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The Quintessential Coloradan’s Bucket List

by | February 23rd, 2015

Our thriving economy is one logical explanation of why people keep moving to Colorado. But really, how many people do we know who came here on vacation… to college… to visit friends and family… and got hopelessly hooked on the state? It’s the natural beauty—and the endlessly fun, associated activities—that just keeps ‘em coming, year after year.

So as a welcome to all the newbies and a refresher course for you natives and long-timers, here’s a selection of “must-do” Colorado activities that capture the flavor of our state across the seasons. If you’ve already checked these ideas off your list, explore a more fine-grained rundown of ideas published in last month’s article in 5280 magazine. And be sure to share your bucket list with us on our Facebook page.

Ski at Telluride

Ranked the best overall ski resort in the US by, Telluride Ski Resort Colorado Telluride offers stellar skiing and snowboarding far from the maddening weekend pilgrimage on I-70. That’s the beauty and curse of Telluride, of course, as its southwest Colorado location makes it a bit of a hike from metro Denver. But the rewards, beyond the powder, are a unique town with an extra-laidback vibe, colorful mining history, and its awe-inspiring canyon setting with steep mountain vistas. Learn more.

Bike on Independence Pass
Jaw-dropping gorgeous and a wee bit harrowing, thanks to narrow lanes, hairpin turns and dramatic drop-offs, traversing Independence Pass is truly a Colorado rite of passage. Driving the road is a badge of honor all by itself, but biking can take your Colorado cred to a whole new level. Start at Aspen and end at Twin Lakes, and in between, log 37.6 miles and gain 4,187 feet—while taking in magnificent, jagged vistas thick with aspen and evergreen. Open only from Memorial Day to Labor Day, due to high altitude and winter road conditions. Check for road closures here.

Soak at Strawberry Springs

This destination is the perfect complement to your ski trip or summer vacation in Steamboat Springs, another must-see destination. Just outside of town, these hot springs clock in at about 104 degrees—a perfect contrast with the literally adjacent, frigid river. (One favorite diversion is to dip, courageously, from one to the other.) These mineral pools are of the more naturalistic type, with rocky, tree-filled surroundings, but there are private massage huts if you want to glam up the experience. Be warned: come evening, clothing is optional. Learn more.

Ogle at Bridal Veil Falls
Let’s say you went skiing at Telluride and fell in love with that charming town. Be sure to go back in summer and explore its many warm-weather pleasures, including Bridal Veil Falls. With a 365-foot drop, these are the tallest free-falling falls in Colorado. It’s a 4.2 mile trek to the top of the falls with a gain of 1,650 feet, so let that inform your decision whether to hike, bike, or four-wheel drive up the road. Learn more.

Quiver on the Manitou Incline

Rare is the hiker whose thighs will not jellify on this incline, the former site of a cable car ride. After a rockslide in 1990, the Manitou Incline was closed and locals started (illegally) hiking up the remaining ties for a lung-searing workout. The incline was officially opened to the public in 2013 and is a popular, challenging hike of 2,741 steps—a one-mile ascent with an elevation gain of 2,000 feet. Good luck! Learn more.

Learn at Mesa Verde
While Mesa Verde National Park is open to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, warmer months are a better bet for fully enjoying this national treasure. This park was once the home of ancestral Pueblo people from 600-1300 A.D. who lived both on the mesa tops and in dwellings carved into the rock below. These cliff dwellings are some of the country’s best-preserved. While you’re there, you can explore a variety of cliff dwellings and learn about the Puebloans’ way of life from well-informed park rangers. Nearby camping is also available. Learn more.

Time Travel on the Georgetown Loop

This one’s an idyllic way to spend an afternoon with everyone from kids to grandparents. Nose around Georgetown, with its charming historic buildings, and then hop a classic train on the Georgetown Loop Railroad, built in 1884. This three-mile, 1-1/2 hour loop takes you through the mountainous terrain between Georgetown and Silver Plume, another quaint mining town. Options include mine tours, dinner, wine and hors d’oeuvres, and “ales on rails.” Learn more.

