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17 Top-Rated Attractions & Places to Visit in Colorado, USA

Colorado is a year-round destination that piques the imagination and inspires the soul with its dramatic landscape and natural beauty. The state is nothing less than stunning, with a diversity that ranges from the majestic Rocky Mountains to the rolling hills, beautiful alpine lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and the high desert of the Colorado Plateau.

Mountain towns beckon skiers, hikers, climbers, mountain bikers, and outdoor enthusiasts of all types, but are also great places to soak up some tranquility and enjoy the mountain vibe.

Sightseers will find the scenic drives through parks and along state highways are some of the best ways to see the amazing sites that the state has to offer.

Remnants of the cultures that inhabited the area and the dinosaurs that once roamed the land can be seen and better understood by visiting some of the national parks and monuments.

Colorado is an unbeatable destination that will make you rethink your future travel plans. Get a start on your itinerary with our list of the best places to visit in Colorado.

1. Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Just a few miles from the mountain town of Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the United States.

The soaring mountain peaks, alpine lakes and meadows, forests, and abundant wildlife showcase nature at its best. The park has more than 100 peaks over 10,000 feet, including Longs Peak, the highest in the park, at 14,259 feet.

The Trail Ridge Road, which itself reaches an altitude of more than 12,000 feet, is the main driving route through the park and offers easy access to this incredible terrain. You can sightsee from the comfort of your car or stop off along the way for a hike or easy walk.

The park has an extensive system of hiking trails that range from paths of less than a half-mile to full-day and multi-day hikes. If you’re lucky, you may see elk, bighorn sheep, deer, and other critters.

Summer is the busy season in Rocky Mountain National Park, with the most popular activities being hiking, wildlife viewing, camping, fishing, horseback riding, climbing, and bouldering.

Winter in the park holds its own unique beauty and attractions. Many of the roads are open year-round, although closures may occur due to weather conditions. People often come here at this time of year to snowshoe or cross-country ski, and ranger-led tours are offered in both of these sports.

If you plan on visiting in the summer, between late May and early October, you will need to obtain a timed entry pass. Passes for specific days are available on the National Parks website the 1st of the prior month (i.e. June 1st for the month of July). If you have a camping or other activity reservation, an entry pass is not required. Timed entry passes are free, except for the nominal reservation fee.

2. Vail and Nearby Mountain Towns

Vail Ski Resort

Vail Ski Resort | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The ski resort town of Vail is one of the best places to visit in Colorado in winter but it’s also a pleasant place to enjoy at any time of year. When it comes to skiing, this is one of the top ski resorts in Colorado, with seemingly endless runs for all levels of skiers.

The town at the base of the ski hill is postcard cute, with chalet-style restaurants, shops, and hotels that make you feel like you are in the heart of the Alps. This is a high-end resort with luxury hotels, fine dining, and designer stores.

Vail doesn’t always fit with everyone’s budget, particularly if you want to spend a night during the high season. In the vicinity are a number of small towns and villages that are less well known but more affordable and also worth a visit.

Although not a ski resort, Frisco is a charming mountain town and one of the best places to visit in the area. This is a nice base if you are exploring the I-70 Corridor around Vail and Beaver Creek. The town has all kinds of quirky cafés, shops, and restaurants, and a true mountain vibe.

Just up the way from here is the town of Breckenridge at an altitude of 9,600 feet. This town has a very casual and fun downtown and is perfect if you plan on skiing at Breckenridge Ski Resort or looking for a little nightlife.

West of Vail are the towns of Avon and, a little beyond Avon, Beaver Creek. Avon can be a good place to find accommodation, particularly if you are looking for more affordable options than those at the base of the ski hills. Beaver Creek is a ski resort with another adorable village at the base. It has a full range of restaurants, from casual to fine dining, a skating rink in the main square in winter, and hotels.

3. Denver

Panorama of downtown Denver

Panorama of downtown Denver

One of America’s most popular and fastest growing cities, Denver has it going on. One of the country’s great outdoor cities, Denver enjoys an incredible 300-plus days of sunshine a year and a reasonable climate.

This allows the young and active inhabitants to enjoy the giant playground right at the door to the city: the incredible Rocky Mountains. Favorite pastimes here are to hit the ski slopes in the winter, or lace up the hiking boots in the spring, or get out on a mountain bikes in the summer.

When they aren’t getting busy outdoors, Denverites are enjoying a lively arts and cultural scene at the Red Rocks Park & Amphitheater, or enjoying some creative cuisine at one of the city’s most happening restaurants in the Latimer Square area. The city is also full of great parks and the interesting downtown area is well worth exploring.

4. Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park

Regardless of whether or not you have seen cliff dwellings before, you will be blown away by Mesa Verde and the amount of access to the actual ruins that the park allows visitors.

The park’s centerpiece, Cliff Palace is one of the most impressive dwellings in the entire Southwest, with a dramatic setting and incredibly preserved ruins. Ranger-led tours, which run regularly during the summer high season, allow you to climb ladders right up into the heart of the dwelling. It is highly recommended that you pre-book your Cliff Palace visitor tickets in advance of your visit. Spaces are limited and demand is high, especially in the summer. Tickets can be booked 14 days in advance of your planned arrival date.

If you aren’t up for that level of activity, you can get a full view of the site from a nearby overlook.

Mesa Verde was home to the Ancestral Pueblo who inhabited the dwellings from approximately 600 AD to 1300 AD. Thousands of archeological sites lie within the park, although the cliff dwellings are the most spectacular. A road allows access to numerous sites, many of which are on top of the mesa. A number of hiking trails, which do not require a ranger tour, lead to lookouts and interesting sites, including petroglyphs.

Located near the towns of Cortez and Mancos, Mesa Verde is reached by a long road that leads high up above the surrounding landscape. The drive from the highway up to the site takes about 45 minutes.

Near the highway is one of the visitor centers, where you can get information on the park and road conditions before driving up. You can book a ranger-led tour of Cliff Palace when you arrive so you know what time to show up for the one-hour tour.

  • Read More: Visiting Mesa Verde National Park: Top Things to See & Do

5. Pikes Peak in Pike National Forest

Pikes Peak in Pike National Forest

Pikes Peak in Pike National Forest

At 14,115 feet in elevation, Pikes Peak, in Pike National Forest, is one of the Southwest’s famous “fourteeners,” a reference to mountains that stand over 14,000 feet. The snow-capped peak is easily recognizable from the nearby town of Colorado Springs.

This is one of the most visited mountains in the world, second only to Mt. Fuji. Unlike many mountain peaks that are inaccessible to the average person, you can drive to the summit of Pikes Peak on the Pikes Peak Highway, off highway 24, west of Colorado Springs. Travel time is about 1.5 hours. Alternatively, you can take the Pikes Peak Cog Railway for a scenic 8.9-mile trip, with a round-trip time of just over three hours.

At the top is the brand new Pike’s Peak Summit Visitor’s Center. Started in 2018 and now almost complete, this stunning glass and wood structure provides amazing views, interactive displays, along with a variety of dining options. Those folks who specifically make the trek up to the top of Pike’s Peak for the world famous donuts will not be disappointed. These tasty, fluffy treats are still available.

In addition to simply appreciating the views from the top, the area offers a range of recreational opportunities. In the vicinity are numerous hiking trails, as well as mountain biking areas and opportunities for fishing in reservoirs.

  • Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Colorado Springs

6. Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods

Also near Colorado Springs is Garden of the Gods. This registered National Natural Landmark is home to a unique landscape of jagged stone towers and fins jutting up 300 feet from the earth. Surrounding the fins, giant balanced boulders and rock piles dot the landscape and distant mountains, completing the scene.

Fifteen miles of walking trails, most of which are short and easy, allow you to get up close to the dramatic rock formations and wander through the surreal scenery.

The park is a popular area for rock climbing, but other activities in the park include road biking in designated biking lanes, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Jeep Tours through the Foothills & Garden of the Gods are also very popular.

The Garden of the Gods Park Visitor & Nature Center functions as a museum with exhibits and a 20-minute video on the geology of the park. They also offer daily guided nature walks. Views from the visitor center are incredible, and the on-site café, with huge windows, is a great venue for enjoying a snack or beverage.

7. Durango and the Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gage Railway

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gage Railway

In southern Colorado, the town of Durango has a lovely setting at the base of surrounding mountains. The historic downtown area has some well-restored, grand old buildings that function as hotels and restaurants. Some are done in southwestern décor, with an Old West feel.

In the summer, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gage Railway is one of the town’s main tourist attractions. This historic train runs day trips up the valley from Durango to the old mining town of Silverton, high in the mountains. In the winter, the train still runs but only on specific dates and only to Cascade Canyon. It’s a much different experience than the summer trip, but well worth checking out.

Durango is also the terminus of the Colorado Trail, a 500-mile-long backcountry trail that runs from Denver to Durango. You can do a day hike or mountain bike along the trail, going out and back the same way. The trail follows the scenic Junction Creek and then climbs up to Gudy’s Rest, where many people enjoy lunch and then turn around.

More hiking and mountain biking trails can be found right in the town of Durango and in the surrounding mountains.

In winter, Durango is a full-on ski town, supported by the nearby Purgatory Ski Resort, just 15 minutes outside of town. This is a family resort that attracts both locals and skiers from around the Southwest. Some skiers also base themselves in Durango, which has reasonably-priced hotels, and ski at Telluride, two hours away.

  • Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Durango

8. San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway and the Million Dollar Highway

San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway and the Million Dollar Highway

San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway and the Million Dollar Highway

A spectacular scenic drive stretches from the old mining town of Silverton, to the town of Ouray, along what is called the Million Dollar Highway. This is a 46-kilometer two-lane highway that hugs the mountainside in places and looks out over jaw-dropping cliffs and across valleys to inspiring mountain peaks. It is one of the most spectacular mountain drives in Colorado.

If you have time, you can extend this into a longer route and drive the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway. The Skyway is a full-day trip that you will want to do in good weather, but can be done in winter or summer.

Beginning in Durango, the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway is a complete loop that will take you up to Silverton, along the Million Dollar Highway to Ouray, over to Placerville, south to Telluride, Dolores, Mancos, and back to Durango.

If you have less time or are only planning on heading in one direction, you can do the Silverton to Ouray section beginning from Durango, up to Silverton, over the Million Dollar Highway to Ouray, and beyond to Montrose or further north to Grand Junction. Some of the highlights along the way are the towns of Silverton, Ouray, and Telluride.

Set at more than 9,300 feet and surrounded by mountains, Silverton has one main street with a few shops and restaurants. In summer, it can be ridiculously busy, but in winter, most of the establishments are closed, and the place can feel like a ghost town. On the edge of town, Silverton Mountain is an old school ski “resort” with great backcountry downhill skiing for advanced skiers.

Ouray, with a sign at the main lookout calling it the “Switzerland of America,” is another mountain town, known for its hot springs.

If you choose to do the Skyway, you can stop in at Telluride. Known for the Telluride Ski Resort, this is one of the most beautiful mountain towns in America, with a traditional main street and gorgeous mountain scenery. You can take a free gondola up the mountain for a better look over the area.

9. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a fabulous, rugged looking canyon, and it’s remote enough that it has the feeling of being undiscovered. Steep cliff walls rise up from the Gunnison River, creating a narrow and dramatic canyon. The depth of the canyon is around 2,000 feet, with Gunnison Point and Chasm View at just over 1,800 feet and Warner Point at 2,722 feet.

The main things to do here are to simply gaze out over the canyon and appreciate the environment or wander along the walking paths and short hiking trails on the rim. These are generally flat and easy trails. If you’re adventurous, you can hike into the canyon, but trails are not maintained or marked, conditions are difficult, and you are basically on your own and responsible for the costs of rescue, should the need arise.

Three campgrounds are located in the park; the North and South Rim campgrounds are open to tents and RVs but the East Portal is only open to tents.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is about 75 miles southeast of Grand Junction. If you are based in Grand Junction or Fruita, you can easily visit both the canyon and Colorado National Monument on a day trip.

10. Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness

Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness

Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness

Near the town of Aspen, Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness showcases some of Colorado’s most spectacular Rocky Mountain scenery and offers a chance to get out of your car and into nature. This area has six mountains over 14,000 feet, along with forests, alpine lakes, meadows, and 175 miles of trails to help you explore the terrain.

The recreational activities are what draw most people to Maroon Bells. The hiking here is incredible, with all kinds of day hikes and backpacking areas. Mountain biking trails cover hundreds of miles. Fishing in lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams is popular in summer. If you’ve got a tent and the gear, camping in Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness is an experience not to be missed. In winter, people come here to ski, snowshoe, and snowmobile, making it a year-round outdoor playground.

If you aren’t up for that much activity, you can also enjoy the views along some of the scenic drives.

11. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Home to the tallest sand dunes in North America, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is an interesting sight in Colorado with a landscape that most visitors are not expecting to find. The 750-foot Star Dune is startlingly high, particularly when you are considering climbing it, and the mountains in the distance create a stunning setting.

You can climb and slide on the dunes or test your boarding skills cruising down the sand. On hot days, children and even adults enjoy splashing around in the Medano Creek that runs along the base of the dunes. Hiking trails run through the forest on the edge of the dunes.

The four-wheel drive Medano Pass Primitive Road opens up some unique terrain, and car camping sites are located along the roadside. Regular camping is available at the Pinon Flats campground, which offers both tent and RV campsites.

12. Aspen

Aspen

Aspen | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Although it’s most commonly associated with skiing, Aspen is a year-round destination that can be enjoyed by skiers or non-skiers. Restaurants and stores line the streets, many of which look up to the ski runs on the edge of town.

Aspen also makes for a nice getaway from Denver, just over three hours away. The town has no shortage of luxury hotels and resorts, plus dining options are plentiful. If you don’t want to stay here, you can day trip from nearby Glenwood Springs, another popular destination in the area.

13. Colorado National Monument

Colorado National Monument

Colorado National Monument

Just outside the towns of Grand Junction and nearby Fruita is Colorado National Monument. A scenic road snakes its way through some outstanding scenery. This is not typical mountain scenery, but a landscape of huge rock spires, cliff walls, canyons, and desert-like surroundings with small trees and scrubby bushes.

Most people drive through the monument along Rim Rock Drive and stop at the lookouts that peer over the landscape below. The road is also a popular road biking area, with hearty souls peddling their way up to the lookouts.

A number of day hikes access some scenic areas of the monument, most of which involve moderate elevation changes that range from approximately 300 feet to more than 1,000 feet.

14. Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument, in northwest Colorado, combines dramatic scenery with natural and cultural history to create one of Colorado’s most interesting sites. While most people are drawn here for the archeological aspects, the recreational opportunities add another aspect to your visit.

