Colorado boasts some of the most beautiful wildernesses and mountain ranges. Rich in Wild West stories and internationally known for its wildlife and outdoor activities, the state is also home to popular cities such as Denver that offer many museums and art for those who prefer cities to the outdoors. Whether you are a mountain climber and art lover, there is something here in Colorado for everyone.
Lets explore the best things to do in Colorado:
1. Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Red Rocks Amphitheatre is a stone formation near Morrison, Colorado. Conveniently located 15 miles outside of Denver, the raw beauty of these rocks is sure to impress you. Thought to have been used by the Ute tribe prior to westward expansion, the rock formations provide ideal acoustics for live music performances – bands and artists perform on a rock stage!
If you’re a music lover, be sure to check the shows put on here at Red Rocks. It is owned and operated by the city of Denver, and musicians of all sorts have performed here, from opera singers to rock bands. Don’t miss out on hearing live music at one of the most picturesque concert venues in the world! You’ll be glad you visited.
Guided tour: Red Rocks Amphitheater and Mount Evans Tour
2. Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde (green table in Spanish) is located in southwest Colorado. The area was deemed a national park in 1906 by Theodore Roosevelt. It is a gorgeous national park and World Heritage site that preserves ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings, and is an ideal destination for history and nature lovers alike. Grab your walking shoes and bring your camera when you visit Mesa Verde.
Mesa Verde has been inhabited since 7500 BC by nomadic tribes, and the experts estimate that the first pueblos were built in 650 AD. The impressive cliff dwellings that still bring visitors to the park were built in 1200 AD. See the Cliff Palace and spend some time learning about these native americans at the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum. Don’t forget to explore the Mesa Top Loop Road for some excellent viewpoints and canyon overlooks.
3. Strawberry Parks Hot Springs
Strawberry Parks Hot Springs is a natural paradise you can’t miss out on. Preserved to allow visitors the chance to relax in a gorgeous, wild setting while also keeping it accessible to all, bring your swimsuit and test out these natural springs next time you need to recharge. Appreciate the best jacuzzis that Mother Nature has to offer!
The park has day areas for picnics and changing rooms, or you can stay overnight if you want to extend your trip. Explore the nearby hiking trails or bring your bike if you’re a cyclist. You can always relax in the springs and soothe your sore muscles after. The beauty and unique stone formations around the springs will make your visit well worth it.
4. Great Sand Dunes National Park
The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is located in southern Colorado. Standing in stark contrast to mountains like the Rocky Mountain National Park, sandy dunes cover the land here, creating beautiful vistas that will remind you of vast deserts. Hit the dunes – the largest one, Star Dune, towers over the rest of the dunes.
There are plenty of activities for outdoors lovers here. Explore the trails, you’ll find that they lead you through forests and wetlands that surround the dunes. You should also be sure to visit Medano Lake, one of several alpine lakes and filled with trout if you’re a fisherman. Trek out to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains – the Medano Pass Primitive Road guides you through a canyon until you reach the mountains.
5. Comanche National Grasslands
The Comanche National Park is a National Grasslands in southeastern Colorado. The preserve is divided into two sections and operated by separate ranger districts: one in La Junta and one in Springfield. Drawings left by ancient Native Americans that decorate the cliffs and rocks date back as many as 8,000 years.
The natural grasslands beauty can be a refreshing contrast to the beauty found at mountains or beaches. Explore the area and the prehistoric drawings, or head out to the Picketwire Canyon to see dinosaur tracks! Hit the trails on foot or bicycle, or even on horseback. You can “rough it” at the local campground or head back to a hotel to put your feet up.
6. Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is located in north-central Colorado between the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake. You can find the headwaters of the Colorado River in the northwestern part of the park, and it is considered a World Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations.
Visit any of the 5 visitors centers in the park; one is registered on the National Registry of Historic Places and was designed by the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. There is a variety of landscapes to explore, from mountains to mountain tundra, and a wide array of wildlife. Whether you come for a day and do a short hike, or stay and camp out to go on longer treks, the scenery will impress you. Don’t miss the Arapaho National Forest or Indian Peaks Wilderness.
Recommended tour: Denver/Boulder: Rocky Mountain National Park Tour
7. Mount Evans Scenic Byway
Mount Evans Scenic Byway is located near the mining town of Idaho Springs. Head out of town on the CO highway 103 and drive to the highest paved road in North America. You’ll pass by gorgeous rows of pine trees until those give way to sharp rises that allow views into glacier-cut valleys and sharp peaks of rocky mountains that seem to never end.
Not a drive for the faint of heart, as the trees disappear, so do the guardrails. Take your time around the curves for the sake of the views and your own safety. You’ll see mountain goats and bighorn sheep continue to graze without even batting an eye at your visit. Enjoy looking down on the world – the clouds don’t even make it up here all the time!
