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Copycat vacations are cheaper alternatives to far-flung travel. Here are few to try in or around Colorado

Earlier this year, I dreamed up a few 2024 trips. I’d celebrate a hike through the Swiss Alps with chocolate, enjoy therapeutic soaks in Tokyo’s storied onsen and end the year on Tasmania’s wild beaches. Why not consume contemporary art and paella in Valencia, Spain, too?

Then I woke up to find plane tickets soaring higher than most Boeing 777s. Forget the jet fuel: The destinations listed below are giving off some serious international vibes, and you can reach them on a single tank of gas or charge.

Fresh hiking views

I hiked in the Swiss Alps a few years ago, so I can vouch for the region’s natural beauty. The high-altitude landscape looks exactly like what you’re expecting from the Heidi VHS box: Snow-capped peaks drip into sparkling lakes surrounded by meadows inhabited by roaming goats and — yes! There are even cows with bells dangling from their fat necks.

In southwest Colorado, stunning alpine views of the San Juan Mountains have earned Ouray its reputation as the Switzerland of America. Sitting 7,800 feet above sea level, Ouray’s elevation profile matches that of St. Moritz, Switzerland, and both locales offer an endless lineup of spectacular hikes with unforgettable scenery.

First-time Ouray visitors can get the lay of the land while tackling the Ouray Perimeter Trail, a 5.6-mile, hours-long trek requiring 1,600 feet of elevation gain. It’s worth it. In addition to great views of the town, hikers are rewarded with a few extras: four waterfalls, six bridges and a hidden troll.

Most years, Ouray Ice Park is open through March (weather dictates), and the town also claims four hot springs. If there’s one thing the Swiss appreciate, it’s luxury; The Western Hotel & Spa is Ouray’s crack at high-end hospitality. You won’t find fondue at the hotel’s on-site saloon, but no need to fret: You can get a hearty, Swiss-approved meal at Brickhouse 737, and there’s also The Swiss Store, a quaint gift shop on Main Street run by a Swiss couple, where you can grab a bar of Toblerone to enjoy during and after your High-Country hike.

Health & wellness

Serious wellness enthusiasts are flying to Tokyo to experience the country’s hot-springs bathhouses. Not quite spas, but not necessarily hot springs, either, onsen offer unique wellness experiences centered around mineral rich geothermal pools. According to the Nippon Onsen Research Association, Japan claims more than 3,000 onsen, many of which are built into the natural environment, giving the term “forest bathing” a more accurate meaning.

Replicate the onsen experience at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa. Just west of Taos — and not to be confused with the other Ojo Spa Resort in Santa Fe — Ojo Caliente is one of the oldest health spas in the U.S. Resort guests have access to nine sulfur-free communal pools fed by therapeutic geothermal mineral springs. What’s more, the bathhouse is surrounded on all sides by sand hills and bluffs dotted with juniper bushes, sagebrush and native cacti. (How’s that for Colorado-style forest bathing?)

Between soaks, guests can hike northern New Mexico’s scenic desert trails before participating in small-group yoga classes. Accommodations range from vintage Spartan glamping trailers to more traditional guestrooms at a revitalized inn. Ojo Caliente’s farm-to-table food program is another point of distinction. Children are welcome on the premises, but the geothermal soaking areas are for guests 13 and up, and only adults can use the spa.

White sandy beaches

Sand is so much better with a mountain view, and nothing quite compares to Tasmania’s wild beaches. I’ve itched to return to Australia since I visited in my 20s. But that flight with three kids?

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is a shorter commute. If you haven’t visited in awhile, this is the year to let everyone in your family ogle North America’s tallest sand dunes.

March isn’t a bad time to explore the park while beating summer crowds and heat. Snow’s possible, but it melts quickly in the spring, when daytime weather is typically comfortable. If you can wait until April to visit, even better.

The beachy area you’ve seen in photos is Medano Creek, and it doesn’t start flowing until April or May. But with 30 square miles of dunes, parkgoers can play in the sand any time of the year. Start your adventure at the renovated visitor center, open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. From here, climb the first ridge to gain views of the site’s sandy expanse.

Measuring in at 0.5-mile roundtrip, Montville Nature Trail is the park’s easiest and most popular hike, leading to views of Mount Herard (13,345 feet) and the dunes. If you’re enjoying the montane woodlands, continue onto Mosca Pass Trail, a 7-mile roundtrip path following a creek to the summit of a low pass in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Adventurous visitors will want to sandboard or sled. The National Park Service doesn’t rent the required equipment, so get your gear before arriving. Great Sand Dunes Oasis Store (immediately outside the park) carries the right boards and sleds, and Kristi Mountain Sports in Alamosa is another option. BYO food for picnicking, and don’t forget reusable water bottles, which can be refilled at the visitor center. You could stay overnight in the nearby town of Alamosa, but wouldn’t it be fun to plan ahead and camp at Piñon Flats Campground? Stay on a moonless night to experience the stars in this International Dark Sky Park.

Contemporary art

Valencia’s contemporary art scene is having its moment. But if all you really need is a quick weekend escape, try corralling a little Spanish culture in downtown Boulder, where guests at the St Julien Hotel & Spa can book an award-winning spa treatment then walk a few blocks east to the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, housed in a historic red-brick building along Boulder Creek. BMoCA’s rotating exhibitions are always accessible to art lovers thanks to the museum’s pay-from-your heart admissions policy.

Pop into the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse next door for an afternoon treat, then cruise two blocks east to 15th Street Gallery, a contemporary art gallery showcasing work by museum-track artists. Go a mile farther on Canyon Boulevard, and you’ll reach the Dairy Arts Center, with four free public galleries offering rotating exhibitions, some contemporary. Back near the St Julien, check out The New Local, dedicated to the economic empowerment of local female-identifying creators.

If all the art’s got your stomach rumbling, continue with the Spanish theme at Corrida, a Spanish-inspired chophouse focused on regenerative beef. Even a vegetarian like me can enjoy plant-based nibbles with taking in the views from the restaurant’s rooftop patio. They’re some of the best in town. Gemini is another tapas-style restaurant with contemporary Spanish cuisine that’s sustainably sourced. Depending on how many sangrias you have, this could be the perfect spot to end or start your night.

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