Road Trip Through Southern Colorado 2020

Earlier this year in August my partner Chad and I were fortunate enough to take an impromptu, 8-day camping trip through southern Colorado where we got to camp, hike our first 14er, mountain bike, and drink way too much craft beer.

Now, I’ve been coming to Colorado for years, given that my mom grew up in Denver and that we still have family there, but all of my previous visits had been in and around the Denver area, and to mountain resorts like Winter Park, Steamboat, Copper Mountain, and Breckenridge.

Growing up, I was lucky enough to visit the mountains and learn to ski and snowboard from a young age. Colorado and I go way back, but I hadn’t made too many trips during the warm months or to places south of Denver. So, I had a very vague idea of what I was getting into when we set out in the third week of August.

Visiting the Craft Breweries in Durango, CO

Trying Carver Brewing’s Nitro Milk Stout!

We kicked off our Colorado adventure in Durango, with the simple objective to relax at Snowslide (our campsite for the evening which we had to ourselves) in the San Juan National Forest, and wander through the city to check out all the local craft breweries (we both work at a craft brewery so how could we not?).

Despite its size, Durango boasts quite a few breweries, and I can’t tell if I’m proud or ashamed that we were able to visit most of them in one afternoon. While the most popular and widely known brewery in Durango is Ska Brewing Company, we weren’t able to visit it because they’re closed on Sundays (I know; sad day).

That being said we were still able to visit the following craft breweries:

1. Steamworks Brewing Company

Delicious craft beer paired with stellar views of the mountains

Our visit to Steamworks Brewing Company was nothing short of awesome. Not only did the beer taste amazing, but we also got to sit out on the balcony and have a perfect view of the mountains. The staff was incredibly friendly, and we couldn’t help but notice that the food also looked damn good.

As hardcore IPA lovers, my partner and I got the Sultan of Stoke IPA and the Conductor Imperial IPA. Check out Steamworks’ beer menu here if you’re planning a visit to the area

2. Carver Brewing Company

T-rex’s love craft beer!

The second brewery in our craft beer tour of Durango was Carver Brewing Company. They had an enjoyable covered patio, great food and really friendly staff. We had an IPA or two as well as their Iron Horse Nitro Oatmeal Stout – would 100% recommend to anyone visiting them.

Take a gander at Carver’s beer menu here

3. Animas Brewing Company

The last stop on our pub crawl through Durango was at Animas Brewing Company, which had probably the best patio set-up of all the other breweries we got to check out that day. They had a great selection of beers, but my favorite part about the brewery was the fact that it was off the beaten path, and offered a quiet place to relax and enjoy a view of the mountains.

True to form, Chad got one of their rotational IPAs, which he thoroughly enjoyed, but I switched it up and got their Gold King Sour that was packed with super tart, delicious grapefruit and citrusy flavors. Take a look at Animas’ beer list here if you’re planning a visit of your own!

Hiking Mount Sneffels in Ouray, CO

The beginning of our trek up Mount Sneffels

We woke up fairly early the next day to pack up our camp at Snowslide and zip through Durango to grab a quick cup of coffee at Durango Joe’s Coffee. The café boasted some awesome coffee and food options, not to mention reliable Wi-Fi so I could catch up on some work (a craft beer marketer’s job is never done).

After fueling up with some coffee, we made tracks for Ouray, where we were planning to camp for 2 nights and climb our first-ever 14er mountain. Of course, we couldn’t get all the way to Ouray before stopping off in Silverton to check out Avalanche Brewing Company (I would highly recommend their Sultan IPA).

We got to Ouray with enough time to check out some of the local sights and sounds. Given that the weather wasn’t too cold, we decided to check out Ridgway Reservoir at the Ridgway State Park so we could relax a little. A few beers and some snacks by the lake sounded about right after a long drive, and I was stupid enough to jump into the lake, which I’m guessing was only about 60 degrees. But, hey, it can count as a desperately needed shower.

After playing at the reservoir, we had just enough time to check out two more craft breweries before we drove to the trailhead of our 14er, Mount Sneffels. The brewery line-up for the afternoon included Red Mountain Brewing and Ouray Brewery. Between the two, I have to say that Ouray Brewery is my favorite. The quality of their beer was better, and they had so much outdoor seating that gave you a fantastic view of the surrounding cliffs and mountains that hem you in from all sides.

After a few beers on the patio, Chad and I loaded up in the car and drove out to the Mount Sneffels trailhead where hopefully we would get a good night’s sleep before heading up the mountain. We set our alarms for 6 AM and tried to tame our excitement.

You can actually start your ascent of Mount Sneffels a lot higher up the mountain than we did if your vehicle has enough clearance and save yourself several miles of hiking. We decided not to test our luck and opted to hack it on our legs. Plus, the extra miles of hiking helped me adapt to the elevation, which was an issue that I hadn’t anticipated. But the gorgeous landscape we were walking through helped keep my mind off of the mild agony and enjoy the trek.

There really aren’t enough words to describe how beautiful our hike was that day. I was used to Colorado mountains that were covered in snow, which is obviously gorgeous, but this was totally different. As the sun rose above our heads, the valley was awash with colors. Green grass, red rocks, piercing blue sky, with everything appearing sharper and more saturated just given how high up and exposed we were on the slope.

As we climbed higher, we were fortunate to have good weather that wasn’t too warm or too cold, and without a cloud in sight – although that didn’t last. It took us longer to get to the top of Sneffels, and the scramble down was perhaps even more daunting than the ascent, but we eventually made it to the summit, and damn was that an amazing sight.

The Mount Sneffels summit crew!

We spent about an hour on the peak to get some food and summit beers into us before we started the descent. It was a painful process, but it took far less time than our journey up Sneffels. Unfortunately, we didn’t dodge bad weather, but by the time it started raining and getting colder, we were on flat ground and able to maintain a quick pace back to our car.

It’s hard to articulate how broken we were by the end of the experience. When we reached our little Subaru, we were soaking wet and sporting muscles and bones that were battered beyond belief. But there’s no doubt in my mind that I wanted to climb more 14ers.

The first thing we did upon getting back to the trailhead was to jump in the car, throw on some heat and jazz music, and put away a few IPAs while we waited the rain out. Despite how bad we physically felt, both of us had enjoyed ourselves immensely and couldn’t wait to go on another suffer-fest.

As the rain blew off and the sun came back out just in time to set behind the ridge, Chad and I reluctantly got out of our warm car and started setting up camp. After a warm dinner and perhaps a few too many beers, Chad and I collapsed into our tent and promptly passed out. It had been an agonizing day and very few things went according to plan, but we both knew this was not going to be our last 14er.

Mountain Biking in Crested Butte

We woke up the next day feeling ridiculously sore, but otherwise a solid night’s sleep had restored us for the most part and we set about packing up our campsite so we could set out for Crested Butte.

Of course, we couldn’t start our day without a coffee fix, so we went to a little coffee shop in Ouray called Mojo’s Coffee Chai & Teas. We were even joined by our trail friend Bob, who climbed Mt. Sneffels with us!

Coffee consumed and bags packed, we set off for Crested Butte with the singular goal to enjoy/survive some mountain biking.

If rock climbing is my outdoor expertise, mountain biking is Chad’s. The guy’s an animal. He’s been mountain biking for years – both by himself and alongside his brother who rode professionally for a minute – and not to mention he’s been to Crested Butte several times, so he had a pretty good idea of what he was getting into when it came to biking.

Prior to visiting Crested Butte, I’d only been mountain biking officially one other time, and unfortunately, I am atrocious at this sport. I road bike all the time, but it just doesn’t translate enough to crashing down rocky trails.

I knew our 8-mile trail was going to be a nightmare for me, but the two positives here can’t be understated. Thanks to our ascent of Mount Sneffels I’d adjusted to the elevation, and the trail was surrounded by some of the most beautiful hill country in Colorado. Aside from several crashes and a bruised ego, I have zero complaints about our mountain biking adventure.

After our morning of mountain biking, we scouted out our campsite nary Brush Creek for the evening and made plans to come back after we’d had a chance to walk around town.  

We stopped at a few places in town that afternoon, including Brick Oven Pizzeria & Pub for some (you guessed it) craft beers, but our big-ticket item was BONEZ Tequila Bar. You wanna talk about some top-notch Mexican eats and margaritas, this place has you covered. Chad and I each got a margarita or two, both the Bonez Margarita (their house special) and the Scorpion Margarita (made with habanero and pineapple infused tequila – yikes!). Plus, we also snagged some chips and salsa, and a few tacos (get the carnitas one!).

Tequila fix satisfied, we loaded up in the car and made our way back to camp. I can’t even say with certainty where our campsite was, I just know it was located roughly here.

Our campsite outside of Crested Butte, CO

We had a few hours of daylight left once we got the car unloaded, so we enjoyed a nice hammock session and then cooked a nice dinner before crashing for the night. At this point, we only had about one full day left on our road trip, and we were going to spend the majority of our time in Colorado Springs, but not without a few stops along the way.