Dinosaur remains embedded in exposed rock walls reveal evidence of the giants that once roamed these areas, and petroglyphs offer insight into the cultures and people that lived here long ago. Surrounding it all are cliff walls and the Green and Yampa Rivers snaking through the otherwise dry landscape.

Your first stop should be the Quarry Visitors Center from where you can access the main attraction at the park, the Quarry Exhibit Hall, built over the Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry. A huge wall of windows allows in natural light, making it feel more like an excavation site than a museum. Fossils are in various states, from still encased in the stone wall to fully assembled skeletons.

Other popular things to do in Dinosaur National Monument range from a simple driving tour through the monument to hiking, fishing, rafting, and camping. A number of scenic drives run through the park on both paved and four-wheel drive roads. Hiking trails range from short nature walks of less than a half mile to eight-mile-long day hikes.

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It’s easy to spend a few days in this area if you are interested in exploring the park. Campgrounds, some of which are open to both tents and RVs and others open only to tents, are spread around the park. Hotels can be found at nearby Vernal.

15. Glenwood Springs

Glenwood Springs

Glenwood Springs | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

With hot springs, a fantastic adventure park, beautiful hiking trails, rafting, fishing, and sking, Glenwood Springs is one of the best places to visit in Colorado for families. That said, anyone will enjoy a visit here, whether it’s couples looking for a romantic getaway or nature lovers looking for an outdoor escape.

The town is home to two major hot springs, including the largest mineral host springs pool in the world. On the edge of town is the family-focused Sunlight Mountain Ski Resort, and Aspen Snowmass Ski Resort is less than an hour away. In summer, the Hanging Lake hiking trail is incredibly popular.

For water-based activities, the Roaring Fork and Colorado Rivers provide ample opportunities for whitewater rafting, as well as fly fishing.

If you’re looking for something a little less outdoorsy, you can find dining, attractions, and things to do in Glenwood Springs to suit all tastes.

16. Mount Evans Scenic Byway

Mount Evans

Mount Evans

Another of Colorado’s fourteeners, Mount Evans reaches an elevation of 14,271, feet and the Mount Evans Scenic Byway extends almost to the summit. This is the highest paved road in the United States, reaching over 14,130 feet.

The views from the top and on the way up, above the tree line, are outstanding, with meadows, lakes, and rolling mountains extending out into the distance. The area is so open and exposed that you have a good chance of seeing wildlife, particularly bighorn sheep.

From Denver, you can reach the summit of Mount Evans, about 60 miles away, in less than two hours. Keep in mind, this is a seasonal highway that is closed in the winter.

17. Mountain Biking Trails near Fruita

Joe

Joe’s Ridge Trail at 18 Road Trails | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

For mountain bikers, Colorado is a haven, with great trails all over the state. Unfortunately, the mountain climate limits the season in many areas. But the town of Fruita, near Grand Junction, has the climate to enable you to stretch out your mountain biking season through the shoulder seasons and into the winter months. It’s also a quirky little town with enough character to make you want to stay a while and return.

The mountain biking trails around Fruita are some of the best trails in the state. Most notably are the 18 Road Trails, with the infamous Zippity Do Da trail, and the Kokopelli Loops. This is desert terrain, with trails that run along the tops of ridges and everywhere in between or alongside cliff ledges with views over the Colorado River.

This area has, for many mountain bikers, become an alternative to Moab, Utah. During the spring, you can even combine sports: mountain biking in Fruita one day and skiing at Beaver Creek or Vail – just over two hours away – the next.

17 Top-Rated Attractions & Places to Visit in Colorado, USA

Colorado is a year-round destination that piques the imagination and inspires the soul with its dramatic landscape and natural beauty. The state is nothing less than stunning, with a diversity that ranges from the majestic Rocky Mountains to the rolling hills, beautiful alpine lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and the high desert of the Colorado Plateau.

Mountain towns beckon skiers, hikers, climbers, mountain bikers, and outdoor enthusiasts of all types, but are also great places to soak up some tranquility and enjoy the mountain vibe.

Sightseers will find the scenic drives through parks and along state highways are some of the best ways to see the amazing sites that the state has to offer.

Remnants of the cultures that inhabited the area and the dinosaurs that once roamed the land can be seen and better understood by visiting some of the national parks and monuments.

Colorado is an unbeatable destination that will make you rethink your future travel plans. Get a start on your itinerary with our list of the best places to visit in Colorado.

1. Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Just a few miles from the mountain town of Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the United States.

The soaring mountain peaks, alpine lakes and meadows, forests, and abundant wildlife showcase nature at its best. The park has more than 100 peaks over 10,000 feet, including Longs Peak, the highest in the park, at 14,259 feet.

The Trail Ridge Road, which itself reaches an altitude of more than 12,000 feet, is the main driving route through the park and offers easy access to this incredible terrain. You can sightsee from the comfort of your car or stop off along the way for a hike or easy walk.

The park has an extensive system of hiking trails that range from paths of less than a half-mile to full-day and multi-day hikes. If you’re lucky, you may see elk, bighorn sheep, deer, and other critters.

Summer is the busy season in Rocky Mountain National Park, with the most popular activities being hiking, wildlife viewing, camping, fishing, horseback riding, climbing, and bouldering.

Winter in the park holds its own unique beauty and attractions. Many of the roads are open year-round, although closures may occur due to weather conditions. People often come here at this time of year to snowshoe or cross-country ski, and ranger-led tours are offered in both of these sports.

If you plan on visiting in the summer, between late May and early October, you will need to obtain a timed entry pass. Passes for specific days are available on the National Parks website the 1st of the prior month (i.e. June 1st for the month of July). If you have a camping or other activity reservation, an entry pass is not required. Timed entry passes are free, except for the nominal reservation fee.

2. Vail and Nearby Mountain Towns

Vail Ski Resort

Vail Ski Resort | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The ski resort town of Vail is one of the best places to visit in Colorado in winter but it’s also a pleasant place to enjoy at any time of year. When it comes to skiing, this is one of the top ski resorts in Colorado, with seemingly endless runs for all levels of skiers.

The town at the base of the ski hill is postcard cute, with chalet-style restaurants, shops, and hotels that make you feel like you are in the heart of the Alps. This is a high-end resort with luxury hotels, fine dining, and designer stores.

Vail doesn’t always fit with everyone’s budget, particularly if you want to spend a night during the high season. In the vicinity are a number of small towns and villages that are less well known but more affordable and also worth a visit.

Although not a ski resort, Frisco is a charming mountain town and one of the best places to visit in the area. This is a nice base if you are exploring the I-70 Corridor around Vail and Beaver Creek. The town has all kinds of quirky cafés, shops, and restaurants, and a true mountain vibe.

Just up the way from here is the town of Breckenridge at an altitude of 9,600 feet. This town has a very casual and fun downtown and is perfect if you plan on skiing at Breckenridge Ski Resort or looking for a little nightlife.

West of Vail are the towns of Avon and, a little beyond Avon, Beaver Creek. Avon can be a good place to find accommodation, particularly if you are looking for more affordable options than those at the base of the ski hills. Beaver Creek is a ski resort with another adorable village at the base. It has a full range of restaurants, from casual to fine dining, a skating rink in the main square in winter, and hotels.

3. Denver

Panorama of downtown Denver

Panorama of downtown Denver

One of America’s most popular and fastest growing cities, Denver has it going on. One of the country’s great outdoor cities, Denver enjoys an incredible 300-plus days of sunshine a year and a reasonable climate.

