brewery. As the train roars by, bystanders wave and passengers wave back. You’ll run into a Texan who just bought a second home and local students with real remorse over the rising rents, but they are still paying them because the young, athletic, beer-crazed vibe of the city feels just right.
Getting there: American Airlines flies seasonally from LAX direct to Durango’s small regional airport, and you can arrive year-round via connecting flights. The drive is 12 hours from LA, or you can fly direct to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and drive 3.5 hours.
Stay: It’s a six-minute walk to the train station from The Rochester Hotel (from $299; rochesterhotel.com), a historic property downtown with 15 rooms. There’s no spa, so visitors also make reservations at Durango Hot Springs (from $30 for a 2-hour pass; durangohotspringsresortandspa.com). The backyard-like setting was completely renovated last year, now featuring dozens of thermal mineral water features and soaking pools both large and small.
Eat: For a city of 18,000 to have half a dozen breweries, you know this is a serious beer destination. Take a walk along the river and end up at Animas Brewing (animasbrewing.com). Spend the afternoon at Lake Nighthorse and stop by on the way back for a casual meal at Ska Brewing (skabrewing.com). You can call ahead to get on the waitlist at Steamworks Brewing Company (steamworksbrewing.com), located downtown and good for a sit-down dinner.
You can only arrive to Soaring Tree Top Adventures ($600/person; soaringcolorado.com) by train or helicopter. And most visitors know about the property on a friend’s advice or because they’ve come before. If you are at all nervous about gliding among virgin old-growth Ponderosa pines, you’ll be easily distracted making conversation with the friendly staff, known as Sky Rangers. Five-diamond resort Tall Timbers closed on property in 2008, just two seasons after the launch of Soaring, which quickly proved to be a success for its thrills as much as the exceptional service. Rides among the 27 zip lines are fast, fun, and varied, with Sky Rangers easing you off and on artful stainless steel tree platforms held up completely by friction and gravity. The patented technology was developed on site as to not harm the trees. To call Soaring a zip-lining adventure is accurate, but the operation doesn’t compare to its competitors. It was the first zip-line course in the United States (opened in 2006), and it remains the largest.
Tucked among the high San Juan Mountain peaks in the Rockies is the late-1800s boom town of Telluride. During the 1970s it began its reputation as a ski town, and more recently, the robust summer festival calendar (bluegrass, yoga, plein air, Blues & Brews) draws crowds form across the country. Outdoor enthusiasts arrive in all seasons, for the charming, unpretentious town life and the majesty of natural wonders beyond.
Getting there: Denver Air Connection offers service to Telluride Regional Airport, which is a 10-minute drive from town. Most visitors arrive via a major airline to Montrose Regional Airport, which is 65 miles from Telluride. The drive to Telluride from LA takes around 13 hours.
Stay: Take the gondola up from Telluride’s historic downtown to the modern Mountain Village and Madeline Hotel & Residences (from $454; aubergeresorts.com), which debuted its new public spaces and signature experiences earlier this year. The changes are among a series of ongoing upgrades to the 83-room, 71-residence property since it joined the Auberge portfolio in 2017.
Eat: If you grab lunch at Taco del Gnar (gnarlytacos.com), you may be tempted to return for dinner. Butcher and the Baker (butcherandbakercafe.com) is open all day for breakfast, lunch, dinner, craft cocktails, and small batch pastries.
If you can climb a ladder, you are skilled enough for the Telluride Via Ferrata Route, although these particular 1.5 miles of hiking can prove technically challenging and really make your head spin. You can brave the route, which is open to the public, on your own, but stop by Jagged Edge Mountain Gear (jagged-edge-telluride.com) for specialized equipment, including a load-limiting lanyard, a harness, and locking carabiners. From Ingram Creek, hike uphill to the first iron footholds, and then continue east to the Main Event, where you may need an iron stomach to make it across. The 100-foot traverse happens above 300 feet of sheer rock face, so don’t look down. All climbers must move east to west and most take about three hours to complete the entire route. Mountain Trip, San Juan Outdoor Adventures, Telluride Outside, and Telluride Outfitters are among the many local mountaineering companies offering excellent and safe guided experiences of the course.
A sea of farmland surrounds Boulder’s urban oasis of brick buildings, none too tall. It’s a college town of 100,000 with a foodie following, as chefs come for the immediate access to produce and stay for the quality of life.
Getting there: Fly direct from Burbank to Denver, and the drive to Boulder takes 40 minutes.
Stay: Two blocks off Pearl Street, the 201-room, locally owned St. Julien Hotel and Spa (from $289; stjulien.com) is fresh from a 2020 guest room renovation and praised for its 10,000-square-foot spa and Flatirons views.
Eat: Basta (bastaboulder.com) makes a mean square pizza or order something lighter from the raw bar. On Pearl Street, Boulder’s main drag, shop Cured (curedboulder.com), a gourmet food market selling pre-packed and à la carte picnics.
Do: Farm Life
Take part in harvest season among the county’s 850 farms, which have been organized into this diverse, accessible farm trail that you can navigate according to your interests. For kids and kids-at-heart, choose among five pumpkin patches, with Munson Farms being the closest to downtown. The 8-acre Ya Ya Farm and Orchard operates a popular you-pick apple program among its 1,000 fruit trees and a farm stand selling apple cider donuts and fresh apple pies. A self-guided scenic farm trail drive takes about an hour by car, or you can book with Boulder Bike Tours (boulderbiketours.com) for a guided ride on Thursdays at sunset to 63rd St. Farm, when the day’s harvest is turned into toppings for fresh pizzas. Reach out to Three Leaf Farm (threeleaffarm.com) directly to book a class on wild herb picking and natural medicine. Their long-table farm dinners sell out well in advance.