It is now officially the dog days of summer, and more Americans are traveling than ever before, a term that NPR and other news organizations have coined “revenge travel.”
While I think the term "revenge" has obvious negative connotations, I can understand the general public's need to escape from the every day. Trust me, I have been featured as the poster child for the Great Resignation in Texas Monthly.
Many Americans are over in Europe or other exotic locales - as I can bear witness from my Instagram Feed.
However, there are jaw-droppingly picturesque parts of our country that can give any global destination a run for its money.
Here are three of my favorite mountain towns to visit if you plan to check out Colorado this summer.
Denver (altitude: 5,279 feet)
Denver is the usual starting place for most Colorado expeditions.
Should you decide to fly to Denver, tickets from Austin are reasonably affordable, and you can find plenty of non-stop flights on Southwest, United and Frontier. I did a Google Search for last-minute flights right before publishing this article, and one-way flights were less than $100 each way. In these times, that is an ABSOLUTE STEAL.
Should you choose to drive to Colorado from Austin, it is about 1,000 miles one way. If you assume 25 miles per gallon, that is 40 gallons of gas, which is approximately $200 at today’s gas prices of $5 a gallon.
Either way, both modes of transportation are astonishingly affordable and easy.
I used to visit Denver once a quarter for work, and I have grown to appreciate The Mile High City, which many say is similar to Austin due to its young workforce and vibrant scene (and I agree).
If you have some time to spend in the Denver area before making your way into the mountains, the absolute best option from the airport to downtown Denver is the RTD A line train to Union Station which leaves every 15 minutes. To get to the train, follow the signs to the Westin Hotel / Train to Downtown.
The journey takes about 40 minutes, and I purchased a day pass for $10.50, which also allows for transfers to other forms of public transportation in and around the Denver metropolitan area.
You literally walk off the train from the airport at Union Station, which is one of the most happening places in Downtown Denver.
Downtown Denver is very walkable, and you can make easy connections from Union Station to the free 16th Street Mall bus, which takes you across town along one of the most popular tourist thoroughfares in downtown Denver.
The day I was there in June was a stunning afternoon: temperatures in the mid-60s, sunny skies and no humidity, which was a far cry from the 100 degree heat I had left in Texas.
I met a friend at Union Station, and we decided on a restaurant that is part of the complex.
Most of the dining establishments have plentiful outdoor seating, including picnic tables with large parasols/umbrellas.
After lunch, we walked through McGregor Square on our way to Coors Field.
I am always interested about how a city can continue to re-energize its urban core, and Denver has done a FABULOUS job of doing so.
McGregor Square is a relatively new and ultra-modern public space surrounded by The Rally Hotel and several bars and restaurants. There is a large, outdoor seating area and a massive TV screen to watch sporting events.
Can someone please give me a media comp to The Rally Hotel? Anyway, I digress.
Speaking of professional sports, Denver is a town rich in sports history.
When I was there, the Colorado Avalanche hockey team was in the Stanley Cup Finals, which they won on June 26th, and the city was full of Avs fans in their hockey jerseys getting ready for the game. The Colorado Rockies were also playing an afternoon game at Coors Field.
Another place downtown to check out is Larimer Street, which is a hybrid of Austin’s Dirty and West 6th Streets. High end food and beverage establishments line the street and bunting runs along the entire thoroughfare.
While I was only in Denver for the day before heading onward, there are other activities I wish to check out next time I am there, including the Denver Art Museum and the Meow Wolf experience.
Crested Butte (altitude: 8,909 feet)
Crested Butte (known as “CB” to locals) began as a supply camp for silver mines in the 1870s, then was a major coal mining town until the 1950s and is now a world-renowned destination for outdoorsy-types. I am referring to the crowd with mountain bikes, beards and Patagonia clothing.
While I have a mustache instead of a beard and the right mountain-related clothing, I admit I have never been able to ride a bike in my life.
Yep, you read that right. Zero coordination or balance on a bike, period.
Yet despite that embarrassing fact, I agree that Crested Butte has some of the best outdoor expeditions in Colorado given its plethora of hiking, mountain biking and 4x4 off-road trails.
CB is also known for its wildflowers, as documented in a recent article by Travel & Leisure, which you can find here. The wildflowers are best seen in mid-July, and if you can be there during this time, you are really in for a treat.
While in Crested Butte, I would spend the morning hiking, the afternoon napping and sitting in the hot-tub and the evening eating. #BestLife.
Last year, I hiked to the summit of Gothic Mountain, and you can read that story here. This hike is a 7.5 mile out-and-back trek with significant uphill climbs and is not for the weak of heart.
This year, my favorite hike was Beckwith Trail Pass. After a steady climb through near unpassable streams with downed trees, my family and I reached the the stunning alpine meadows in the midst of snow-capped mountain peaks. We sat on some rocks and literally had a mountain picnic right there, soaking in the cool air, inhaling the smell of the wildflowers beginning to bloom and feasting our eyes on a mountaineer's paradise.