Ghosts? Maybe. Energy? Definitely, at the Highlands Ranch Mansion.

by | February 20th, 2015

Feel like dancing? Then boogie on down at our town’s historic, 1891 mansion on Feb. 26 for a Mansion Dancin’ Night. And be sure to keep your eyes on the mansion’s calendar year-round for events like Mother’s Day Brunches and Moonlight Movies. You can always find something going on, from free bi-weekly tours to grand weddings and holiday, graduation, birthday, and retirement parties. And maybe, just maybe, even a little spectral activity, too.

So how did Highlands Ranch come to have this 22,000-square-foot attraction? For nearly a century, the historic Mansion was home to some of Denver’s more notable families: Long, Springer, Hughes, Phillips, Kistler, and Phipps—cattle barons, oil tycoons, socialites, and other political and business bigwigs. During the Phillips years, the estate became the Phillips Highland Ranch, named for the Highland Hereford cattle raised there. And this name would later extend to the entire Highlands Ranch community, which came into being in the late 1970s under the ownership of Mission Viejo Corporation, later bought by Shea Homes. In 2010, Shea gave the mansion to the Highlands Ranch Metro District, along with $6 million for renovation and a $4 million endowment for future needs and programming.

Susie Appleby, a Highlands Ranch historian (and now on the Shea team) who is writing a book about the mansion, has been a docent there for 19 years.

“Shea is a hero to me,” she says. “Before the renovation, touring the mansion made me sad. Walls were falling in. Parts of it had to be closed and locked off for safety.” Now the mansion is a beautiful community centerpiece that residents can enjoy without paying a penny of taxation for its upkeep.

With its 121-year history, the mansion inevitably comes along with a ghost story or two. In the 1970s, estate landscapers were said to have seen a little girl in a white dress walking the upstairs hallway and looking outside the west bedroom. The story went that it was Julia, daughter of Frank Kistler, neglected after her father remarried and adopted two stepsons. Julia would wistfully watch him ride off from her bedroom window. Another theory is that the specter might be a child of a servant, or a little girl who did actually die in the house while her family visited.

More recently, a docent was standing by herself in the solarium and was hit by a strong smell of perfume. Several paranormal groups have visited, recording voices and a random door banging in the night. That said, in all her years wandering alone through the mansion, Susie hasn’t seen anything spooky herself.

“I’m a buzzkill,” she laughs. “I’ve been looking, but I’ve never had anything happen to me.”

Spirits or not, the Highlands Ranch Mansion is arguably the soul of the Highlands Ranch community—beautiful, historic, and full of life. If you’d like to take a tour (and keep an eye out for things supernatural), the Mansion is open to the public every Tuesday and Thursday from 9am-2pm.

Image courtesy Highlands Ranch Mansion Facebook page.

Image courtesy Highlands Ranch Mansion Facebook page.

BackCountry Featured Home – Paragon Homes

by | February 18th, 2015

Paragon Homes
Sanctuary Collection
Priced from $1 millions
Contact: 303-945-3567

Paragon Homes offers five semi-custom floor plans at BackCountry, including this popular ranch-style home. With only four lots remaining, all with mountain and lake vistas, these homesites won’t last long. View floor plans and home tours at

View the BackCountry Featured Home

*Price, specifications and availability are subject to change without notice. Square footage is approximate. Actual homes as constructed may not contain the features and layouts depicted and may vary from photo.

They came back to the Ranch.

by | February 11th, 2015

But this time, to BackCountry.

When Sadrian and David Alderson found out they were moving back from Arkansas to Colorado, choosing Highlands Ranch was a no-brainer.

“There was no question,” recalls Sadrian. “I love Highlands Ranch. The four state-of-the-art rec centers, activities, safety, and the strong community feel make it a wonderful place to raise kids.”

And Sadrian’s hardly a newbie at evaluating communities. Although they are a young family, the Aldersons have lived in Louisiana, Illinois, Arkansas, and now twice in Highlands Ranch. But this time around, they discovered BackCountry and instantly fell in love with it. “Lured in,” Sadrian says, by the 8,200 acres of protected open space behind the community.

“We love to hike and mountain bike with the kids,” who are ages 6 and 1, explains Sadrian. “With small children it can be hard to drive the two hours into the mountains, but here we can just walk to a trailhead and hike as much as the kids can handle.”

The Alderson family exploring their home during construction.

The Alderson family exploring their home during construction.

