A Summer Road Trip Through Southwest Colorado

wine While usually thought of as a winter destination, Colorado has a lot to offer the summer traveler. For the itinerary below, I’d suggest touring the U.S. state via car, allotting at least two weeks, although three or four would be better.

Denver

Although this is technically central Colorado, it’s an excellent starting point for your road trip, especially since you’ll most likely be flying into there. The city is full of great activities that can be enjoyed during the summer, like exploring the numerous museums, taking in a comedy show at Comedy Works, strolling down 16th Street Mall or around the trendy Larimer Square. My top suggestion for a great summer experience in Denver, is sampling some of the artisanal flavors of the city. Visit D’Vine Wine, a boutique winery offering inexpensive vino tastings of unusual blends, and The Truffle Cheese Shop, where you’ll be able to try free samples of rare cheeses and cured meats. For those interested in uniquely flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegars, Marketplace EVOO features a giant tasting room, where the owner will help you put together and try the perfect blends. If you’re hungry, Biker Jim’s serves up exotic meat hot dogs, like elk, rattlesnake and pheasant, while the numerous local breweries can give you a taste of Denver’s famous beer scene.golden city brewery Golden

Located 30 minutes west of Denver, this tiny town may look unassuming, but there are actually a lot of worthwhile activities in the area. For some adventure and culture, tubing down Clear Creek is a popular local activity. Moreover, a trip to the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre offers picturesque hiking trails of moderate intensity, with opportunities to get close to the glowing red rocks. Additionally, Golden is the home of the Coor’s brewery, which gives tours Thursday through Monday. I would recommend, however, going to the 2nd largest brewery, and only other brewery, in town, The Golden City Brewery. It’s tiny, and housed in an old carriage house. They serve delicious wraps, and you can order a flight of their brews for about $6. At night, drive up Zion Mountain for an all-encompassing view of the city and surrounding areas lit up in the dark.

waterfall Breckenridge

About 90 minutes west of Golden you’ll find the charming mountain town of Breckenridge. This is one of my favorite cities – not only in Colorado, but also in the world. Summer travelers will love the endless amount of hiking trails available, to lakes, peaks, gorges and waterfalls. Furthermore, the town has an endless amount of boutique shops selling food, art, clothing, accessories, massages and gear. A stop at Breckenridge Distillery, the highest distillery in the world, is a must, as you can try free samples of their vodka, bourbon and bitters. I’d also suggest buying some elk and buffalo jerky from Climax Jerky, to sample some local flavor.

wine Grand Junction

Drive three hours west, and you’ll get to Grand Junction. Here you’ll find Colorado’s undiscovered wine region. Because of its very high altitude, rich soil, cool winds and mild climate, the area is able to make some of the world’s best wines. Furthermore, the altitude allows for fruits to grow close to the sun, bringing out their intense flavors. The area here produces 70 percent to 80 percent of the state’s wine grapes, as it has the longest growing season. This is in part due to the cooling effect from nearby canyons, and milding effect from the Grand Valley. Visit Carlson’s Vineyards, a winery featuring a wide selection of wines and quirky concoctions, and Colorado’s oldest winery, Colorado Cellars Winery.

Additionally, you can partake in some of the state’s most scenic hiking at Colorado National Monument. This red rock canyon is over 200 years old, and features towering monoliths, expansive plateaus and panoramic views. It’s 450 feet tall from its base to its top, and is 5,739 feet in elevation. Common wildlife includes bighorn sheep, eagles and collared lizards.

black canyon Crawford

About 45 minutes south, you’ll come to Crawford. This is a great city to really feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, and experience the beauty of nature. Here you’ll find the country’s newest national park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison. There are moderate hiking trails, which allow you to view the famous Black Canyon, which some say is even more impressive than the Grand Canyon. Moreover, this is a great place to stay on a ranch and partake in activities like horseback riding, archery, fly-fishing, trekking and line dancing. When I went, I stayed at the Smith Fork Ranch. While a bit pricey, you’ll have all your meals and alcohol included, and the atmosphere will really help you assimilate into country culture.

