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  • 6 Perfect Off-the-Beaten-Path Colorado Mountain Towns for a Fall Adventure

    NOTHING SEEMS TO SCREAM FALL LIKE BEAUTIFUL GOLDEN TREES IN THE MOUNTAINS. LUCKILY, COLORADO HAS NUMEROUS CUTE MOUNTAIN TOWNS THAT TRULY COME ALOVE WAS THE WEATHER STARTS TO COOL DOWN. While Colorado seems to be busiest during the hot summer months, in reality, fall is by far the BEST time to visit the Centennial State. With changing colors, crisp air, and the ever-present smell of wood-burning stoves, Colorado reaches peak coziness between the months of September and November. Now there are a lot of cute towns to hole up in for a fall getaway: Aspen, Vail, even Denver, the capital. But there are a couple more “off-the-beaten-path” locations that combine all the necessary requirements of a cozy fall vacation and outdoor adventure. Here are six cute mountain towns worth checking out this fall. THE 6 BEST COLORADO MOUNTAIN TOWNS TO VISIT IN THE FALL Crested Butte If there is one perfect Colorado mountain town to explore during the fall, this might be it. Located in the high central mountains and far enough away from any major city to make it feel totally off-the-beaten-path, Crested Butte really embodies that old Western spirit of the mountains. Plus, it is just jaw-droppingly beautiful. And its beauty really shines brightest during the fall when all of the towns' surrounding mountains start to glow in various shades of gold. If you want to explore the changing colors up close, we suggest hitting the hundreds of miles of singletrack trails either on your own two feet or by mountain bike (you can rent great bikes in town). Or if exploring the fall foliage in the comfort of your car is more your speed, we highly recommend doing the stunning drive up to Kebler Pass, located right outside of town. This winding mountain road not only takes you past beautiful mountain landscapes but also through the largest aspen grove in Colorado. DETAILS | WHERE: Crested Butte totally feels off-the-beaten-path due to its rather remote location. Which makes sense when you realize it is a 4.5 hour drive from Denver (in good weather). | SIP: you cannot visit Crested Butte and not grab a coffee at the local mainstay coffee shop, Camp 4. We suggest their regular black coffee and a pastry. Delicious. INSIDER TIP: besides exploring Kebler Pass, we also highly suggest checking out Gothic ghost town - located about 15 miles from downtown. | 72 HOURS IN CRESTED BUTTE, COLORADO | Leadville As the highest town in Colorado, Leadville is a great place to see the leaves change colors, all while under one of the best mountain landscapes in the whole state: the Collegiate Range. With the tallest mountain, Mt. Elbert, as your backdrop, there are lots of outdoor adventures to get up to, even in the cooler temps. Including, mountain biking the Mitchell Creek Loop - which stays completely above 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and the Twin Lakes Loop, a 12-mile, non-technical trail that lets you explore the historic abandoned Interlaken Resort. And if mountain biking isn’t your thing, check out the nearby hiking trails - including summiting the 14-ers Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive, boating on Turquoise Lake and Clear Creek Reservoir, and climbing along Independence Pass and Camp Hale. DETAILS | WHERE: Leadville is located just under 2 hours from Denver and about 30 minutes off of I-70. | SIP: City on a Hill Coffee & Espresso, located right on the main street (here). Steamboat Springs Hidden away from the craziness that is I-70, the cute town of Steamboat Springs is a full-on ski town come winter (it is home to more Olympic skiers than any other city - so yes, they take winter sports quite seriously), but it is also an amazing place to have a fall mountain getaway. We recommend taking a hike in the nearby Flat Tops Wilderness, located about 30-minutes from town, or just head out for a scenic drive on one of the many backcountry, scenic roads - including over Rabbit Ears Pass (where you can find even more hiking). And after a long day on the trails, definitely plan to soak away your aches at Strawberry Park Hot Springs, a natural hot spring located on the outskirts of town (and surrounded by a beautiful mountain landscape). DETAILS | WHERE: Steamboat is situated in northern Colorado about 3.5 hours from Denver and about the same from Fort Collins. From Fort Collins you will take Highway 14, a Colorado designated Scenic Byway. | SIP: stop in at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore and Café for a warm cup of Joe. Find the location here. | EXPLORING HIGHWAY 14: ONE OF COLORADO'S BEST SCENIC BYWAYS | Palisade Located on the far western slope of Colorado, sits a cute little farming town famous for its peaches. Palisade, located on the outskirts of the larger city of Grand Junction, is a small town with lots of charm. Make sure to check out the many vineyards, go for a wine tasting, and bike along the Colorado River. And if you have the time, definitely explore the nearby Grand Mesa along this Colorado Scenic Byway. This area of Colorado is a popular destination for professional and amateur landscape photographers who want to take stunning photos of the colorful panoramas of yellow, red, and gold aspens. Plus, with over 300 lakes the world’s largest flat-top mountain (the Grand Mesa) is the perfect location to see the aspen trees transform. And if you can plan it right, make sure to check out Color Weekend at Powderhorn Mountain Resort, going on September 28-30. DETAILS | WHERE: Palisade is located right off of I-70, the main interstate that runs east-west in Colorado. It is around 4 hours west of Denver. | SIP: Copeka Coffee, a nice café located right off of the main street in downtown. Find the exact location here. INSIDER TIP: if you want to soak up even more nature and relax in some hot springs, we suggest making the one hour drive east to Glenwood Springs. Pagosa Springs This brings us to our next great mountain town for fall adventures: