What’s the latest craze in Colorado outdoor adventures? Most likely by now, you’ve heard the name, Via Ferrata. The term “Via Ferrata,” when translated from Italian, means iron path and is all the rage right now with outdoor enthusiasts looking to get their adrenalin fix. For those who seek the thrill of rock climbing or mountaineering, but don’t have the skills or equipment to do so, a via ferrata route is the perfect option.
The origins of the Via Ferrata date back to the early 20th century when soldiers in WWI needed aid in getting through the Dolomite mountain region of Italy. There are currently over 1,000 Via Ferrata routes in the European Alps, with most of them in Austria and Italy.
A typical course is set up so that steel cables and ladders (or rungs) are fixed to a rock, and climbers are harnessed in with two tethers attached to the protected route. This allows the climbers to secure themselves as they make their way across the route, limiting any falls that might occur. Other attachments such as steps, bridges, and ladders provide climbers with secure footings and handholds.
Colorado is home to several via ferrata courses, each with something unique to offer its climbers. Most routes are led by a guide or local outfitter, and are not open to the public, except for the Telluride Via Ferrata that does not require a guide.
A good activity for the entire family, most routes require a minimum age of 12. From the first via ferrata in Telluride to one of the newest routes created in conjunction with the ropes course in Idaho Springs, there are plenty to choose from. Take your adventures to new heights and discover these via ferrata routes in Colorado.
Via Ferrata at Mount Evans in Idaho Springs
In Idaho Springs, the Mount Evans Via Ferrata combines the via ferrata route with a zip line course, a 70-foot rappel, and a 50-foot free fall. Adventures do all of this in less than a mile, gaining roughly 300 feet in elevation. The three-hour tour spans the cliffside, bringing climbers over the scenic town of Idaho Springs and the Chicago Creek. The minimum age for the route is 12, and they offer two trip times: 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
Granite Via Ferrata in Buena Vista
Under the same group that built the Idaho Springs course, the Arkansas Valley Adventures (AVA), brings its newest adventure to the pack with the Granite Via Ferrata in Buena Vista. Beginning at 8,700 feet in elevation, the AVA’s Granite Via Ferrata in Buena Vista is a spectacular course that hangs over the Arkansas River with the Collegiate Peaks staring right back at you.
The route gains over 200 feet in elevation over a mile’s worth of terrain and is accessed via a zip line out to the course, where you will begin your climb, then free fall 60 feet, all before crossing a few tightropes and suspension bridges. Go out with a bang as the course ends with a 70-foot rappel down. The tour lasts three hours and requires a minimum age of 12.
Via Ferrata at the Royal Gorge in Cañon City
Descend into the depths of the Royal Gorge with the Royal Gorge Via Ferrata, the newest addition to the park’s attractions. Choose from three beginner routes and three advanced routes, which is the Royal Tour – an all-day climbing adventure. The courses offer stunning views of the gorge, from the inside, parallel views of the bridge, with the roaring Arkansas River below.
The minimum age to participate is 10 years old. The attraction is an additional cost to the entrance to the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park and is open year-round, weather permitting. It’s located about twenty minutes drive west of downtown Cañon City.
Estes Park Via Ferrata
Guided by the Kent Mountain Adventure Center, the Estes Park Via Ferrata is one of the newest to hit the scene in Colorado. Enjoy panoramic views of Rocky Mountain National Park and the Estes Valley below. Climbers will scale roughly 600 vertical feet while also making plenty of traverses throughout the route.
The guide experts are even prepared to adjust the level of difficulty based on your adventure needs. Contact the KMAC if you have someone in your party under 12 years of age. It’s located in Estes Park.
Cave of the Winds Via Ferrata in Manitou Springs
Found inside the Cave of the Winds Mountain Park, the Via Ferrata in Manitou Springs offers the adventurous spirit the thrill of vertical canyon walls and dual zip lines – all with incredible views. Geared towards beginners, the two-hour course is a short, yet spectacular choice for a Via Ferrata near Denver.
Participants must be 12 years or older, and those 12-17 must be accompanied by an adult to do the Cave of the Winds Via Ferrata. Other activities include guided cave tours, zip lines, axe throwing, panning for gemstones, Wind Walk Challenge Course, Terror-dactyl, Bat-a-Pult, and much more.
Note: The Via Ferrata in Manitou Springs is closed for the 2020 summer season.
Telluride Via Ferrata
As the original Via Ferrata in Colorado, the Telluride route is a classic choice for your first time. The route is exposed along a rock wall that faces the east end and south-facing wall of Telluride’s boxed canyon. Glance down at the town below with rugged canyon walls rising around you, plus take in views of Bridal Veil Falls with the San Juan Peaks in the background.
At its most thrilling, climbers will suspend on a small iron base at 500 feet above the ground below, with many sections of the route un-cabled, adding an entirely new and challenging element. This route does not require a guide, but hiring one is highly recommended. It can take up to 4 to 6 hours to complete due to crowds and grup size, and is rated 2B.
Note: Due to COVID-19 restrictions there are no U-turns allowed and you can only traverse from east to west.
Ouray Via Ferrata
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Opened in 2020, the Ouray Via Ferrata is the state’s latest, and another gem in Southwest Colorado. It features a range of heights, from just a little bit over the Uncompahgre River to several hundred feet over Ouray’s Uncompahgre Gorge. With climbers traversing up, down and across the riverside cliff, this is an adrenaline packed adventure that can’t be missed for thrill seekers.
The course is rated as 4B so it’s a bit more challenging than the Telluride Via Ferrata. It’s open daily during the season from 8am to 4pm. It begins close to the Ice Park Loop trail. There are more than 4,000 linear feet anchor secured climbing, with two available exits, both technical and around 200 feet. Cross a 35 foot cable wire bridge over the gorge.
It was built by local pros with the Friends of the Ouray Via Ferrata (FOVF). Once complete it will be free to used and operated by the City of Ouray. You can make a tax-deductible donation to support the installation. Proper safety gear is required, including a harness, helmet, closed-toe footwear, gloves and a special via ferrata lanyard. If you don’t own this all, you can rent it in town at San Juan Mountain Guides, who also guide 1 day trips on Ouray’s Via Ferrata.
Via Ferrata at Captain Zipline in Salida
One last via ferrata is at Captain Zipline, which also features an aerial adventure park, and naturally a zip line course. The fully guided via ferrata tours depart from spring to fall. Tours are offered daily with advanced reservations. The Via Ferrata at Captain Zipline features four courses of various difficulty, overlooking their Canyon Adventure Course:
- Yellow – The Mountain Goat beginner course teaches how to use all the equipment while traversing the cliffs.
- Green – The Diamondback beginner course takes it up a notch, roughly 650 feet in length and scales the cliffside ledges.
- Blue – The Fortress intermediate course is roughly 3,600 feet in length and goes high on the cliffside over the Arkansas River. At the climax there’s a 150-foot swinging bridge to traverse.
- Black – The Victory Ridge advanced course is the most challenging one, so participants should have adequate rock climbing experience.
Participants 10 to 14 years old must have a parent with them on the tour. Ages 15-17 need an adult guardian on-site. The various via ferratas run about 2.5 hours from start to finish, with heights up to nearly 150 feet off the ground.
Note: Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 they’ve suspended all operations for 2020.
Find your favorite route and see Colorado in an entirely new way with these via ferrata courses.