One of the problems that visitors to Colorado face, as well as many Coloradans themselves, is a multitude of commercial operations that will attempt to draw you away from the real natural beauty of our state and into their pay-to-play operation. I’m sure you’ve experienced this if you’ve tried to look for Colorado information online or have stopped at a rest area in or near Colorado. What you will find is a bombardment of information for cheesy commercial operations that don’t really provide you with a real Colorado experience. All too often people lose the concept of putting our material day-to-day “civilized” lives aside to experience true wilderness and the real spirit of the rockies, the reason so many of us have chosen to live in the mountains.
What I have done here is compiled a list of tourist traps and their alternatives. The tourist traps will provide you with an easy way to experience the culture and landscapes of Colorado, but at a price, and with a greatly reduced “authenticity”. The alternatives are usually more interesting and require you to be able to think for yourself, so to speak, because you won’t find flyers with maps and phone numbers at every rest area. The reward though is a true experience that hasn’t been staged for you.
Don’t get me wrong, I have been to many of these traps and they can be okay if that is what you are looking for. But I have heard the complaint from Colorado visitors so many times that I feel I have to make a point to list the alternatives. It’s kind of embarassing when you tell someone that you live in Colorado and they reply that they hated their trip to Colorado because all they did was spend money at cheesy tourist traps that were not what they were looking for. This is an attempt to help people find the experience they are looking for and to understand the difference between the commercial operations and the real wilderness areas.
So, here is my list, I will probably add to it over time so you may wanna check this list from time to time:
1. The Trap: Chuck Wagon Dinners. Cowboys did not eat like this, so what is the point anyway? The point is to siphon dollars from your wallet for the lowest possible quality of food and entertainment. The Alternative: The Fort has authentic game meals and doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t. However, it is not cheap, so don’t get the impression that you’ll be saving money at The Fort, you just won’t be wasting it on dry steaks and vaudeville-esque entertainment.
2. The Trap: Mt. Evans. Mt. Evans is a fine 14’er to visit if you simply have no capability to walk up a mountain, certainly better than the other 14’er tourist trap, Pikes Peak. But why not do an easy hike and offer up some physical exertion in our amazing mountain air? The Alternative: Mt. Bierstadt. The reward will be worth the effort.
3. The Trap: The Rocky Mountain National Park hike to Eugenia. It’s a hike to a sign, nice job RMNP, thousands of people get lured into hiking this joke every summer. Even worse is that some hiking guidebooks really over-hype this hike. Real pioneer era ruins can be seen in Arapaho National Forest in Gilpin County. Check out my trip to The Historic Black Hawk Peak area for a rewarding alternative.
4. The Trap: The Rocky Mountain National Park hike to Luly City. This hike has the same problem as the last one, and the same solution. However, this hike does hike along the beginings of the Colorado River, so if you choose to hike it, hike it for that reason, but don’t expect to find a ghost town at the end. The alternative as I stated before is The Historic Black Hawk Peak Area hike.
5. The Trap: The Coors Brewery Tour. This tour USED to be great, but recently it has changed and has earned it’s status as a tourist trap. Coors used to hire Colorado School of Mines students to conduct extremely informative tours. Recently they have eliminated their tour guides and now give you a handheld speaker to hold up to your ear as you pass numbered signs. Ignoring the effect of the lost jobs for the moment, the big problem for the visitors is that the presentation provides very little information about the beer-making process. Instead it is full of obvious marketing gimmicks. As you are listening to cheesy Coors music with a voice telling you about the crisp, clear rocky mountain spring water, voices are quietly whispering the names of beers in the background. If this type of near-subliminal advertising isn’t illegal, it definitely should be. The new Coors tour is bad, bad, bad. The Alternative: To see real beer-making in action, go to the Golden City Brewery or, if you can drive a bit farther, the Tommyknocker Brewery in Idaho Springs. If you ask nicely, oftentimes there is someone at The Tommyknocker that can give you a tour, and it is far superior to the new Coors tour.
6. The Trap: The Celestial Seasonings Tour. So many tea drinkers love Celestial Seasonings that their tour lures hoards of tourists every year. I guess tourists expect to see a bunch of Boulder hippies brewing tea according to some old-fashioned method. Unfortunately they show you almost nothing about the making of their tea. The closest you get to seeing any actual workings are when they show you their storage warehouse. This is simply an over-publicized tourist trap designed to get you into their gift shop. The Alternative: If you want to see actual artisans at work, take a tour of Van Briggle Pottery instead. (Update: Van Briggle Pottery has moved or gone out of business and tours are no longer available. I have yet to find another substitute for the Celestial Seasonings Tour. If someone knows of one, please contact me).
The next several entries all deal with the Colorado Springs area.What is the deal with Colorado Springs anyway? So many tourist traps. It gives the impression that entrepreneurs in the Springs don’t know much about the real outdoor experience.
7. The Trap: Royal Gorge. The landowner has made an amusement park out of the wilderness, how nice. The Alternative: Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
8. The Trap: Seven Falls. Go ahead and pay to walk up a bunch of steel staircases. I’ll be at The Alternative instead, Bridal Veil Falls.
9. The Trap: Manitou Cliff Dwellings. This is a pretty neat place with a rich history, but it is completely staged. If you’re looking for the real deal, travel to the Four corners area and visit Mesa Verde National Park and Canyons of the Ancients.
10. The Trap: Garden of the Gods. I have a hard time calling this one a trap because it’s so beautiful and it’s free, but it also has paved hiking trails and huge tour bus sized parking lots, as well as 2 cheesy stores disguised as visitor centers. The alternative: The Crags
11. The Trap: Pikes Peak. If you want to drive or ride the train to the top of a 14’er with an oxygen bar at the top, go for it. But why not do an easy 14’er hike instead that at least requires some physical effort, such as my recommended alternative, Mt. Bierstadt. The reward will be worth the effort.