Got spring fever? Here are a few of Colorado’s more offbeat getaways.
By Ruthanne Johnson
You’ve been holed up all winter. Now the trees are budding, the birds are twittering and you’ve got a serious case of spring fever. If you’ve got the itch to roam, Colorado has your balm. But why stick to the same old, same old when you could be kicking back in a funky retro camper, sipping champagne in a classic caboose, or showering in a mermaid cottage?
For those seeking an unconventional getaway, Colorado has plenty of options. Here are seven of them:
The Ghost Town Guest House is a three-room bed-and-breakfast owned by Chuck Cole and Sharon Glidden-Cole. It’s tucked deep in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness just west of Buena Vista at St. Elmo—one of Colorado’s best-preserved ghost mining towns.
The Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad, a historic narrow gauge that used to offer wildflower–viewing trips in the area, ran through this once-thriving mining town, which boasted a population of around 2,000 at its peak in the 1890s. Then, it had a telegraph office, a general store, a town hall, five hotels, dance halls, a newspaper office, a church and a schoolhouse. After gold and silver mining collapsed in the early 1920s, the railroad company pulled up tracks and St. Elmo’s population plummeted.
Structures remaining today include the church, an old hotel once owned by the Stark family, and a general merchandise store that still operates May through October. The Starks were part of St. Elmo’s elite and the last to leave town in 1958. It’s rumored that Annabelle Stark haunts her family’s hotel, causing doors to slam and room temperatures to nosedive when her ghost passes through. One skier reported seeing Annabelle dressed in a white gown gazing out the hotel’s second-story window.
Ghosts aside, St. Elmo offers plenty of activities, including fishing, hiking and even prospecting for aquamarine and smoky quartz. In fact, The Weather Channel films parts of its Prospectors show on nearby Mount Antero.
Rooms at the Ghost Town Guest House range from $175-$195 per night and include breakfast, afternoon refreshments and dinner. Seasonal rustic cabins across the street are $79 per night. Visit www.ghosttownguesthouse.com for info.
For I Love Lucy fans, there’s the Tacy—a replica of the New Moon camper in The Long, Long Trailer starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Inside, Lucy and Desi memorabilia decorates the shelves, and red-polka-dot bedspreads cover the ’50s-style twin beds. For pinkaholics, there’s the Flamingo Lounge camper decorated with pink flamingo lawn art and flamingo-themed fabrics, and a kitchen with lipstick-pink counters and appliances. Then there’s the Trailer Trash Hideaway, which features a secluded outdoor party area replete with a grill, a tacky sofa, a refrigerator and a bar built from old road signs (but BYOB!).
Attractions include the nearby San Juan Mountains and Royal Gorge. Or drive the narrow one-way Skyline Drive—just be sure your brakes are in tiptop shape for the steep descent. Afterward, check out the Museum of Colorado Prisons and peruse inmate-made items in the gift shop. Visit www.starliteclassiccampground.com for details.
Outdoor enthusiasts who want a backcountry experience without toting a tent are in luck. The U.S. Forest Service rents nearly 30 cabins throughout Colorado’s national forests. The cabins were built in the early 20th century as overnight accommodations for rangers and other employees. Cowboys even used them when they drove cattle between pasturelands.
Cabin amenities run the gamut, and prices range from $25 to $300 per night depending on how many people a cabin sleeps. Some cabins are accessible by roads; others are hike-in only.
The Fitton Guard Station and Off Cow Camp cabins in the Rio Grande National Forest require either a 6- or 1.5-mile hike, depending on which trailhead you start from. Once you’re there, vistas from the front porch include meadows, spruce forests, aspen groves and the 13,000-foot Bennett Peak to the southeast. Both cabins sleep four, making them perfect for a camp-about with friends or family. They’re also open year-round for cross-country skiers and snowmobilers.
Perhaps the most unique accommodations are two lookout towers once used for spotting wildfires. The 55-foot-tall Jersey Jim Fire Lookout Tower is perched in San Juan National Forest near Mancos. Squaw Mountain Fire Lookout sits at 11,000 feet in Arapaho National Forest. Both have catwalks with 360-degree views and come equipped with heating, electricity, a stove and a fridge. There’s no running water or toilets, though, so be prepared to take a hike when nature calls. Even so, these towers sell out fast. Visit www.recreation.gov for details.
Dunton Hot Springs is an old mining town turned luxury resort nestled in Dolores, Colo., a lush southwestern mountain valley. The resort is complete with natural hot springs, an on-site chef, and über-stylish cabins, one of which is a luxury safari tent. Be prepared to drop some cash, though, as rooms cost around $1,000 per night. Visit www.duntonhotsprings.com to see this relaxing, secluded resort.
If you’ve ever wanted to stay in a luxury caboose, here’s your chance. The historic Wyman Hotel & Inn in Silverton, Colo., has a Southern Pacific caboose that was converted into a private, romantic, luxury accommodation. Called the Candlelight Caboose, it features an antique bed from Spain, a sitting area with a fireplace stove, and a two-person Jacuzzi. The hotel offers a gourmet breakfast each morning, afternoon tea and pastries, and wine-and-cheese social hours. The caboose is available June 1-Oct. 31 and costs up to $215 per night.
The Weminuche Wilderness east of town is Colorado’s largest wilderness area, with more than a half-million acres. Survey the area’s stunning limestone mesas, jagged peaks and soaring cliffs while aboard the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad along the Animas River. Just 5 miles west of Silverton in the San Miguel Peak Roadless Area are endless meadows that explode into colorful wildflower profusions every summer. A moderate 4.5-mile hike leads to Ice Lakes Basin, one of the state’s prettiest groupings of alpine lakes. Visit www.thewyman.com for lodging deals and more.
Nest in the Grass
Get ready for down-home hospitality at West Pawnee Ranch in Grover, Colo. This quaint bed-and-breakfast is smack in the middle of the 193,060-acre Pawnee National Grassland, where you can view fossils, hike the stunning Pawnee Buttes and observe wildlife. Springtime offers some of the state’s best bird-watching, with more than 300 species recorded here. And, of course, the grassland is hauntingly beautiful. Visit www.westpawnee ranch.com for info.
Nestled along the western edge of the San Luis Valley adjacent to national forest and BLM land is a delightful mermaid cottage in Del Norte, Colo. Built by KimAnna and Michael Cellura-Shields, the eco-friendly cottage was constructed with cordwood from a friend’s ranch, a rescued sliding-glass door, and recycled wine and beer bottles from the couple’s Del Norte restaurant.
Glass designs in the adobe walls cast spectrums of colored light onto carefully arranged mermaid art, wood carvings, one-of-a-kind antiques, rainbow-colored curtains, and an elegant mermaid design made of white, blue, green and gold glass in the shower.
The 192-square-foot solar-powered bungalow sits just south of the couple’s home on Angel Rock Ranch, backed by a magnificent rock outcropping. The 3,100-mile-long Continental Divide Trail runs along the ranch’s southern boundary. The cottage sleeps two and costs $99 per night.
Visitors can spend the day in Great Sand Dunes National Monument or hike the Old Spanish Trail, rock climb in Penitente Canyon, or visit San Luis, Colorado’s oldest town. Visit www.mermaid-cottage.weebly.com for details.