Colorado has long been on top of the short list for many travelers. Colorado offers everything from waterfalls and rivers, historical sites, western history, wildlife and thriving urban cities and with the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop, no wonder visiting Colorado is on everyone’s bucket list. Colorado offers endless beauty, outdoor adventures and education, Colorado is a mountain getaway. That being said, there are a lot of things you should know before you cross the state line. From altitude sickness to the widely mistaken rocky mountain oyster, here is a solid list of 12 things to know before visiting Colorado.
Colorado is an amazing place to visit, let alone live. One trip to the Centennial State and your entire outlook on life will change. In fact, after one visit to Colorado in 1998, we began making plans to get out of our city mindset and into a more chill, more adventure focused lifestyle.
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12 Things You Must Know Before Visiting Colorado
Before taking that long awaited road trip to Colorado for your favorite world-class outdoor activities browse this list of the 12 things you need to know before hitting any of the mile high mountain towns spread across the Centennial State. Whether you plan on hitting one of the popular parks like Pikes Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, or Estes Park, or whitewater rafting on the Gunnison river or Colorado River, or anything in between, there are a few things you should know. Colorado is unlike any state I have ever been. It’s laid back, sure, but it is almost a necessary study prior to enjoying. As 21 year resident of this amazing and quirky state, I lay out these 12 things to know before visiting Colorado. So come on, let’s Visit Colorado on paper for one minute.
For a Day of Relaxation, Visit the Glenwood Springs Iron Mountain Hot Springs
Let’s just confront the elephant in the room, right off the bat…marijuana. There is a lot of confusion and a lot of fake news regarding this subject. Everyone in the world, by now, knows that it is legal to buy and consume pot if you are 21 or older. But, what so many don’t fully grasp is that it is illegal to smoke it in public. That includes, but is not limited to cars, buses, parking lots, ski resorts, parks, bars, hiking trails, biking trails, etc.
But just because it is illegal to smoke in public, doesn’t mean everyone knows or abides by this … so be prepared to smell A LOT of pot, easily mistaken for skunks, during the summer months. If you plan to hit the river, take a popular hike or chill at Red Rocks, one of the plethora of hot springs (especially here) or even at a luxury spa, you will undoubtedly smell it. And if you are a going to partake, please don’t be “that guy” who starts smoking around kids. Know the laws.
2. Altitude Sickness
Altitude Sickness is a real thing and knowing how to deal with it can save you two full days on your Colorado vacation! Photo Credit: Susie Kellogg
Now let’s talk about something I knew nothing about when I first traveled to Colorado. Altitude Sickness. Again, a very high item on the totem pole of Things To Know Before Visiting Colorado!
Altitude Sickness is, unfortunately, a real thing. Some people have no problems with the altitude, others instantly feel the effects as soon as they hit Denver and beyond. Altitude sickness causes headaches, unquenchable thirst, fatigue and on occasion nausea. Typical symptoms tend to subside around the second day. However there are several things you can do to reduce your symptoms and even avoid it altogether.
The first is to drink a boat load of water. Grab your water bottle and keep it with you at all times, filling it to the brim with absolutely the best tasting tap water in the world … ok except maybe the Alps. You can drink from water fountains anywhere in the mountains and the water is wonderful.
Second, don’t do anything strenuous the first two days you are here. Many people complain that they are lightheaded, so take it easy. The first two days is not the time to plan to go mountain biking or hike a 14er. Instead, go for a scenic drive on a scenic byway, or maybe walk around Garden of the Gods, National Monument, take in rock formations, or better yet, treat yourself to a spa day upon arrival.
Third, take Altitude Adjustment. It’s a 100% preservative-free, all-natural supplement that is specially formulated to reduce the effects of high altitude sickness. Our friends and family swear by them!
3. We Drive Fast
I tend to drive rather quickly, so the speed in which Coloradans get around didn’t faze me. However, it has surprised and even frightened some of our friends and family when they visit Colorado. Especially when speeds in excess of 75 are common in the mountains and the roads are unfamiliar. I felt this was an important PSA to include in the top 12 Things To Know Before Visiting Colorado, as most roads in the USA still have 65 as their top speeds.
Don’t worry about everyone else. Stay in the right lane and drive the speed you are comfortable driving, and obey signs. Know that when a speed limit drops to 40 around a turn, that is not a suggestion, it is a warning. Also, it is illegal to cruise in the left lane, slower drivers keep right! We passionately adhere to this fact.
4. Fire Bans
This item on my list of Things To Know Before Visiting Colorado is the worst! The word fire ban was never in my vocabulary before I moved to Colorado. I hailed from the DC area. There we would take our kids camping in the dead of August and build huge campfires, never once considering the possibility of burning a forest down. It just doesn’t happen in the East.
And then one day, immediately after moving to Colorado, we packed up the truck and the kids and headed out to a random forest road. Low and behold there was a sign, “Fire Ban is in Effect”. What in the holy heck? And it was June! We tried camping with no fire and lasted one night. Camping without a fire … what is even the point! Even today, after 21 years of limited fires, the thought of no campfire puts a huge damper on the whole camping experience.
Hence, I included this for those of you who enjoy camping for the Smores, the ghost stories and the camaraderie around the fire, as well as the warmth. BEWARE, unless you are visiting in the winter for the sledding, cross-country skiing, and other epic winter activities, when you visit Colorado, you will most likely encounter fire bans..
5. Nature is Serious Business
City dwellers, take note. Coloradans take nature, in all forms, very seriously. For hikers: If the sign before a hike says “Stay on Trail,” you best take that to heart. For Hot Springs or waterfall lovers: If a sign says no swimming, best to take heed. If you do go rogue and start messing around in Colorado’s near-pristine wilderness, you will likely be featured in a Social Media shame campaign. There is no joking around.
