Apine branch brushes your arm as the horse you sit atop rambles slowly along the mountain path. A lone bird calls quietly in the twilight, and you pull your horse off the path to join a group of campers for dinner over an open fire. Or perhaps you’d prefer clutching an oar as you help guide a rubber raft through water tumbling over rocks and cascading through gorges. Then again, maybe skiing is more your thing. Shooting behind you sprays of white powder, you descend the Rockies curve by curve, sun warming your back as you glide down the slopes.
Colorado offers a variety of vacation possibilities, from the chilling to the thrilling, and the state is working to ensure they can be enjoyed by all. The Colorado Division of Wildlife manages statewide accessible fishing areas, maintains a variety of fully accessible wildlife-watching sites, and facilitates special wildlife recreation accommodation permits for hunters with mobility-related disabilities. Colorado State Parks hosts an online listing of accessible camping and fishing sites and recreational activities for all its 40 state parks. The state parks system also offers free admission to any vehicle with disabled veteran license plates.
“Colorado is well-known for exceptional adaptive skiing and winter sports programs at many of our ski resorts,” said Stephen Szapor, chair of the Colorado Tourism Office Board. Just as impressive, he notes, are other activities that can be enjoyed year-round. “Summer is especially rich in accessible and adaptive adventure opportunities— from enjoying a scenic hike or rock climbing to visiting a museum exhibit or sitting by the lake and enjoying an alpine evening sunset.”
Because of Colorado’s breathtaking and varied scenery, an entire vacation could be spent on the trails. Castlewood Canyon State Park in central Colorado offers a 1.2-mile accessible path with beautiful overlooks into the canyon and creek below and views across the park landscape. Similarly, Colorado River State Park provides accessible fishing and camping, with several different views to take in. Rocky Mountain National Park includes a one-mile nature trail that wanders through elk and moose territory, and another .6-mile trail that loops around Bear Lake—although this trail is not as flat as others in Colorado parks.
Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado Springs hosts stunning mountain views, including a vista of 14,110- foot Pike’s Peak visible from the visitor center, the trails and the campground. The campground is more than just a place to watch the view and fall asleep, however. It is the social hub of the park, hosting barbecues and entertainment all summer long.
Looking for something a bit more hands-on? Try fishing at Navajo State Park. The park’s 15,000 surface-acre reservoir, which extends 35 miles south into New Mexico, makes fishing a true highlight. Major renovations were recently completed at the park, and the campgrounds, picnic areas and visitor center are all accessible. A brand-new accessible fishing area is available as well, complete with a cabin.
Vega State Park is located at the west edge of Grand Mesa National Forest. At a mild 8,000 feet in altitude, this park keeps vacationers coming back every year. The Early Settlers and Pioneer campsites, the visitor center and all cabins are accessible for people with disabilities, and an accessible fishing pier is located at Oak Point.
Wilderness on Wheels has built a model wilderness access facility 60 miles southwest of Denver. A mile-long, eight-footwide boardwalk rises through the forest to a 12,300-foot mountain top. Vacationers can enjoy a summer cookout with elevated grills or a picnic with tables that are accessible to everyone. Campsites offer decks raised to the height of a wheelchair seat. The trail is free, but reservations are required.
If you want to get in the water yourself, rather than pull things out of it, you have options. Sign up for sea kayaking clinics in the Blue Mesa Reservoir, the largest body of water in Colorado. You will learn the ins and outs of kayaking using single and tandem kayaks. Explore some of the inlets and sights around the lake. Clinics provide instruction, equipment and lunch.
If you are seeking a relaxing experience along the river, the Adaptive Sports Center’s Dominguez Canyon River Trip might be just the right fit. Colorado residents call this deep red sandstone canyon the eighth wonder of the world. Spend one or two nights along the water in the peaceful canyon. During the day you can work on your canoe skills in the soft-flowing river, or just settle back and float as you bask in the sun. This is a trip to rejuvenate and take in the scenery. Enjoy the stars at night and the gourmet meals prepared by the Adaptive Sports Center staff. Everything is provided for you, including equipment, guiding, permits, food and instruction.