This allows the young and active inhabitants to enjoy the giant playground right at the door to the city: the incredible Rocky Mountains. Favorite pastimes here are to hit the ski slopes in the winter, or lace up the hiking boots in the spring, or get out on a mountain bikes in the summer.

When they aren’t getting busy outdoors, Denverites are enjoying a lively arts and cultural scene at the Red Rocks Park & Amphitheater, or enjoying some creative cuisine at one of the city’s most happening restaurants in the Latimer Square area. The city is also full of great parks and the interesting downtown area is well worth exploring.

4. Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park

Regardless of whether or not you have seen cliff dwellings before, you will be blown away by Mesa Verde and the amount of access to the actual ruins that the park allows visitors.

The park’s centerpiece, Cliff Palace is one of the most impressive dwellings in the entire Southwest, with a dramatic setting and incredibly preserved ruins. Ranger-led tours, which run regularly during the summer high season, allow you to climb ladders right up into the heart of the dwelling. It is highly recommended that you pre-book your Cliff Palace visitor tickets in advance of your visit. Spaces are limited and demand is high, especially in the summer. Tickets can be booked 14 days in advance of your planned arrival date.

If you aren’t up for that level of activity, you can get a full view of the site from a nearby overlook.

Mesa Verde was home to the Ancestral Pueblo who inhabited the dwellings from approximately 600 AD to 1300 AD. Thousands of archeological sites lie within the park, although the cliff dwellings are the most spectacular. A road allows access to numerous sites, many of which are on top of the mesa. A number of hiking trails, which do not require a ranger tour, lead to lookouts and interesting sites, including petroglyphs.

Located near the towns of Cortez and Mancos, Mesa Verde is reached by a long road that leads high up above the surrounding landscape. The drive from the highway up to the site takes about 45 minutes.

Near the highway is one of the visitor centers, where you can get information on the park and road conditions before driving up. You can book a ranger-led tour of Cliff Palace when you arrive so you know what time to show up for the one-hour tour.

  • Read More: Visiting Mesa Verde National Park: Top Things to See & Do

5. Pikes Peak in Pike National Forest

Pikes Peak in Pike National Forest

Pikes Peak in Pike National Forest

At 14,115 feet in elevation, Pikes Peak, in Pike National Forest, is one of the Southwest’s famous “fourteeners,” a reference to mountains that stand over 14,000 feet. The snow-capped peak is easily recognizable from the nearby town of Colorado Springs.

This is one of the most visited mountains in the world, second only to Mt. Fuji. Unlike many mountain peaks that are inaccessible to the average person, you can drive to the summit of Pikes Peak on the Pikes Peak Highway, off highway 24, west of Colorado Springs. Travel time is about 1.5 hours. Alternatively, you can take the Pikes Peak Cog Railway for a scenic 8.9-mile trip, with a round-trip time of just over three hours.

At the top is the brand new Pike’s Peak Summit Visitor’s Center. Started in 2018 and now almost complete, this stunning glass and wood structure provides amazing views, interactive displays, along with a variety of dining options. Those folks who specifically make the trek up to the top of Pike’s Peak for the world famous donuts will not be disappointed. These tasty, fluffy treats are still available.

In addition to simply appreciating the views from the top, the area offers a range of recreational opportunities. In the vicinity are numerous hiking trails, as well as mountain biking areas and opportunities for fishing in reservoirs.

  • Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Colorado Springs

6. Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods

Also near Colorado Springs is Garden of the Gods. This registered National Natural Landmark is home to a unique landscape of jagged stone towers and fins jutting up 300 feet from the earth. Surrounding the fins, giant balanced boulders and rock piles dot the landscape and distant mountains, completing the scene.

Fifteen miles of walking trails, most of which are short and easy, allow you to get up close to the dramatic rock formations and wander through the surreal scenery.

The park is a popular area for rock climbing, but other activities in the park include road biking in designated biking lanes, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Jeep Tours through the Foothills & Garden of the Gods are also very popular.

The Garden of the Gods Park Visitor & Nature Center functions as a museum with exhibits and a 20-minute video on the geology of the park. They also offer daily guided nature walks. Views from the visitor center are incredible, and the on-site café, with huge windows, is a great venue for enjoying a snack or beverage.

7. Durango and the Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gage Railway

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gage Railway

In southern Colorado, the town of Durango has a lovely setting at the base of surrounding mountains. The historic downtown area has some well-restored, grand old buildings that function as hotels and restaurants. Some are done in southwestern décor, with an Old West feel.

In the summer, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gage Railway is one of the town’s main tourist attractions. This historic train runs day trips up the valley from Durango to the old mining town of Silverton, high in the mountains. In the winter, the train still runs but only on specific dates and only to Cascade Canyon. It’s a much different experience than the summer trip, but well worth checking out.

Durango is also the terminus of the Colorado Trail, a 500-mile-long backcountry trail that runs from Denver to Durango. You can do a day hike or mountain bike along the trail, going out and back the same way. The trail follows the scenic Junction Creek and then climbs up to Gudy’s Rest, where many people enjoy lunch and then turn around.

More hiking and mountain biking trails can be found right in the town of Durango and in the surrounding mountains.

In winter, Durango is a full-on ski town, supported by the nearby Purgatory Ski Resort, just 15 minutes outside of town. This is a family resort that attracts both locals and skiers from around the Southwest. Some skiers also base themselves in Durango, which has reasonably-priced hotels, and ski at Telluride, two hours away.

  • Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Durango

8. San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway and the Million Dollar Highway

San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway and the Million Dollar Highway

San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway and the Million Dollar Highway

A spectacular scenic drive stretches from the old mining town of Silverton, to the town of Ouray, along what is called the Million Dollar Highway. This is a 46-kilometer two-lane highway that hugs the mountainside in places and looks out over jaw-dropping cliffs and across valleys to inspiring mountain peaks. It is one of the most spectacular mountain drives in Colorado.

If you have time, you can extend this into a longer route and drive the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway. The Skyway is a full-day trip that you will want to do in good weather, but can be done in winter or summer.

Beginning in Durango, the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway is a complete loop that will take you up to Silverton, along the Million Dollar Highway to Ouray, over to Placerville, south to Telluride, Dolores, Mancos, and back to Durango.

If you have less time or are only planning on heading in one direction, you can do the Silverton to Ouray section beginning from Durango, up to Silverton, over the Million Dollar Highway to Ouray, and beyond to Montrose or further north to Grand Junction. Some of the highlights along the way are the towns of Silverton, Ouray, and Telluride.

Set at more than 9,300 feet and surrounded by mountains, Silverton has one main street with a few shops and restaurants. In summer, it can be ridiculously busy, but in winter, most of the establishments are closed, and the place can feel like a ghost town. On the edge of town, Silverton Mountain is an old school ski “resort” with great backcountry downhill skiing for advanced skiers.

Ouray, with a sign at the main lookout calling it the “Switzerland of America,” is another mountain town, known for its hot springs.

If you choose to do the Skyway, you can stop in at Telluride. Known for the Telluride Ski Resort, this is one of the most beautiful mountain towns in America, with a traditional main street and gorgeous mountain scenery. You can take a free gondola up the mountain for a better look over the area.

9. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a fabulous, rugged looking canyon, and it’s remote enough that it has the feeling of being undiscovered. Steep cliff walls rise up from the Gunnison River, creating a narrow and dramatic canyon. The depth of the canyon is around 2,000 feet, with Gunnison Point and Chasm View at just over 1,800 feet and Warner Point at 2,722 feet.

