This is your year. You've been planning, and waiting, and it's finally time to check off some big milestones.
To summit another 14er (or several). To hit some double blacks or backcountry runs without tomahawking. Fitness goals, diet, finances, habits — we could go on and on.
But for us, it always comes back to what makes us happy. If we’re chasing our joy, the rest will follow. (Assuming, of course, we’re working our butts off to earn those adventures.)
That's why we've done the research for you, so you can get the most out of your Colorado adventures in 2023. After years of exploring the Centennial State, these are the experiences we urge you not to miss. They'll make your jaw drop. Fill you with wonder. Give you a grin so wide, your face hurts.
Presenting: the 2023 Colorado Bucket List.
1. Sky Pond Hike - Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is a treasure trove for great hikes, but there’s a reason Sky Pond came in at number one on our guides’ list of favorites.
It’s not a short hike by any means, and there will be a challenging scramble at a waterfall toward the end, but the payoff is hard to match. Towering granite cliffs, lush meadows, numerous bodies of water along the way, and plenty of wildlife spotting opportunities, Sky Pond checks almost every box you could have for a long day hike.
This hike is so good that you’ll think you’re “there” several times, but you’re not. You have to keep going. One waterfall here, a beautiful lake there, up and up you go. Pack snacks, as each of these stops offer their own unique vistas. You’ll want to pause and soak everything in.
But once you reach the top of that scramble up Timberline Falls, remember… You’re still not there!
That’s Lake of Glass. Continue around the right side with a bit more rock scrambling and a difficult-to-follow path and you’ll reach it. Sky Pond.
It’s a truly dreamy hike and well worth the effort. Sky Pond is our favorite forever and needs to be on anyone’s Colorado bucket list to check off again and again.
Snag your RMNP entry permits and make sure to get Bear Lake Road access. Need a little more encouragement?
We’ll let our seasoned guide Ryan Dibala sum things up. He’s just so good with words.
“I really love Sky Pond. On the way up, the views from Loch Vale are sweeping and once at Sky Pond, the towering Sharkstooth provides a backdrop unlike anywhere else in the park. Also, the ascent up through Timberline Falls is a fun and slightly scary technical challenge, especially in the winter when it’s frozen over.”
2. Camp On The Dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park
In our well-trained mountain eyes, the unique beauty of Great Sand Dunes National Park is unmatched.
Here, you can trade the snow for sand and go sledding or sandboarding on the dunes. Great Sand Dunes features the tallest sand dunes in North America, with the legendary Star Dune topping out at 755 feet. You can even hike to the top! It’s a slow slog in the sand but a fun challenge that rewards with unique views you can’t find anywhere else, particularly in those golden hours of the early morning or around sunset.
Great Sand Dunes is truly otherworldly — it doesn’t seem to make sense. “How is this even here?” you’ll wonder. The short answer is it took millions of years, a dried up lake, some streams down from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the San Juan Mountains, and a whole lot of wind.
For the ultimate bucket-list experience at Great Sand Dunes, you have to camp. And not at the campground — you can actually score backcountry permits to camp right in the dune field. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve was certified as an International Dark Sky Park in 2019 and is one of the best places in the world to view the stars.
(Tip: the best time to view stars is during a new moon or waxing crescent moon. BUT, another cool experience is to visit during a full moon and hike/sled/board on the dunes under the light of the moon! Both are super fun.)
3. Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Yeah, yeah, there’s a bit of a parks theme here so far, but only so many places have been designated as National Parks, and we’re blessed to have four of them.
One that many people miss out on is Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It sounds a bit wild and untamed, doesn’t it?
Well… it is! While millions visit Rocky Mountain National Park each year, only a few hundred thousand make it down to Black Canyon. So if you want to get out there and feel like you have one of earth’s most beautiful landscapes to yourself, you can.
This is another dark sky park and an incredible place to camp, but you’re here for the daytime views. Take a slow drive along the south rim and stop at the 12 overlooks. View the sheer black cliffs that plummet 2,000 feet to the river below. Our must sees? Chasm View, Painted Wall, Pulpit Rock, and Sunset View.