Pagosa Springs, home to more amazing mountain landscapes, trails and as the name might suggest, hot springs. Because if there is one thing that gets better when the weather starts to cool down it is hot springs. In terms of the best fall adventures, your best bet is to explore the area around Wolf Creek Ski Area, which is about a 30-minute drive from downtown Pagosa Springs. From there, you can hike as far as you want on the famous Continental Divide Trail - including to places like Alberta Peak, Spruce Lakes and Railroad Pass. And, after a day out hiking, make sure to stop in at one of the numerous (private) hot springs in town or hit up the free Hippy Dippy hot spring located in the river in town (find it here). DETAILS | WHERE: Pagosa Springs, like Crested Butte, is pretty far from any major cities. From Denver it is a 5 hour drive. | SIP: get your morning started at ROOT HOUSE, located off of Main Street near the hot springs (exact location here). | 72 HOURS IN PAGOSA SPRINGS, COLORADO | Durango Possibly the best time to visit this hidden gem of a town in southwestern Colorado is during the fall when the whole town - and surrounding mountains - light up in a nice cozy haze of gold. With so many outdoor areas to explore and adventures to be had, Durango could quite possibly be the best town in Colorado between September and November. A couple of can’t miss locations (and adventures) are Vallecito Reservoir, a quick 22-mile drive out of town and home to many beautiful trails, and the Hermosa Creek Trail, a long hike that can eventually take you all the way to Telluride - talk about an amazing fall backpacking trip! And if hiking is not your thing, then consider driving along the Million Dollar Highway (Hwy 550), one of the prettiest roads in the whole state (and even the country). Highway 550 takes you past the historic mining town of Silverton, and all the way to the scenic town of Ouray - passing three 10,000-foot passes along the way. DETAILS | WHERE: Durango is by far the farthest town from the major hub of Denver (roughly 6.5 hours by car). If you are looking to fly in, you can reach the town by air, but we instead suggest landing in Albuquerque, NM, which is only 3.5 hours away. | SIP: check out Taste Coffee for a funky café experience and darn good coffee. Find the location here. INSIDER TIP: if you want even more outdoor adventures, consider checking out Mesa Verde National Park, located nearby. Fall might just be the BEST time to visit Colorado. With cooler weather, often smaller crowds, and crazy beautiful colors, adventuring here between the months of September and November is sure to be a trip to remember. For many of these places, the best time to see the colors are the last two weeks of September up to the first two weeks of October. So what are you waiting for? Pack your warmest sweater, your coziest socks, and your camera (and some nice hiking boots) and head out to Colorado for one beautiful fall adventure. Looking for more areas to explore? Here are a couple of other amazing areas in the Centennial State to check out the fall foliage. FIND MORE FALL TRAVEL GUIDES WHAT WE LEARNED LIVING IN CRESTED BUTTE FOR 8 MONTHS | Including what we loved about fall! HIKING FROM CRESTED BUTTE TO ASPEN: WHAT TO KNOW | Everything to know about doing the Grand Traverse hike in Colorado EXPLORING COTTTONWOOD PASS IN THE FALL | The best things to see along this stunning mountain pass THE BEST ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK HIKES FOR FALL COLORS | This super useful guide will help you have the best fall adventures

  • The Top 6 National Parks to Explore in Colombia

    COLOMBIA IS THE SECOND MOST BIODIVERSE COUNTRY IN THE WORLD, AND THERE IS NO BETTER WAY TO EXPLORE THE COUNTRY'S INCREDIBLE FLORA AND FAUNA THAN BY ADVENTURING IN ITS NUMEROUS NATIONAL PARKS. HERE ARE 6 GREAT ONES. Many people seem to visit Colombia for its thriving culture and exciting cities, and while we totally understand that appeal (we were taken in by Medellin’s magic just like everyone else) we instead think what makes Colombia so exciting and rich is its outstanding biodiversity. In fact, Colombia is ranked number two in the world in terms of biodiversity...behind Brazil - a country 648% larger. For example, as of 2016, more than 56,000 species were registered in Colombia, of which 9,153 are endemic (meaning they only are found in Colombia). In fact, Colombia occupies the first position worldwide in the number of orchids and birds, the second position in plants, amphibians, butterflies and fresh water fish, the third place in species of palm trees and reptiles and the fourth position in biodiversity of mammals. All of this put together has made Colombia one of seventeen megadiverse countries in the world (a couple of other ones? China, India, Australia, and the USA). How absolutely incredible is that?! Luckily, Colombia understands its good fortune and has been establishing nationally protected natural areas since 1960, and as of 2020, it is home to 59 national natural parks. And all of these protected areas are grouped into the National System of Protected Areas, which in total, covers about 169,545 square kilometers (65,462 square miles) and represents more than 14% of the country's total area (!). Now before we dive into some of the country's best parks, there is one important thing to note: that unlike national parks in the United States, some of the national parks in Colombia are actually closed to the public. This could be due to a number of reasons, including focusing on preserving the landscape from human impact, or local indigenous groups not wanting tourists visiting. For example, Puinawai National Natural Park is currently closed to the public and because of that, and the fact that the park is pretty inaccessible, only 1% of Puinawai has been deforested (according to Colombia's national park services). While numerous national parks are closed to the public, or at least have some restrictions in place, there are still plenty to explore (there are 59 national parks after all…). Below are a couple of parks to add to your list if you are looking to explore Colombia’s outstanding landscapes and biodiversity. 