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The variety and sheer number of active sports and recreational activities Colorado has to offer is staggering. It's a place where you can easily arrange a weeklong, hard-core mountaineering expedition, but it's also a place where you can just as easily take one of the most scenic bike rides of your life right in downtown Boulder. Then there's the superb winter activities, from skiing to snowshoeing to ice climbing. This section outlines your choices and offers a few tips for planning everything from a guided, multisport vacation to an afternoon's outing.

Preparing for Your Active Vacation

Once you've picked the sport or activities you want to pursue, ask yourself a few questions: How physically fit am I really? How much skill in this particular activity do I have? How dangerous is this activity? How much money am I willing to spend? Answering these questions honestly can make the difference between a successful vacation and an unmitigated disaster. Some activities, such as cattle drives, require an outfitter, while others, such as biking, camping, or hiking, you can do on your own. If you're attempting a dangerous sport in which you're inexperienced, such as rock or ice climbing, it's imperative to go with someone who (literally) knows the ropes.

If cost is an issue, prearranged escorted tour packages that include virtually everything can sometimes save you money. On the other hand, you'll be with a group, with limited freedom and flexibility to strike out on your own. Some people enjoy the company of their fellow tour members and the convenience of having everything arranged; others can't stand it. It's your choice.

The best outfitters run well-organized trips and are willing to answer any and all questions promptly and fully. They should have well-maintained equipment, possess appropriate land-use permits, and be fully insured. If you have any doubts, ask for the name and phone number of a satisfied former customer, and call that person and ask about his or her experience.

Several government agencies and other organizations provide maps and information that can be extremely useful for a variety of activities. These include Colorado State Parks (for state park, boating, RV, and snowmobile regulations), 1313 Sherman St., Ste. 618, Denver, CO 80203 (tel. 303/866-3437; www.parks.state.co.us); the Colorado Outfitters Association (for a list of licensed guides and outfitters in the state), P.O. Box 849, Craig, CO 81626 (tel. 970/824-2468; www.colorado-outfitters.com); the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (for topographical maps and information on activities on the vast amount of BLM land in the state), 2850 Youngfield St., Lakewood, CO 80215 (tel. 303/239-3600; www.co.blm.gov); the U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region (for maps and information about activities and facilities in national forests), 740 Simms St., Golden, CO 80401 (tel. 303/275-5350; www.fs.fed.us/r2); and the National Park Service, Intermountain Region (for information on national parks, monuments, historic sites, and recreation areas), 12795 Alameda Pkwy., Denver, CO 80225 (tel. 303/969-2500; www.nps.gov). Another good online government source for information on outdoor recreation opportunities is www.recreation.gov.

Of the hundreds of commercial outdoor recreation sites on the Internet, I like GORP (Great Outdoor Recreation Page; www.gorp.com); you can go right to the Colorado section at www.gorp.com/gorp/location/co/co.htm, which provides detailed information about hiking trails, fishing, watersports, and other activities on Colorado's public lands. Lately, however, that site has been getting a bit too cluttered and commercial; the very informative and user-friendly Public Lands Information Center website, www.publiclands.org, is an alternative. The Denver Post, the state's major daily newspaper, also has an especially good website (www.denverpost.com) with quite a bit of outdoor recreation information.

Those looking to buy or rent equipment will find shops practically everywhere in the state, particularly in resort towns. A convenient statewide resource is Sports Authority (formerly Gart Brothers; www.sportsauthority.com), the state's largest sporting-goods chain. For the location of the store nearest you, check the website or visit the chain's flagship store at 1000 Broadway in Denver (tel. 303/863-2260).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.