Coronado has the beach, sun, sand and fun, but if you are looking for a bit more adventure, consider a quick trip to the mountains of Colorado for whitewater rafting, mountaineering, camping and canyoning. An easy direct flight can get you to Denver in about two hours and from there a rental car can take you to beautiful snow-capped mountains, lakes, or whitewater rapids.
I recently returned from a one-on-one trip with my thrill-seeking 12-year old who asked that his trip include canyoning, zip-lining, rock-climbing and fishing. He didn’t care where we went and he knew we had just three days to do it all so he challenged my travel planning abilities. After numerous on-line searches, I found that Colorado had it all and began planning our adventure. His canyoning request required us to fly into Grand Junction, Colorado and rent a car from there so we could drive two hours south to a small town called Ouray.
Ouray is beautiful little mountain town, well-known for its hot springs and hiking and is just a short drive from Telluride, Colorado. Our hotel, The Box Canyon Lodge and Hot Springs, had six hot spring fed hot tubs we could relax in before getting a good night’s rest prior to our first adventure.
We chose Ouray because of a company called Canyoning Colorado, who offers guided canyoning tours that include repelling down waterfalls, scrambling through canyons and sliding down rock waterfalls. Our guides, Tyler and Dick, fully outfitted us with everything we needed from wetsuits to canyoning shoes and harnesses. As we left the town of Ouray heading toward Angel Canyon the guides gave us a little history of the town and pointed out great hiking areas along the way. We received instructions for repelling and a safety brief before taking on the canyon. The weather was warm so to cool off we took a quick dip in the cold water of the river, but with our wetsuits on we were all very comfortable. The tour was exhilarating, a little scary if you have a healthy fear of heights like I do, and really fun.
In all, we repelled four waterfalls, the highest being almost 40 feet, we scrambled through the canyons and slid down smaller rock waterslides. The guides always made sure our form and technique were proper and kept safety at the forefront. Canyoning was a fantastic start to our three day adventure.
After canyoning we jumped in our rental and made our way to Beuna Vista, Colorado, a 3 1/2 hour beautiful drive through canyons, by lakes and into the mountains. While we don’t love being in the car, especially on vacation, our agenda included mountaineering and rafting in Buena Vista and the drive let my son and I have some great conversations.
Upon arriving in Buena Vista we made our way to the AVA rafting and zipline outpost where we spent a night in one of their rustic cabins and enjoyed a steak dinner made on-site. The outpost was very secluded with limited wi-fi or cell service, allowing us to enjoy the moment without distractions. There were games like corn-hole and ladder-ball, a couple short hiking paths around the property, and a fire pit that kept us busy before calling it a night.
In the morning we got up for the first adventure of the day, a mountaineering excursion call the Via Ferrata. Via Ferrata means “Iron Way” in Italian, describing the iron rungs that are bolted into the rock face, creating a path of travel in difficult places. Along with climbing around the faces of cliffs and repelling down the side of a mountain, this tour also adds in a few zip lines to add to the fun. Our guides, Brandon and Patrick, outfitted us with full body harnesses, gloves, and fail safe equipment that kept us tethered to the mountain.The Via Ferrata will make you face your fears and give you the opportunity to conquer a mountain like you’ve never done before.
We worked up quite an appetite and went back to the outpost for a fantastic chicken fajita lunch (all part of the tour package). After lunch we checked out of our cabin, we stored most of our belongings in the rental car and brought our back packs and sleeping bags for our overnight rafting/camping trip. We were scheduled to raft the Arkansas River through Brown’s Canyon with a stop overnight to camp by the river. Due to the incredible amount of snow this year, the rafting conditions were fantastic.
The afternoon raft to our campsite consisted of paddling class-two rapids and getting basic whitewater rafting instructions as we made our way down the river. The scenery was beautiful, the water was cold and our raft guide, Joey, was both knowledgeable and funny. After a couple hours on the river we came to the site where we made camp. Our AVA guides were impressive, they were very environmentally conscious, making sure we didn’t leave evidence of being there and ensuring everything we brought in with us came out when we left, including the coals for the fire.
After we set up the tents (provided by AVA), we scouted the area for firewood and prepped for dinner. The guides made another delicious steak dinner with fresh beef from the local farms. Then we made s’mores and watched as a million stars blanketed the sky before falling asleep to the sounds of the rushing river.
Waking up with the sunrise and hiking to the peak behind our campsite offered incredible views. We carefully packed everything up, ate a quick breakfast of eggs and potatoes and prepared for our more challenging day of rafting. With class-three and four rapids to battle, everyone was a bit more focused and attentive to the guide. We all had on full wet suits in case we ended up in the river, and we practiced our strokes to make sure we were in sync. The anticipation leading to the first class-three was palpable, and the excitement and feeling of accomplishment once we had successfully navigated the rapid was celebrated with a paddle high five. We took on five class-three rapids on the way down the river before making a brief stop to scout the one class-four rapid we would face. With the constantly changing river conditions our guides wanted to assess the best way to safely make it past this section of the river. We watched as other rafts were splashed and tossed as they went through until one raft flipped, ejecting all seven passengers.
Watching this made me a bit nervous as this was my son’s first time rafting and we were only expecting class-three rapids, but our guides put me at ease and laid out their strategy to safely make it through. We returned to the raft with our adrenaline pumping and took on our only class-four rapid of the day. We got really wet and thrown around but we survived without flipping the raft. Seeing the pride and satisfaction on my son’s face made the entire trip worth every second. If you have a thrill-seeker in your life, consider taking a trip to Colorado and taking on the rapids.
After exiting the river we gathered our things and drove the two hours from Buena Vista to Denver airport and caught the short flight back to San Diego. All in all a bridgeworthy experience!