canyoning Ouray

Drive an hour south, and you’ll get to the adventure-rich town of Ouray. It’s similar to Breckenridge in that it’s full of scenic hikes, boutique shops and outdoorsy locals; however, Ouray has a bit of a grittier exterior. The city was once an old mining town, which is apparent by looking at the historical buildings, many of which haven’t been changed since the late 1800s. There are many adventurous options for the summer traveler, like canyoning, off-roading, rock climbing and alpine hiking. I’d highly recommend canyoning with San Juan Mountain Guides, as you get to repel down an 80-foot waterfall into a deep, narrow slot canyon. Additionally, there are many unique food shops and boutiques in town. Stop in Mouse’s Chocolates & Coffee for their locally famous Scrap Cookie. After making their chocolates, they take the scraps and save them to add into their homemade cookie batter. Each cookie is a surprise, as you might get nuts, toffee, caramel, turtles or other sweet possibilities depending on what was left over. By the same token, they have unique chocolates like bacon clusters with chardonnay salt and “Dark Hippie Bark,” a mix of coconut, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. For a unique brewery experience, visit the Ourayle House, where you’ll be heckled by Hutch, the owner, who made the bar out of scrap wood in his garage.

If you’re flying back, you can make your way to the airport at Grand Junction, which is about an hour away.

Photo Of The Day: Zebra Canyon

Most travel photography fans are familiar with the striking, sun-dappled images of Arizona‘s famed Antelope Canyon popularized on computer desktop backgrounds around the world. But few people are acquainted with Zebra Canyon, its less popular, less crowded but equally fetching neighbor in Utah, captured excellently in today’s Photo of the Day from Flickr user oilfighter. Named because of its vivid pink stripes, Zebra Canyon is also referred to as a “slot” because of its narrowness – our intrepid photographer even had to leave his pack at the entrance!

Do your natural wonder photos belong here? Upload your favorite shots to the Gadling Flickr Pool and your image could be selected as our Photo of the Day.

Video: Canyoning in the Pyrenees, Spain

Thrill seekers will love the unique and adventurous sport of canyoning. This activity, which involves traversing throughout a canyon, combines different techniques within the experience, including hiking, swimming, abseiling, scrambling, climbing, and more. The ideal canyons used for canyoning often include narrow gorges, flowing water, and various drops that must be navigated.

Want to see for yourself what canyoning looks like from the point of view of the adventurer? Check out this video:


Top 7 adventure activities near Arenal, Costa Rica

For travelers in search of a little adrenaline, the Arenal region of Costa Rica serves up adventure any way you like it.
The area around the Arenal volcano in Costa Rica, about 80 miles north of San Jose in the center of the narrow country, is known as the adventure capital of Costa Rica. With a diverse landscape that features erupting volcanoes, rainforests full of life, and cascading waterfalls, it’s a land perfect for active explorers. Here are the top adventure activities in the area.

Volcano Hikes

Just over 10 miles west of the small tourist town of La Fortuna, Arenal Volcano National Park is home to the big daddy of Costa Rican volcanoes. Those papier mâché volcanoes you made in 4th grade, with their perfectly formed cones, were probably modeled on Arenal. It’s everything you expect a volcano to be – lush and green on the bottom, gently sloping up its black rock sides to a pointed top with a near constant wisp of smoke wafting from its mouth.

Arenal isn’t the only volcano in the area, but it is the most impressive. It’s the youngest and most active. It’s been erupting daily since 1968.

On clear days (which are never guaranteed in the rainy season from May to November) you can see it from miles around and its fiery lava lights up the night sky like a fireworks show. Guides will lead hikes into the rainforest around the base of the volcano, though you can also drive yourself to the observation deck for a day or night viewing.
Rainforests and Wildlife Park Visits
The National Park surrounding Arenal includes a cloud forest and several thousand acres of rainforest filled with greenery, tropical plants, elusive colorful birds and butterflies, chattering monkeys, and dangerous reptiles and amphibians like crocodiles and poisonous tree frogs. You could hike through through these lush jungles with a guide, but there are other ways to see the forest.

The hanging bridges, a collection of walkways elevated above the canopy, provide a bird’s eye view of the forest. The walk is not strenuous (perhaps except for those afraid of heights) and can be done during the day or evening. An aerial SkyTram also elevates passengers to an observation deck in the rainforest canopy. Once there, you can peer out over the jungle or dine with a view of the volcano at the restaurant. To get back down, return on the SkyTram, take a shuttle, or for a quick return to ground level, zoom down the zipline.

