South Central Colorado is a region in the US state of Colorado. It includes many attractions historically placed in the Western Slope region of the Rocky Mountains, but extends into the geographically distinct San Juan Mountains, with the pleasant San Luis Valley between the major ranges.
Recreation and rugged natural beauty are the common denominators for South Central Colorado's parks and forests.
- Arapahoe National Forest
- Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area - Near Buena Vista. Recognized as one of the nation's most popular locations for whitewater rafting and kayaking on the Arkansas River - the most commercially rafted river in the world.
- Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
- Garden of the Gods - Administered by Colorado Springs, the red rock pillars, arches and bluffs frame snow covered Pikes Peak in the distance. An easy hike, bike ride, or way to exhaust the memory on your digital camera.
- Great Sand Dunes National Park
- Mount Evans Wilderness
- Pike National Forest - Near Colorado Springs. Home of Pikes Peak, the most visited mountain in North America and the second most visited mountain in the world behind Japan's Mount Fuji. Be sure to drive to the top or ride the Pikes Peak Cog Railway.
- Rio Grande National Forest
- San Isabel National Forest - The true high country in Colorado, with 19 of the state's "14ers," including Mount Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado, just outside the region in neighboring Northwestern Colorado.
- Bishop Castle, a forty-year (and counting) construction project undertaken by a man with a vision, has become a tourist destination in its own right. The building is constructed from stone collected locally, and it features a 160-foot tower, stained glass windows, and countless unusual architectural details. It's free to see and explore, but be careful, as it's still an active construction site.
Roughly speaking, this region is bounded on the:
- South, by the New Mexico state line;
- West, by the Continental Divide (plus or minus a few things in the Southwestern Colorado region) in the San Juan Mountains;
- North, by the northern boundaries of Lake and Park Counties, as well as Interstate 70 that bisects Clear Creek Country near Georgetown, and the metropolitan Denver Area.
- East, by the eastern slope of the Rockies and the beginning of Colorado's Eastern Plains.
Region boundaries in Colorado are indistinct, and sometimes contentious. If you're looking for a destination/attraction that you think should be in this region, but can't find it, check the pages for Northwestern Colorado, Eastern Plains, Denver Area, and even Southwestern Colorado.
This region is dominated by the mountainous scenery that most people think of when they hear "Colorado." About half of the state's Fourteeners, mountains with summits above 14,000 ft, are here, and even the valley levels are above 6500 ft except on the eastern slope. This high elevation means that altitude sickness is an issue for the visitor freshly up from sea level. If you're coming from near sea level, it's a good idea to spend your first day or two in the region acclimatizing to the altitude in the cities before heading to the high country. Colorado Springs, the region's largest city, and neighboring Manitou Springs have things to do that will keep you occupied as you acclimatize. This said, most of the attractions and destinations here are in the great outdoors; bring hiking boots or skis.
English. This is one region of Colorado where there are significant numbers of Spanish speakers, but unlike the equivalent region across the New Mexico state line, there are no towns where there is a Spanish-speaking majority, or any need for fluency in Spanish.
Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs and Alamosa (because of the presence of a university) all give reasonable chances of running into speakers of other major world languages. Great Sand Dunes National Park may have limited interpretive materials in major languages as well.
For the dedicated long-distance hiker the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (in short Continental Divide Trail) is a United States National Scenic Trail running 3,100 miles between Mexico and Canada. It follows the Continental Divide of the Americas along the Rocky Mountains and traverses five U.S. states; Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico.
During the winter, heavy ice and snow are a major concern, which can make driving difficult and slow going. Always check the weather and road conditions before heading out. Even on a clear winter's day, make sure your vehicle's wiper fluid reservoir is full. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) spreads both sand and magnesium chloride on the roads, which makes for an impenetrable, gluey mess on your windshield.
In the summer months, it's not uncommon to see the shoulders of the highways littered with broken-down vehicles that could not handle the steep grades and high altitude air of the Rocky Mountains. If you are venturing from a lower altitude, make sure your car can handle mountain driving. Thinner air means you will be burning more gasoline. Also, with so many steep grades, expect to gear down to avoid unnecessary friction to your brake pads.
