Hello, my name is Colton and I am relatively new to the backpacking community and experience. I am looking to start my first journey in Colorado soon, as I begin my freshman year of college in September. I consider myself to be a great outdoorsman on paper, I spent two years on ski patrol, have an outdoor emergency care certification, have taken a few rock climbing/ outdoor survival courses and went on many four wheeling trips (and one backpacking trip) with my dad. He passed away in February and in the past few years he has been too sick to continue teaching me about the outdoors. I am not in the best shape of my life and am not an avid hiker, but I am seeking a 3-4 day challenge in the Colorado wilderness to broaden my experience and knowledge. Since my father passed away, I have inherited many 20-30 year old backpacking items which still serve their function and should suffice for my first trip - supplemented with a few more important newer items. I am, however, unable to decide on a location. I would like to take this trip semi-solo, with my dog as a companion. I would like to challenge my endurance and skills, but not put myself in a dangerous situation while also staying closer to the front range if possible. Currently, there are fire bans throughout Colorado and I have never camped without a fire nor do I particularly want to, but I'd do it if necessary. So, after that extensive introduction I was hoping to get some advice on skills/gear but especially on a great trail!
Welcome to these boards and our community! I can't give you much advice on Colorado--that's far from home for me-- but I can give you some advice on your first solo trip.
If you've never done a backpacking trip on your own, your first trip should really be focused on getting comfortable with your gear. You'll need a small stove (I use a pocket rocket from MSR) and you want to make sure that everything else works well. This is that same as a new sailboat going on a "shakedown" cruise to get everything shipshape.
Even those of us with thousands of miles behind us still try out our gear before taking it on the trail, and a good goal for you would be a trip that allows you to bail out if thingd don't work the way you expect.
I'd suggest starting with a base camp style hike that gets you camping within an easy day's hike of the trailhead, but still let's you day hike to interesting places for a couple of days as well.
After you've done a hike like that and made sure all your gear is functional, you can tackle a more challenging hike in terms of miles and routes.
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
Unfortunately, the "new normal" of drier summers, longer fire seasons, and more vulnerable forests is that you can expect fire bans every summer. While I grew up with campfires, once i started using a stove I got along fine without a fire--just wore a little more insulation in the evenings--and discovered the stars! I have not had a campfire in the past 30 years (except when car camping with kids) and haven't missed it. Not having a fire actually saves a lot of time and effort that can be used for leisurely admiring the sunset and enjoying meteor showers..
The other part of the "new normal" is that you need to have a Plan B and perhaps a Plan C ready to switch to at the last minute for each trip, in case a fire breaks out at Plan A. It has happened to me several times.
As far as starting out with your gear, balzaccom has given you an excellent scenario and I recommend you follow it! The main skill to practice is keeping your insulation dry so you can stay warm. Car-camping in nasty weather (so you can bail out if you fail) is a good way to start this.
With the dog, work on obedience training, having him sleep in the tent (if he's crate trained, you should have no problem), and plan on keeping him on leash most of the time (out of consideration for other people and chasable wildlife) and on a tether when you're in camp to keep him out of your and your neighbors' food. Make sure you bury his poop, as you do your own. You'll of course have to avoid national parks, which are very anti-dog, but Rocky Mtn Natl Park is actually not the most scenic part of the Colorado Rockies anyway, so no big deal.
My Colorado days are long past (my last trip there was 10 years ago), so I can't recommend a specific spot. Some of the most popular places require advance permits and are rather overrun with people. On the other hand, for a beginner, being in a popular place is a good idea for your first few trips.
Do note that by late September/early October, winter arrives in the high country. Be prepared for snow, cold, and hunting season (wear plenty of blaze orange). The September/early October snows will melt off, but they may start sticking by mid-October.
Your college will undoubtedly have an outing club which will help you get started and continue into the cold season. In addition to downhill skiing/snowboarding, there's cross-country skiing and winter camping. And, hopefully, classes on avalanche safety.
Edited by OregonMouse (08/05/1801:29 PM)
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey