Find Your Own Adventure

Colorado is booming; no doubt about it. With polls like this one recently ranking Denver as the #1 best place to live in America, how could the population not increase?

But with this increase in growth and economy and development comes a lot of tension and irate locals.






PC: Will Rochfort

These are just a handful of the bumper stickers I’ve seen floating around on the backs of vehicles in the Denver Metro area. And to a small degree, I get it. I’m a “native” and I remember what Denver was like in the early 80s when the entire state was an open field and traffic was non-existent. I grew up in the only suburb that existed on the highway between Denver and Boulder; in fact, I can tell you about the dog that lived at the train station and alerted his owner of incoming trains.  I remember when ski traffic was non-existent on I-70; I skied Colorado resorts before multi-mountain passes were a thing. I knew The Highlands when it was considered an unsafe neighborhood and Five Points when it had more rival gangs than sky scraping lofts. And Candelas? That was the site of the Rocky Flats Plant, a plutonium production facility that was eventually raided by the FBI for illegally disposing of materials and breaking environmental law… it’s a neighborhood filled with half a million dollar homes.

But seriously.


I get it. It’s hard to see the city you love rapidly expand and wonder whether it will lose its charm to all the madness that comes with development. But does that mean I get “special snowflake” status because I was fortunate enough to have parents that saw the appeal of Colorado before the rest of the country did? Not likely.


Colorado is a land of adventure and it’s no wonder that my beloved Rocky Mountains have drawn others into their fold. Unfortunately, this means that you’ll hear a lot of people complaining about crowded trails and jam-packed campsites. To those people, I say this:

Try a little harder.

I’m constantly amazed at how often I hear people in the city bemoaning how “every backpacking trail is so crowded now” and “I can’t find a dispersed campsite anywhere!” If you’re seeing a lot of people, it is only because you are going to the same places as everyone else {See how that works?!} 


Yes, the population in Colorado has blossomed, but the majority of those people live in the Denver Metro area. Once you get out of the corridor, the state is blissfully empty and unexplored. The real problem is that so many people are scared to head out on their own; rather, they rely on their Best Colorado Hikes guidebook. Of course Hanging Lake and Chautauqua and The Four Pass Loop will be bedlam– they’ve been covered in thousands of articles!


Copper Mountain on a Saturday morning powder day. #SoCrowded?

Rather that sticking to the status quo, live a little. Get creative. Truly explore the unknown, even if it makes you a touch uncomfortable. I can’t tell you how many emails I receive, asking “where the best camping is” or “where the best dog trails are.” And while I understand the need to protect those puppy paws and will happily answer as many questions as possible, I frequently want to encourage these people to explore on their own. Point that car due west until you stumble upon a forest road that looks lonely and adventuresome. Maybe it will lead to towering peaks with an alpine lake; maybe it will be a dead end. But either way, you’ll find your own adventure.



  • Reply Caryn at

    Love this! It’s intimidating when you don’t know what you are doing and where some of those unknown paths will take you. I mean, beyond the likely amazing experience, it’s the unknown of which path to take, what do I need to bring, etc. It takes some research, but for some of us who only go once in a while, it’s quite the undertaking. I feel bad that I rely on you and Will so much (and now Maggie and Carrie), but also so thankful I’ve had friends show me the way. Are there other groups that lead people through the unknown locations, which might help introduce those of us who haven’t grown up in Colorado to the outdoors? I live here for accessibility to the mountains, but it’s not my every week activity of choice so I struggle. Also, thank you for highlighting the frustrations of natives and how to help with that. I get it, it must be a lot to adjust to all at once, but it gets old sometimes. Sure, there are a lot of people here for other recreational reasons :), but those who are also then learning about the outdoor opportunities Colorado offers are at least learning about living an active life.

    • Reply heather at

      Truthfully, I’d suspect most outdoor groups will take you to the usual spots. Some people are protective over the “good” secret haunts. But in terms of hiking, you know plenty! Don’t be scared to just drive down a road and see what there is to see 🙂 I mean, that’s how I FOUND most of my favorite spots– I got lost a whole bunch of times!