- This is a great region for hiking, with several major mountain ranges including a large number of "Fourteeners" (mountains with summit elevations above 14,000'). Alamosa, Buena Vista, Salida, and far more famous Aspen are all good bases of operations if you're day hiking.
- Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument (http://www.nps.gov/flfo/index.htm). Petrified trees, plant and insect fossils aplenty just lying about ready to be discovered. The Hornbek homestead, an example of a nineteenth-century house built by pioneers, showcases buildings and wagons from Colorado's hardiest settlers.
- Ski Loveland. Loveland is a ski area located 52 miles west of Denver on the Continental Divide. It offers a large area for a low price, as it is not a resort. It is a favorite spot for locals because of this. It boasts a lift that gives access to hundreds of acres bordering the continental divide. There are two areas called Loveland Basin and Loveland Valley. The latter is primarily for beginners (with a few challenging runs), but the Basin is the top destination.
- Boating. Most reservoirs are too small for powerboating, but flatwater kayaking and canoeing are permitted on most bodies of water throughout the region.
- Fishing. Streams and reservoirs are open to fishing on the north slope of Pikes Peak and throughout the region.
- White water rafting. The Arkansas River is one of the most rafted rivers in the country, and makes for a great full day, or overnight activity. Major operators are located in Buena Vista.
There's no reason to fear the mountains, as long as you approach them with proper respect and preparation. As with anywhere else, recklessness and a lack of forethought can get you into trouble, especially in Colorado's vast back country.
- Altitude sickness - Can lead to dizziness, headaches, nausea, even blackouts and pulmonary edema. Give your body a few days to adjust to the high altitudes before going full throttle with your hiking or skiing.
- Dehydration - When you engage in strenuous outdoor activities, be sure to replenish your fluids as you go. You may be losing moisture through your mouth and nose and through sweating, but be completely unaware due to the arid mountain air. May result in dizziness, intense thirst and elevated heart and breath rates.
- Giardia - Drinking untreated water from regional streams is not a good idea owing to Giardia parasites, but tap water is not a problem.
- Hypothermia - Prolonged exposure to the cold can result in confusion, a slowed heart rate, lethargy, even death. Dress warmly in non cotton clothing to allow any sweat to wick away from your body and evaporate. Otherwise, it may thoroughly chill you later in the day when temperatures drop.
- Frostbite - During periods of severe cold, your circulatory system pulls all your warming blood into the core of your body to protect your vital organs. This makes your extremities such as your ears, fingers and nose especially vulnerable. Wear a face mask, insulated gloves and other heavy gear on the worst winter days. It gets cold sitting still on those ski lifts!
- Sunburn - Lather up with sunscreen, even if there's cloud cover. Colorado's high elevation means you have less protection to the sun's powerful ultra violet rays. This can be compounded while skiing or snowboarding, when the rays are reflected off the snow and hits the underside of your jaw. Don't forget to wear UV-rated goggles or sunglasses, as well. There's nothing more painful than sunburned eyeballs.
- Avalanches - Colorado claims about a third of all avalanche deaths in the U.S. The ski resorts have groomed slopes that are safe, but it is extremely dangerous to ski or snowboard outside of the designated terrain. It's popular amongst daredevil skiers to "run the chutes," steep, shaded slopes that funnel into tight gullies. These are classic avalanche zones. Far more common (and deadly) are slab avalanches that break along a fault line and bury unsuspecting snow mobilers or skiers. Always wear a homing beacon and check the conditions at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center before heading into the back country.
- Lightning - This is especially deadly in the high country above timberline when no shelter is nearby. If you hear crackling or hissing sounds, or your hair begins to stand on end, squat down immediately in the "lightning desperation position" - feet together and your hands clapped over your ears. Remember, a tent and inflatable mattress offer no protection from a lightning strike. Avoid the high ground, or solitary objects like trees that stick out higher than the surrounding terrain (they may act like natural lightning rods). For more information, see the safety tips at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA)  [dead link].