6 MUST-VISIT NATIONAL PARKS IN COLOMBIA \\ Cueva de los Guacharos National Natural Park Established in 1960, Cueva de los Guacharos National Natural Park is the oldest national park in Colombia. Similarly, besides being designated as a national park, it is also part of the Cinturón Andino (Andean Belt), a UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve. GOOD TO KNOW: the name of the park comes from the guácharo birds (oilbirds) which inhabit the dark caves of the park during the day and go out at night looking for food. Similar to bats, the birds are guided by a system of echo-location. Cueva de los Guacharos National Natural Park is located in the western face of the Colombian Eastern Andean Range in the departments of Huila and Caquetá. The park covers an area of 9,000 hectares or 90 square kilometers (35 square miles) much of which is made up of cloud forests and paramo ecosystems. The main point of interests in the park are the Caves of the Oilbirds, as well as one of the last remaining intact oak forests in all of Colombia. The oak forest is definitely worth exploring, as well as the other biomes that call the park home. In Cueva de los Guacharos National Park, you can see monkeys, tapirs and pudus - the world’s smallest deer. Similarly, in 2005 the National Natural Parks System identified 300 species of birds within the park, including the eponymous oilbird, Andean cock-of-the-rock and the torrent duck. Top Adventures HIKING & BIRD WATCHING There are four trails in the park, some of which do take you very close to the famous guacharos caves: Roble Negro (6 hours, 3.9 km and high difficulty) Camino de los Gigantes (4 hours, 2.7 km and medium difficulty) Lluvia de Cristales (4 hours, 1.7 km and medium difficulty) Cascada de Colores (6 hours, 3.1 km and high difficulty) Learn more about the park here. \\ Tayrona National Natural Park Often rated as one of the best national parks in Colombia (and the second most visited in 2019), Tayrona National Natural Park is one of the best places to see the incredible biodiversity endemic to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range. The national park includes geography ranging from the arid sea, including 30 square kilometers (12 square miles) of maritime area in the Caribbean Sea, to 900 meters (2,952 feet) above sea level. Scientists found done extensive studies of the park and have counted about 108 species of mammals, including Mantled howler monkeys, oncillas (a wild cat), deer, and more than 70 species of bats. Similarly, Tayrona National Natural Park is the last place in the world where the endangered cotton-top tamarin lives. The park is also home to 300 species of birds. Including, montane solitary eagles, military macaws, black-backed ant shrikes, white-bellied antbirds and lance-tailed manakins. There are also approximately 31 species of reptiles, and 15 species of amphibians. Finally, there are more than 770 species of plants. Talk about biodiversity. GOOD TO KNOW: Tayrona is one of three national parks in the Colombian Caribbean with coral reefs on its territories, the other two are Old Providence McBean Lagoon and Rosario and San Bernardo Corals (near Cartagena). Top Adventures HIKING Kogui or Knowledge Trail, from Cañaveral to Arrecifes (low difficulty, 1 hour) Arrecifes – Boca del Saco Trail through Arrecifes Beach, the natural pool and Cabo San Juan del Guía (low difficulty, 2 hours) The stone road to Pueblito from Cabo San Juan del Guía (high difficulty, 3 hours) Calabazo – Pueblito – Cabo San Juan del Guía Trail (high difficulty, 4 hours) SNORKELING & SCUBA DIVING You can snorkel in Playa del Muerto “Playa Cristal”, Granate and the Tayrona natural pool. You can also go scuba diving at Isla Aguja and Granate. All diving trips, equipment rentals and diving courses are managed by the diving schools of Taganga, a small village of fishermen near the national park. Learn more about the park here. \\ Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park Even though it is one of the newest Colombian national parks (it was created in 2010), Uramba Bahia Malaga National Natural Park is already a popular ecotourism destination. The park is located in and around Málaga Bay along the Colombian Pacific coast and near the municipality of Buenaventura. The park has a high level of biodiversity and is a favorite spot for reproducing humpback whales. Which in turn has made it a popular whale-watching destination not only in Colombia but around the world. Most of the natural areas within the park is pristine, with the exception of the areas around a few small towns like Juanchaco, Ladrilleros, and La Barra. Uramba Bahia Malaga National Natural Park is home to a wide array of ecosystems; including wet tropical forest, transitional forest, flooded forest, mangroves, estuaries, beaches, and ocean. Top Adventures WHALE WATCHING The main animal of interest in the park is the humpback whale, which uses the waters to raise calves between June and October. It is said that this area has the largest concentration of breeding humpbacks along the Colombian Pacific coast. HIKING & BIRD WATCHING There are a few trails you can explore within the park. And like almost all national parks within the country, you have a high likelihood of seeing various birds, plants, butterflies and mammals. Learn more about the park here. \\ Tinigua National Natural Park This national natural park is one of the most important parks in terms of conservation and ecological integrity in all of Colombia. This is mostly because the region contributes to the conformation of a natural corridor from the top of the eastern Andean mountain range all the way to the Amazon. Tinigua National Natural Park is also important when it comes to hydrology and water flow, for the park conserves four water basins of the Guayabero River, Guaduas River, Perdido River and the Duda River. And all four help form the Guaviare River and the Orinoco river basin. And if that wasn’t enough, Tinigua is also home to numerous giant rocks that are not only beautiful but also contain petroglyphs (including zoomorphic and anthropomorphic figures) which are a remnant of the historic indigenous settlers from the Tinigua and Guayabero ethnic groups. The park is mostly made up of humid forest (86% of total land) and is home to animals such as otters, mountain lions, panthers, woolly monkeys, spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, collared peccaries, sloths, turtles, caimans and anacondas. There are also numerous birds including green macaws, yellow parakeets, loggerhead parrots and Blue-billed curassows. Top Adventures HIKING You can only hike in the Raudal Angosturas I area, home to the famous petroglyphs. While you can do the hike year-round, it is recommended to explore the park in the drier seasons (December - March, August - September). Along the hike, you can see the petroglyphs as well as various wildlife and plants. The trail is rated as low to medium difficulty. GOOD TO KNOW: before setting out on the trail, you do need prior authorization from the park. Learn more about the park here. \\ Bahía Portete – Kaurrele National Natural Park Famous for being the northernmost national park of mainland South America, Bahia Portete - Kaurrele National Natural Park is located along the Caribbean coast of the La Guajira peninsula in Bahía Portete. The park was established in 2014 - making it the most recently designated national park in the country. The park encompasses an area of 14,080 hectares or roughly 34,800 acres, some of which is made up of the desert of La Guajira. Overall, the temperature is pretty hot and humid - the average temperature ranges between 28 and 30 °C (82 and 86 °F). The area was designated a national park in hopes of protecting the marine and littoral ecosystems of the La Guajira peninsula. The local indigenous communities of the Wayuu, Kamushiwoü, Alijunao, and many more, contributed to the planning and development of the national park. Learn more about the park here. \\ Puracé National Natural Park Located in the Andean Region of Colombia, and just southeast of the popular city of Popayán in the Cordillera Central mountain range lies Puracé National Natural Park. The park gets its name from the Puracé stratovolcano, which is one of the country’s most active volcanoes. Similarly, the park is also important for being the place where four of Colombia’s most important rivers originate: the] Magdalena River, the Cauca River, the Japurá River and the Patía River. Puracé National Natural Park was established in 1961 and was the first national park in the Cauca Department. During the 1990s the FARC guerrillas used the park as a base camp, but by 2002 the park was cleared of all forces. While Puracé is the only active volcano in the area, it is not alone. In fact, there are two other volcanoes, both of which are higher in elevation: Azúcar, which sits at 5,000 m (16,000 feet) and Coconuco at 4,600 m (15,100 feet). The park, like all of Colombia, is highly biodiverse. Within its boundaries, you can find over 200 orchids as well as nationally threatened species such as the Colombian Pine, Andean Oak, and the Wax palm tree. It is also home to over 160 species of birds, including hummingbirds, ducks, and various birds of prey (including the Andean Condor). Similarly, you may have the chance to see animals such as spectacled bears, mountain tapirs, cougar, pudús, woolly monkey, howler monkey, gray-bellied night monkey, and the tufted capuchin monkey. Finally, the national park serves as an indigenous reservation for the Cocunuco ethnic group, and in the Pilimbalá sector, you can find a Cocunuco settlement offering comfortable lodging and typical food. Top Adventures HIKING One of the best hikes in the park is up to the Puracé crater, which can take 3.5 hours to hike from Pilimabala or 2 hours from the old military base. The hike is around 7 kilometers long if starting from Pilimabala. Read more about finding the trailheads here. Other hikes include: Orquídeas Trail (800 meters long, low difficulty) The Volcanic Chain Trail (6.5 km, high difficulty) San Nicolás waterfall Trail (2 km, medium difficulty) CULTURAL HERITAGE The national park overlaps with the indigenous reservations of Puracé and Palerará, as well as nearby reservations of Cocunuco, Guachicono, and Poblazan (plus many more). Therefore you do have the opportunity to observe (respectfully) the various indigenous cultures. A good place to start is the Cocunuco settlement. Learn more about the park here. Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world and therefore it is a great idea to head out into its numerous national parks to get a view of its many animals and plants. Luckily, you have 59 national natural parks to choose from, including these 6 amazing ones. If you are an adventurous traveler like us then you should already be planning to spend a good amount of time exploring all of the incredible natural places Colombia has to offer. For as the late Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos said in 2014, "Biodiversity is to Colombia, what oil is for the Arabs." Find a list of all the national natural parks in Colombia here. EXPLORE MORE NATIONAL PARKS LOS NEVADOS NATIONAL PARK, COLOMBIA | The Ultimate Guide to Solo Trekking (No Guide) HIKING IN COCORA VALLEY | Everything You Need to Know About Cocora Valley BEST ADVENTURES AROUND CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA | Including Baru, part of the Rosario Islands National Park EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, USA | The Ultimate Guide CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK, USA | The Ultimate Guide LASSEN VOLCANIC NATIONAL PARK, USA | The Ultimate Guide | MORE NATIONAL PARK INSPIRATION | LIKED IT? PIN IT! Curious to learn more about Colombia's national parks, or adventure travel in general? Then consider subscribing to Backroad Packers so you never miss a dispatch. And if you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.

