LIKE ELECTRICITY AND the automobile before it, social media is a technological advance that’s now completely ingrained in our lives. We take our iPhones with us everywhere, from the bathroom to the backcountry, and many of us don’t always think about the impact our constant connectivity has on our moods, our bodies, and our relationships. Taking a break — a detox, you could say — from social media may be the only way to press the reset button on our modern-day nonstop distraction.
The best digital detoxes last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks — and the best spots are, of course, natural, remote areas. For these, Colorado is ideal. With the San Juan National Forest in the southwest, the Pawnee National Grassland in the northeast, and the dozens of 14ers in between, over 35% of the state is public land. There’s no shortage of places to escape to, and what’s below is just the beginning.
1. Bear Lake
Recommended detox length: 3-4 days
When to go: July to September
Bear Lake — not to be confused with the lake of the same name near Estes Park — is located in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness of Central Colorado. This wilderness area is home to many of Colorado’s famed 14ers, mountains that hit 14,000 feet in elevation. From Bear Lake, you can see three of these towering peaks: Mount Harvard, Mount Columbia, and Mount Yale.
The hike to Bear Lake has an approximate elevation gain of 2,500 feet over the 5.5 miles from the trailhead to your first peaceful steps on the lake shore. Along the trail, you’ll find the traditional Colorado alpine forests that spread throughout the lower Rocky Mountains, and the lake itself sits in the shadow of a stark ridgeline that follows the Continental Divide Trail.
If you’re still wanting to be social during your detox, you’re in luck — many avid hikers will be here on their way to summit Mount Harvard. But don’t let this deter you, either, as human connection can be an important part of a digital unfettering, and these views are sometimes better when shared (and we don’t mean on Facebook). Along the way, you’ll greet the giants that are Mount Harvard, Mount Yale, Mount Columbia, and even Mount Princeton, before getting to the lake itself.
2. Canyon of the Ancients
Recommended detox length: 1 day
When to go: Mid-to-late October (for the pine nuts)
Unlike the other spots on this list, Canyon of the Ancients is a national monument and desert environment, located near the state’s southwest corner. There are plenty of trails here, but Sand Canyon is probably best for any detox mission — it’s about 6.5 miles with a little over 1,300 feet in elevation gain.
But whichever trail you choose, know they’re best explored with a bit of advance reading in your back pocket. It’s not just research into flora and fauna you’ll want to do, either. You’re going to encounter many, many Pueblo ruins — 420 rooms, 100 kivas, and 14 towers have been identified in the area, giving Sand Canyon the title of one of the largest prehistoric settlements in the Four Corners region.
These ancient people, the Puebloans, lived in cliff dwellings and created rock art up until they left sometime in the 1200s AD. They established a largely successful society by harnessing their environment without damaging it. Seeing how prehistoric peoples lived in harmony with their natural surroundings is definitely fitting for any digital detox. If they could do it for their whole lives, you can probably manage for the afternoon.
3. Loch Lomond
Recommended detox length: 1 day
When to go: May through September (note seasonal closures on Forest Service website)
The hike to Loch Lomond is relatively relaxed, but that’s part of its appeal. From I-70, take the Fall River Road Exit just west of Idaho Springs and drive north past the switchbacks. Turn left on Alice Road until you make it to Steuart Road — this is where the trail begins. You’ll be met with a 2.3-mile hike with an elevation gain of around 950 feet.
On the trail, you’ll trek through forests as well as fields of wildflowers. Stop here, lie down, and feel the connection between you and Mother Nature. Concentrate on your breath becoming part of the breeze. This hike isn’t about grand views, rugged peaks, and breaking a sweat — this one is about slowing down to a stop.
This trail is a good pick for those who need a quick escape to rejuvenate but don’t want to — or can’t — spend days on end away from technology. And even though it’s a quick one, it has a bonus: There’s a chance you may see moose, depending on when you decide to go exploring. Just remember to always keep your distance from any wildlife you encounter on your outings. Here are some more tips on safe and responsible wildlife viewing from Colorado Parks & Wildlife.
4. Picketwire Canyon
Recommended Detox Length: 1 day
When to Go: May to June, September to October
Eastern Colorado is known for its plains and grasslands, often overlooked for the mountains farther west instead. However, Picketwire Canyon — in the Comanche National Grasslands — deserves your full and utmost attention. With no one around to take you out of the experience, this one is a no-brainer.
At first glance, the grasslands may not seem like an exciting feature to explore. This is a prime example of not seeing the forest for the trees, though, because between all those blades of grass, Picketwire Canyon hide the largest known set of dinosaur tracks in all of North America — over 1,300 of them. You’ll also find Native American art and the Dolores Mission and cemetery from the late 1800s.
The dinosaur tracks, Spanish Mission, and even the historic Rourke Ranch can be visited while hiking the Withers Canyon Trail. It follows the Purgatoire River, cutting through the canyon in the middle of these grasslands. From the trailhead, it’s a simple 250-foot descent into the canyon. Note: If you’re planning to get all the way to Rourke Ranch and return to your car in one day, start early. From the trailhead, the ranch is an 8.7-mile hike, which makes the round trip just over 17 miles.
5. Highland Mary Lakes
Recommended detox length: 2-3 days
When to go: July to September
The Highland Mary Lakes are located in Southwest Colorado just southeast of Silverton. To reach them, you’ll trek 2 miles through high alpine forest, talus fields, and plateau, with an elevation gain of roughly 1,300 feet. Once you’re there, there’s also the option of continuing towards Verde Lakes, 1.4 miles farther, and even to the Continental Divide Trail, another 1.4 miles past Verde Lakes.
The quick increase in elevation means it’s best to take it slow. When you reach the plateau where the lakes are located, take note of the silence. You’ll be at or above the treeline, so you probably won’t hear any animals, not even birds. If you’re by yourself, you’ll be left to your own thoughts, giving you plenty of space to admire the clarity of these alpine bodies of water and the solitude you’ve been newly afforded. Congratulations — you have officially unplugged.