Best Places to Visit in Colorado
Blessed with scenic landscape rimmed by magnificent snow-capped mountains Colorado is a popular year-round vacation destination that offers plenty of diverse activities and inspires the soul with its incredible natural beauty. In addition to the majestic Rocky Mountains that draw thousands of skiers and snowboarders each winter season the state also has the rolling hills, picturesque rivers, beautiful streams, and even high desert in the Colorado Plateau. Great many skiers, hikers, climbers, mountain bikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts flock to mountain towns where numerous ski resorts are located, but the state also has many scenic places to take in the serene tranquility and enjoy the mountain environment. Travelers can see great sites just driving along the state highways and parks. Make sure you visit the national parks and monuments to learn about people that once lived in the area and the dinosaurs that used to roam around. No doubt, a trip to Colorado will provide you with memories to last for a lifetime.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Located several miles away from the town of Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the best national parks in the U.S. It features towering mountain peaks, beautiful alpine lakes and meadows, lush forests, and abundant wildlife. There are over 100 peaks that are more than 10,000 feet high, including the highest Longs Peak at 14,259 feet, on the territory of the park.
While in the park consider driving along the Trail Ridge Road at an altitude of over 12,000 feet. Travelling by car you will be able to see incredible terrain or stop for a hike or walk. The park features plenty of hiking trails and abundant wildlife such as elk, bighorn sheep, deer, and other animals.
During the summer many tourist visit the park to hike, spot wildlife, camp, fish, ride horses, climb, and more. In winter the park which becomes incredibly beautiful draws outdoor enthusiasts who arrive here to snowshoe or cross-country ski, often in group tours led by the ranger.
Mesa Verde National Park
Head to Mesa Verde to discover and explore the actual ruins of the cliff dwellings. The key site to visit is Cliff Palace featuring the best preserved and most impressive dwellings in the Southwest. If you visit Mesa Verde in summer we recommend joining a tour led by the ranger so you could climb ladders right up into the center of the dwelling.
Mesa Verde was inhabited by the Ancestral Pueblo from about 600 AD to 1300 AD. The park is home to a number of archeological sites, including the famous cliff dwellings.
It takes about 45 minutes to drive from the highway up to Mesa Verde, situated in the vicinity of the towns of Cortez and Mancos. Consider checking out the visitor center near the highway to get information about the park and book a ranger-led tour of Cliff Palace.
Garden of the Gods
To view unique landscape featuring dramatic rock formations consider visiting Garden of the Gods which is a registered National Natural Landmark. It has jagged stones and fins jutting up 300 feet from the ground, as well as huge balanced boulders and rock piles, rimmed by towering mountains in the distance. The park includes fifteen miles of easily accessible trails. Activities allowed in the park include rock climbing, road biking in designated biking lanes, mountain biking, horseback riding, and Jeep and Segway tours. The park's visitor center houses a museum featuring interesting exhibits and a 20-minute video on the geology of the park. There is a cafe on site with enormous windows overlooking the jaw dropping views.
Vail and Nearby Mountain Towns
The town of Vail is home to some of the top ski resorts in Colorado so it attracts thousands of tourists especially in winter. The picturesque town located at the foot of the ski hill is incredibly beautiful. Its charming chalet-style restaurants, exquisite shops, and luxury hotels will make the travelers feel like they are right in the heart of the Alps.
Vail is a high-end resort which is expensive, especially during the high season. However you can find more affordable accommodation options in the small towns and villages nearby. One of them is Frisco, a cute mountain town, but not a ski resort. It is known for its nice cafés, shops, and restaurants that create a unique mountain atmosphere. Not far from it is the small town and ski resort of Breckenridge, located at an altitude of 9,600 feet. The towns of Avon and Beaver Creek are situated west of Vail. You can find a wide range of accommodation options in Avon. Beaver Creek is a ski resort with a postcard beautiful village at the base. The village offers a variety of dining options, numerous hotels and a skating rink in the town center.
Pikes Peak in Pike National Forest
Pikes Peak is situated in Pike National Forest at 14,115 feet in elevation. The snow-capped peak can be seen from the town of Colorado Springs located in the vicinity of the mountain. Pikes Peak is very popular among the visitors, probably because it can be easily reached. It will take you an hour and a half to drive to the summit of Pikes Peak on the Pikes Peak Highway, off highway 24, just west of Colorado Springs. Or consider taking the Pikes Peak Cog Railway for the chance to enjoy a scenic trip that will last for about 3 hours. Besides just enjoying the incredible views from the top of the mountain, visitors can also participate in a number of recreational activities like hiking, mountain biking and fishing.
Durango and the Silverton Narrow Gage Railway
The town of Durango in southern Colorado is conveniently situated at the base of the surrounding mountains. The historic downtown preserves its Old West feel and look due to well-restored magnificent old buildings that now are used as hotels and restaurants.
If you visit the town in the summer, make sure you visit the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gage Railway which is a major town attraction. This historic train runs daily from Durango to the old mining town of Silverton, located high in the mountains. Or consider hiking the Colorado Trail running for 500 miles from Denver to Durango. The backcountry trail follows the scenic Junction Creek and then winds up to Gudy's Rest, a popular stop for many hikers and bikers to enjoy a snack. The town of Durango and the surrounding mountains have many hiking and mountain biking trails.