The main things to do here are to simply gaze out over the canyon and appreciate the environment or wander along the walking paths and short hiking trails on the rim. These are generally flat and easy trails. If you’re adventurous, you can hike into the canyon, but trails are not maintained or marked, conditions are difficult, and you are basically on your own and responsible for the costs of rescue, should the need arise.

Three campgrounds are located in the park; the North and South Rim campgrounds are open to tents and RVs but the East Portal is only open to tents.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is about 75 miles southeast of Grand Junction. If you are based in Grand Junction or Fruita, you can easily visit both the canyon and Colorado National Monument on a day trip.

10. Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness

Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness

Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness

Near the town of Aspen, Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness showcases some of Colorado’s most spectacular Rocky Mountain scenery and offers a chance to get out of your car and into nature. This area has six mountains over 14,000 feet, along with forests, alpine lakes, meadows, and 175 miles of trails to help you explore the terrain.

The recreational activities are what draw most people to Maroon Bells. The hiking here is incredible, with all kinds of day hikes and backpacking areas. Mountain biking trails cover hundreds of miles. Fishing in lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams is popular in summer. If you’ve got a tent and the gear, camping in Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness is an experience not to be missed. In winter, people come here to ski, snowshoe, and snowmobile, making it a year-round outdoor playground.

If you aren’t up for that much activity, you can also enjoy the views along some of the scenic drives.

11. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Home to the tallest sand dunes in North America, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is an interesting sight in Colorado with a landscape that most visitors are not expecting to find. The 750-foot Star Dune is startlingly high, particularly when you are considering climbing it, and the mountains in the distance create a stunning setting.

You can climb and slide on the dunes or test your boarding skills cruising down the sand. On hot days, children and even adults enjoy splashing around in the Medano Creek that runs along the base of the dunes. Hiking trails run through the forest on the edge of the dunes.

The four-wheel drive Medano Pass Primitive Road opens up some unique terrain, and car camping sites are located along the roadside. Regular camping is available at the Pinon Flats campground, which offers both tent and RV campsites.

12. Aspen

Aspen

Aspen | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Although it’s most commonly associated with skiing, Aspen is a year-round destination that can be enjoyed by skiers or non-skiers. Restaurants and stores line the streets, many of which look up to the ski runs on the edge of town.

Aspen also makes for a nice getaway from Denver, just over three hours away. The town has no shortage of luxury hotels and resorts, plus dining options are plentiful. If you don’t want to stay here, you can day trip from nearby Glenwood Springs, another popular destination in the area.

13. Colorado National Monument

Colorado National Monument

Colorado National Monument

Just outside the towns of Grand Junction and nearby Fruita is Colorado National Monument. A scenic road snakes its way through some outstanding scenery. This is not typical mountain scenery, but a landscape of huge rock spires, cliff walls, canyons, and desert-like surroundings with small trees and scrubby bushes.

Most people drive through the monument along Rim Rock Drive and stop at the lookouts that peer over the landscape below. The road is also a popular road biking area, with hearty souls peddling their way up to the lookouts.

A number of day hikes access some scenic areas of the monument, most of which involve moderate elevation changes that range from approximately 300 feet to more than 1,000 feet.

14. Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument, in northwest Colorado, combines dramatic scenery with natural and cultural history to create one of Colorado’s most interesting sites. While most people are drawn here for the archeological aspects, the recreational opportunities add another aspect to your visit.

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Dinosaur remains embedded in exposed rock walls reveal evidence of the giants that once roamed these areas, and petroglyphs offer insight into the cultures and people that lived here long ago. Surrounding it all are cliff walls and the Green and Yampa Rivers snaking through the otherwise dry landscape.

Your first stop should be the Quarry Visitors Center from where you can access the main attraction at the park, the Quarry Exhibit Hall, built over the Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry. A huge wall of windows allows in natural light, making it feel more like an excavation site than a museum. Fossils are in various states, from still encased in the stone wall to fully assembled skeletons.

Other popular things to do in Dinosaur National Monument range from a simple driving tour through the monument to hiking, fishing, rafting, and camping. A number of scenic drives run through the park on both paved and four-wheel drive roads. Hiking trails range from short nature walks of less than a half mile to eight-mile-long day hikes.

It’s easy to spend a few days in this area if you are interested in exploring the park. Campgrounds, some of which are open to both tents and RVs and others open only to tents, are spread around the park. Hotels can be found at nearby Vernal.

15. Glenwood Springs

Glenwood Springs

Glenwood Springs | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

With hot springs, a fantastic adventure park, beautiful hiking trails, rafting, fishing, and sking, Glenwood Springs is one of the best places to visit in Colorado for families. That said, anyone will enjoy a visit here, whether it’s couples looking for a romantic getaway or nature lovers looking for an outdoor escape.

The town is home to two major hot springs, including the largest mineral host springs pool in the world. On the edge of town is the family-focused Sunlight Mountain Ski Resort, and Aspen Snowmass Ski Resort is less than an hour away. In summer, the Hanging Lake hiking trail is incredibly popular.

For water-based activities, the Roaring Fork and Colorado Rivers provide ample opportunities for whitewater rafting, as well as fly fishing.

If you’re looking for something a little less outdoorsy, you can find dining, attractions, and things to do in Glenwood Springs to suit all tastes.

16. Mount Evans Scenic Byway

Mount Evans

Mount Evans

Another of Colorado’s fourteeners, Mount Evans reaches an elevation of 14,271, feet and the Mount Evans Scenic Byway extends almost to the summit. This is the highest paved road in the United States, reaching over 14,130 feet.

The views from the top and on the way up, above the tree line, are outstanding, with meadows, lakes, and rolling mountains extending out into the distance. The area is so open and exposed that you have a good chance of seeing wildlife, particularly bighorn sheep.

From Denver, you can reach the summit of Mount Evans, about 60 miles away, in less than two hours. Keep in mind, this is a seasonal highway that is closed in the winter.

17. Mountain Biking Trails near Fruita

Joe

Joe’s Ridge Trail at 18 Road Trails | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

For mountain bikers, Colorado is a haven, with great trails all over the state. Unfortunately, the mountain climate limits the season in many areas. But the town of Fruita, near Grand Junction, has the climate to enable you to stretch out your mountain biking season through the shoulder seasons and into the winter months. It’s also a quirky little town with enough character to make you want to stay a while and return.

The mountain biking trails around Fruita are some of the best trails in the state. Most notably are the 18 Road Trails, with the infamous Zippity Do Da trail, and the Kokopelli Loops. This is desert terrain, with trails that run along the tops of ridges and everywhere in between or alongside cliff ledges with views over the Colorado River.

This area has, for many mountain bikers, become an alternative to Moab, Utah. During the spring, you can even combine sports: mountain biking in Fruita one day and skiing at Beaver Creek or Vail – just over two hours away – the next.

30 Best Places to Visit In Colorado On Your Next Road Trip

If you haven’t visited Colorado, you don’t know what a true adventure is.

Colorado’s scenery is second to none as it boasts the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, red mesas and even shifting sand dunes! While you could spend weeks exploring this part of the United States, you can scratch the best places to visit in Colorado off your list in a couple of weeks, if you plan your trip the right way.

Colorado is a true outdoor mecca with a well-established travel route and although there are many popular places to visit in Colorado there is also a ton of great spots off the beaten track that not many tourists get to see.

I’ve spent a long time in Colorado, and have the first-hand knowledge of the state.I decided to put this article together since I always get a ton of questions about how to plan a perfect road trip to check some of the best places in Colorado off your bucket list. So grab a pen and paper and get ready to take some notes to plan your Colorado Road trip.

