By Mark Cox
It was love at first hike.
When Swiss-born Kathrin Troxler first visited Colorado 18 years ago, she was so was blown away by the Centennial State’s natural wonders that she decided to stay.
After studying for a business degree at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, Troxler worked as a German-speaking tour guide in the western U.S. before founding her own tourism company, Aspire Tours, in 2014. The Denver-based company offers fun and unique tours across the Rocky Mountain West.
“Our mantra is to avoid the crowds and go against the flow," she says. "So, if one place is busy, our guides are free to improvise and select other routes that ensure everyone finds some solitude and amazing views. For us, it’s more about the experience than just visiting a destination.”
Here are Troxler's picks for five perfect weekend escapes in the Centennial State.
Troxler: Rocky Mountain National Park is such a popular attraction that it’s easy to forget one simple fact: Almost 80% of its 415 square miles is still pure wilderness. With 4.5 million visitors showing up each year, the park can get congested at the most popular viewing spots. But with a little careful map-reading, it’s surprisingly easy to get off the beaten path and find some peace and solitude.
I always give my guides a selection of routes to choose from so they can improvise and avoid the crowds. And our tour groups are often surprised to find themselves in a spot with perfect quiet and panoramic views. You have to remember: It’s a really big park.
Troxler: So many people just hop on I-70 and head out west, but I highly recommend going south down U.S. Route 285. Driving over Kenosha Pass and then dropping down into South Park is one of those authentic Colorado experiences that is hard to put into words.
You’ll find some of the most beautiful views in Colorado on the drive down to Salida, which itself is a beautiful and charming town. On your way back to Denver, veer slightly west along U.S. Route 24 to drive through Leadville, a genuine mining boomtown. It’s like driving into a Wild West movie set!
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Troxler: Famously, Boulder keeps getting voted the happiest city in the country. And there’s no mystery why it makes tourists and hikers so happy: sunny days, the iconic Flatirons, great hiking trails and a rich choice of local breweries for that well-deserved post-hike drink.
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The city is especially ideal for Denverites because it’s such a short drive away, so you can disconnect from the rush of everyday life pretty quickly. Basically, it’s the perfect destination if you’re wanting a burst of exercise, some beautiful views and a relaxing drink, all within a fairly short time-window.
Troxler: It’s easy to forget how incredibly diverse Colorado's geography is. People in Denver are obviously familiar with our Front Range and Great Plains, but if you drive south for a few hours things get dramatically different.
In the far west of the state, Colorado National Monument offers sheer-walled canyons and massive stone towers — it's truly one of the great landscapes of the American West. The spectacular San Juan Mountains that rise around Ouray in southwest Colorado look more like the Alps of my native Switzerland than anything you’d expect. And the incredible Great Sand Dunes National Park in the San Luis Valley has to be seen to be believed. There’s another whole Colorado down south — and it’s every bit as exciting as the one you already know.
Troxler: People always rave about the Mount Evans Scenic Byway, which is undeniably amazing. But visitors to Mount Evans should know there’s an equally fantastic treat waiting for them if they drive back to Denver along State Highway 103.
The route along Squaw Pass – at an elevation of 9,790 feet – is just stunning. What's most striking is how open everything is — which means jaw-dropping views in every direction, particularly in the fall. Plus, there are so many cool stopping points where you can clamber up a few rocks to get unbeatable views east to the Great Plains. Our tour parties are always blown away by the panoramic landscapes.
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