Colorado

Healthiest State in USA
Colorado

When you think of Colorado what comes to mind?  World class skiing at Breckenridge and Vail, outdoor enthusiasts, hiking, mountain biking and camping in the Rocky Mountains. So it's easy to see how Colorado earned the reputation of being the healthiest state in USA.  In fact Colorado boasts some of the lowest rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes and cancer deaths in America.

Flying into Denver on a recent visit I tried to experience first hand what is so healthy about living in Colorado. First thing I noticed was how close the city is to nature.  Less than 30 minutes from downtown Denver I was hiking in Matthews Winters Park with gorgeous views and easily navigated to connecting trails to Red Rock Park.  There  you can see world class bands or take a Saturday group yoga class at sunrise in the famed Red Rock Amphitheater. The view of the monolithic red sandstones which have acoustic properties in open air is an extraordinary experience.

If you want more adventure you can climb one of Colorado's 58 14ers, that being a mountain peak that is 14,000 feet (4267 meters) above sea level.  Just a side note there are only 96 14ers in the entire USA so Colorado has the lion's share. 

We weren't adventurous enough to climb a 14er but we did manage to go for some backcountry hiking and camping in Rocky Mountain National Park for a 20 mile (32 km) hike with over 3,000 feet (1 km) of elevation  on the East Inlet Trail. I consider myself to be in pretty good shape, I run marathons and stay active but I have to say the first part of our hike of 5.5 miles to Lone Pine Lake was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life.  We were not well prepared as we borrowed everything from friend's and friend' friends in Denver. Our haphazard packs were over 50lbs each and we packed it with a few cans of craft beer which I was questioning the logic as we challenged the accent. We started the climb at the off timing of 5pm and we were not experienced hikers or backpackers.

The trail started off mellow, meandering along a wide open meadow, beautiful streams and waterfalls, but when the elevation started to kick in the air seemed to thin out and I had trouble breathing. I was huffing and puffing and moving so slow. As darkness started to descend, I found myself exhausted and 2mph was my fastest hiking speed.  We arrived 4.5 hours later well past 9pm and camped right by the first lake.

Exhausted we shared the turkey club sandwich we had bought earlier that afternoon. There were no open fires allowed as there was a drought and fires were a hazard. It was a clear night so we decided not to put the fly on the tent and instead could see all the stars through the mesh top and we fell asleep in awe of the natural beauty and happy to have made it this far.

When we woke up the next morning the sunrise was creeping over the mountain peaks and sent shimmering shafts of light into a still mountain lake and we prepped for a 10 mile hike to the other lakes.

The trail had 5 lakes in total and the fifth and final lake is actually located just at the treeline which is 10,000 feet. They call it the treeline because it is the point where trees are unable to grow. It's a clear delineation of trees and then barren dirt to the crest of the mountain peak. If trees can't grow there you can understand how little oxygen there is and how hard it is to breathe at that high elevation.

But it was all worth it.  The literally breathtaking natural beauty of the fifth lake was like nothing I had ever experienced before.  I felt like turning around before the fifth lake. The air was thinning, the journey seemed endless and we realized later we took the more difficult route up a steep rock scramble and lost the trail. When we finally arrived at 5th Lake we were the only people to go there that day. The ground looked as if it would be prickly and spiked if you walked on it barefoot but I felt compelled to take my socks and shoes off and walk around. To my amazement and surprise the ground felt soft, fluffy and padded.  The texture and feeling under my bare feet was like nothing I had ever felt before. It was like a magical garden paradise of fresh untrodden layers and layers of springy green mountain grass.  I felt like a giddy nymph frolicking along a clear mountain lake on the most luxurious softest mossy like grass. 

A city girl through and through being born and raised in nyc and only having lived in London and Tokyo I was completely humbled by the majestic natural beauty surrounding me everywhere.  I was taken with the isolation, the peacefulness and wilderness left intact because of the remoteness. The day we were there the 5th lake didn’t have optimal conditions. There had been some fires to the west and although we weren't in any danger the winds carried smoke and ash to the top of the mountain where we were.

The smoke from the nearby fires were definitely a factor we had seen so few people on the trail.   Even though the air was not the normal crisp blue skies we still felt lucky as we took our time stopping at each lake and posing for requisite selfies.  Along the way in the 7-8 hours we only saw 4 people and each less than a minute as they were doing day treks and turned around way before the fifth lake.

The smoke may have seemed like a minus that kept the crowds at bay but on another day we thought the smoke added to our experience. While we were in Keystone out on ATV's the smoky skies created a rare red sunset.  Mike Mallory, said he has never seen a sunset that color in his life and he has been going to Keystone since his childhood.

People like Mike add to the reason why Colorado is so healthy.  Tons of health conscious businesses are based in Colorado like Mike’s Radrollers,  makers of self massage tools to keep your myofascial tissue pliable. Other businesses that encourage a healthy conscious living are the makers of the famous Sleepytime tea, Celestial Seasonings.  In fact the founder Mo Siegel was on a hike in the Colorado mountains when he got the idea of picking herbs and botanicals to make delicious, healthy teas from them. Health conscious businesses abound like Northwind Yoga, where you can do SUP Yoga that is Standup Paddle Yoga on the lakes near Denver.

After all the outdoor activity we relaxed at Sulphur Springs. Colorado is home to 29 naturally heated geothermal hot springs. Washing off the grit of the mountains was pure bliss. But outdoor activity isn’t all the Colorado offers.  Aspen hosts the  Food & Wine Classic every summer and Boulder was named one of five secret foodie cities by Forbes. And if that wasn’t enough motivation to add Colorado to your bucket list, since 2012 Proposition 64 made it legal for anyone over the age of 21 to possess marijuana and for businesses to sell it. In 2019 the state recorded a whopping 1 billion in sales of marijuana. Every shopping mall seemingly had a dispensary and craft beer brewery to satisfy everyone. 

Colorado is a place I would definitely visit again. The majority of folks were in great shape. From the mom with three kids wearing yoga pants to the uber fit olympians that are based in Colorado It is definitely an active persons paradise but would recommend even the sedentary people to go and enjoy all Colorado has to offer.

  • Lake Verna Colorado

    Lake Verna, East Inlet Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado with J. Rich Roga