With millions of acres of public lands, Colorado gives you lots of options and lots of room to play. Live your Colorado vacation to the fullest by exploring these parks’ year-round activities: fishing, hiking, camping, backpacking, boating, rock climbing, biking, skiing, wildlife watching, taking scenic drives and so much more.
Mesa Verde National Park is located in southwest Colorado near Cortez and is home to some of the most unique Ancestral Puebloan dwellings in the world.
These well-preserved adobe-constructed homes are tucked securely into the cliff walls. Take a Mesa Verde tour to gain access to the cliff dwellings by ladder.We recommend the one-hour walking tour of Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling and home to multiple living enclaves and buildings.
The route descends roughly 100 feet over uneven steps and ascends a series of eight-foot ladders to access the site, so be prepared for mild climbing and walking. With 600 dwellings, 4,000 archaeological sites, and myriad hiking trails and driving routes, there’s plenty to see and do here.
Estes Park is a gorgeous, sleepy little town in the midst of the Colorado Rockies.
The town was founded in 1859 and has a total population of 5858 people! Estes Park sits on the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountain National Park, and the Big Thompson River runs right through the middle. Many locals call it the gateway to the Rockies.
Gold was discovered in the Colorado Mountains in 1859, and one of the men who rushed into Colorado was Joel Estes. The word “park”, at that time, was a term used for wide open spaces – thus, the town was founded and named Estes Park. This sleepy little town’s claim to fame is the book, (and later the movie), “The Shining” by Stephen King! Stephen King was visiting Estes Park and stayed at the Stanley Hotel. While staying there, he had some interesting experiences and heard all the ghost stories from the locals.
Estes has a river walk all the way through town. The river walk has restaurants and bars built all along the sides and many stone pathways to enjoy the river.
There are so many things to do like hiking, fishing, horseback riding, snowshoeing, white-water rafting. There is also some great shopping for all budgets from handmade boots to a rock shop that has local polished stones from the area.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is a geological mystery precisely why the country’s tallest sand dunes collect at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The whole family can learn about their evolution – and why scientists continue to debate the specifics – in the informative visitor center here. But the true highlight for all ages are exploring the dunes themselves – you can hike up the massively tall formations that reach more than 600 feet and stretch for 45 miles. And then run, roll or somersault down the gigantic piles of sand.
Radium Hot Springs in Colorado is an authentic and primitive natural hot spring experience. The naturally fed hot spring sits right on the banks of the spectacular Colorado River. It was discovered by river runners some time ago, who placed boulders around the source, creating a riverside hot tub. Since then, its popularity has grown but still remains rustic. The closest town to Radium Hot Spring is Kremmling which is slightly north. To the south are the towns of Silverthorne, Eagle and Edwards. It’s one of the few natural hot springs which is relatively near to Denver, taking about a 2 hour drive.
The recommended time of year to go is between summer and autumn. You have to be careful during spring as the river may be too high due to snow melt which means that the overflow will go into the Radium Hot Springs pool bringing the temperature down.
The Colorado National Monument is actually named after the river, not the state. Located near Grand Junction, near the Utah border, this area is surrounded by impressive multicolored rocks and towering monoliths. Get the most out of your visit by driving the twists and turns of Rim Rock Drive. Keep your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep and soaring eagles! If you’re not staying in a vacation rental in nearby Grand Junction, there’s also an 80-site campground.
Do you know the difference between a national park and a national monument? The former is appointed by U.S. Congress, the latter can be declared by the U.S. If you motor along Rim Rock Drive, there are plenty of opportunities to pull off and snap photos of the amazing scenery.
In Dinosaur National Monument you can see over 1,500 fossils exposed on the cliff face inside the Quarry Exhibit Hall. There’s also plenty more to explore. The mountains, desert, and rivers support an array of wildlife, and you can see petroglyphs as well as remnants from homesteaders and outlaws. A year-round visitor center has been built over the quarry to protect the fossilized dinosaur bones.
Dinosaur National Monument is also popular for whitewater rafting on the Green and Yampa Rivers.
San Juan National Forest, covering 1.8 million acres in the southwestern corner of Colorado is San Juan National Forest. The San Juan Skyway is the perfect way to start exploring the area. This 232-mile loops is one of the most scenic drives in America and is open year-round. Also, check out the Jersey Jim Lookout Tower which you can even rent for one or two night stays. The scenery ranges from high desert mesas and canyons to high alpine peaks and meadows.
Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed the San Juan Forest a national treasure on June 3, 1905, for its natural riches and Native significance. Spanning across the rugged terrain, bighorn sheep, elk, bear, fox, almost 300 species of birds and other fauna add life to the Forest’s epic scenery and historic sites, including ancient human dwellings, provide a rare peek at the area’s cultural heritage.
Stop in the ghost town of Animas Forks. Go rafting along the Lower Animas River, a tributary of the San Juan River, also called the “River of Lost Souls“. Fish for rainbow, cutthroat and brook trout in one of bubbling steams, reservoirs or mountain lakes.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is 53-mile stretch of the narrow gorge near Montrose reveals millions of years of natural history. The gorge was discovered in the 1700s and has been renowned for its dramatic scenery.
Sheer black walls plummet up to 2,700 feet. If you’re afraid of heights, you may not want to get too close to the edge of the look-out points. There’s also a wide array of outdoor activities like auto touring, wildlife viewing, camping, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, kayaking, and stargazing.
Visit the informative railroad museum to learn about the trail that once traversed the mouth of this fissure, and catch ranger talks throughout the park.
While many hikes are moderate or strenuous here, there are a couple of easy treks for kids, including the Cedar Point Nature Trail and the Rim Rock Nature Trail. Do note that some rim edges don’t have guardrails, so keep a careful eye on young children. Stop by the visitor center on the South Rim (enter via Montrose) to find out what ranger talks (typically available daily at all U.S. national parks), might be especially appealing for children.