  • The Ultimate Guide to Solo Trekking in Los Nevados National Park

    4°48′00″N 75°22′00″W HERE IS A QUICK BREAKDOWN OF EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BACKPACKING SOLO (NO GUIDE) IN THE STUNNING LOS NEVADOS NATIONAL PARK IN CENTRAL COLOMBIA. We believe there are few things in life better than setting off on an adventure in a place you really don’t know much about. The excitement of pure exploration is completely palpable. That is why we were super excited to explore the magical national park of Los Nevados in central Colombia. Home to mammoth mountains, crazy flora, and some of the last tropical glaciers in the world, Los Nevados National Park is just teeming with incredible adventure. So if you are curious to learn more about how to explore the park on your own (aka without a guide), then you have come to the right place. EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SOLO TREKKING IN LOS NEVADOS NP \\ Where is Los Nevados NP & How do You Get There Los Nevados National Park or Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados covers 583 square kilometers and is divided between four different districts of Colombia: Quindio, Risaralda, Caldas and Tolima. Because of its size, there are numerous entrances to the park. Including, from the famous Cocora Valley near Salento, El Cedral near Pereira, Juntas near Ibague and the Brisas Sector near Manizales. But the Brisas Sector, which is located in the northern section of the park, is currently only open until the Valle de las Tumbas area due to Nevado del Ruiz Volcano’s high activity (the Servicio Geológico Colombiano has declared it at Yellow Alert Level or Level III). Otherwise, from the other main entrances to the park, you have the ability to hike in as far as you want. Getting to Los Nevados National Park The most common way to reach the park, especially if you are looking to hike by yourself and/or are not looking to explore Nevado del Ruiz, is to start in either Cocora Valley or at El Cedral. COCORA VALLEY To start, take a Willy from the square in Salento, which costs 4000 per person for one-way (just tell them you are only going one way at the ticket booth), once at Cocora you will likely have to check in with the NP guards. After that, simply make your way up the dirt road, past the second entrance to Cocora Valley until you reach the river. INSIDER TIP: when you get to the river, go to the right where you will find a wooden bridge about 5 meters up. You will know you are at the right spot when you see a large national park sign across the water. | HIKING THE COCORA VALLEY LOOP: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW | EL CEDRAL Start by hopping on a chiva (a large colorful wooden bus) from downtown Pereira. The main stop is here (the stop is right across from a large Exito supermarket). The chiva will take you up to the trailhead at El Cedral. It will cost 5500 COP per person and take about 1-1.5 hours. At the trailhead (here), there is a small café selling food, a store, and a hostel. There is also a national park building - though there was no one there when we arrived. INSIDER TIP: the chiva leaves at 11:30 AM and 3:30 PM from the trailhead at El Cedral. \\ Why Visit Los Nevados National Park Los Nevados is not only a beautiful national park, but also one that is incredibly important to Colombia and the rest of the world. Within the park, glaciers occupy 4% of the area and belong to the three main volcanoes: Nevado del Ruiz (the highly active one), Nevado de Santa Isabel and Nevado del Tolima. The waters from these glaciers feed the rivers that originate within the park. In total, there are 10 basins and 19 streams of different sizes and characteristics. Of the ten basins, six flow into the large Magdalena River watershed and the remaining four flow into the Cauca River watershed. The park's rivers supply water for 2,000,000 inhabitants in the region, including coffee, rice and cotton crops in the surrounding departments. | THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO SALENTO, COLOMBIA | Similarly, the Otún wetland system, found near the central area of the park, was declared an internationally important wetland by the Ramsar Convention in 2008. Now that is just the importance of the glaciers and water within the park. Similarly, within Los Nevados you can also find many unique and often endemic plants and animals. Including plants such as, the highly popular wax palm, which is found at lower altitudes (especially in Cocora Valley), and the frailejones, a somewhat comedic-looking plant that grows in the páramo biome (see photo below). In terms of animals, you might also have the opportunity to see yellow-eared parrots, Fuertes's parrots, rufous-fronted parakeets, Andean condors, mountain tapirs, spectacled bears, northern pudús (the world’s smallest deer), cougars and white-eared opossums. And if you are really lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a buffy helmet-crest hummingbird, which can only be found in the páramo region of the park. Finally, and this should really go without saying, the park is 100% worth exploring because it is just drop-dead beautiful. For much of the trek, you will likely be entirely alone out in the wide expanses of the páramo, a biome that feels like an alien planet, or making your way through the dense, vibrant green jungle that radiates with the sound of birds. To adventure within Los Nevados National Park is like exploring a real life Garden of Eden. It's magical, colorful and awe-inspiring. \\ Guide or No Guide By far one of the most common questions about hiking and trekking in Los Nevados National Park is whether you can do it with or without a guide. Well, to be honest, even after hiking in the park without a guide and talking to other people - including national park representatives - we still are not entirely sure. Do You Legally Need a Guide When we first started planning our trip to Los Nevados, this was the first thing we had to figure out. And even now that we have finished our trek, we still don’t know 100% whether you legally need a guide. What we did learn is that you can enter the park at Cocora Valley without a guide, though you do need to check in with the national park staff that are stationed there. The park rangers will ask you a couple of questions (see below), have you sign a form and then let you go on your way. And, even though we read you had to pay a fee, the rangers never asked for payment. QUESTIONS THE PARK RANGERS WILL ASK Where are you going/what is your route? How many days will you be in the park? Do you have all the gear you need? Do you have a map? If digital, is it downloaded? Emergency contact information. Personal information (nationality, passport #, occupation, etc.) We suggest having all of this information prepared ahead of time. For in our experience, when you act confident and like you know what you are doing, the less likely they will question you further. INSIDER TIP: we didn’t have to pay an entrance fee, and they didn’t say anything about us not having a