12 Things You Must Know Before Visiting Colorado

Susie Kellogg Avatar

A gently flowing Colorado River between the steep walls of Marble Canyon.
The Colorado River is gentle and placid passing through Marble Canyon between Glen Canyon Dam at Lake Powell and the west portal of the Grand Canyon. Credit: Eric Jay Toll

Colorado has long been on top of the short list for many travelers. With countless waterfalls, and rivers, mountains historical sites, Colorado offers endless adventure. That being said, many people are entirely mistaken about what exactly Colorado is. It is amazing, and beautiful and rugged and tame.

But, traveling to Colorado is not as easy as packing your bags and hitting the streets, unless, of course, you don’t leave Denver, which you must. You see, Colorado is unlike any state I have ever been. It’s laid back, sure, but it is almost a necessary study prior to enjoying. As an 18-year resident of this amazing and quirky state, I lay out these 12 things to know before visiting Colorado. 

SheBuysTravel Tip: Check out our complete Colorado packing list so you’ll have everything you need – and nothing you won’t – no matter what time of year you visit.

1. Marijuana

Let’s just confront the elephant in the room… marijuana.  Definitely in the Top 3 Things To Know Before Visiting Colorado!  Everyone in the world, by now, knows that it is legal to buy and consume pot if you are 21 or older. But, what so many don’t fully grasp is that it is illegal to smoke it in public. That includes, but is not limited to cars, buses, parking lots, ski resorts, parks, bars, etc.  

But just because it is illegal to smoke in public, doesn’t mean everyone knows or abides by this … so be prepared to smell A LOT of pot during the summer months if you plan to hit the river, take a popular hike or chill at some of the most amazing hot springs in the country. And if you are a marijuana tourist, don’t be that guy who starts smoking around kids …

Read more: The best camping spots in Colorado.

2. Altitude Sickness

Now that we got that squared away, let’s talk about something I knew nothing about when I first traveled to Colorado. Altitude Sickness. Again, very high on the totem pole of Things To Know Before Visiting Colorado!

Altitude Sickness is, unfortunately, a real thing. Some people have no problems with the altitude, others instantly feel the effects as soon as they hit Denver and beyond. Altitude sickness is the cause of headaches, unquenchable thirst, fatigue and very rarely, nausea. Typical symptoms tend to subside around the second day. However there are several things you can do to reduce your symptoms and even avoid it altogether.

The first is to drink a boat load of water. Grab your Nalgene bottle and keep it with you at all times, filling it to the brim with absolutely the best tasting tap water in the world … ok except maybe the Alps.

Second, don’t do anything strenuous the first two days you are here. Many people complain that they are lightheaded, so take it easy.

Third, take Altitude Adjustment. It’s a 100% preservative-free, all-natural supplement that is specially formulated to reduce the effects of high altitude sickness. Our friends and family swear by them!

3. We Drive Fast

I tend to drive rather quickly, so the speed in which Coloradans get around didn’t faze me. However, it has surprised and even frightened some of our friends and family when they visit Colorado. Especially when speeds in excess of 75 are common in the mountains and the roads are unfamiliar. So, I felt this was an absolute to include in the top 12 Things To Know Before Visiting Colorado.

Don’t worry about everyone else. Stay in the right lane and drive the speed you are comfortable driving, and obey signs … when a speed limit drops to 40 around a turn, that is not a suggestion!

4. Fire Bans

This item on my list of Things To Know Before Visiting Colorado is the worst! The word fire ban was never in my vocabulary before I moved to Colorado. I hailed from the DC area. We would take our kids camping in the dead of August and build huge campfires, never once considering that in other parts of the country droughts and forest fires were a huge concern.

And then one day, immediately after moving to Colorado, we packed up the truck and the kids and headed out to a random forest road. Low and behold there was a sign, “Fire Ban is in Effect.” What in the holy heck? And it was June! We tried camping with no fire and lasted barely one night. Even after 18 years, the thought of no campfire puts a huge damper on the whole camping experience.

So, I included this for those of you who enjoy camping for the S’mores, the ghost stories and the camaraderie around the fire, as well as the warmth. BEWARE, when you visit Colorado, you will most likely encounter fire bans.

5. Nature is Serious Business

City dwellers, take note. Coloradans take nature, in all forms, very seriously. If the sign before a hike says “Stay on Trail,” you best take that to heart. Likewise, a sign prohibiting swimming. If you go rogue and start messing around in Colorado’s near-pristine wilderness, you will likely be featured in a Social Media shame campaign. There is no joking around.

And, please don’t litter.

“Respect nature” is a definite on any list of Things To Know Before Visiting Colorado.

6. Pack for a Truly Bi-Polar Weather Pattern

What to pack is everyone’s top question when planning a trip to visit us in this amazing state. This morning it was freezing, low teens and by 2 pm it was 50 degrees. Tomorrow it is supposed to snow and the following day it will be what Coloradans deem shorts weather … a balmy 49.  

