The beautiful Colorado state is great for an active trip: from hiking around the Garden of the Gods to whitewater rafting.
We landed in Denver and rented a car right outside the airport. In the States you should always book everything in advance. It does not leave much room for improvisation but it’s cheaper and you know you have your back covered.
Garden of the Gods
From Denver to this natural landmark the drive is short and pleasant. We passed a couple of interesting highway intersections on multiple levels but I did not get a chance to take a picture. Infrastructure, even though americans like to complain, is massive and in good shape. Pay attention to the tolls for each road though, all rentals are equipped with a sensor and each toll will end up on your credit card without you even knowing.
The Tourist Information Center has a nice free exhibition to help you understand the origin, history and fauna of the area. The gift shop is also nice but I would rather spend more time among these humbling red rocks if I were you.
If almost feels like there is more sky here, even the go-pro wide angle lens could not capture all of it!
The park itself is accessible with a car but parking is difficult. Once you get to a walkable area, mind the tourists. Even though the rocks are well preserved, you can see the damage done by hundreds of frantic kids climbing all around.
Regardless, I recommend going out of your way to see this natural reserve, it will give you a new perspective on space and time.
I have to admit I did not know much about this small mountain town so I was surprised to find a very charming atmosphere, almost exclusively high-end hotels as well as a winter sport wonderland.
The buildings look like scale replicas of everything that is nice in Europe (sorry US readers!).
Vail by day caters to everything sporty, with an army of young and cheerful student employees from around the US as well as work and travel students from Macedonia, Romania and the like.
But Vail by night gets turned on its head and becomes Party Central for the energetic young. They fill the bars and pizzerias, with $1 Coors beers in one hand and weed filled Vapes in the other.
Eagle River Rafting
From Vail you can book several group activities and we choose White Water Rafting. We got picked up from the hotel by the very nice staff at Sage Outdoor Adventures and were delighted to find the staff was composed of mostly the same people we drank with the night before. Everyone looked sober enough to go through with it so we hopped on the minibus.
The drive upwards into the mountains was spectacular! The driver/guide/party animal was very knowledgeable and gave us a pretty good picture of the fascinating history of the area. From WW2 Seal training to ghost towns and the Highest Golf Course in the US, the winding roads take you through some pretty interesting places.
Below, a picture of the headquarters, were we suited up for the trip. Putting on already worm, soggy, unflattering gear is a mandatory part but the thing is, once you hit the water, you will be glad you have a protective layer.
The main event! I am very happy to have chosen to participate. The views of the rocks and cliffs as you bob along the river are idilic. You can spot animals and wild flowers, hidden private cabins and the natural formations on either side of the river will hypnotise you.
When the river allows it, the tour guide will tell you how to navigate between the rocks, with or without getting soaking wet. The guide sits on the tail of the boat, secretly controlling each movement of the boat, but he makes you think you and your paddle are making a difference.
It was a great experience: visually compelling, physically challenging and if you are lucky like us, your tour guide will make you laugh so hard you will forget your butt is sitting in a puddle of cold water.
The trip back to Vail took us through the peaceful plateaus at 10.000 feet.
Colorado was welcoming and very beautiful. It’s the kind of place that makes you say:
Ain’t nature neat?