After moving into their new home in August, Sadrian found even more confirmation of the smart decision they made. They love Stone Mountain Elementary, where their older daughter attends, citing its excellent instruction, administration, active parent support, and enriching curriculum.

“While other schools are cutting back, ours gets lots of support from BackCountry,” says Sadrian. “So they can provide lower student-teacher ratios and extras like choir, band, a STEM lab, and Creativity and Tinker Labs, which my daughter loves.”

Sadrian finds her connections growing, meeting other families at school, in the neighborhood, and at the Sundial House. “The Halloween party was fabulous,” she says. “We’ve also gone to the Sundial House for drinks. It makes a lovely date night to sit outside next to the roaring fire pit, looking out at the Backcountry.” Even closer to home are her neighbors, some of whom she describes as “almost instant best friends.” Out of every family on her block, only one came from in-state; the others moved here from Georgia, Texas, California, and Montreal, Canada. “It’s very friendly here,” she reveals. “Everyone’s excited to live in Colorado. It’s nice to have a team of people who are all discovering the area together.”

The Alderson children pose in their new home at Christmas.

The Alderson children pose in their new home at Christmas.

But a simple day at home can be very sweet, too. The Aldersons live in the Somerset model from the Shadow Walk Collection, chosen for its open flow. Upstairs, the bedrooms open up to a loft, so there’s no place in the house where the girls are out of earshot. That’s important when you have little ones, and to keep everyone connected as the kids grow older.

The Aldersons are pleased with the quality of their home. While it can be daunting to buy a brand new home, she points out, “We’ve been so happy with Shea. They don’t skimp on quality.” In fact, Sadrian says that they hired a certified electrician to come double-check the work. She notes, “He said the work was flawless, couldn’t be better. We feel that Shea’s quality of construction is outstanding.”

That’s a good feeling, once you’ve put down roots and plan to stay a while. And with so much of Colorado to explore—starting with the wilderness just beyond BackCountry—the Aldersons plan on doing just that.

So much to love in February.

by | February 3rd, 2015

There’s a lot more to February than Valentine’s Day. And we’re not just talking about Groundhog Day. Thankfully, we found plenty of delightful diversions to get you through this hunkered-down, not-yet-spring stretch, especially if you live in BackCountry. Here are our sweetest suggestions for all: singles, couples, families.

Highlands Ranch Mansion Valentines Day
Father & Daughter Sweetheart Ball
-Feb. 6, 6:30-8:30pm; Feb. 7, 1:30-3:30 p.m. and 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Daddies, you may think this ball is all for your girl, but you’ll actually be making some of your favorite, heart-tugging memories. (Sadly, dancing with Dad seems to lose its luster during the teen years.) Choose from two nights of dancing and dining at the elegant Highlands Ranch Mansion, where each girl will receive a corsage, a father-daughter photo, refreshments and a special gift. $25 per person; $33 per person at the door, if not sold out. Learn more about 2/6.
Learn more about 2/7.

BackCountry Sundae Lovin Party
Sundae Lovin’ Ice Cream Bar
-Feb. 9
Hey BackCountry tweens, this one’s for you—and your sweet tooth. Head over to the Sundial House and concoct your tastiest-ever ice cream sundae. We’ll provide the goodies; you provide the creativity. Kids ages 9-13 are welcome from 5:15-6:15pm. Open to the first 40 kids. In order to have enough ice cream, residents please register at by Friday, February 6.

Denver Restaurant Week 2015
Denver Restaurant Week
-Feb. 20-March 1
Why fight the perennial Valentine’s Day crowd? If you just wait a week, you’ll have a whole city of restaurants to explore for the tasty price of $30 per person. Make your reservations now for the 11th annual Denver Restaurant Week, when local (and traveling) foodies enjoy multi-course dinners at a pain-free price. It’s a fabulous way to explore some of Denver’s top restaurants or revisit your favorites. Hundreds of restaurants participate each year. Learn more.

Highlands Ranch Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year
-Feb. 21, 12pm-5pm
Happy New Year—again! This celebration may be even more memorable, thanks to dazzling stage performances that include lion dances, folk dances, traditional music, martial arts, and a children’s chorus. An all-afternoon cultural fair will showcase traditional Chinese folk art displays, costumes, crafts, calligraphy and brush paintings, shops and refreshments including dumplings, noodles, and more. Cultural fair 12-5pm and stage performances 1-2pm and 4-5pm. Tickets $7 in advance and $10 day of event, if not sold out. Children ages 0-2 are free on parent’s lap. Held at the Recreation Center at Southridge, Debus Wildcat Mountain Auditorium (map) Learn more.

Why BackCountry is so much fun.

by | January 28th, 2015

Kids Dancing BackCountry Highlands Ranch July 4
And who’s behind it all.

Bored while living at BackCountry? Not a chance on Britany Chambers’ watch. Britany is BackCountry’s full-time Lifestyle Director, and she’s always stocking the community calendar with special events.

“Right now I’m securing bands for summer events and bar nights,” Britany reveals. That kind of long-range planning makes for smoothly run, well-attended events, as do generous doses of creativity and community input. Once a month, Britany meets with BackCountry’s Lifestyle Committee of nine volunteer residents to share ideas and firm up details for the next few months’ events.

Fan favorites revealed

So, what are the most popular events in BackCountry? Depends on whom you ask. Families with small children favor the two events with, not surprisingly, the largest attendance: Visits with Santa (the traditional lap chat, cookies and milk) and a similar meet-up with the Easter Bunny, complete with fast-paced egg hunt. Up to 250 kids can show up for these events!

On the other hand, young couples and empty nesters favor all the date night options—happy hours, live music, and comedy nights, as well as cooking classes and special events like the upcoming Valentine’s Day Chocolate and Wine Pairing. The monthly Drive-By Dinners are a big hit, too, in which residents pre-order restaurant-prepared dinners and conveniently pick them up at the Sundial House.

Santa at BackCountry Highlands Ranch Colorado
“People work hard all week long,” says Britany. “So by the time the weekend comes, they can be really ready for down time, a date night, or just spending time with their kids.” Which is why she strikes a healthy balance between creating kid- and adult-oriented events.

Families, couples, and singles alike enjoy all-age events like the Fourth of July, with country music, dancing, food trucks, and Uncle Sam on stilts, and last summer’s Drive-In Movie Night, which featured live music, root beer floats, hand-jive lessons, and Back to the Future playing on a 20-foot blowup screen.

Perks of an active community

Compared to most other communities, BackCountry is exceptionally active. Having a full-time Lifestyle Director, outdoor amphitheater, pool, and the 12,000-square-foot Sundial House with pub, demonstration kitchen, terraces, and meeting and fitness rooms, promotes community cohesiveness.

“All these ways to gather creates a strong sense of connection,” explains Britany. “Which is especially helpful when you’re a new resident. In other neighborhoods, you might just meet the people on your block. But because of all the community events, here you meet people who live all around you. It’s much easier to connect with other families or empty nesters, and people who share your interests.”

All those connections make for a rewarding job for Britany. Before coming to BackCountry, she helped plan huge public events at Flatiron Crossing Mall in Broomfield. But the smaller scale at BackCountry means she gets to know “all the great people here.” And, she says, “When I see people asking for an encore or not wanting to leave an event because they’re having so much fun, it feels great knowing I’ve done my job.”

BackCountry’s Superhero and Princess Party at the Sundial House

by | January 26th, 2015

The little Superheroes and Princesses of BackCountry enjoyed an after school snack and met Rapunzel and Spiderman!

BackCountry Featured Home -Toll Brothers

by | January 26th, 2015

Toll Brothers
From the upper-$600,000s
10525 Sunshower Place
Highlands Ranch, CO 80126
3,798 – 4,448 sq. ft.
4-5 bedrooms | 4.5 baths | 3-car garage

Exceptional home site next to open space! You-ll love home site #59 – a quiet street on a cul-de-sac, next to the open space and close to the walking path! You can choose from five impressive floor plans, ranging from 3,798 to 4,448 sq. ft. with 4-5 bedrooms, 4 1/2 baths, and 3-car garages. Homes start from the upper $600,000s. For information contact Caroline Rudee at 303-791-4288 or You can view floorplans and home tours at

View the BackCountry Featured Home

Show Winter Blahs the Door: FREE Winter Activities!

by | January 15th, 2015

If winter seems to be stretching on a bit too long for your taste, maybe it’s time to shake up your routine. And don’t worry about breaking those “spend less” resolutions just yet, as all of the boredom-busting suggestions below cost absolutely nothing.

