Colorado is a state of breathtaking locales and dramatic landscapes. Home to the highest concentration of ‘fourteeners’ of the Rocky Mountains, deserts, rivers, and canyons, the diversity of its natural terrain will stir the imagination of visitors like no other. You’ll be swamped with the vast number of choices of places to visit in Colorado.
While Colorado is a favored winter destination for its soft powder, blue skies, and cozy mountain towns, it cannot be bracketed into one season. There is so much to explore in Colorado that you’ll probably run out of days no matter what time of year you choose to be here. Stunning national parks and monuments, scenic drives, mystical landscapes, and vibrant cities will leave you with some great memories. With so many stunning places scattered across its length and breadth, it’s not easy to pick out the best place to visit in Colorado.
Colorado National Monument
Be prepared to catch your breath as you step into one of the most gorgeous places to visit in Colorado. Located near Grand Junction, the sheer-walled canyons of the Colorado National Monument are sure to bedazzle you. It’s a good detour from the interstate highway and many visitors choose to drive through the monument along Rim Rock Drive. However, the area is also popular with bikers, campers, and hikers. Monument Canyon is the star attraction here with its enigmatic rock formations. It runs the width of the park and has a number of hiking trails for all levels of hikers.
Forming the perfect backdrop to the Garden of the Gods Park, is one of the Southwest’s famous fourteeners, Pike’s Peak. The most eastern of these peaks that stand over 14,000 feet, this is one of the most visited mountains in the world, behind Mt. Fuji in Japan. The reason why the mountain is so popular is that its summit can be accessed by everyone. You can drive to the summit via the Pikes Peak Highway. Alternatively, you could take the cog railroad for a scenic trip. However, until 2021 the cog railway is temporarily out of service but there is a temporary shuttle system in its place.
While the main attraction is undoubtedly the stunning views from the top, hiking is also quite popular. If you’re up for the challenge, the annual Pikes Peak Marathon is a good way to test your mettle.
Rocky Mountain National Park
If you’re looking for the best place to visit in Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park should definitely be on your itinerary. It’s a nature lover’s paradise with soaring peaks, grazing elk, alpine lakes and meadows bursting with flowers in summer. Although the Trail Ridge Road offers a great and easy way to see the park, the best way to experience it is by getting out of your car. Put on your hiking boots and explore the numerous hiking trails that lead to stunning locales. If you’re lucky you may just bump into a bighorn sheep or elk.
Dinosaur National Monument
One of the best places in Colorado to experience pre-history and dramatic scenery at the same time is at the Dinosaur National Monument. Located at the far northwest corner of Colorado and crossing into the state lines of Utah, this site is one of the largest dinosaur fossil beds in North America. Although you’ll find plenty of dinosaur fossils strewn across the park, the best place to see them is at the Quarry Visitors Center. The Exhibit Hall is a wonderland for those interested in these prehistoric giants. From fully assembled skeletons to bones and encased fossils, the museum feels like walking through an excavation site.
Dinosaur fossils aren’t the only attraction at the park though. Visitors can also experience a wide range of outdoor activities such as fishing, rafting, hiking and camping. You’ll find a number of campgrounds scattered through the park.
Colorado is renowned for having some of the best ski resorts in the United States and Telluride is one of them. With over 148 trails and 2,000 acres of ski terrain, it’s a popular winter destination. However, it’s not just the slopes that draw people to Telluride. The village, a former mining town is steeped in Wild West history. Off-season you’ll find revelry of a different kind with some of Colorado’s best festivals celebrated here.
Apart from all the fun, Telluride offers some of the most enviable views of the San Juan mountains. Located right in the heart of the San Juan in an isolated box canyon, you can be sure that you’ll wake up to some stunning views. Getting to Telluride, however, is not that easy. It’s one of Colorado’s most remote ski destinations and that’s what makes it so special. Its remoteness should not deter you as you’ll find plenty of good places to stay in Telluride.
Located at the base of the Rocky Mountains where the Great Plains converge, the town of Boulder is a cliche with its Utopian vibe. It’s the best place to visit in Colorado if you want a small slice of heaven. Boulder’s signature symbol is the Flatirons that rise up west of the city. These spectacular rock formations will have you reaching for your camera.
While the town itself has a charm of its own, what really captivates is the extensive outdoors. The town is surrounded by vast areas of recreational open space and nature reserves.