We also did a lot of 4x4 off-roading on the Walrod Road and Rustler’s Gulch, and to access many of the best hikes in CB, you will need a 4x4 vehicle.
Here are some other fun things to do while in Crested Butte:
On Monday evenings in the summer, they have an outdoor concert in the park next to the Arts Center downtown - it feels like Blues on the Green in Zilker Park in Austin, just on a smaller scale.
The Crested Butte Farmer’s Market is on Sunday morning, and the longest line is for the bakery, which offers amazing freshly-baked bread, pastries and pies.
If you are looking for an authentic mountain town dive bar, check out Kochevar’s on Elk Avenue, which is the main thoroughfare in downtown Crested Butte. Kochevar’s is the oldest-running establishment in town and while there you can mix with locals, watch the Avs win the Stanley Cup (as I did) and play billiards, darts or shuffleboard.
I spent the evenings stuffing my face sampling the world-famous, family-style fried chicken dinner at The Slogar, the delicious pepperoni pies at Secret Stash Pizza and homestyle chicken parmesan at Marchitelli's Gourmet Noodle.
A great place to stay is the Pioneer Guest Cabins, if you can actually get a reservation (they usually fill up a year in advance). The Scarp Ridge Lodge is the fanciest hotel in town, with prices currently running around $400 a night.
Aspen (altitude: 7,908 feet)
On July 1, I left Crested Butte and drove to Aspen, which is a two-and-a-half hour journey through winding dirt roads, mountain passes and lush, green valleys with roaring rivers running alongside.
As I pulled into town, American flags lined the streets, and waves of green from Aspen Mountain titillated my eyes. The town is so immaculate it looks like a movie set for one of those famous Fourth of July films.
I drove past the storefronts for luxury brands Gucci, Dior and Louis Vuitton on my way to the famous hatter Kemo Sabe, located on Galena St.
I realized I am no longer in Crested Butte anymore, even though the two towns are only 25 miles apart as the crow flies.
Similar to Crested Butte, Aspen does have a farmers market on Saturdays from 830am-2pm, and by the time we arrived around 10:30am lots of the produce was already sold out. The Farmers Market is an Aspen tradition, and there is probably more socializing than shopping.
As alluded to earlier, Aspen is one of the best places to spend July 4th due to all of the patriotic activities that take place.
In the run-up to the holiday, there are many private parties and musical performances, and I attended several ranging from block parties to bonfires with live music up in the Rocky Mountains.
On the actual day of July 4th, an old-time parade winds through the streets of downtown Aspen from 11am to noon.
After the parade, residents flock to the Benedict Music Tent on the campus of the Aspen Institute for an old-fashioned, patriotic music symphony starting at 4pm. The Aspen Art Museum also had a block party during the day.
Later in the evening there is a laser light show, since fireworks are considered unfriendly to the environment and represent a fire hazard.
If you aren't in Aspen during July 4th, there are still many things to do around town during the summer. Here are some hikes and other activities to check out while in Aspen:
The hike up Smuggler Mountain to the observation deck is one of the most popular hikes in and around downtown Aspen. The climb up Smuggler Mountain Road is a 2.9-mile up-and-back trail that takes you up an over 800 foot ascent in just under a mile and a half.
Maroon Bells is the most well-known and popular hike in the Aspen area. There are only two ways to access this trail: parking or a shuttle from Aspen Highlands. As of early July, there were ZERO parking reservations available when I checked the calendar. If you are fortunate enough to snag a $10 parking lot reservation, you will need to arrive before 8am or after 5pm.
If you are inable to reserve parking, the shuttle to Maroon Bells from Aspen Highlands also requires a reservation and the round-trip fare for the 30-minute journey is $16 per person.
For culture lovers, the Aspen Music Festival, which runs until the end of August, is currently underway.
There is also the Aspen Art Museum. Last year I interviewed Jackie Robinson and also featured an exhibit about Hunter S. Thompson at the Aspen Art Museum in an article, which can be found here.
All in all, I spent a month in Colorado, and I arrived back in Austin refreshed and ready for the rest of summer and the beginning of fall.
Wherever you choose to travel this summer, please be safe. If you missed last month’s episode on the Social Musings by Austin podcast on Apple Podcasts, you should listen to my story about being abducted in Amsterdam.
You can find the podcast episode here.
My mission at Social Musings by Austin is to entertain, inspire and help others achieve more fulfillment in their lives.
I hope I am providing you a thoughtful escape from your everyday grind. Please comment below or message me with any feedback or positive stories you have. I am all ears. You never know, I may just feature you in my next original story.
I wish you all a wonderful rest of the summer, and please stay tuned for more fresh original content coming your way soon.