Exploring Manitou Springs

Exploring the historic town of Manitou Springs

The final stop on our Colorado road trip was in Colorado Springs, but on our way out we had two pit stops to make: Manitou Springs and Garden of the Gods. We quickly fueled up at Camp 4 Coffee in Crested Butte, grabbed some Palisade peaches for the road, and made tracks east.

We stopped at Garden of the Gods first on our way to Colorado Springs. My sister and I had gone with our mom and grandpa a few years back, and I was excited to check the place out after seeing her photos of the place.

My excitement quickly wanned as we pulled into the parking lot outside the park. IT WAS PACKED. I’m not sure if it’s always this busy or the recent quarantine had given everyone a bug to get outside, but after spending so much time isolated in the San Juan Forest and the Grand Mesa National Forest Chad and I were basically unfit for human companionship, especially when all the humans are yelling and taking selfies next to every piece of rock.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Garden of the Gods is beautiful. But unfortunately, due to its accessibility, I can’t imagine it as being anything but overcrowded now. Maybe there are down times where the crowds are thinner, and I wouldn’t hate trying my hand at the rock climbing, but I can’t say that I’m overly excited to return to Garden of the Gods.

With Garden of the Gods checked off of our list, we got back in the car and made our way over to Manitou Springs. My first impression of Manitou Springs was that it reminded me of a small city in the Ozarks called Eureka Springs. If you’ve ever been through Northwest Arkansas, then you’ve heard of the hippie, dippy, sleepy town that’s known as Eureka Springs. I love hanging out there, and that sentiment can also be applied to Manitou Springs.

The highlight of our afternoon spent exploring Manitou was definitely checking out the local craft brewery – Manitou Brewing Company. Despite the building’s unassuming appearance, the beer at Manitou Brewing is not to be slept on. They had quite the variety of brews on tap, as well as a full bar and kitchen that was cranking out some delicious looking food.

We only had time to grab a beer apiece (IPA and pale ale respectively) before we had to get back in the car and head to Colorado Springs, but it was a great way to break up the drive and totally worth the walk through town to enjoy their beers and friendly staff.

Relaxing in Colorado Springs

Phantom Canyon Brewing Co.’s craft beer is on point!

Our last day in Colorado was spent in Colorado Springs, the largest town we were visiting on our road trip itinerary. Chad had spent a lot of time here, so he played tour guide and I was along for the ride.

We kicked off our jaunt through the town with a quick bite to eat at Rasta Pasta – a super fun restaurant that boasts a surprisingly delicious fusion of Caribbean and Italian flavors in their pasta dishes. Not to mention they’ve got a full bar and a great selection of local beer on tap. Chad got the Natural Mystic – a super flavorful dish with Jamaican jerk chicken and pineapple curry, and I got the Sundrio – a vegetarian option with sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, green onion and grapes (Yes, grapes on pasta, and it was damn good!).

After our late lunch, we headed on over to Bristol Brewing Company given that it’s one of the coolest breweries in Colorado Springs, and arguably Colorado. Not only does Bristol Brewing Company have an awesome selection of craft beers (GET THE WINTER WARLOCK), but their pub is housed in a historic former elementary school called Ivywild School. This place was built in 1916 and then transformed into a community marketplace that is home to Bristol and several other haunts.

After a beer or two we made our way over to the hotel we were staying at for the night, unpacked and headed toward the downtown area.

Downtown Colorado Springs is super cool, and we ended up spending most of our time at Phantom Canyon Brewing Company. They’re a local brewery housed in a 3-story historic building with lots of beer, food, and even a billiards hall.

Phantom Canyon had an obscene amount of beers on tap. Aside from their flagship beers, they had tons of IPAs, German beers, sours, Lagers – you name it, they had it.

I don’t even remember what beer Chad ordered, because I was so obsessed with the beer I got. It’s their Leap Beer saison and had crazy ingredients like Amarone wine juice and attic-aged hops in addition to the usual wheat and coriander. So good!

You can check out Phantom Canyon’s tap list here.

Coming Home to Northwest Arkansas

It was hard driving back to Fayetteville, Arkansas after such an amazing adventure. I’ve been coming to Colorado a few times each year since I was a kid, but after seeing the amount of rock climbing and biking potential the area has to offer, I know I need to spend a lot more time up there, and not just a few days at a time.  

And now that Chad and I have caught the 14er bug, we know more trips are going to be in our future.

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