6 High-Altitude Tips for a Great Colorado Vacation

July 23, 2018

The Pikes Peak Region has amazing views, beautiful, clean air, over 300 days of blue skies, and more than 6,000+ feet in elevation. It is all truly amazing — but you have to be ready for it. When you read that a town like Colorado Springs sits at an elevation of 6,035 feet, or Pikes Peak sits at an elevation of 14,115 feet, you’re being told how many feet above sea level it is. That’s actually a pretty important number, because the higher above sea level you get, the more your body and your actions have to adjust to accommodate the altitude and avoid altitude sickness. Why do people get altitude sickness? A few reasons. First, the air is “thinner” up here, meaning there isn’t as much oxygen for your lungs. Once you’ve lived here for a while, you tend to adjust, but if you’re just visiting? It can be a bit of a surprise. In Colorado, high altitude also translates to drier conditions, meaning you can become dehydrated quickly. You’re also exposed to more UV light, which means quicker and stronger sunburns. Feeling concerned? Don’t be! Having fun at high altitudes just takes a little preparation. Lucky for you, we’ve got some tips right here!

Tip # 1: Drink Lots of Water

When you’re out and about in the Pikes Peak region, it’s critical that you drink a lot of water. Don’t wait to get thirsty to decide you need a drink, either. Sip frequently and count your ounces so you know you’re getting enough every day that you are here. When you’re hiking and biking and swimming, it’s easy to lose track of your hydration level, so it’s really important that you try to pay attention to what you’re drinking. And if you’re super active and working up a sweat, it also doesn’t hurt to slip in a sport drink with electrolytes into the rotation, too. We’re also pretty partial to Colorado water (although you should always purify it when taking it directly from a natural body of water — tablets are cheaper than a visit to the ER). All those beautiful mountains gather up great heaps of snow all winter long that runs into our reservoirs (you’ll see several of them as you drive up Pikes Peak). Those crystal-clear reservoirs supply all of the water here in the Springs and go on to feed water sources for much of the western United States.

Local’s Tip: If you aren’t here yet, then start the water intake early. It’ll help you adjust properly and get you acclimated much faster if you’re already hydrated when you get here. Drink more than you would normally . . . and then drink a little more.

Tip #2: Monitor the Booze-Intake

At higher altitudes, it’s easy to get super tipsy, super-fast — completely by accident. The effects of alcohol feel more pronounced when you’re running around so far above sea level. Now, we have a ton of great breweries, distilleries and wineries, so managing this can be particularly tricky. However, you don’t have to outright abstain. If, for example, you want to try lots of beers in a brewery, ask for a flight — small samples of several brews. Take it slow when you do imbibe, matching your alcoholic beverages with lots of water and never drinking on an empty stomach. If you begin to feel a bit woozy, back off and drink some water. The beer, wine and whiskey isn’t going anywhere, there’s no need to try to drink it all in one sitting.

Local’s Tip: Another reason you might be getting impacted by alcohol more quickly in the Pikes Peak region is the strength. Some beers can have an ABV that is triple that of beers found in the liquor store. Fortunately, most brewers list the individual ABV of a beer, allowing you to choose carefully!

Tip #3: Be Lazy at First

Welcome to colorful Colorado — now take a seat. We’re not being inhospitable when we say that, we’re trying to help you maximize your fun and stay healthy during your visit. Don’t get here today and expect to run a marathon tomorrow. You won’t have a good time. No one wants to pay for a vacation and spend it in bed, or worse, in the hospital. While you may be raring to go in mind and spirit, your body needs some time to adjust to operating in dry, low-oxygen conditions. If you run at home, start with half of the time you’d normally run, especially if you’re running on hills or in the mountains. Basically, start slow and build up. The U.S. Olympic Training Center is here because of this higher altitude, by the way. Isn’t that neat? Once you can train and perform at your maximum here, you’ll perform like a champ at any lower altitude. But only if you calm down when you first arrive and let your body and Colorado get acquainted.

Local’s Tip: Plan attractions in the Chill Chaser zone your first few days here. Relax at a museum, check out some local restaurants, just generally laze about. Check out some of our great local history to help you acclimate.  History Buff Itinerary

Tip #4: Watch What You Eat

Are you a foodie? Good! We have tons of great places to grub-out, from food trucks and quick-serve restaurants to some of the finest dining in the Rocky Mountains. One thing to watch out for when you’re eating your heart out is to make sure you limit your salt and increase your carbohydrate intake while you’re here. That doesn’t mean pounding donuts, by the way (except on Pikes Peak — you get a pass on Pikes Peak). Balance your vacation treats, your brewery visits and your bad road trip snacks with foods that will help you thrive at altitude, like broccoli, bananas, avocado, cantaloupe, celery, greens, bran, chocolate, granola, dates, dried fruit, potatoes and tomatoes. They will help you replenish electrolytes by balancing salt intake.

Local’s Tip: Hit the farmer’s market in Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs while you’re here. You can stock up on quick and easy fresh snacks for your hotel room that are miles better than hitting the vending machine at 2 a.m.

Tip #5: Pack for the Beach

I know you’re coming to Colorado to enjoy our cooler temperatures and crisp mountain air, especially if you’re escaping from midwestern heat or southern humidity. However, we have over 300 days of sunshine and sunshine still burns when it’s cooler outside (Ask any skier or snowboarder how strong the sun is in the winter — they’re easy to find because they’re pink with white goggle tan lines.) So, do yourself a favor and pack like you’re heading to the beach. Not a swimsuit or flip-flops, but sunscreen, hat and sunglasses. Above, we mentioned that your likelihood of sunburn increases at higher altitudes. It’s no joke! If you bring or use nothing else while here, please, for the love of Colorado, wear sunscreen and reapply it often!

Local’s Tip: Like everywhere, the sun is the most brutal at noon. We suggest you plan your daily activities so that you’re outside in the morning and afternoon and chilling out somewhere cool at lunchtime. (We recommend the Garden of the Gods Trading Post and the Manitou Springs Arcade.)

Tip #6: Your Pets Need High-Altitude Love, Too

Bringing your pupper along for the ride to Colorado is totally cool. We’ve got lots of dog-friendly attractions that are more than happy to welcome you and your best friend. However, it’s important to remember that your doggo is just as new to the high altitude as you are, so you want to apply all the same rules to them that you apply to you (except sunscreen, that sticks to the fur and makes them grumpy). Make sure your pup has lots of water, lots of rest and lots of chances to refuel. And never, ever leave him or her in the car, even if you think it’s mild outside. It can get hot really fast here! There are plenty of patios and businesses that will welcome your pet, no need to stress them out in a hot car.

Local’s Tip: Where, exactly, is your pet welcome? Glad you asked! Here’s a list of a few great places to bring your four-legged floof: Pet Friendly Attractions.

By following these tips, you’re sure to enjoy every minute of your high-altitude Colorado vacation. As you can see, they’re not even that hard to follow. If we had to break it down without a lot of pithy commentary (and what’s the fun in that?), we’d say it like this: drink water, wear sunscreen and know your limits. Before you know it, you’ll be roaming the hills like a local, bottle of water firmly in hand, seeking your next big adventure in the rolling hills of the fun and fabulous Pikes Peak region.

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