guide. BUT we emailed the national park itself and they said that you would need a guide and would need to pay 47500 COP per person. So be prepared for it to go either way (sorry not super helpful). | HIKING THE QUILOTOA LOOP IN ECUADOR: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW | It also seems like you can enter El Cedral (near Pereira) without a guide We finished our trek there and didn’t see any park rangers guarding or monitoring the entrance. We have also read on other blogs that you can enter the park here and not have a guide or pay an entrance fee. Finally, we actually met a group that had a guide along the hike and the guide didn’t mention anything about the legality of hiking sans guide. So in the end, we believe that if you enter the park at Cocora Valley or El Cedral, you shouldn’t have an issue going guide-less. It is likely guides are only necessary for the more “dangerous” parts of the park (most notably near Nevado del Ruiz). But Is a Guide a Good Idea We decided to trek in the national park without a guide because we knew we had the skills and the experience to finish the trek without any problems. But for some people that might not be the case. So if you are thinking of trekking in Los Nevados and are wondering whether you need a guide or not, ask yourself these questions. Do you have the proper gear? Including maps, boots, bags, sleeping bags, etc. Do you have backpacking experience? We both have years of experience backpacking in the mountains of Colorado and California, but if you have never backpacked before we definitely suggest booking a guide. Are you confident in route finding? This is a huge factor in needing a guide or not. Even with a map, there are often places where a trail just doesn’t exist. Do you know how to find your way without a clear trail? And are you good at orienting yourself in the mountains? Are you good at route/trip planning? This is another key thing to think about. There are many things to plan when doing a multi-day trek in the mountains, including transportation, food, lodging, etc. Even though we finished our 4-day trek without any problems, there were definitely moments when we thought it would be nice to have a guide. A couple of big ones were when we had to communicate with local finca owners (we only speak okay Spanish), when it came to actual preparation (including acquiring gear), and finally, when we had to figure out transportation at the end of the hike. These are all things to consider when deciding whether to trek solo or not. In the end, we loved doing the hike by ourselves. But we also definitely felt more stress planning this trek than any other trek we've done previously. GUIDING SERVICES One guiding service that we recommend if you don't want to trek alone is Paramo Trek. When doing our research on trekking in Los Nevados we actually reached out to them to inquire about guiding services. They were quick to respond and super helpful. We also met one of their guides while trekking and he was super friendly, intelligent, fun and very environmentally conscious. Highly recommend them if you are thinking of trekking with a guide. \\ The Best Trekking Routes in Los Nevados National Park There are numerous trails that crisscross through the park. All of them will have their perks: great views, interesting biomes, opportunities to see wildlife, etc. So you really cannot go wrong. But if you are looking to get an idea on some of the more "popular" routes within the park, then here are a few good ones to check out. From Cocora Valley COCORA - TERMALES - JUNTAS: 3-4 days, 31.2 miles This hike includes visiting the Termales de Canon, a group of natural hot springs near the base of Nevado del Tolima. You also have the opportunity to stay at a finca (most commonly Finca Primavera) and to camp at the hot springs. You finish the hike in the town of Juntas, which is close to Ibague. COCORA - FINCA BERLIN - CEDRAL: 3 days, 21 miles This is a great hike if you want to explore the jungle and páramo ecosystems and learn more about finca life in the park. You also get to stay at finca's along the way, including Finca Argentina and Finca el Jordan. COCORA - FINCA ARGENTINA/BUENOS AIRES - COCORA: 2 days, 6 miles to Argentina & 7.2 miles to Buenos Aires This is a great out and back hike that takes you through the thick jungle and out onto the beginning of the páramo ecosystem. You will likely stay at Finca Argentina for the night, or we believe you could also camp up at Finca Buenos Aires. Just know that the hike up to either finca is quite steep (but beautiful). COCORA - LAGUNA OTUN - CEDRAL: 4 days, 31 miles You can reach Laguna Otun, the largest lake in the park, either by going over the Paramo del Quindio like we did or by staying in the páramo and hitting Finca Berlin instead. Either way, you will get to experience the jungle and paramo ecosystems, as well as hike through the beautiful valley between El Cedral and Laguna Otun. COCORA - PARAMILLO DEL QUINDIO - CEDRAL: 4 days, 29 miles This is the trek we did and we loved it! It took us four days to complete and by the end we were pretty darn tired. But if you are looking for an incredible adventure we highly recommend taking on this route. Why? Because you get to explore so many different biomes, including the jungle, the páramo and the super-páramo ecosystems, which looks a lot like a colorful Mars. You also get to stay at two fincas (Argentina and El Jordan - our favorite), see many different animals (including wild parakeets and tapirs) and just totally lose yourself (metaphorically) in the incredible landscape. 10/10 recommend. | WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT EXPLORING SALENTO'S DELICIOUS COFFEE ROUTE | From El Cedral CEDRAL - LAGUNA OTUN - CEDRAL: 3 days, 25.1 miles This is a pretty common route for hikers looking to explore the park. It includes the opportunity to see Laguna Otun and stay at local fincas along the way, including one of our favorites Finca El Jordan (you could even just hike to El Jordan and back). Plus, the entire hike is through a stunning mountain valley. Definitely recommend adventuring in this area if only to see the waterfalls and scenery. CEDRAL - PARAMILLO DEL QUINDIO - COCORA: 4 days, 29 miles This is the clockwise version of our loop and also includes stops at the famous Paramillo del Quindio and Laguna La Leona. CEDRAL - SANTA ISABELLE GLACIER: 4 days, 28 miles It is more likely that if you are looking to hike to the Santa Isabelle Glacier you will start on the northern side of the park (near Potosi and Manizales) and go with a guide. When planning your route in the park, we highly recommend checking out Komoot, an app focused on outdoor adventure routes. You can also download your specific trekking route beforehand for free. \\ Lodging Within the Park Because it is a national park, you do have the option to camp almost everywhere. But if you are not into roughing it in a tent, there is also the option to stay at some of the various fincas (farms) that dot the park. Camping While staying at fincas is a fun addition