Aspen is synonymous with skiing and ranks as one of the best ski resorts in Colorado. The great champagne powder turns and four unique ski hills make it the chosen destination for many, especially the ‘creme de la creme’ of society.
Aspen is generally regarded as the winter playground for the rich and famous so get ready to splurge if you are this side of Colorado. There are plenty of good hotels in Aspen but be prepared as they can burn quite a hole in your wallet. However, if you’re keen on celebrity spotting, Aspen is probably one of the best places to visit in Colorado. Although the town is a popular winter destination, Aspen is also a great place to be in during summer. Music and art festivals are a staple on the summer calendar.
Garden Of The Gods
A trip to the Garden of the Gods will definitely leave you spellbound. This registered National Natural Landmark is a grand tribute to the heavens. Exquisite thin red-rock spires rise 300 feet from the earth, some delicately balancing giant boulders. This is where the Utes believed their creation began. It’s not too difficult to understand where these beliefs originated.
Hiking trails give you the opportunity of getting that close-up shot of some of the most dramatic rock formations you’ll ever see. The main trail which runs through the most scenic red rocks of the park is wheelchair accessible.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Staring up at the dark walls of the rugged Black Canyon, carved by the Gunnison River will make you feel like a step back in time. This largely unexplored canyon is so named because it receives daylight for a very brief amount of time. It’s a deep, narrow abyss, over 2,000 feet deep which features some of Colorado’s most stunning views.
Once home to the Ute Tribe, the canyon draws a large number of visitors. Although most come here to drink in the stunning view, adventure seekers enjoy hiking the trails or climbing the towering rock formations. Fishing is another popular activity here. Nighttime holds its own charm when stargazing becomes the norm.
No visit to Colorado is complete if you haven’t visited its capital city. Denver, the capital is another good place to visit in Colorado. One of the fastest-growing cities in the United States, Denver has something for everyone. Restaurants, bars, cultural events, and music venues are everywhere. While there is an unmatched brewery scene, the city also has some of the best museums.
Known as the ‘Mile-High City’ because of its elevation which is a mile above sea level, Denver is quite easy to explore. If you’re looking for street art and art in general, the best place is up River North. Shopping and restaurants are found in the Highlands and Lower Highlands while Lower Downtown is where you’ll find the happening bars. One of the best things about the city is that it’s not too far away from the outdoors. Whether it’s skiing or hiking, you’re interested in you’ll find it within easy driving distance from the city.
Another standout ski resort in Colorado is Vail. Boasting a whopping 5,000 acres of skiable terrain, Vail is definitely the largest of Colorado’s ski resorts. It’s also one of the most expensive, where nothing comes cheap. Off the slopes, the town has a charming European vibe with its chalet-style restaurants and hotels. Modeled on the lines of Bavaria in Germany, the town is a charming blend of class and warmth. Spread across three main areas, you’ll also find plenty of pedestrian-only spaces.
Vail is a popular destination even during summer with some excellent hiking and biking trails. If you’re on a budget, you may find the hotels in Vail a tad too expensive. However, there are plenty of other staying options in the nearby towns of Frisco and Silverthorne.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Close your eyes briefly and you may feel like you’re standing somewhere in the deserts of Arabia. The Great Sand Dunes National Park has some of the tallest sand dunes in North America. Formed over thousands of years by wind erosion, the site comes as quite a surprise. This is definitely a unique place to visit in Colorado as the sudden change of landscape can catch you off guard. The star attraction here is undoubtedly the 750-foot high Star Dune.
Most visitors prefer to explore the areas closer to Medano Creek so the rest of the park is largely wilderness. If you’re looking for some desert thrills you’ll probably want to visit the park during the day. However, if it’s those Instagrammable shots that you’re after, sunset is the best time to be here.
Mesa Verde National Park
Immerse yourself in history at this one of a kind archaeological site near the towns of Cortez and Mancos. The Mesa Verde National Park contains about 5,000 well-preserved archaeological sites. You can explore many of these sites along a number of hiking trails. However, the standout feature of the park are the ancient cliff dwellings. These are sure to stir your imagination like no other.
Home to the Ancestral Pueblo, exploring the 600 ancient dwellings is nothing short of an adventure. For those wanting a close-up of these dwellings, you’ll have to clamber up ladders or even crawl through tunnels. It’s definitely worth the experience though. The Cliff Palace is the centerpiece of the park with its dramatic setting and well-preserved ruins.