Best places to visit in Colorado in summer

Summer is the best time to enjoy some of the best hiking, mountain biking and rafting in many parts of the state. Some popular places to visit in Colorado like Boulder, Breckenridge and Aspen can get especially busy, but the good news is that there are still plenty of hidden gems in Colorado like Salida, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park or Silverton.

Since summer is the high season, make sure to begin your adventures early, especially if you are traveling on a weekend. I also recommend to narrow down on a specific area and spend your time there to minimize the driving. For example, the Southwest corner of Colorado is home to the jagged San Juan Mountains, and you can spend weeks there, hiking and camping.

Best places to see in Colorado in winter

Colorado turns into a true winter wonderland during colder months. As the snow blankets the Rockies, hundreds of people hit the slopes in Colorado’s most popular mountain towns like Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge, and Steamboat Springs. While skiing and snowboarding in Colorado is second-to-none, avoid weekends, as it can be too busy, and take away from the experience.

If winter sports are not your forte, there are still plenty of things to do in Colorado during this time of the year. For example, you can soak in hot springs in places like Glenwood Springs or Buena Vista, or visit wineries in the Grand Junction area. Additionally, you can also go snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park to enjoy a less crowded area with spectacular views.

Find Your Rental Car

How to see best places to visit in Colorado

To see some of the best places in Colorado, you will need a vehicle.

Whether you decide to rent an RV or a regular car depends entirely on your plans. If you are looking for an RV, check out RVshare, a website with a great selection of all sorts of RVs, and if you are looking for a regular car, you might want to look at DiscoverCars, one of my favorite websites for car rentals.

Top things to do in Denver

1. Denver

Where to stay in Denver: Hilton Garden Inn Denver Tech Center

The largest city in Colorado is a perfect starting point for your adventure.

Located along Colorado’s Front Range, Denver is one of the most popular up-and-coming cities in the United States with a great dining and entertainment scene. The Mile High City has undergone a dramatic transformation over the last decade, and today it boasts amazing museums, world-class restaurants, and close access to the great outdoors.

Although Denver might not win the title of one of the best places to visit in Colorado, when it comes to the stunning scenery that made this state so popular in first place, the Mile High City is a great spot to get a taste of the state’s culture and history before continuing your trip.

Top things to do in Denver

Looking for a great atmosphere and fun night out while in Denver? Head to RINO, the city’s River North District, a former industrial area that has been revitalized and today it is one of the most popular places in Denver for dining and going out.

PRO TIP: Need help planning your Denver itinerary? Read my guide to some of the most awesome things to do in Denver!

2. Fort Collins

Where to stay: Hampton Inn Fort Collins

The biggest city in Northern Colorado, Fort Collins is one of the most overlooked places to visit in Colorado.

Fort Collins boasts a charming downtown with a thriving art and restaurant scene, as well as cool outdoor places such as Cache La Poudre River Canyon and Horsetooth Reservoir, one of the most beautiful lakes in Colorado that is less crowded than other popular spots along Colorado’s front range.

Begin your adventure in Fort Collins by taking a car ride at the signature Fort Collins Municipal Railway that runs on summer weekends and continue by sampling local beer at Fort Collins breweries or taking a bike tour through town.

Whether you are going traveling to Wyoming from Colorado or just taking a quick getaway from Denver, you shouldn’t treat Fort Collins as a mere pit stop on your Colorado itinerary: there’s plenty to do here, so plan to spend at least one night in the town.

Best things to do in Boulder, Colorado

3. Boulder

Denver’s smaller neighbor, Boulder is home to the University of Colorado Boulder and a booming tech scene. It’s also home to the University of Colorado Boulder, the state’s flagship school.

But besides being a hip college town, Boulder is a true adventure oasis with great opportunities for active lifestyle year-round. Most recently, Boulder has been named one of the best places to live in the United States, and it’s not hard to see why.

Located at the foothills of the iconic Rocky Mountains, Boulder offers year-round opportunities for rock climbing, hiking, mountain biking and a great restaurant scene with dozens of eateries for all tastes.

A must-visit place in Boulder are Flatirons, a popular spot for hiking, rock climbing, and mountain biking. The 2.5-mile hike through the meadow in Chautauqua Park will bring you to the first and second set of Flatirons – and further up, if you want a good challenge.

Things to do in Boulder, Colorado

Another cool hike in Boulder is Mount Sanitas, a steep trail with the quick elevation gain. Outside of Boulder, you will find the incredible Eldorado Canyon State Park that boasts views of the snow-covered Continental Divide.

When you are done burning calories, head to Pearl Street Mall, the main thoroughfare of the city where you can enjoy local beer, shop for some souvenirs and grab a tasty bite.

4. Golden

Where to stay: Table Mountain Inn

A historic town with a rich pioneering history, Golden is one of the best places to visit in Colorado if you want to learn more about the state. While most Denver residents are familiar with Golden, it still flies under the radar for many tourists.

Golden is a popular place in summer when so many people bring their inflatable tubes to float down the gurgling Clear Creek. Or pop into an American Mountaineering Museum where you can learn about the favorite activity of many Coloradoans.

Whether you choose to explore downtown Golden with its restaurants and breweries afterward (Coors Brewery is a must-stop if you are a fan of beer) or decide to take one of the best hikes near Golden, you will not get bored here.

If you have extra time on your hands, consider driving to the top of Lookout Mountain for panoramic views of the Mile High City and the surrounding eastern plains.

PRO TIP: Because of its proximity, Golden is one of the most popular road trips from Denver, and it tends to get crowded on weekends. For a better experience, plan your trip for a weekday.

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the best day trips from Denver

Day trips from Denver

5. Rocky Mountain National Park

Where to stay in Rocky Mountain National Park: There are no hotels in Rocky Mountain National Park. The Nearby Estes Park offers plenty of hotels such as Bear Paw Suites.

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the best day trips from Denver, and hands down one of the best places to visit in Colorado, that should be on every traveler’s itinerary.

One of the most popular national parks in the United States, it boasts majestic peaks, alpine lakes, and hikes for all levels. A gateway to the Rocky Mountain, Estes Park is a charming small town with renowned attractions such as the haunted Stanley Hotel where you can book the ghost tour, the Estes Park Aerial Tramway and Open Air Adventure Park.

Estes Park is perfect to grab a bite and stay for the night after a day of hiking instead of making a long drive back to Denver.

As of 2021, reservations are required to visit Rocky Mountain National Park. One of the most beautiful places in Colorado, it is very popular and, spots fill up quickly. To reserve a time slot, head to Recreation.gov website.

PRO TIP: One place near Rocky Mountain National Park that should be on your radar is the Indian Peaks Wilderness – an area popular for multi-day trips and backpacking. One of the most stunning hikes in the Indian Peaks Wilderness is Mirror Lake that’s typically tackled in two days.

Indian Peaks Wilderness is one of the most popular hikes near Denver, and one of the least known best places to visit in Colorado that boasts spectacular scenery!

6. Estes Park

Where to stay: Discovery Lodge

The gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park is one of the most popular places to visit in Colorado.

While it serves as a convenient stop for travelers thanks to many restaurants and accommodations, Estes Park also offers a great outdoor scene and you can easily spend a couple of days here enjoying kayaking, hiking, and mountain biking, after visiting RMNP.