Whitewater rafting is a popular choice at the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD), based in Winter Park and Denver. The center offers both half-day and full-day trips along the Colorado River and is planning new programs for Colorado’s Front Range rivers. If you are looking for a longer trip on the rapids, look to the 4- Day Raft Adventure through the Adaptive Sports Association, based in Durango. Spend four days and three nights on the Gunnison River experiencing mostly class I and II rapids, with a few small IIIs that will provide an experience to talk about for years to come.
The NSCD is a valuable place to visit, even for landlubbers. It is one of the largest outdoor therapeutic recreation agencies in the world, with a trained staff, an adaptive equipment lab and a repertoire of summer and winter activities for everyone, from small families to large groups. In addition to the water activities, the NSCD offers horseback riding, mountain biking, golf, rock climbing, skiing and snowshoeing.
Another group offering organized adventures is Breckenridge Outdoor Experience Center, recently honored as a finalist in Colorado’s El Pomar Foundation Award for Excellence program. Breckenridge provides individuals of all abilities instruction year-round in areas such as rafting, canoeing, ropes courses, team-building, hiking, skiing, natural history and ethics. The center also conducts children’s camps during July and a ski trip in December for adults with traumatic brain injuries and their families.
In Crested Butte, the Adaptive Sports Center assists as much or as little as vacationers want. The staff can coordinate flights, lodging and meals, or simply provide guides and instruction as desired. Scholarships are available for individuals or groups who would not otherwise be able to afford a vacation with adaptive recreation. Activities are as relaxing as fishing on the Gunnison Valley lakes and rivers or as adventurous as mountain biking. Vacationers can use the center’s three-wheeled adaptive bikes and upright handcycles. Four-wheeled mountain bikes are available for a downhill ride, with a chairlift or van bringing riders back to the top of the hill.
This year the Adaptive Sports Center has initiated a summer Women’s Retreat and an autumn Gentlemen’s Mountain Retreat in the Elk Mountains. The events explore how to live a healthy lifestyle, hosting workshops with massage therapists and nutritionists. These retreats keep the adventurous soul energized, offering a ropes course at 10,000 feet, biking and whitewater rafting; they are weekends that showcase what Colorado has to offer vacationers.
Of course, not all Colorado vacations are spent on horseback, raft or skis. Colorado state parks also provide plenty of entertainment accessible by automobile. The Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway is a route lined with excavating grounds where paleontologists still dig for and preserve dinosaur bones. Museums on the route present the fully-constructed skeletons.
The San Juan Skyway is a tour through a different history: the Old West. Western towns such as Durango, Silverton, Telluride and Ouray are pit stops along the byway, which curves in and out of five million acres of undisturbed national forest and is surrounded by 14,000-foot peaks.
In Denver, the attractions take on a more urban feel. The Denver Botanical Gardens, which houses more than 32,000 flowers and plants, and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science both echo the natural beauty of the state parks but house the scenery in fully accessible man-made buildings. The Museum of Nature and Science’s IMAX Theater provides wheelchair seating, a fully accessible elevator, closed captioning using the state-of-the-art Rear Window system, and assistive listening devices for amplification and descriptive narrative. Likewise, the museum’s Gates Planetarium is fully accessible, with wheelchair seating, audio transcripts and assistive listening devices.
The Denver Art Museum is also accessible and has several new exhibits on display. The New Classics exposition focuses on American Indian artists, and No Boundaries: Fiber + Art presents a collection from artists known primarily for their work with textiles. With fun and family-oriented activities scheduled throughout the year, the museum offers something for everyone.
There are few places like Colorado, where such a wealth of activities can be found for people with varying ability levels. With more than 300 days of sunshine a year, the weather is perfect for enjoying activities in every season. So pack your bags and visit Colorado. A new adventure awaits you.