4. Finally See Maroon Bells For Yourself (Aspen)
Yeah, yeah, you’ve seen it on everyone’s Instagram, but have you seen it for yourself? Maroon Bells is a must, as photographs never do anywhere justice, do they? Wine-colored craggy mountains towering over the most perfect clear lake and a vast aspen grove. It’s simply perfect.
The problem is it’s a hard place to reach, and even harder to get reservations. It’s also a 4-hours-each-way journey from Denver, so it’s best to squeeze it into a weekend in the mountains.
Yes, it’s a closely guarded area and reservation only, or is it? While these permits are notoriously difficult to grab, other than diligently hitting up the reservation system and hoping you get in, you can use a few other strategies.
For one, you can simply show up as about 20% of people with reservations no-show. Then, you can grab a ticket and hop on the bus. We’ve also heard you can also sneak in before 8 a.m. or after 5 p.m., but you didn’t hear that from us! Lastly, you can hike in during winter absolutely for free, but it will take some time with snowshoes!
For our pick, check the reservation system during the last couple of weeks of October when the buses stop and you can drive right in yourself. The parking lot is just steps from the best viewpoint of the Maroon Bells, and there are also fun hikes that depart from here.
Oh, and take pictures. Duh.
5. Give Fly Fishing A Try
Fly fishing has become one of our favorite activities in recent years, and we think it’s time you give the fly a try. Why? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
Because it’s awesome.
Listen, we hear you, blah, blah, fishing is boring, blah, blah.
Fly fishing isn’t. You’re not just sitting there waiting for the bobber to drop. You’re actively trying to reel fish in the entire time. You can read our full post on the 7 reasons you need to try fly fishing, but here's the TL;DR:
- It's active
- It's challenging
- It's easy to learn
- It's a great way to get outside
- It comes with incredible views
- There's no wrong way to do it
- It's fun!
Sure, that doesn’t paint the whole picture, but it gives you an idea. Fly fishing is a fun activity anyone can do. You’ll be one of those cool Coloradoans with the sun hoodie, big hat, waders, and rod on a hike in no time.
(For your first time, you can even head out on a fly fishing tour with us. We’ll get you hooked!)
6. Hit World Class Rapids - Whitewater Rafting
Did you know there’s world class whitewater rafting right here in Colorado? It’s true!
Browns Canyon, an area so gorgeous it was named a National Monument in 2015, serves up the goods all summer long with unmatched whitewater surrounded by soaring 14ers and abundant wildlife. Parts of the river are calm, but rapids with names like Pinball, Zoom Flume, and Widowmaker give an idea for the kind of fun that’s in store.
If you’ve never tried whitewater rafting or just have never done it here in Colorado, make 2023 your year. Whether you want to hit the water with friends, coworkers, or teammates, whitewater rafting is an incredibly fun way to spend a day outside and build camaraderie.
It’s certainly not a stretch of river for the faint of heart, but is wet, wild, and fun with an experienced guide. We’re talking Class IV+ here. Are you ready to run the river? Book a trip with Aspire (or try the more mellow, family-friendly float.)
Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone
You know us, we GO ALL OUT, but now it’s your turn.
Stop saying you’re going to do things, and do them. Find anything on the list above, and add it to yours. Get out there more, do more new things, and enjoy the growth as a person. You’ll regret not doing things way more than doing them.
Just some humble advice from the team here at Aspire Tours! We love taking people out on adventures and watching you light up as you take on new experiences.
Maybe you want to hike more but don’t have the confidence or sense of direction to go alone. Maybe you want to try fly fishing or whitewater rafting or backpacking. Maybe you want a fun outing for your company.
We’re here for you. We’re here for all of it.
Cheers to you from everyone here at Aspire.
Header image of The Loch in Rocky Mountain National Park by Christian Collins via Flickr.