Summer is the busiest time in Estes Park, while winter is a quiet downtime when you can enjoy snowshoeing, skiing and take in the stunning views of the winter wonderland.

The famous Stanley Hotel is a popular stop among many travelers who come to Estes Park, thanks to its famous history. To learn about this popular historic landmark (which is believed to be haunted), you can either book a stay at Stanley Hotel or take a guided tour.

Similar to RMNP, Estes Park has an alpine climate which means temperatures here can vary drastically during the day and the night.

7. Nederland

Where to stay: Nederland Getaway

When you visit Boulder, you might feel like everybody else had the same idea and decided to come here – Boulder is indeed one of the most popular day trips from Denver, with many visitors heading here.

If that’s what you think, head west to neighboring Nederland, a small town tucked into the Rockies, that is home to Eldora Ski Resort, an awesome music scene, and tons of opportunities for an adventurous lifestyle.

If Boulder feels too busy to you, you will love Nederland for its laid-back atmosphere and slower pace of life.

8. Grand Lake

One of the most beautiful lakes in Colorado, Grand Lake is located near the western entrance of the Rocky Mountain National Park.

It’s a perfect spot for camping and enjoying many outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking, and boating. Right nearby, you can also hike Out Audobon, “a thirteener” located in the Indian Peaks Wilderness and one of the most popular hikes near Denver that offers sprawling views of the entire Front Range and several surrounding peaks.

The trail to the summit of Mount Audobon begins at Brainard Lake Recreational area. When hiking, be aware of the wildlife, as moose and mountain lions are common in the area.

9. Peak to Peak Byway

Right outside of Nederland you can find the spectacular Peak to Peak Highway, a 55-mile route that takes you along the Continental Divide and treats with the sweeping views of the adjacent Rocky Mountain National Park. This drive is particularly popular during fall when all the aspen trees in the area burst with colors.

Although Peak to Peak Scenic Byway is most popular during fall because of its stunning golden colors, this scenic byway makes for one of the best day trips from Denver, if you are craving some time in the outdoors.

This 55-mile scenic route is one of the most popular drives in Colorado thanks to its incredible scenery and a number of hikes in the area such as Mt. Audubon. Peak to Peak Scenic Byway starts as Colo. 7 in Estes Park brings you past Allenspark on Colo. 72, before heading to Nederland.

10. Evergreen

Where to stay: Alpen Way Chalet Mountain Lodge

Located in Park County just west of Denver, Evergreen is a charming town at the base of the Rocky Mountains that offers you a glimpse into the life of rural Colorado. Besides hiking and all things outdoors (obviously), Evergreen offers a lively art scene and plenty of decent restaurants to make you forget that you are after all in a small town.

In fall, many people come to enjoy the gorgeous Kenosha Pass with its stunning fall foliage or Guanella Pass that takes you straight to Georgetown.

11. Buena Vista

Where to stay: Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort

One of the cutest mountain towns in Colorado, Buena Vista is located less than 2 hours from Denver.

Buena Vista is home to some of the best hot springs in Colorado, Buena Vista still flies under the radar. Although undeniably charming, it receives far fewer visitors than other popular places to visit in Colorado, like Breckenridge, Vail, or Aspen.

Summer is the best time to visit Buena Vista if you like spending time outboards. The Arkansas River provides superb white water rafting opportunities, and the nearby mountains have a plethora of hikes.

If you want to test your stamina, try to summit one of “the Collegiates,” the “fourteeners” that surround Buena Vista before camping under the clear dark skies at night.

And, if you come here in winter, you can have plenty of sun riding a snowmobile on Cottonwood Pass, hit the nearby slopes, or soak in the bubbling hot springs.

12. Colorado Springs

Where to stay: Spring Hill Suites

Colorado Springs is one of the best places to visit in Colorado if you want a combination of access to hotels, restaurants and some of the best outdoor opportunities in the state.

Most visitors who come here head straight to the natural landmarks such as the Garden of the Gods with tons of easy hikes; and Pikes Peak, one of the few fourteeners (or mountains with an elevation of at least 14,000 feet) in Colorado that can be accessed by car via a 19-mile road that leads to the top.

With dramatic red outcrops jutting out of the landscape dominated by the Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods is considered one of the best places to visit in Colorado. But unlike some other scenic places in Colorado that require hours of hiking and driving, Garden of the Gods is very easy to access.

If you are craving some good exercise, consider Manitou Incline, one of the most popular hiking and strenuous trails in Colorado that gains over 2,000 feet of elevation in less than one mile and attracts runners, professional athletes and outdoor enthusiasts.

Colorado Springs is the second-largest city in the state after Denver which means there are plenty of restaurants and accommodations if you decide to spend a night here.

Garden of the Gods is one of the best road trips from Denver

13. Garden of the Gods

Where to stay: TravelStar Inn&Suites

Garden of the Gods sits near Colorado Springs about 1 hour and 20 minutes south of the Mile High City.

With dramatic red outcrops jutting out of the landscape dominated by the Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods is considered one of the best places to visit in Colorado. But unlike some other scenic places in Colorado that require hours of hiking and driving, Garden of the Gods is very easy to access.

Garden of the Gods’ trails range from easy to moderate and don’t require advanced hiking skills, which means that this area is accessible to most hikers. Don’t want to hike? Take one of the Seagway tours around Garden of the Gods, one of the most popular sightseeing options in this place.

14. Great Sand Dunes National Park

Dunes in Colorado? You betcha!

If you continue your trip to Southern Colorado, you will find the Great Sand Dunes National Park, one of the most striking natural sites in the Centennial State that spans over 30 square miles. Not only you will be able to hike around the shifting dunes but you will also see Star Dune, the tallest dune in North America rising at 750 feet!

You can have a lot of fun sandboarding or using a sled to slide down the dunes. All you need to do is stop in the nearby town called Alamosa that has several rental shops. And If you have enough time, stay for the sunset to see how the incredible dark shadows fall over the area.

When it gets dark, grab your camera and snap a few photos of the clear dark sky. The Great San Dune is located in the rural area away from the sources of light pollution, a factor that ensures that this location has incredibly dark skies.

15. Interpretive Mines State Park

While most of us picture snow-capped mountains, alpine meadows and gurgling streams when we think about road trips from Denver, there are couple of cool places that defy that stereotype.

On your way to Colorado Springs (or the other way around) make a stop at the Painted Mines Interpretive Park that has candy-cane like rock formations that you will not find anywhere else in Colorado. Besides offering a perfect backdrop for your photos, this places is also home to some cool history as Native Americans said to have mined the materials from this thousands of years ago.

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You can visit Painted Mines seven days a week for FREE and enjoy its gorgeous and relatively easy hikes. As always, stay on trails, do NOT climb rock formations as you can damage them.

16. Idaho Springs

Where to stay: The Silver Lake Lodge

A neighbor of Georgetown to the west, Idaho Springs is another mountain town along the Interstate that deserves a spot on your list of best day trips from Denver.

Home to Indian Hot Springs where you can soak in mineral-rich hot waters, and a number of superb hikes such as St. Mary’s Glacier (there’s technically no glacier here), Idaho Springs also provides quick access to Mt. Evans Scenic Byway as well as Mount Bierstadt, one of Colorado’s most popular “fourteeners.”

You can also explore several mining tours in the area including the Argo Gold Mine and Mill, which used to be one of the largest mines in the state.

17. Mount Evans Scenic Byway

Where to stay: Mountain Mama’s House

As most travelers hurry to make their way to some of the most popular mountain towns in Colorado, many miss out on taking a drive along Mount Evans Scenic Byway, one of the best off-the-radar places to visit in Colorado.