And, for the love, don’t litter, Colorado may very well be the most pristine state in all of North America!
Respect nature is a definite on any list of Things To Know Before Visiting Colorado.
6. Pack for a Truly Bi-Polar Weather Pattern
What to pack is everyone’s top question when planning a trip to visit us in this amazing state. This morning, end of October, it was freezing, low teens and by 2 pm it was 50 degrees. Tomorrow it is supposed to snow and the following day it will be what Coloradans deem shorts weather … a balmy 49.
So, what to pack? No-one knows, so the keyword around these parts is … layers! Bring it all. During the summer, the weather is much cooler in the mountains than in valleys … many mountains remain snow-capped year round! A rule of thumb is that in the sun, you need shorts and in the shade you need a sweatshirt.
Shoes, here in Colorado are easy. Simply, bring two pairs. Bring a pear of sandals and wear them with socks if and when it is chilly and bring GoreTex hiking boots … good for snow and good for hikes.
Oh, and when you Visit Colorado don’t forget the sunscreen because Colorado has 300+ days of sun.
7. Craft Beer
Colorado has one of the largest concentrations of craft breweries in the nation, and they produce a wide range of unique beers. We are craft beer country! Good luck finding Bud Light or Michelob on tap in more than a handful of bars and restaurants, local establishments serve local beer. From Boulder to Grand Junction, Durango, Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, and more, craft breweries are everywhere. You see, you are now entering the Craft Beer Twilight Zone, and you’ll positively love it. You know what they say, when in Rome …
8. Rocky Mountain Oysters
Rocky Mountain Oysters, the food Colorado is famous for. And when I say that, I mean people from all over come here for them! My first experience with Rocky Mountain Oysters was at a restaurant in Telluride.
We were there for one of our son’s hockey game and proceeded to meet some new friends for dinner. I scoured the menu for something to order. I opt for a salad, I’m not an adventurous eater. Our friends go with the Rocky Mountain Oysters and realizing we have no idea that they don’t hail from the sea, proceed to have a lot of fun with my husband and I.
So, what is the big deal? What exactly are Rocky Mountain Oysters? Why did some food item make it onto a list of the top 12 Things To Know Before Visiting Colorado?
Well, Rocky Mountain Oysters are … mammal testicles, and most commonly come from bulls, bison, pigs, and sheep. Yep, I’m so not kidding. And Coloradans (and beyond) love them!
So, word of caution, when you Visit Colorado, beware. There are some that call these “delectables.”
9. Coloradans Dress Casual
A quick trip to NYC or LA has me feeling underdressed at every turn. There simply aren’t enough bags to bring all the clothes I need for a weekend trip, not to mention the fees associated with those bags.
However, when you Visit Colorado, the expectations are greatly lowered. In our small neck of the woods, between Aspen and Vail, if you see someone in a suit, they are undoubtedly a lawyer on his way to court. No lie. The same goes for whether you are visiting Telluride of Breckenridge or some podunk town in nowhere’s ville … we dress nicely, but casually.
So, a great guide for when you Visit Colorado is to pack super casual. For men, this means a flannel and jeans and for women, jeans and a cute top. And yes, this is appropriate for Friday nights, out on the town whether you are in Denver or Aspen. Also yes sandals and socks really are a thing here.
Another option is to bring nothing and simply shop at one of the hundreds of small boutiques!! They carry everything you need for anything from a horseback riding outing to a trip to the Great Sand Dunes National Park or a night out on Pearl Street. If you stress about this sort of thing, this is a great option!
10. Learn Skier Etiquette Before Skiing or Riding
There is little that drives Coloradans more crazy than people who break Skier/snowboarder Etiquette. So, put “research” on your list of Things To Know Before Visiting Colorado. You’ll notice, while here, that we have very little in the way of rules. The first is be chill, the second is Skier Etiquette.
So, don’t be that guy (or gal) who cuts the line at the lift, or flies down the park and runs into a 5 year old (actually happened just the other day), or smokes pot on the gondola or lift (major pet peeve of mine), or any of the million other things listed specifically in a gazillion blogs found via Google.
Brush up, it will save you some headaches.
11. The Outdoors Is Life
Coloradans are super cool people, we do things that others only read about. This is the happiest state, after Hawaii, in the union, and it’s because we get outside and adventure, soaking up the Vitamin D and moving our bodies. We are diverse adventuring people with outdoor adventures to be had in every season, despite the fact that most of y’all think it only snows here.
Regardless of whether you visit Southern Colorado and frolic in the San Juan’s or go North to Steamboat Springs, or dead center to Colorado Springs, there is outdoor passion every day of the year.
Sure we all ski and snowboard, but we all also have other passions that run from climbing to whitewater kayaking to biking, snowshoeing, ziplining, canyoneering and so much more. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a sedentary Coloradan, and if you do, they are a transplant from a different city.
One of the Things To Know Before Visiting Colorado is that you will spend the majority of your time outside doing cool things!
12. Dogs are Basically Humans
Dogs have almost as many rights as people, in Colorado! Photo Credit: Susie Kellogg
Dogs are, for good or bad, welcome almost everywhere. Truth be told, I have even seen them skiing or riding, which is bizarre and I’m pretty sure illegal! But, it just goes to show that dogs are everywhere. You will see them at the river, at the base of a mountain, on every hike you’ll ever go on, even when it clearly states NO Dogs. Dogs are in bars and even some restaurants, and grocery stores, which I just can’t get beyond, but they are there. In fact, my daughter went to her female doctor and the doctor brought her dog into the examining room!!
If you don’t like dogs, Colorado is not a place you want to visit. However, definitely, if you are a dog lover … bring your dog!