to trekking in the park, there is definitely still an opportunity to camp if that is more your style. In some cases, you can actually camp at fincas - which will save you the money of paying for a bed, but still give you the opportunity for a bathroom/shower and a kitchen (and even warm meals if you want). IMPORTANT THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT CAMPING Animals Coming from backpacking in the United States, and Colorado and California specifically, we were a little surprised at the lack of camping requirements when it came to animals. There was no mention of bear boxes or even having to store your food away at all. We guess that it must not be a common issue. But still, be mindful when camping so you don’t attract any unwanted guests like bears or rodents and birds. Store your food properly, pack away trash and seal up any open bags. Temperature If you are looking to camp in the páramo or the super páramo ecosystems, be prepared for some very cold temperatures. We decided to camp at Laguna La Leona (elevation: 13,000 feet/3962.4 meters) and man it was very (very) cold. In fact, we got very little sleep at all because it was so cold. So we highly recommend bringing good cold-weather gear if you are looking to stay up in the higher altitudes, including cold-temperature sleeping bags, sleeping pads and warm clothes. Water We were told that the water is quite clean up in the park, especially if you are camping at the higher elevations where human interference is quite low. If you are looking to stay in the páramo it is very likely that the water you will be drinking is coming directly from one of the glaciers above you and therefore is very clean. INSIDER TIP: we didn’t bring a water filter with us and had no problems finding good, clean water. Obviously, be smart about the streams you drink from, but more than likely the water is quite clean. Location Restrictions Because it is a national park, you can likely camp pretty much anywhere as long as you follow these couple of "rules": don't camp on peoples properties (aka don't camp where there is a fence) unless it is at a finca and you have talked to the owner previously; don't camp too close to a water source and don't leave any trace behind (especially trash). If you are starting out from El Cedral, you will see signs designating established camping areas after Finca Piedra and close to Laguna del Otun. Fincas In our opinion, one of the best things to do while trekking in Los Nevados is to stay at some of the local fincas. These family-owned farms are dotted throughout the park and often offer a nice bed, warm meals (breakfast and dinner), coffee (tinto especially) and even hot showers. COST While doing our four day trek in the park, we stayed at two fincas. While we are not 100% sure on the cost for every finca in the park, this should give you some idea on what to expect to pay. Finca Argentina: 25000 COP per person/night, 12000 COP for dinner Finca El Jordan: 20000 COP per person/night, 15000 COP for breakfast We would say it is safe to expect to pay around 50,000 COP per person, per night. This price includes a bed, dinner, and breakfast. ACCOMMODATIONS Most of the time you will be staying in some sort of dormitory, often with multiple bunk beds and piles of thick, wool blankets. Besides the bed, you will also have access to a bathroom, a shower and some sort of communal area (often the warm kitchen). INSIDER TIP: while many of the fincas will likely provide blankets for sleeping, it is also a good idea to bring your own sleeping bag. Similarly, it is never a bad idea to bring some extra snacks. \\ Gear Needed for Trekking Just like with any good adventure, it is important to come prepared. For trekking in Los Nevados National Park specifically, be ready for some super muddy trails, water crossings, thick forest and chilly nights. Hiking boots. Make sure they have good grip for slippery rocks and muddy trails. We like these boots a lot. Rain jacket/poncho and rain pants. While we got lucky and didn't get any rain during the trek, we have heard this is not always the case. Therefore it is smart to have some form of rain protection with you. Bonus points for having something to cover your backpack (a trash bag works great). Thick jacket. While the temperature is never too cold, in the mornings and at dusk the temperatures can be a bit chilly. Plus, there is nothing better than a cozy sweater after a long day on the trails. Sunscreen/bug spray. The first is especially important for the higher altitude sections, specifically the páramo, while the latter is very helpful in the jungle sections. Hat/sunglasses. Definitely focus on protecting your skin and eyes from the harsh sun for there is nothing worse than a sunburn or sun-induced headache while trekking. Downloaded map. This is incredibly important for route finding, especially if you are trekking without a guide. Some great ones are Komoot, Gaia and Alltrails. If camping: a tent, cold weather sleeping bags/pads, a camp stove, and headlamps. Bonus things to bring: a camera (of course), binoculars (the park is famous for its bird activity), water bottles (2L per person is good) and some delicious snacks. | HOW TO BE A MORE SUSTAINABLE TRAVELER | \\ Helpful Tips Entrance Fee We have read that you do need to pay 47,500 COP ($12.43) to enter the national park. But when we entered at Cocora Valley and also when we exited at El Cedral we saw no signs indicating an entrance fee was required. And even after talking to park rangers at Cocora Valley we still were never asked about a fee. Drinking Water We did the whole hike without a water filter and had no issues finding good, safe, and clean water. Also, if you are worried about filling up your water bottles directly from the streams you can also ask for water at the various fincas throughout the park. GOOD TO KNOW: if you are trekking at higher elevations in the park (especially the páramo) the water is likely directly from the glaciers and is super safe to drink. Trails Make sure to download an offline map before setting out because there is very little service once you leave the trailheads (and sometimes even before). Also one helpful thing to note is that even if a trail is clearly marked on the map, it still might not be super easy to find (this is where route finding skills come in handy). Many of the trails, especially in the páramo biome, resemble game trails or cow trails more than actual hiking trails. Trust your orienting skills when you get to those areas. LIKED IT? PIN IT! Have questions about solo trekking in Los Nevados National Park, or just want to learn more about adventuring in Colombia? Then make sure to leave us a comment below. And consider subscribing to Backroad Packers so you never miss any adventure travel inspiration & information! P.S. If you are looking to rent trekking gear in Salento then reach out to us via email (backroadpackers@gmail.com) to learn where we rented our stuff. You can also reach out with any and all questions about solo trekking in the park, we're here to help!