  • Reply Kristen at

    I was born in and lived in Colorado for only a few years before my family had to move. This summer I’m finally get to move back “home” and I’ve heard so many people talking about this exact thing. I’ve been advised to tell people I’m a native, even though I didn’t even get to grow up in Colorado — that it “means something.” But I struggle with that idea, and I was so glad to read this post! Coming from a busy area, I can’t imagine Colorado will be as “busy” as I’m used to now, but I still can’t wait to explore some of the more untraveled areas of the state. Hopefully most will be welcoming to a newcomer, even if I still feel like it’s “coming home.”

    • Reply heather at

      I know some people from high school that are WAY into it; I always see comments on Facebook and whatnot about the #native thing. It’s so weird to me. I think where people struggle is with the bustling infrastructure: the majority of the city was not built to accommodate this many people, so the city is bursting at the seams now and it makes some people cranky. But that said, NO ONE gets priority. I think you’ll have no problems meeting plenty of nice people 🙂

  • Reply Karen at

    I’ve lived lots of places and people everywhere say that “outsiders” are moving in and overcrowding everything, ruining their home. Of the places I’ve lived, Alaska was the worst. The state with more true wilderness than anywhere is too crowded? Really? What’s funny is that most of them were those terrible “outsiders” at one point too, because nobody is native to Alaska besides the actual Alaska Native tribes.

    • Reply heather at

      To be fair, Colorado’s population jumped by 101,00 in 2015, which is only second to the growth in North Dakota (which I never would’ve guessed?!) But you’re right–regardless of the size, people will complain. It’s crazy to think of Alaska as busy!

  • Reply Kristine at

    Colorado is beautiful and I see the draw. DH and I have discussed the possibility of living in CO somewhere a few months a year after his retirement. Until then WI will have to do. I’ve found myself going to new trails in the Kettles to get away from the crowds on the usual trails I hike and love the newness of them. Yes, I have to drive a bit further but the solitude is like meditation to me.
    Two summers ago we vacationed in Estes Park and hiked several trails in RMNP. Yes, the crowded ones had great views and waterfalls and lakes but one of our favorites was a somewhat difficult one where we encountered 2 people the entire 3 hours. It was fabulous. I can’t wait to go back and explore more of the lesser traveled trails. But first my teenage daughter wants to go to Utah after seeing a commercial of one of the parks. I was beyond excited that she wants to go! Slowly she’s coming out of her shell and wanting to explore more.

    • Reply heather at

      That’s awesome that she is interested! The national parks in Utah are beautiful so I bet she has a great time 🙂

  • Reply Eric at

    This has been the same thing that has happened in the ADK – I grew up going to the daks in the 80s and 90s. We climbed every high peak before it was a thing. Now everyone is chasing peaks – People complain about the folks from “the city” (NYC) coming up and ruining the trails.

    It’s easy to not be around that if you want it. I am also not upset with people from other areas coming up. The reason I love it those mountains is probably the same reason other folks do. Why should I begrudge them because I was lucky enough to find it first?

    We have wanted to get away from the crowds – It’s easy. Very easy.

    • Reply heather at

      It really is. I don’t even think about it anymore other than leaving early coming/going when we go skiing. No sweat.

  • Reply Paul at

    I really enjoyed this. Thanks!

  • Reply Natalie @ Free Range Human at

    Thank you so much for this, Heather! As someone who was not fortunate enough to be born in Colorado but feels a deep love for the Rockies, I find it more than a little offensive when some natives get a bit proprietorial about the area. John and I are also often mystified by people who are lucky enough to live there but never venture out of the greater Denver area. The whole state is beautiful, worthy of exploration, and big enough for all of us 🙂

    • Reply heather at

      Hahah I have a few childhood friends that have never learned to ski and rarely (if ever) get into the mountains. I don’t get it either, but I’d guess a lot of people take for granted when it’s something that has ALWAYS been there.

      • Reply Cassie @ Rural Running Redhead at

        … I’ve lived in CO my whole life and I’ve never skied and only snowboarded once. But that’s because I’m poor. I do love the mountains, but I’ll take the free/cheap excursions like hiking, camping, trail running, and snowshoeing over the expensive lift tickets. 😉

        Anyway, thanks for sharing this. I agree that that “native” mindset is kind of annoying, and it’s not that hard to get away from the crowds. My parents live on the Western slope, and when I visit them and go hiking, we see maybe two other people on the trails.

  • Reply Anne at

    Great post! I’ve said here before that my husband would move to CO in a heartbeat if we could; I’m a little more hesitant because I know EVERYONE ELSE IS MOVING TO COLORADO. We’ll see where life takes us, and hopefully someday it will take us down a quiet mountain road 🙂

    • Reply heather at

      I figure that CO will have its booms and busts, just like everywhere else. It’ll never tank like some places do, but it can’t stay on this upward trajectory of growth forever!

