Colorado’s Via Ferratas

Get your adrenaline pumping at one of Colorado's six via ferrata routes.

Courtesy Ava Rafting & Zipline

If you’re a Coloradan of the ziplining, bungee jumping, adrenaline-seeking sort, you’ve probably already heard of via ferrata, a “new” way of climbing mountains that’s actually a very old way of climbing mountains, recently back in fashion. Italian for “iron way,” via ferrata routes date to WWI Europe, when soldiers used them to navigate tricky passages of the Alps. The concept, similar to modern rock climbing, is simple: Strap into a harness, attach yourself to a line (in this case, a steel cable) that’s anchored into the side of a mountain, and off you go. Rather than starting on the ground and climbing directly upward, climbing a via ferrata route involves lateral traversing made possible by a series of iron rungs drilled into the rock, which act as foot and hand holds. The basic thrill of via ferrata is simple: exposure. Routes are designed to suspend you over hundreds of feet of thin air.

When I did my first via ferrata this summer, with AVA Rafting & Zipline in Buena Vista, we got to the start of the route via zipline—a thrill in itself, and a nice primer for the adrenaline rush to come. Our group had 10 participants with three guides, and everyone, mercifully, was allowed to move at their own pace. To navigate any via ferrata route, you have to make your way around the bolts anchoring the supporting cable into the rock, which means constantly clipping and unclipping the carabiners attaching you to the line. Each harness is equipped with a two-carabiner device that allows only one to be unclipped at any time, meaning you’re always attached safely. Still, having to do all that maneuvering yourself while hanging off the side of a cliff with nothing but empty air beneath you is a thrill I can’t recommend highly enough to anyone seeking a new kind of adventure. If you’re looking for a way to inject some thrill into your weekend, head to any of these six via ferrata routes around the state.

Courtesy Ava Rafting & Zipline

Via Ferrata Routes Around Colorado

CAÑON CITY
Operator
Royal Gorge Bridge & Park
Special features
Choose from the three-hour Revelation Tour or the five-hour Royal Tour. Both routes will take you down into Royal Gorge and offer amazing views of the Royal Gorge Bridge and the Arkansas river.
Know before you go
Open year-round. Public and private tours for individuals or groups, $135- $720. Participants must be at least 12 years old. Book online at royalgorgebridge.com.

ESTES PARK
Operator
Kent Mountain Adventure Center
Special features
600 feet of exposed vertical climbing and a knife-edge traverse with 360-degree views of Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park.
Know before you go 
Groups of one to six, $290-$600. Trips range from two to five hours based on group size and climbing speed. Book online at kmaconline.com.

IDAHO SPRINGS
Operator
AVA Rafting & Zipline
Special features
In addition to climbing and traversing, this three-hour adventure includes rappelling, a 50-foot quick fall, and ziplining.
Know before you go
Participants must be at least 12 years old. $149 per person. Book online at coloradozipline.net.

BUENA VISTA
Operator
AVA Rafting & Zipline
Special features
Three hours of traversing and climbing with three ziplines, including the second longest zipline in Colorado. More exposed and intense than AVA’s Idaho Springs option.
Know before you go
Participants must be at least 12 years old. $149 per person. Book online at coloradozipline.net.

MANITOU SPRINGS
Operator
Cave of the Winds Mountain Park
Special features
Beautiful views of Williams Canyon, balance beam features along the route, and a zipline.
Know before you go
Two-hour tour. Participants must be at least 12 years old and 48 inches tall. $99 per person. Book online at caveofthewinds.com.

TELLURIDE
Operator
Technically, no guide is required to use this public route, but assistance from a local guide company (San Juan Mountain Guides, Peak Mountain Guides, Telluride Mountain Guides, Mountain Trip, San Juan Outdoor Adventures) is highly recommended.
Special features
Lots of exposure and the choice to do it as a loop or an out-and-back.
Know before you go
Find and book guide services at telluride.com.