Day one: Cool off on the Arkansas River
Day two: Saturday
Chow, baby. Locals swear by the Waffle Wagon (closed Mon–Wed; 1310 Royal Gorge; 719/269-3428)―and they never leave hungry. Fill up on biscuits and gravy or the signature blueberry waffles.
River walks. Both Tunnel Drive and the Arkansas Riverwalk offer great views. To reach Tunnel, take U.S. 50 west and go left immediately after leaving town, where the highway makes a 90° bend to the right. Pick up the Riverwalk at John Griffin Regional Park (719/275-1578), on Raynolds Avenue 1 mile south of U.S. 50.
Go for the gold. All three forks of the Gold Belt Tour end up in Cripple Creek, site of Colorado's richest gold rush ever, but they're not all equal. The Shelf Road, for example, is a primitive, narrow road. But the Phantom Canyon Road is just right―rugged enough to be interesting but not so difficult that you can’t enjoy the scenery; it’s about 100 miles round trip. Take U.S. 50 east of Cañon City 6 miles to State 67, then go north.
Mex and match. Grab a burrito or chile rellenos at Ortega’s Restaurant (2301 E. Main St.; 719/275-9437), with straightforward fare and friendly service at decent prices.
Big splash. More than 255,000 boats paddle down the Arkansas annually, making it the world’s busiest river. But there’s more than enough whitewater to go around in the Royal Gorge, where class III and IV rapids cascade over the rocks, along the railroad tracks, and under the famous bridge far overhead. Top river companies include Whitewater Adventure Outfitters (50905 U.S. 50 W; 800/530-8212), Adventure Quest Expeditions (44899 U.S. 50 W; 888/448-7238), Echo Canyon River Expeditions (45000 U.S. 50 W; 800/595-3246), and River Runners (44641 U.S. 50; 800/332-9100). Half-day trips start at about $50 for adults; full-day trips are from $80.
Mountain dough. After a heavy paddle through the gorge, reward yourself with a beer and a hand-tossed pie at Pizza Madness (509 Main; 719/276-3088).