In winter, Durango draws the crows of skiers. There is Purgatory Ski Resort, just 15 minutes outside of town. The resort is popular among both locals and skiers from around the Southwest. Some skiers prefer to stay in Durango to save on hotel accommodation and go skiing at Telluride which is two hours away.
San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway and the Million Dollar Highway
If you love enjoying spectacular views while driving along a scenic highway then we recommend having a spectacular drive from the town of Silverton to Ouray, along a 46-kilometer highway often referred to as the Million Dollar Highway. It is the most beautiful scenic drive in Colorado, offering incredible views of towering mountains and dramatic cliffs. If time permits and the weather is nice consider taking a full day trip along the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway. On the way you will drive past such towns as Silverton, Ouray, and Telluride. The beautiful town of Silverton is surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Its main street featuring shops and restaurants is very busy with travelers during the summer, while in winter when most hotels and dining venues are closed the area looks like a ghost town. Ouray, also known as the Switzerland of America, boasts a number of hot springs. Telluride, home to the popular Telluride Ski Resort, impresses with its stunning beauty. This mountain town has a traditional main street and the visitors can take a gondola up the mountain for a better looks at gorgeous mountain scenery.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
If you feel like escaping to some remote place with a beautiful landscape Black Canyon of the Gunnison located 75 miles southeast of Grand Junction is the site not to be missed. This dramatic, rugged looking canyon with steep cliff walls is about 2,000 feet deep, with Gunnison Point and Chasm View at more than 1,800 feet and Warner Point at 2,722 feet. The primary activity is just gazing out over the canyon taking in the serene beauty of the place or walking along short hiking trails on the rim. Keep in mind that hiking into the canyon is dangerous as trails are not maintained there. The park features three campgrounds, with two of them open to tents and RVs and one open to just tents.
Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness
At Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness you can marvel at some of the state's most fabulous Rocky Mountain scenery. The area boasts six mountains over 14,000 feet, in addition to forests, alpine lakes, meadows, and about 200 miles of trails. People love visiting Maroon Bells not only because of incredible views but also because of a plethora of recreational activities available here, including hiking, mountain biking and fishing. In winter the area is great for skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
To see the tallest sand dunes in North America, head to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. It features a really diverse landscape with the 750-foot Star Dune rimmed by the mountains in the distance. Consider climbing and sliding on the dunes down the sand. When the weather is hot, kids can swim in the Medano Creek running along the base of the dunes. There are hiking trails in the forest on the edge of the dunes. There is the Pinon Flats campground offering tent and RV campsites.
One of the highest peaks in Colorado, Mount Evans boasts an elevation of 14,271 feet. Mount Evans Scenic Byway which leads almost to the summit deserves a special mention. It is the highest paved road in the United States, offering incredible views of the meadows, lakes, and the mountains extending out into the distance. The vast open area enables the travelers to spot wildlife, including bighorn sheep. Unfortunately the highway is closed in the winter.
Colorado National Monument
Situated near the towns of Grand Junction and Fruita Colorado National Monument is really unique. Driving along a scenic road travelers can view outstanding scenery different from the typical mountain landscape. Here you will see giant rock formations, cliff walls, canyons, and desert-like areas featuring small trees and scrubby bushes. The most popular way to explore the monument is to drive along Rim Rock Drive with stops at the lookouts to marvel at the serene beauty spread below. You can get through the monument by bike too. Hiking tours also offer the opportunity to reach the most beautiful areas of the monument. When hiking be prepared to experience elevation changes that range from 300 feet to over 1,000 feet.
Dinosaur National Monument
Located in northwest part of the state Dinosaur National Monument offers the chance to enjoy dramatic scenery and learn about natural and cultural history. This is definitely one of Colorado's most interesting sites. Here you can see dinosaur remains embedded in rock walls as well as petroglyphs that reveal how people lived here many centuries ago.
Once you arrive at Dinosaur National Monument make sure you head to the major attraction at the park, the Quarry Exhibit Hall, constructed over the Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry. Here you can see a range of fossils, including those encased in the stone wall and even fully assembled skeletons. Besides demonstrating archeological relics Dinosaur National Monument is a great outdoor playground offering numerous activities like hiking, fishing, rafting, and camping.
Mountain Biking Trails near Fruita
Colorado is an ideal vacation destination for those who love mountain biking. Even thought Colorado boasts good trails all over the state some of them can't be used in winter because of the mountain climate restraints. But the town of Fruita located near Grand Junction is a nice exception from this rule. Its climate is favorable for mountain biking so outdoor enthusiasts can explore the trails through the shoulder seasons and even into the winter months. Among the best mountain biking trails around Fruita are the 18 Road Trails, with the renowned Zippity Do Da trail, and the Kokopelli Loops. This is mostly desert terrain, and the trails running alongside cliff edges offer views over the Colorado River. If you stay in Fruita in spring you can not only mountain bike but also ski at Beaver Creek or Vail located about two hours away.