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  • Beta | Backroad Packers

    BETA Every two weeks we will pick a country to highlight and learn about. This idea came about after reading the book, "Maphead" by Ken Jennings. If there was one thing we took from that book is the importance of learning about other countries, other places around the world. ​ So we thought, why not pick a random country, do a bit of research and showcase it. So come back every couple of weeks to see what country we highlight next and learn a bit about a magical place that you may or may not know much about. country profile ALBANIA 41.1533° N, 20.1683° E Due to it being closed to outsiders until the latter half of the 20th century, Albania has remained a quasi-enigma of Europe. But since its reopening to the rest of the world people have slowly started to realize that this small, stunning country has plenty to offer travelers of every type. With gorgeous mountain scenery, crumbling castles, a boisterous capital city and absolutely dreamy beaches, Albania is the perfect spot to combine outdoor adventure with cultural immersion. Below you will find all the necessary facts about the country, as well as some interesting stats and of course, all the best adventures to be had. Out of gallery want to know more about albania? History and culture of Albania: https://www.britannica.com/place/Albania More information on things to do and see in Albania: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/albania First-hand account of traveling in Albania: https://www.adventurouskate.com/whats-it-like-to-travel-in-albania/ BETA: Albania BETA: Laos BETA: El Salvador BETA: Oman BETA: Gabon BETA: Mongolia BETA: Guyana BETA: Jordan BETA: Finland

  • Road Trips | Backroad Packers

    ROAD TRIPS Is there anything better than hitting the open road, having no destination in mind, and setting out on a grand adventure? We don't think so. That is why we choose to head out on road trips as often as possible, and why so many of our best stories come from our adventures along backroads. And as if you needed more reason to hit the open road, did you know road tripping is one of the most sustainable and adventurous ways to see a destination. So the next time you are looking for a memorable, exciting and environmentally friendly way to head out and explore - consider hopping in your vehicle of choice and setting off for the open road. Make sure to check out our road trip route guides + stories for lots of insightful tips and inspiration. stories + guides The Best Adventures Along the Loneliest Highway in Nevada San Luis Valley: Colorado’s Kookiest Road Trip Exploring Cottonwood Pass in Colorado (in the Fall) The Best Scenic Drives From Estes Park, Colorado 5 Things to Know Before Heading Out on a Summer Road Trip Poudre Canyon Adventures: Hidden Gems Along the River Off-the-Beaten-Path Arizona Adventures How to Plan the Perfect Road Trip Route Exploring Texas Hill Country 7 Ways to Really See Big Sur What Did We Just Do?! Where To Next? What We Are Bringing With Us on the Road adventurous road trip routes NORTHERN CALIFORNIA COAST start: san francisco | end: redding Venture out on Highway 1 from San Francisco up to Point Reyes National Seashore, one of the prettiest natural areas with tons of hiking trails. From there keep heading north through Point Reyes Station, Point Arenas and Mendocino, all the way up to Eureka, making sure to stop and explore the coast and forests as much as possible. ​ This route is perfect for people who want to take their time and explore the beautiful, lush landscapes, and maybe do a bit of tidepool searching. ​ So if you are ready for a Northern California Expedition then click below. route guide OLYMPIC PENINSULA start: seattle | end: aberdeen Take your time and really soak up the beauty and wonder that is the Olympic Peninsula. Spend a couple of days checking out lighthouses, cute coastal towns, hot springs, and of course, the rainy Washington coast. ​ This route is perfect for those who want to really experience the natural beauty that beckons so many to the Pacific Northwest. ​ So if you are ready for an adventurous Olympic Peninsula road trip then click below. route guide AMERICAN SOUTHWEST start: yuma, az | end: marathon, tx The American Southwest is a stunningly beautiful area of the United States. With various biomes, natural wonders, cute off the beaten path towns and lots of national parks (you hit 5 on this route alone), it is the perfect spot to get a tiny bit lost. ​ So if you are ready for an adventurous American Southwest road trip then click below. route guide

  • Backroad Packers | Slow + Adventure Travel

    WE NEED TO CHANGE THE WAY WE TRAVEL In today's modern age of travel, you can practically go anywhere. The world has become smaller, closer, more attainable. But in a way, it has also become easier to see a place without actually connecting with it. A traveler can now simply stay above the surface and visit a place without getting to know it. But it doesn't have to be that way. Instead of focusing on simply checking a place off your must-see list, try to connect with the culture, the people, the natural scenery. Spend time learning about its history, its cuisine, its little quirks that make it so special. This idea of breaking through the surface is what we call "slow travel." ​ Backroad Packers is about inspiring fellow travelers to take the time to visit a place and explore it more deeply. To adventure within its bounds, sustainably & slowly . We do this through in-depth travel guides, insightful stories and tips, beautiful photography and videography, and even curated, personalized slow travel consulting . ​ If you are curious to learn more about slow travel, as well as sustainable and adventure travel overall, then you have come to the right place. So with that, welcome! \\ recent dispatches from the blog 6 Perfect Off-the-Beaten-Path Colorado Mountain Towns for a Fall Adventure The Top 6 National Parks to Explore in Colombia The Ultimate Guide to Solo Trekking in Los Nevados National Park 5 Reasons to Visit the Off-the-Beaten-Path Town of Filandia in Colombia NEVER MISS AN ARTICLE GET SLOW + ADVENTURE TRAVEL INSPIRATION RIGHT TO YOUR INBOX. (PSST...YOU'LL ALSO GET ACCESS TO OUR MONTHLY NEWSLETTER FULL OF INSIGHTFUL SLOW TRAVEL TIPS!) subscribe thank you for subscribing! slow, sustainable & adventurous travel Backroad Packers is all about guiding you to explore the world slowly, sustainably, and adventurously. We do so with in-depth travel guides, insightful stories + tips, videography, and photography. The world is a big place, let's go explore it ➳ explore the blog \\ where do you want to go? NORTH AMERICA SOUTH AMERICA ASIA NATIONAL PARKS some of our favorite destinations Out of gallery VIETNAM COLOMBIA PERU | EXPLORE ALL DESTINATIONS | find exactly what you are looking for we are luke + madalyne, aka backroad packers. We are two adventurers in love with exploring the world in a slow and sustainable manner. For us, connecting with cultures, landscapes and people is one of the biggest reasons we travel. ​ Backroad Packers focuses on inspiring, helping & guiding like-minded travelers like you to do the same. So if you are excited to travel better and interested in adventuring longer, then you have come to the right place :) more about us let's get social we want to help you travel better Backroad Packers is focused on guiding travelers to slow down and explore the world sustainably & adventurously. We not only provide in-depth slow travel guides , but we also want to personally help people see the benefits of slowing down and traveling sustainably . Reach out for a personalized slow travel consultation today! reach out Out of gallery “Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” — Ibn Battuta

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