For wildlife sightings closer to earth, visit the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge. The wetlands area, about an hour and a half from Arenal near the border with Nicaragua, resembles the Everglades of Florida with a few more dangerous residents. In addition to turtles, three-toed sloths, iguanas, several kinds of monkeys and thousands of species of birds, you may also see crocodiles and freshwater sharks.

Ziplining
You’ll find no shortage of companies that offer ziplining tours through the jungle canopy. Prices range from $30-$60 per person depending on the number of cables and other extras offered with the package. Canopy Los Cañones operates on the property of Hotel Los Lagos and is a mid-priced option for a zipline experience that includes transportation from your hotel, 15 cables, and unlimited time in the hotel’s hot spring pools post-activity.

Each cable line is different and presents a new challenge. On some, you’ll coast slowly along a nearly flat line from platform to platform as you look for glimpses of toucans and howler monkeys. Other lines are much more steep and fast, making for an exhilarating pass over the blurry green landscape.

Waterfalls
While the rainforest is dotted with hidden waterfalls, you may have a hard time stumbling upon one on your own. Instead head to La Fortuna waterfall. It may be the area’s most famous falls, but it can still be nearly empty of other people, especially in off season. You can hike there on your own by following the signs and paying a small entrance fee, or book a trip with any one of the tour operators offering trips from La Fortuna town.

The trek down from the road to the falls is strenuous, so save your strength by riding there on horseback instead of hiking. Anywhere Costa Rica matches riders to the appropriate horse, and then leads them on an hour-long ride to the falls, where they dismount and head down to the pools to swim before heading back.

Canyoning
If swimming in the runoff of a waterfall and watching it rain down from above isn’t enough, try Canyoning. Pure Trek Canyoning Adventures leads outings that combine hiking and rappelling with waterfalls – basically you rappel down the side of a cliff through the waterfall – in an activity called canyoning.

The PureTrek adventure will have you rappel down one rock wall and four waterfalls over the course of four hours. You’ll also hike through the rainforest to and from the trails, and enjoy a “Tipico” lunch, usually rice and beans with pork or chicken.

White Water Rafting
The Desafio Adventure Company offers a variety of tours, including white-water rafting. They offer full and half-day trips on class 2-3 and 4-5 rapids near Arenal. All gear is supplied, and the river is dam-controlled so the water levels are perfect all year round.

You can also combine a half-day of rafting with other adventure activities, such as kayaking or sport-fishing on Lake Arenal, cave spelunking, mountain biking, or canyoning, or with more relaxing outings like volunteering, bird watching or wildlife refuge visits.


Hot Springs
Arenal is also known for its hot springs and there are several options to chose from, ranging from the pricey, elaborately-landscaped pools at Tabacón Hot Springs Luxury Resort, to the bare bones ones frequented by locals at Los Laureles. A good middle option is Baldi, which has over 20 hot springs of varying temperatures, a restaurant, three bars, water slides, and a spa.

Okay, relaxing in a hot pool isn’t exactly an adventure sport – unless you count dodging creepy couples at the swim-up barbut after all that activity, you muscles will appreciate the soothing soak.

Hanging Off A Rope In the New Zealand Rainforest

I’m pretty happy I live in Auckland. Just over a million people with an increasing cultural diversity, loads of good restaurants, and a surprising number of international concerts (although that means for every visit from Interpol and Ryan Adams we get, we also have to host Tommy Lee’s woeful Supernova).

Across recent weeks I’ve been exploring Auckland’s wilder side in a series of articles on “Urban Adventures” I’m writing for a local magazine. An earlier post was on Bungy Jumping off the Auckland Harbour Bridge , and I’ve just returned from canyoning in the Waitakere Ranges to the west of Auckland with my nephew Matthew.

Togged up in wetsuits and safety helmets, we’ve just spent three hours working our way down the Blue Canyon‘s cavalcade of eighteen different waterfalls. Each of the cascades has required a slightly different technique. On some a spectacular and energetic leap has worked best. On others we’ve been forced to slide on our backsides down mossy natural water slides. Throw in a couple of watery abseils for good measure.

All the while we’ve been surrounded by native birdsong in a stunning chasm that’s only a few metres across at its widest point.

It’s been a great day. Not bad for somewhere that’s only 45 minutes from downtown Auckland .

See Canyonz for more information