So, what to pack? No-one knows, so the keyword around these parts is … layers! Bring it all.  During the summer, the weather is much cooler in the mountains than in valleys … many mountains remain snow-capped year round!

Shoes here in Colorado are easy. Simply, bring a pair of sandals and wear them with socks if and when it is chilly.

Oh, and when you Visit Colorado don’t forget the sunscreen because Colorado has 300+ days of sun.  

Check out our complete Colorado packing list.

7. Craft Beer

For the love of beer, this had to be included in any Colorado. We are craft beer country! Good luck finding Bud Light or Michelob on tap in more than a handful of bars and restaurants. Coors is popular because it is brewed in Golden, CO, but that is really about it. You see, you are now entering the Craft Beer Twilight Zone. And you’ll love it. You know what they say, when in Rome …

Know what exactly are Rocky Mountain Oysters when you Visit Colorado.
Not what you think. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

8. Rocky Mountain Oysters

Rocky Mountain Oysters, the food Colorado is famous for. And when I say that, I mean people from all over come here for them! My first experience with Rocky Mountain Oysters was at this local Glenwood Springs, CO restaurant, Rivers. Delectable food, for the foodie. However, I’m a cheeseburger and fries girl to the core. Side Note: their brunch is to die for.

Anyway, we met some new friends for dinner and I scoured the menu for something to order. I opt for a salad. Our friends go with the Rocky Mountain Oysters and, realizing we had no idea that they don’t hail from the sea, proceed to have a lot of fun with my husband and me.

So, what is the big deal? What exactly are Rocky Mountain Oysters? Why did some food item make it onto a list of the top 12 Things To Know Before Visiting Colorado? 

Well, Rocky Mountain Oysters are … mammal testicles, and most commonly come from bulls, bison, pigs, and sheep. Yep, I’m so not kidding.

So, word of caution, when you Visit Colorado, beware, apparently people from all over the world visit Colorado for these “delectables.”

When you visit Colorado, feel free to wear socks with your sandals!
It’s a thing, much to outsiders dismay. Photo Credit: Teva.com

9. Coloradans Dress Casual

A quick trip to NYC or LA has me feeling underdressed at every turn. There simply aren’t enough bags to bring all the clothes I need for a weekend trip, not to mention the fees associated with those bags.

However, when you visit Colorado, the expectations are greatly lowered. In our small neck of the woods, between Aspen and Vail, if you see someone in a suit, it is undoubtedly a lawyer on his way to court. No lie.

So, a great guide for when you visit Colorado is to pack super casual. For men, this means a flannel and jeans and for women, jeans and a cute top. And yes, this is appropriate for Friday nights out on the town whether you are in Denver or Aspen.

And, yes sandals and socks really are a thing here.

10. Learn Skier Etiquette Before Skiing or Riding

There is little that drives Coloradans crazy more than people who break Skier Etiquette. So, put “research” on your list of Things To Know Before Visiting Colorado. You’ll notice, while here, that we have very little in the way of rules. The first is “Be Chill,” the second is “Skier Etiquette.”

So, don’t be that guy (or gal) who cuts the line at the lift, or flies down the park and runs into a 5-year-old (actually happened just the other day), or smokes pot on the lift (major pet peeve of mine), or any of the million other things listed specifically in a gazillion blogs found via Google.

Brush up, it will save you some headaches.

11. The Outdoors Is Life

Coloradans are super cool people, we do things that others only read about. This is the happiest state, after Hawaii, in the union, and it’s because we get outside and adventure. We are diverse people, despite the fact that most of y’all think it only snows here. Sure we all ski and snowboard, but we all also have other passions that run from climbing to whitewater kayaking to biking and so much more. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a sedentary Coloradan, and if you do, it is a transplant from a city.

One of the Things To Know Before Visiting Colorado is that you will spend the majority of your time outside doing cool things!

SheBuysTravel Tip: For a unique Colorado family vacation, stay at the YMCA of the Rockies!

12. Dogs are Basically Humans

Dogs are, for good or bad, welcome almost everywhere. Truth be told, I have even seen them skiing and riding! Dogs are everywhere. You will see them at the river, at the base of a mountain, on every hike you’ll ever go on, even when it clearly states NO DOGS. Dogs are in bars and even some restaurants, which I just can’t get beyond, but they are there. In fact, my daughter went to her female doctor and the doctor brought her dog into the examining room.

So, definitely, if you are a dog lover, put on your list of Things To Know Before Visiting Colorado … bring your dog! 

3 responses

  1. I really wish I saw your blog before I went to Colorado. My favorite was Estes Park and the Stanley hotel. They even have a ghost tour, which we of course tried. And thanks for sharing good information!

  2. Really helpful list for this first timer! Thank you! I’m excited for nature and now excited for dogs everywhere ?

  3. It’s interesting that people in Colorado dress more casual than in New York or in Los Angeles. My brother and I want to visit Colorado this weekend to go to some bars and do a couple of big hikes. I’m excited to do those things, however, I want to find some of the local gems and the lesser-known things to do. I’ll be sure to keep looking online for things that can entertain us while we’re there.

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