This summer the Colorado Rockies will be filled with vacationers fly fishing, camping, white water rafting and soaking in hot springs. Our state’s tourism started as soon as the railways reached the West (see our part one blog). For those interested in a true historical Colorado vacation, the Smithsonian makes great suggestions.
Rocky Mountain National Park
By the 1890s vacationers stopped looking for a European experience in the West. Colorado’s Rockies had become valued on their own terms. Our state’s tourism steadily increased as camping outdoors became a national past time and train travel improved. As a young state, officials saw a need to conserve and protect our backcountry. So in 1915, the mountainous region between Estes Park and Grand Junction was designated Rocky Mountain National Park (celebrating its 100th anniversary).
Many of the park’s trails are now over 100 years old (first travelled by sightseers, gold miners and Indians). The Gilded Age oil paintings, which first inspired Eastern Americans to travel west, still perfectly capture the Colorado Rockies. Just like Colorado’s original vacationers, you can still escape and be inspired by the unchanged landscape and mountain views.
Historical Victorian Resorts
Over time the frontier’s wild culture shifted from a dangerous to a romantic experience. This helped many of our original Victorian resorts to continue flourishing. Instead of marketing the “American Swiss” experience, resorts promoted health and healing services. To this day you can still check into Colorado’s first hotels like the Strater Hotel in Durango, Hotel Boulderado in Boulder, Cliff House at Pikes Peak and Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs.
Dunton Hot Springs
Perhaps the resort which best encapsulates Colorado’s original tourism is Dunton’s Hot Springs. This mining ghost town has been turned into the West’s most historic resort. Tucked inside the San Juan Mountains, 22 miles along a red-dirt road, Dunton was once home to as many as 300 residents.
Dunton combines both the rugged frontier and Gilded Age luxury. Guests can enjoy the hot springs in a rustic-chic bathhouse (designed with tree trunks, crafted glass, and original copper). At the library you’re actually offered a bottle of whiskey while browsing their shelves of classical books. The original saloon and dance hall still stands in an ancient wooden building. With the walls densely covered in etchings, the names “Butch Cassidy” and “Sundance” prominently stand out. It’s not confirmed these two notorious villians passed through Dunton, but they did travel through the region!
Have a fantastic summer reminiscing Colorado’s backcountry history!
Read part one: Spas & Saloons – The Wild History of Colorado Vacations