8. Toltec Scenic Railroad
The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad starts in Antonito, Colorado, and runs all the way through to Chama, New Mexico, spanning a track of 64 miles. Take a trip back in time on this old fashioned, narrow gauge heritage railroad and enjoy the countryside as you pass through it. You’ll have a front seat view of Toltec Gorge, the inspiration for the name of this railroad.
Start your trip in the morning in Antonito, and stop for lunch in Osier. You can book a coach seat or travel in a first class parlor car. Let the historic steam-powered engine do all the work as you sit back and enjoy the ride. You’ll pass through must-see places like the Rio Grande and Carson National Forest.
9. Arkansas River
The Rocky Mountains are the birthplace of the Arkansas River, the most popular river in the United States. It is also perfect for white water rafting, whether you want to go for a half day, or turn it into a multi-day trip extravaganza. There are many different rafting routes depending on your level of expertise, from family-friendly to expert Class IV.
Start in Bighorn Canyon if you’re an experienced whitewater rafter. You can go for days and camp on the side of the river for a true nature experience. Royal Gorge and Browns Canyon are locations friendly to experienced or new rafters, with opportunities to do a multi-day trip or just try it out for the day. Take the time to explore this beautiful part of Colorado and maybe find a new hobby.
10. Colorado Trail
The Colorado Trail spans over 500 miles of the state of Colorado. The best way to get to know a place is to walk through it, so grab those hiking boots and start exploring. There are routes for seasoned hikers or those in search of a day trip – you can pick your starting point!
Cross the peaks of the Rocky Mountains and see the many lakes, creeks and mountain ranges – there are 8 ranges in total. Climb Coney Summit, it’s 13,334 feet above sea level. Take a load off your feet and take a horseback ride, or grab a mountain bike. Explore the old mining towns and ancient Indian trails, and you can even treat yourself to a night or two at a ski resort while you’re there.
11. Black Canyon
Located in Gunnison National Park, Black Canyon was formed by the Gunnison River over 2 million years as it cut its way through the canyon and forming sharp cliffs and steep spires. Don’t miss out on the chance to experience raw nature like you’ve never seen it before.
Rough it and bring some camping gear – you can sleep under the stars, you’ll be so far away from the city lights that the stars seem to burn even brighter. There are plenty of cliffs if you’re a mountain climber. Hike along the South or North Rims for some excellent vistas, you’ll feel like you’re somehow closer to nature and that time seems to not exist here.
12. Hanging Lake
Hanging Lake is located in Glenwood Canyon. Follow Dead Horse Creek as it winds its way up to be rewarded with the view of this geological wonder and awe-inspiring display of natural beauty. Hanging Lake is suspended almost at the end of the cliffs, and is so beautiful, you’ll forget how steep the climb up was.
Bring your camera to capture the sparkling turquoise waters and melodic waterfalls that feed into the lake. It is home to a delicate ecosystem that is maintained by refraining from swimming or splashing in the tempting water, a sacrifice well worth it to preserve the environment. Enjoy the naturally occurring hanging plant gardens and peace that comes with this tranquil lake.
13. Garden of the Gods
Garden of the Gods is located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. A designated National Natural Landmark, the park draws in visitors from all over the country and many international travelers. These gorgeous sandstone formations were discovered by surveyors out from Denver; upon seeing the rocks merged with the Great Plains’ grasslands that meet the woodlands of the Southwest and mountain forests of Pike Peak, they declared it looked like a garden fit for the gods.
Stop in at the visitor center to learn more about the history and geography of the park. There you can plan your hiking routes through the park and grab something to drink. Head out to the best vista points – you can catch panoramic views of the Pikes Peak Mountains in the distance.
Available tour: Foothills & Garden of the Gods: Jeep Tour
14. Vail, Colorado
Vail is a tiny town at the foot of the Vail Mountains and nestled in the White River National Forest. The picturesque town is a prime ski resort destination in the winter, but also provides ample entertainment in the summer. Vail also has a creek that literally runs through town – follow the winding curves of Gore Creek on a walk some peaceful afternoon.
Whether you visit Colorado in the summer or winter, take some time to get to know Vail. Enjoy a resort vacation in the winter for snowboarding or skiing, and treat yourself to some hot chocolate while looking at the mountain views. Or, explore the hiking trails around town or play a leisurely round of golf. If you plan ahead, you can drop in during one of their charming summer festivals.
Suggested tour: Vail: 2-Hour Small-Group Guided Segway Tour
15. Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave
Colorado played a key role in the westward expansion and exploration of the United States. The state experienced a big boom during its mining glory days, and soon the railroads breathed even more life into Colorado. Old West folklore abounds from these boisterous times, including the fascinating character, Buffalo Bill.
Buffalo Bill gained famed during his buffalo-hunting days, but he later went on to run a popular Wild West Show, drawing in big names like Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull. He died here in Colorado at Lookout Mountain, and Buffalo Bill’s Museum was built here to commemorate him. See his firearms and Native American artifacts, or learn more at Golden Buffalo Bill Days, a true celebration of the Wild West festival in the historic town of Golden.