September is the perfect time for Texans to head to Colorado. The brisk mountain air invites you to spend your nearly-fall days hiking, kayaking and horseback riding. The summer crowds have left and the skiers are yet to arrive, so there’s no better window to enjoy the Centennial State. Your Rocky Mountain playground awaits.
For Labor Day weekend last year, my husband and I loaded up the family car and headed west for a mostly unplanned outdoor adventure. Making Breckenridge our home base, we spent several weeks wandering the woods, taking scenic ski lift and gondola rides, careening down mountains on alpine coasters, and visiting every skate park within driving distance. It was one of the best trips we’ve ever taken.
When we arrived in Breckenridge on September 8th, it started snowing. Hard. We couldn’t believe our luck. My kids made snow angels, tiny snowmen, and had an impromptu snowball fight with an older gentleman. (He started it.) The next day, the sun came out and it was perfect hiking weather. We struck out in search of waterfalls and encountered a gorgeous fox. My daughter still talks about that day.
Our entire stay was like this – one delightful surprise after another. On a trail ride, our horses crossed a river (very exciting). Following the Trollstigen Trail through the forest, we discovered a 15-foot wooden troll. Riding the BreckConnect Gondola, Goldrunner Coaster and Alpine Slide, we drank in panoramic views of the Ten Mile Range. We packed a lot in during our weeks in Breckenridge, because on the weekends, we set off to explore nearby towns.
The weekend we spent in Frisco was my favorite. Nestled between the Arapahoe National Forest and the shores of Lake Dillon, Frisco is a picture-perfect Rocky Mountain town. The water is clear, the hikes are easy, and views from the bike paths are breathtaking.
At Frisco Adventure Park, my boys spent hours tearing around the 28,000 square-foot skate park while my daughter and I strolled the 5.5-mile Frisco Peninsula hike along the Lakeshore Perimeter Trail down to Frisco Bay. Watching the sailboats, I couldn’t wait to get out on the water. Our next stop was Frisco Bay Marina to rent kayaks. We took lunch and enjoyed a peaceful paddle from island to island. It couldn’t have been a more incredible day.
From Frisco, Copper Mountain is only a 15-minute drive. So, we stopped to check out the ski resort’s off-season family fun. We soaked each other with bumper boats and flew down the 5,800-foot-long Rocky Mountain Coaster, one of the longest alpine coasters in North America.
Copper also offers high-alpine hiking trails, up to 10,000 feet, and a vast network of mountain biking trails. But, we only watched the adventurous trailblazers from above, sailing over their heads on a scenic chair lift. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit and take in the view.
Another 20 or so minutes down the road is Keystone, home to one of my favorite ski resorts. In the off-season, there’s still plenty to love about this quaint village. Here, we did try mountain biking, and oh boy is it harder than I was expecting. I recommend taking a class because standing while riding a bike down a mountain doesn’t come as naturally as I’d hoped. But again, my kids loved it. (Terrifying as it was.)
Snowmass Village is about two and a half hours from Breck, on the road to Aspen. But, if you have a car, it’s another great weekend getaway. Nestled in the Brush Creek Valley, Snowmass Village is surrounded by 90 miles of scenic mountain hiking and biking trails.
We rented bikes (to ride on paved trails this time), tried the Breathtaker Alpine Coaster in Lost Forest, and went whitewater rafting down the Roaring Fork River. Plus, we took several hikes, my favorite being the South Rim Trail for the Yin Yang hike. This one takes about 45 minutes and offers sweeping views of the town below. In the fall, you can spend a gorgeous, cool morning winding your way up the switchback trail.
No Plan Necessary
The greatest thing about having a car in Colorado is that it frees you from the need to make many plans in advance. Once you pick where to stay, there are small towns packed full of activities in every direction. Want to try swimming in a naturally heated river? Cruise over to Mount Princeton Hots Springs Resort. Prefer to get drenched in freezing water? Sign up for a whitewater rafting expedition along the Arkansas River. You can’t go wrong when it comes to Colorado adventure, and early fall is an amazing time of year to enjoy it all.
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Heidi Gollub enjoys working remotely and already misses the days when her kids could take virtual schooling on the road. An Austin local, she is always on the lookout for easy family getaways that require little-to-no prep work.