The West's best road trips

Satisfy your wanderlust with a Western classic--a great road trip. Get ideas for the best routes and where to eat along the way

Ultimate Colorado road trip

Big mountains. Wild rivers. Unforgettable beauty. Three fast friends test themselves on a 10-day drive through the Rockies

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I shake sand out of my hair and climb back up. Sam and Kate are laughing. "It needs more weight," I suggest. I force them to get on the mat with me; we make a train. "Now scoot."

They scoot. The sand squeaks. The mat barely budges.

"It's not so bad," Kate tells me kindly. "The dunes are gorgeous. We don't need no stinking boards."

Still, to top it off, I get us lost that night. We have to backtrack over a mountain pass, arriving at the motel after midnight for a 7 a.m. wake-up. We barely have time for breakfast as we rush to meet our guide at 4 Corners Rafting in Nathrop. We slip on life vests, grab our paddles, and head out to the Arkansas River.

My arms feel sluggish on the paddle. I'm feeling guilty about yesterday's goof.

We float. We're headed for Brown's Canyon, one of the most popular river runs in the state for its string of rapids. But it's midweek, and no one else is on the water.

The boulders lining the bank are rusty orange; cliffs high above hold a smattering of pines. A hawk passes overhead. We swirl against a rock, and water splashes all of us.

Colorado works its magic. My funk burns off like fog in the sun. We picnic on a small beach and find a giant fish jawbone. We finish the day at a sandy spot with a view of the Collegiate Peaks to the west. We've come to the end of the trip's challenges as well. Ahead is only frosting: celebratory milkshakes in Buena Vista, one last overnight, then the flight back to husbands and home.

Sam, Kate, and I have measured ourselves against Colorado's peaks and valleys, and we'll go home with a fresh perspective. Maybe we didn't rock the state, but we surprised ourselves in the face of challenges.

On the beach, our guide worries that the raft is too heavy to carry to the truck. We all shake our heads: "Not for the three of us."

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