It’s not just the legendary TV drama series Dynasty that has made the US state of Colorado famous. It’s rather the virtually untouched wilderness that stretches around the Rocky Mountains and the Colorado River, protected and preserved in numerous national parks and national forests. From north to south and east to west, from prairie to fir tree forests, and mountain top to waterfall – we’ll follow our compass and discover the most beautiful spots around Denver.
The Roar of Fish Creek Falls
At the foot of the Rocky Mountains lies an unassuming town with a population of just over 12,000. This small town, a three-hour drive from Denver, is called Steamboat Springs, a popular winter sports area that only seems to come alive when the snow falls. From here, it’s just six kilometres to the famous Fish Creek Falls, an over 85-metre-high waterfall that rushes, splashes, and gushes its way through rugged cliffs and fir tree forests. The waterfall is located in the Routt National Forest that was named by President Roosevelt over 100 years ago to honour Colorado’s first governor, John Long Routt.
The Call of the Hawk
They almost look unreal, as if someone had simply placed them in the middle of the Pawnee National Grassland. They also look as if they could crumble to dust at any moment. But in fact, the Pawnee Buttes, a two-hour drive northeast of Denver, are the result of powerful natural forces. Formed by massive earth shifts, this geological formation has withstood wind and weather through the ages. If you’d like to explore them, it’s best to follow the Pawnee Buttes Trail. Surrounded by yuccas, cacti, and pink-flowering ‘prairie onions’, they rise up to more than 90 metres high. But the dry plains have much more to offer: if you keep your eyes peeled, you might be lucky enough to spot eagles and prairie falcons in the air. Or bison – lower down, on the ground, of course.
Misty Swamps and Reservoirs
While the Pawnee National Grassland and the Routt National Forest allow visitors to experience nature in its purest form, the Cherry Creek State Park, 30 kilometres southeast of Denver, is both man-made and natural. Following the Wetland Loop Trail, visitors are immersed in Colorado’s swamp and marsh landscapes, where beavers and muskrats abound. Cherry Creek Lake, on the other hand, is a bit more civilised. This roughly four-square-kilometre, eight-metre-deep reservoir has a marina on the western side, a sandy beach on the eastern side, and boasts a magnificent panoramic mountain view.
Adventures in the Rio Grande National Forest
Vastness, height, depth – located 300 kilometres from Denver, the Rio Grande National Forest, named for the Rio Grande river that originates in the mountains of the forest, offers all this and more. It has meter-high fir trees that accompany your every step of the way and cliffs with bottomless crevices, along whose walls gigantic masses of water plunge into the depths. And then there is the endless view over the mountain landscape that lies at your feet. Vastness can also be found in the San Luis Valley, one of the largest alpine deserts in the world. So head for the windswept Great Sand Dunes, turn your face towards the sun – and take a deep breath!
Shimmering Worlds in White River National Park
When you spend time here, you might think you’ve set out for Pandora as an avatar. This is because the beauty of this small, green-shimmering yet glass-clear lake, shielded from the outside world by waterfalls, trees, and mountains seems strangely surreal. Known as ‘Hanging Lake’, this natural phenomenon is located in White River National Park, an hour’s drive from Denver. This is the most heavily hiked park in Colorado, protecting more than 9,000 square kilometres of nature. For those eager to reach the summit, there are also plenty of mountains to choose from: Mount Harvard, Mount Lincoln, or Mount Evans – take your pick!
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