We love to go hiking in the mountains of Colorado, but sometimes we just need to drive through them on our way to someplace else. There isn’t a single time that we do that we don’t marvel at the beauty of our state. We have a sort of love-hate relationship with driving through the mountains, though, especially if we have to take I-70 west from Denver as we did in order to get to Moab, Utah. It doesn’t take long before a scenic mountain drive turns into a gridlock of vehicles all trying to head west at the same time. Fortunately, we usually account for the extra hour or so of traffic, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t stressful at times.
Once we get through the Eisenhower Tunnel, which takes you under Loveland Pass, things start to improve. After Frisco and Dillon Lake, things get remarkably better and the rest of our drive west was pretty much easy going. As you drive west through all of our favorite resort towns filled with tourists for the holiday weekend, beautiful golf courses, and people on bicycles everywhere, you get a true appreciation of why people travel to Colorado from around the world. Sometimes we take the magnificence of the state for granted and it is drives like these that remind us not to.
It isn’t just a scenic drive, but it is also a feet of engineering that creates a road that makes its way through the rugged wilderness. Between Denver and the border of Utah, you will pass through about five different tunnels, many bridges, and winding roads that take you through steep canyons. The mountains themselves also change as you make your way through the heart of the Rockies, from steep mountain peaks, green valleys, to intense cliffs with the river flowing below. It is certainly an impressive drive if you ever get the opportunity to take it. All of these photographs were taken from within our car as we drove west through the Rocky Mountains.
Although some people hike year-round, regardless of the season, we prefer to wait until most of the snow has melted before going hiking in the mountains. It has been a cool and rainy spring in Colorado and the mountains have continued to get snow even as summer starts around most of the country. We decided to hike a trail that we’ve done before, but this time we chose to go a different direction, which completely changed the hike. It was a relatively easy hike and there was almost no one else on the trail, making it very relaxing and peaceful.
We decided to hike the Falcon Trail on the grounds of the United States Air Force Academy here in Colorado Springs. We originally hiked it back in August of 2017, so it was nice seeing it during a different time of year. Thanks to all of the moisture that we’ve had, the wildflowers are in full bloom making the trail even more beautiful. The entire trail is a 12 1/2 mile loop, but we only went 5 miles on this hike as we get back into hiking condition.
Now that the weather is getting better, we expect to go hiking quite regularly between any trips that we have planned. We find that hiking on the weekends is a great way to relax as well as truly enjoy the beautiful scenery that Colorado has to offer. Although we didn’t see any wildlife on the trail itself, we did come across some wild turkeys crossing the road as we approached the parking area at the head of the trail. The Air Force Academy is also a protected area for wildlife, so it is quite common to find elk, deer, and other wild animals on the grounds of academy. It was certainly a wonderful way to kick off our hiking season and we look forward to getting even farther up into the mountains on our next hike.
As you head into the mountains of Colorado, you will find that most of the towns have grown quite substantially and are surrounded by condominiums and private homes. There are, however, a few historic towns that still exist and we truly enjoy visiting them. Leadville is a little unique as it sits at over 10,000 feet (over 3,000 meters) high and can be difficult to reach during the winter as the roads that reach the pass are often closed. There are some snowmobile tours that you can take around the area, which are quite interesting and can even take you to an old ghost town in the area.
Even if you visit during the summer, it is important to remember that it can be quite cold in the high country, especially at night. We were there in September, so the scenery around the town was spectacular with all of the colors of autumn. Walking through the town is like stepping back in time where you can see buildings from the 1800’s. Probably the most iconic building on the main street is the Silver Dollar Saloon, which has amazing character and was supposedly frequented by Billy the Kidd back when he was in the area. There is a lot of memorabilia on the walls and the bar is original to the building.
The old railway station is another place that should be on your list to visit if you make your way into the mountains to see Leadville. The train still operates out of Leadville and during the summer months you book a ticket on one of their daily trips. Seeing the mountains from an old train is something that you will never forget. Leadville is located about 2 1/2 hours outside of Denver, which makes it an easy day trip and you will be rewarded with wonderful views of the Rocky Mountains.
Visiting the historic town of Leadville is certainly worth the time if you are visiting Denver or even spending time in the high country of Colorado. Even if you don’t make it to Leadville, it is worth the effort to get away from the large resort areas and seeing one of the historic old western towns that still exist today.