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Copycat, cheaper vacations without flights in and around Colorado

by Staff

The view of the town of Ouray from the perimeter trail, which is easy to reach from points. (Sarah Lamagna, Special to the Denver Post)

Earlier this year, I dreamed up a few 2024 trips. I’d celebrate a hike through the Swiss Alps with chocolate, enjoy therapeutic soaks in Tokyo’s storied onsen and end the year on Tasmania’s wild beaches. Why not consume contemporary art and paella in Valencia, Spain, too?

Then I woke up to find plane tickets soaring higher than most Boeing 777s. Forget the jet fuel: The destinations listed below are giving off some serious international vibes, and you can reach them on a single tank of gas or charge.

Fresh hiking views

I hiked in the Swiss Alps a few years ago, so I can vouch for the region’s natural beauty. The high-altitude landscape looks exactly like what you’re expecting from the Heidi VHS box: Snow-capped peaks drip into sparkling lakes surrounded by meadows inhabited by roaming goats and — yes! There are even cows with bells dangling from their fat necks.

The Western exterior. (Photo courtesy of Stephan Werk)
The exterior of the Western Hotel in Ouray. (Photo courtesy of Stephan Werk)

In southwest Colorado, stunning alpine views of the San Juan Mountains have earned Ouray its reputation as the Switzerland of America. Sitting 7,800 feet above sea level, Ouray’s elevation profile matches that of St. Moritz, Switzerland, and both locales offer an endless lineup of spectacular hikes with unforgettable scenery.

First-time Ouray visitors can get the lay of the land while tackling the Ouray Perimeter Trail, a 5.6-mile, hours-long trek requiring 1,600 feet of elevation gain. It’s worth it. In addition to great views of the town, hikers are rewarded with a few extras: four waterfalls, six bridges and a hidden troll.

Most years, Ouray Ice Park is open through March (weather dictates), and the town also claims four hot springs. If there’s one thing the Swiss appreciate, it’s luxury; The Western Hotel & Spa is Ouray’s crack at high-end hospitality. You won’t find fondue at the hotel’s on-site saloon, but no need to fret: You can get a hearty, Swiss-approved meal at Brickhouse 737, and there’s also The Swiss Store, a quaint gift shop on Main Street run by a Swiss couple, where you can grab a bar of Toblerone to enjoy during and after your High-Country hike.

Health & wellness

Serious wellness enthusiasts are flying to Tokyo to experience the country’s hot-springs bathhouses. Not quite spas, but not necessarily hot springs, either, onsen offer unique wellness experiences centered around mineral rich geothermal pools. According to the Nippon Onsen Research Association, Japan claims more than 3,000 onsen, many of which are built into the natural environment, giving the term “forest bathing” a more accurate meaning.

Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa is located just west of Taos. (Provided by Ojo Caliente)
Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa is located just west of Taos. (Provided by Ojo Caliente)

Replicate the onsen experience at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa. Just west of Taos — and not to be confused with the other Ojo Spa Resort in Santa Fe — Ojo Caliente is one of the oldest health spas in the U.S. Resort guests have access to nine sulfur-free communal pools fed by therapeutic geothermal mineral springs. What’s more, the bathhouse is surrounded on all sides by sand hills and bluffs dotted with juniper bushes, sagebrush and native cacti. (How’s that for Colorado-style forest bathing?)

Between soaks, guests can hike northern New Mexico’s scenic desert trails before participating in small-group yoga classes. Accommodations range from vintage Spartan glamping trailers to more traditional guestrooms at a revitalized inn. Ojo Caliente’s farm-to-table food program is another point of distinction. Children are welcome on the premises, but the geothermal soaking areas are for guests 13 and up, and only adults can use the spa.

White sandy beaches

Sand is so much better with a mountain view, and nothing quite compares to Tasmania’s wild beaches. I’ve itched to return to Australia since I visited in my 20s. But that flight with three kids?

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is a shorter commute. If you haven’t visited in awhile, this is the year to let everyone in your family ogle North America’s tallest sand dunes.

Issac Nelson, 16, gets a push ...

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

Issac Nelson, 16, gets a push on his inner tube from his mother Elizabeth Nelson Hulse as they swim in the surge flows in Medano Creek at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve on June 20, 2019.

March isn’t a bad time to explore the park while beating summer crowds and heat. Snow’s possible, but it melts quickly in the spring, when daytime weather is typically comfortable. If you can wait until April to visit, even better.

The beachy area you’ve seen in photos is Medano Creek, and it doesn’t start flowing until April or May. But with 30 square miles of dunes, parkgoers can play in the sand any time of the year. Start your adventure at the renovated visitor center, open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. From here, climb the first ridge to gain views of the site’s sandy expanse.

Measuring in at 0.5-mile roundtrip, Montville Nature Trail is the park’s easiest and most popular hike, leading to views of Mount Herard (13,345 feet) and the dunes. If you’re enjoying the montane woodlands, continue onto Mosca Pass Trail, a 7-mile roundtrip path following a creek to the summit of a low pass in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Clara Abel, 8, surfs down a ...

(Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

Clara Abel, 8, surfs down a dune at the Great Sand Dunes on June 20, 2019, in Mosca. It was her first time sand surfing. She and her family came from Raleigh, N.C., to visit the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

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