On this high-mountain luxury road trip through Colorado, you’ll ride through bison herds at the foot of giant sand dunes, embark on expertly guided adventures from fun-filled mountain towns like Ouray, Telluride and Aspen; and take a look into Colorado’s Native American and pioneer past.
From your base in the heart of the Mile High City, spend a leisurely day acclimatizing. Wander the shops and restaurants of nearby LoDo and Larimer Square, escape to the calming Botanical Gardens or take in a bit of culture at the Denver Art Museum (DAM). Denver’s food scene is booming, so you’ll be sure to eat and drink well.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
This morning you’ll leave the city behind and wind your way through the Pikes Peak region and the red rock formations of Garden of the Gods. The seemingly impossible stone towers feature time-weathered Native American petroglyphs carved into the sand and limestone walls.
End your day at one of our favorite ranch properties in the country; set against a backdrop of the largest sand dunes in the United States and owned by the Nature Conservancy, Zapata Ranch sits in one of the most surprising and uniquely diverse landscapes in the country. To the west, are the San Juan Mountains and to the east lies the dramatic Sangre de Cristo range, at the foot of the otherworldly desert landscape of Great Sand Dunes National Park. The valley in between is a water rich ecosystem of grasslands, meadows and wetlands that not only supports the ranch’s 2,000 herd of wild bison but a huge diversity of birds, plant life and wild animals. Experiencing this paradise on horseback is unforgettable.
Whether you’re a beginner or more experienced, the ranch’s riding program is one of the best we’ve seen. You’ll be carefully matched with your horse and one of the joys of your time at the ranch is learning the quirks and character of your four-legged companion. Seldom is the riding ‘nose to tail’ and you’ll be able to roam freely across much of the ranch, accompanied by one of the wranglers. A highlight for many is the long ride to the sand dunes, where you’ll wind your way through the foothills of the Sangre de Cristos getting a unique perspective on the largest dune system in the United States.
Out of the saddle there is plenty to keep you busy, from partaking in daily ranch chores, naturalist led hikes, bird watching excursions and trips to hidden waterfalls.
Day 5 & 6
Travelling west to Ouray, in the heart of the San Juan Mountains, your route will take you through the beautiful Curecanti Recreation Area, a series of reservoirs formed by the damming of the Gunnison River. Pay a visit to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, where the Gunnison River cuts a vertigo inducing canyon through the flowing gneiss and schist.
The scenery only gets more dramatic as you pass the town of Ridgeway (home to Ralph Lauren’s Double RL Ranch) and climb into the San Juan Mountains. Picturesque Ouray, known for its mining history and hot springs, is perched in the crook of the mountains at the start of a series of dramatic switchbacks that ascends to Red Mountain Pass.
Early the next morning you’ll meet your private guide and together you’ll travel in a Jeep Rubicon into the surrounding San Juan Mountains. Ascend to the iconic high-altitude Engineer Pass, the highly photogenic Yankee Boy Basin or one of the many abandoned minings camps scattered through the area.
Before departing Ouray, be sure to pop into the Alchemist, a painstaking recreation of a frontier pharmacy that sells over-the-counter goods, but it’s truly unusual glory is its display of beautifully ornate medicine bottles, antiquated medical equipment, and stomach-churning remedies.
Today you’ll enjoy one of the most dramatic drives in the U.S., as you cross through the heart of the San Juan Mountains on CO-550, also known as the Million Dollar Highway. Leaving Ouray, the road climbs to the picturesque mining town of Silverton, where unpaved roads and colorful clapboard buildings appear not to have changed much since Gold Rush times. Continue to descend to the western town of Durango and the historic Strater Hotel in the center of town.
Your Colorado journey continues to the quintessential mountain town of Telluride, stopping along the way to visit the fascinating cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park. Together with your private guide you’ll explore the myriad of ruins and cliff dwellings and you will experience a chronological journey through the history of the Ancestral Pueblos, including Cliff Palace and Balcony House.
End your day in Telluride, your base for the next few days. It’s in many ways the picture-perfect mountain town, with its charm as an early mining outpost amazingly well preserved and its dramatic location at the head of an imposing box canyon.
You’ll challenge your head for heights this morning as you meet a professional climbing guide to tackle Telluride’s Via Ferrata. This is a thrilling technical hike along the east end of the Telluride canyon, offering spectacular views of Bridal Veil Falls and Telluride Valley. Secured in a harness and following a series of steel cables and ladders, this is a super fun and exhilarating adventure.
Later in the day, you’ll paddle the serene waters of a crystal clear alpine lake. Together with your private guide you’ll glide across the surface on SUP boards, turning into coves for a swim or a bit of rest.
End your time in Telluride with a private fly fishing guide for a day on a pristine stretch of the San Miguel, Uncompahgre or Dolores Rivers. You’ll learn to tie a fly and cast a tight loop, all the while enjoying the serene surroundings of these productive trout streams
Leaving Telluride, continue north through Montrose and along the edges of the Gunnison Gorge National Reserve, winding through the Rocky Mountains to reach the ritzy enclave of Aspen, nestled in the Sawatch Range and Elk Mountains and set along the roaring Fork River.
“I came for the winter, and stayed for the summer” is a phrase you’ll hear a lot in Aspen and it’s easy to see why. With natural beauty, culture, and character in excess, Aspen has it all. It’s reputation as a playground for the rich and famous is not unfounded but these well-heeled residents do not define its character, with rafting guides often indistinguishable from global CEOs on the barstool next to you.
After a long drive, retreat to your luxurious quarters in the center of town. Stretch your legs with a stroll along iconic Main Street or meander through the serene sculpture garden at the Aspen Institute.
This next morning acclimatize to the altitude with a downhill guided bike trip through the spectacular Maroon Bells Wilderness. You’ll have plenty of energy to soak up the scenery as you make your way twelve miles down Maroon Valley back to town for a late lunch on the terrace at Ajax Tavern.
If you still have energy and are looking to cool off, spend the afternoon tackling the class III rapids as you raft the renowned Arkansas River, or head to Devil’s Punchbowl for a refreshing dip. Spend your last evening armed with a picnic, on the lawn in front of the Benedict Music Tent enjoying the world class classical music that fills Aspen in the summer.
End your Colorado adventure with a drive over the jaw-dropping Independence Pass to Denver, one of the highest paved roads in the country.