Hudson Gardens Bird Tour
Free Day at Hudson Gardens
- Jan. 26, 9am-5pm
While this is a no-brainer destination in the growing season, Hudson Gardens is a beautiful place to explore this time of year, too, from the conifer grove, ponds, and wetlands, to the adjacent trail that runs for miles along the Platte River. Learn more.

Free Day at Four Mile Historic Park-Feb. 6, noon-4pm
Travel back to 1859 at this Denver landmark, where you’ll pan for gold, tour the city’s oldest structure, meet many farm animals, and enjoy a snapshot of frontier life. Learn more.

Denver Mint-Every Monday through Thursday, 8am-3:30pm
Take a free, 45-minute guided tour to learn about the history of the United States Mint and the craftsmanship required at all stages of the minting process, from original designs and sculptures to the actual striking of the coins. And don’t miss the gift shop for unique memorabilia. Reservations required.

NOAA Weather
National Center for Atmospheric Research
-Seven days a week
Through exhibits, self-guided tours, and guided tours (held on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at noon), learn about global warming, the 21st century’s hottest topic. See a hailstone the size of a softball, watch as a miniature tornado is whipped up in front of your eyes, and get an up-close look at how lightning is created. Learn more.

Colorado State Capitol Tour-Weekdays, 10am-3pm
Tour the just-repaired, golden-domed Colorado Capitol Building, which boasts 200 ounces of 24k gold. Stand at exactly a mile high on the 13th western-facing step. Marvel at Allen True’s beautiful murals, the rose onyx wainscoting, and the live shenanigans of Colorado General Assembly. Learn more.

Celestial Seasonings Tea Tour
Celestial Seasonings Tour
-Mon.-Sat, 10am-4pm; Sun., 11am-3pm
A 45-minute tour gives you the inside scoop on how the largest specialty tea manufacturer in North America blends, packages, and ships its teas. Prepare yourself for the sinus-opening Mint Room, then enjoy free samples of every variety and discover a gallery of original artwork from their famous tea boxes. Learn more.

Colorado Sports Hall of Fame-Thurs.-Sat. 10am-3pm
Housed on the west side of Sports Authority Field At Mile High Stadium, the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame Museum honors the legacies of the city’s greatest sports heroes, and features the Gallery of Legends, a “Great Moments in Colorado Sports” exhibit, and a section celebrating the achievements of girls and women in Colorado sports. Guided tours are 75-90 minutes and include both the museum and stadium. Learn more.

Four Seasons at Discovery Park

by | January 7th, 2015

Unlike other Colorado neighborhoods, BackCountry offers its residents an awe-inspiring natural backdrop for enjoying the beauty of all four seasons. Panoramic mountain views let you marvel at each year’s dramatic snow buildup and melt-off, as well as the greening up and autumn vibrancy of the 467-acre South Rim area and 8,200-acre Backcountry Wilderness Area that surround BackCountry.

Even closer are BackCountry’s trails and six parks. One of them, Discovery Park, features a meandering waterway that makes its way into a pond along the Discovery Center’s edge. On BackCountry’s Facebook and Pinterest pages, a months-long series of photos taken in 2014 shows the year-round beauty of this one small area, a perfect hideaway for quiet reflection or reading. This year, BackCountry will take another yearlong series of photos, but in another neighborhood setting. Keep an eye on it here and here.

#1: Springtime in Colorado is always a back-and-forth dialog between snowing and growing.
May BackCountry Highlands Ranch Colorado

#6: Blooming lily pads in June.
June BackCountry Highlands Ranch Colorado

#12: A welcome afternoon rainstorm in July, part of Colorado’s monsoon pattern.
July Rainstorm BackCountry Highlands Ranch Colorado

#22: October means golden leaves and grasses around the pond.
October BackCountry Highlands Ranch

#28: November brought light, quickly melting snow.
November BackCountry Higlands Ranch Colorado

#33: By the final day of the year, winter had truly found us here at BackCountry.
December 31 2014 BackCountry Highlands Ranch Colorado

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