  • Reply Wendy at

    You are so inspirational. Stir working up the courage forme first solo hike.

    • Reply heather at

      Thanks Wendy. You can do it! Are you looking at any one in particular?

  • Reply Wendy at

    Great article. Although I am not a native, I appreciate your words. You are such an inspiration. I am still working up the courage for my first solo hike.

  • Reply Whitney Vestal at

    Love this post! I am also a Colorado “native” (I only put it in quotes because I was born in S. Dakota but moved here when I was 3 MONTHS old. My boyfriend teases me that I’m not a native.) I remember all the same things you do…no traffic going up to ski, it only taking about 30 min to get from Boulder to Denver (20 to Arvada where I grew up). I went away to college up in Fort Collins and in the 5 years I was gone, everything was different!

    While my boyfriend and I do get annoyed at traffic (one of the reasons I moved to Golden, closer to the Mountains), I agree with your post here. It just takes takes a little bit more effort to get away from the crowds. Maybe going to do something a different day of the week (if scheduling allows) or a different ski resort, or driving just a bit father to a secluded campsite (last year we stumbled upon a FREE, isolated campsite out side of Grandby and it was all just from driving an extra mile or two down the road).

    I love your encouragement of creating your OWN adventure! Always searching for the places LESS traveled! 🙂

  • Reply Lex at

    Great post! I moved to Northern CO recently for a job I was really excited about, but have been struggling with figuring out things to do that won’t be a zoo. I got used to living in smaller, less crowded mountain towns and am not used to climbing, skiing and hiking with so many other people! Your blog has been a great resource for some more unique or off the beaten path adventure ideas.

  • Reply Nicole W at

    I love this! While I was not fortunate enough to ever live in a place like Colorado (SoCal girl turned Okie), I find myself desiring to live in a place that offers nature in abundance (and summers that aren’t quite so lethal). While living in England, we’ve found the same thing to be true with traveling. We don’t have a car, so we either have to take us where public transit goes (not into the unknown) or rent a car like we did in Scotland. With that comes the inevitable traveling to tourist hot-spots, but we quickly realized that we can still make the experience our own by doing just what you suggest – going out of our way, trying just a little bit harder than everyone else, to make it our own experience. Instead of walking to the Fairy Pools, taking pictures, and turning around, we kept going as far as we could and made it into the mountains; we lost the tourists rather quickly and had one of the best (albeit unplanned) hikes of our lives. Putting in a little bit of extra effort goes a long way! 🙂

  • Reply Cmielke at

    Can you tell me where the first picture in your post was taken…that place needs to be on my bucket list!!! Thanks 😄

  • Reply Glen at

    Just found this blog today so my reply is a bit late. I’m not a Colorado native, but have lived along the front range since 1992. I didn’t start seriously hiking until 2008. Yes, the popular trails have gotten more crowded, but, as Heather and others point out, you just work a bit to find other trails that are less crowded. I have two favorites that are less than 40 minutes from my front door that have almost no one on them. What’s interesting is that they’re accessed by using some very popular trailheads, but the trails go off in a different direction than what’s “on the map”. I also tend to start hiking early in the morning (think 6:30am start time). That way there are fewer people even on the popular trails.

    Weather also plays a factor. One trail I like gets horribly crowded in the summer, but I’ve had it all to myself the day after a spring snow. (Easy to tell when you break the snow on the trail and are the only set of footprints when you return.) I also tend to see more wildlife on the not-so-nice weather days – like nearly stepping on a wild turkey and her chicks on a rather rainy day (again, no one else on the trail).

    I guess I’m saying that there are plenty of trails out there and plenty of ways to avoid the crowds even on popular trails.

  • Reply Eryn at

    I’m a Western Slope resident (Gunnison Valley) who has watched both our winter and summer populations explode. I’ve also listened to locals complain and claim the whole #native thing as well. My response? Without those summer and winter booms from the Front Range, none of us would be able to live in this valley. Also, Gunnison County is over 80% public land. I know for a fact you can easily find solitude. No one here is guaranteed not deserves to have the outdoors all to themselves. That’s not how it works. And the more people who get outside? The more people will work to protect it.

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