Active, solo travel suits my character: impetuous, exuberant, hyper-curious mixed with boundless energy and, OK, a touch of commitment-phobia. My single female traveler safety tip? Develop a loose game plan in advance. Also, cultivate connections with fellow nature- lovers for just the right amount of company during explorations. Remember, adjustments can be made along the way. For instance, overnighting alone on Pikes Peak seemed a bit risky, so instead I decided to hike two-thirds of that 14er’s trail and call it a day. Intrigued? Follow my first-hand experience for a high-achiever cardio circuit that started in Colorado Springs, then over Independence Pass to Aspen, ending the trifecta in Glenwood Springs.
DAYS 1-2 COLORADO SPRINGS
Manitou Incline opened in 1906 as a cable tram; today, railroad ties form 2,744 steps challenging extreme exercisers with an elevation gain of 2,000 feet in barely a mile. To prepare for this free-admission, no-reservation thrill, acclimate to the altitude, skip alcohol and caffeine, and get eight hours sleep before setting off just before dawn. Regulars summit in 30 minutes; my time grazes 50.
Next up: Pikes Peak. You can do this 14er’s 26.2-mile roundtrip hike in two days by camping overnight. Instead, I hike eight miles up Barr Trail, just past Barr Camp, and then alternate trail-running and sauntering back down. Needless to say, I sleep like a log that night at The Mining Exchange in downtown Colorado Springs.
Early the next morning feels like a dream while jog-touring Garden of the Gods. A railroad baron bought this land in 1879; his family donated it to Colorado Springs in 1909. The 21 miles of gentle trails, paved and natural, weave around 1,300 acres of astonishing red, pink and white sandstone, conglomerate, and limestone formations with names like Kissing Camels, Sleeping Giant, and Cathedral Spires. I meet a photographer named Caleb, and we scale rocks for broader views. Everything here is free, but to rock-climb, be sure to register at the nature center.
Later, I ride my bike to Broadmoor Seven Falls, pay the entrance fee, and power-walk the 224 steps edging the cascading waterfalls nested in a 1,000-foot granite canyon. First, I clack up another staircase with a couple from Denmark to Eagle’s Nest observation deck. At the top of the falls, I solo-hike a one-mile trail to behold Inspiration Point’s sweeping valley views.
DAYS 3 AND 4 ASPEN
A scenic 4-hour drive west leads to this town tucked in the White River National Forest. After taking the free public bus to Aspen Highlands’ mountain base village, I rent an E-bike to electric-assist me up the steep six-mile road to the trailhead to the Maroon Bells, two side-by-side 14ers. After locking the bike, I stroll with a young Canadian family around Maroon Lake, which mirrors the peaks. I jog 1.8 miles up to serene, high-alpine Crater Lake, then trek slopeside trails facing other gorgeous peaks. Reaching 30 mph when E-biking back down adds to the thrills.
The next day, I jog from downtown to the Hunter Creek trailhead, hiking this tranquil, shaded route to Smuggler Mountain trail. I recharge at downtown’s lovely John Denver Sanctuary before swimming in Hotel Jerome’s courtyard pool.
For leg-sculpting elevation gain, I huff up Ute Trail on Aspen (Ajax) Mountain. Threading through fields of wildflowers and golden Aspens leads to the perfect rest stop: a tree swing on Ute Rock facing a pastel-splashed sky over the valley far below. The swing was crafted by a woodworker who has suspended handcarved red swings in sacred spots around Aspen. Ute Trail ascends two more miles, edging alpine lakes and ending at a gondola. Summit before 4:30 p.m. and you can ride the free gondola down.
Summer tip: Hike up Aspen Mountain for free concerts each Saturday and Sunday. Then ride that free gondola back.
DAYS 4 AND 5 GLENWOOD SPRINGS
Sundog Athletics owner Erik Skarvan suggested this terrific long-distance haul: Bicycle downhill from Aspen to Glenwood Springs on the freshly paved, 42-mile rail-trail edging the Rio Grande Trail and Roaring Fork River. (Instead of cycling round-trip, you can take the $7 RFTA bus, which has bike-racks, back to Aspen.)
The next morning, I take a wake-up hike on the 14.3-mile Glenwood Canyon Trail, where my Paonia-based friend Dale has told me to look for bighorn sheep. “Where are the sheep?” I ask two women walking dogs. “Around the bend.” And there they were, seven bighorn paying me no mind.
Buy permits online so you can bicycle from there to Hanging Lake. I hike up the steep, rocky, busy 1.2-mile path to the turquoise alpine lake and then to intimate Spouting Rock Falls, basking in spray from this 7,323- foot plunge. Finally, for a quiet Glenwood Canyon hike, Grizzly Creek’s rugged seven-mile outand- back trail takes me up, up, up through a wonderland of towering cliffs, boulders, and bloomfilled meadows.
Dale and I meet up at Yampah Spa & Vapor Caves for the soothing conclusion, two hours in an underground warren of chambers heated to 125 degrees by hot springs ($17 day pass). Alternating 10 minutes in the caves and 20 minutes in the sun-lounge makes a perfect finale for my fitness super-trip.