Mount Evans is the HIGHEST paved road in North America. It is also one of the 54 “fourtneers” (or mountains with the elevation higher than 14,000 feet), and one of the handful of fourteeners in Colorado that can be accessed by a paved road.

The journey to the top takes you to the elevation of 9,000 feet, so bring some sunscreen, as the sun can be harsh at the high elevation. Mount Evans Scenic Byway is open to visitors from May through the end of September, because of the unpredictable weather conditions in the mountains.

Mount Evans Scenic Byway directions: Take Interstate-70 west and take exit 240 when you get to Idaho Springs. Along the way you will find the National Forest Information Center where you can learn about hikes and overlooks in the area.

18. Georgetown

Where to stay: Clear Creek Inn

A mountain town along Colorado’s Interstate-70, Georgetown is considered more of a stopover, rather than a day trip from Denver. Still, Georgetown deserves a stop on your Colorado itinerary because it is one of the best-preserved mountain towns in Colorado with a rich gold mining history that you can learn by touring its famous museum.

Another famous landmark, Georgetown Loop Railroad offers a spectacular train ride to nearby Silver Plume where many miners lived back in the day.

As Georgetown is starting to receive more visitors, more stores and restaurants (La Lucha Cantina is one of them) have opened in the city’s downtown in recent years.

19. Leadville

Leadville is the highest incorporated city in North America that sits 10,152 feet above sea level.

Surrounded by the highest mountains in the Rockies, Leadville offers a different taste of Colorado – compared to popular mountain towns with ski resorts and tourist downtowns, Leadville feels more rugged, and that’s exactly what makes it so special.

Many travelers stop in Leadville, before making a hike to the top of Mount Elbert, the highest “fourteener” in Colorado that towers at 14,433 feet and Mt. Massive at 14,421 feet.

The nearby Twin Lakes boast spectacular views of the surrounding peaks and great opportunities for camping.

As one of the most prominent boomtowns, Leadville has seen many people coming here to work in the nearby mines, and you can see it in places like the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum, home to replicas of underground minerals; of Healy House Museum where you can see how people in the area lived back in the day.

Independence Pass, Colorado

20. Independence Pass

No Colorado road trip is complete without a drive along Independence Pass, the highest pass in North America that sits at the elevation of more than 12,000 feet.

This 32-mile stretch connects the towns of Leadville and Aspen and features magnificent views as you go through Continental Divide, a natural boundary that separates North America’s river systems.

Independence Pass is one of the best things to do in Colorado

While the pass is closed in winter, it’s a popular destination for summer road trips in Colorado. Make sure to take your time, as you will be treated to the awe-inspiring views of the Rockies. June and July is the best time to visit Independence Pass if you want to see the blooming wildflowers.

Maroon Bells is one of the best places to visit in Colorado

21. Aspen

One of the best places to visit in Colorado, Aspen is town known for its stunning scenery and several ski resorts. While winter and summer are the two busiest seasons here, early-to-mid fall is the best time to visit Aspen, in my opinion. With thousands of aspen trees turning gold, Indian summer is the best time for hiking, mountain biking and spending time outside.

The Aspen area is also home to Maroon Bells, the most photographed peaks in North America. Make sure to come from middle to late September to see these iconic mountains framed by the golden colors of the surrounding aspen trees.

Breckenridge is one of the best road trips from Denver

22. Summit County

Where to stay in Breckenridge: Elk Trail House

Located in the heart of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and just 1,5 hours from Denver, this small county is a true adventurer’s paradise year-round with tons of opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, camping, kayaking and so much more!

Home to some of the best places to visit in Colorado like Frisco, Dillon, Breckenridge, and Keystone, Summit County is a perfect blend of gorgeous mountain scenery and colorful history that can be seen in historic buildings and museums left from the mining era.

Winter in Summit County bring out tons of outdoor enthusiasts who come here to enjoy gorgeous snow-powdered ski slopes and superb backcountry. Some of the most popular places for skiing in Summit County are Keystone, Breckenridge, and Arapahoe Basin.

Most visitors who take a day trip from Denver to Summit County end up staying more than just one day because there’s no way you could get a good glimpse of this area in such a short time.

Spare at least a couple of days for the most popular hikes near Breckenridge such as Mohawk Lakes, Boreas Pass and Mt. Baldy.

And don’t forget to visit the historic downtown Breckenridge, where you can grab a bite, shop and visit The Breckenridge Welcome Center Museum where you can learn about the colorful history of Colorado’s frontier towns.

Steamboat Springs is one of the best road trips from Denver

23. Steamboat Springs

Although Steamboat Springs might not have the glamor of Aspen or exclusivity of Telluride, this ski resort boasts a one-of-a-kind Indie vibe, and a proud nickname “Ski Town USA.”

Besides from hitting the slopes, visitors enjoy Strawberry Park Hot Springs, and panoramic views from the Steamboat Gondola. In summer and fall, Steamboat Springs offers many trails for hiking and biking such as Yampa River Core Trail, Gilpin Lake and Blackmere Trail.

If you are looking for a less touristy destination with superb scenery, Steamboat Springs is one of the best places to visit in Colorado!

24. Vail

Where to stay: Four Seasons Vail

Nestled in the heart of Colorado’s Rockies, Vail is one of the best places to visit in Colorado, if you love winter sports.

Surrounded by 350,000 acres of national forest, Vail mountain covers over 5000 acres and is the third-largest ski mountain in North America. It has many trails for all types of skies from beginners to experts.

While the town has developed as a complementary area of the famous ski resort, skiing is not the only game here. Summers are beautiful in Vail too with gorgeous alpine scenery, a multitude of hiking and mountain biking trails.

Although many people skip Vail on their Colorado in favor of other mountain towns, Vail is worth a stop because it offers a combination of gorgeous scenery, great shopping, and dining. The drive to Val along Interstate-70 will take you around the snow-powdered peaks and mountain towns, so it’s well worth the drive!

25. Dinosaur National Monument

Although most of Dinosaur National Monument is located in Utah, the Centennial State still has a small portion that should be on your Colorado itinerary.

With a staggering 210,000 acres, Dinosaur National Monument is a true treasure trove of undiscovered beauty and thousands of years of paleontological history that was unearthed by the climatic forces.

Located on the borders of Utah and Colorado, this national sees history buffs from all over the world who come here to see the evidence of the dinosaurs that used to roam this area.

But while this national monument might lack the popularity of some of the most popular places to visit in Colorado, this is a must-stop, if you want to see the incredible dinosaur fossils, footprints, and cool prehistoric sites. Since Dinosaur National Monument sits off the well-established travel route, it’s a perfect place to visit if you are looking for less-discovered places.

26. Grand Junction

Where to stay: Holiday Inn Express

Grand Junction is a city on the western slope of Colorado near the border with Utah along the Colorado River.

Grand Junction offers proximity to many outdoor attractions in the region and is also a convenient stop for those who are going to southwestern Colorado, as it has the largest airport in Western Colorado.

It is home to the Colorado National Monument, one of the most famous attractions in the Western part of the state and one of the most popular places to visit in Colorado for camping and stargazing. The area also offers many adventures along the Colorado River such as speed boating, rafting, and paddleboarding.

If you are in a good shape, consider venturing into the remote Dominguez Canyon, located outside of Grand Junction. The canyon spans for four miles and boasts many well-preserved Native American petroglyphs.

To finish your day, check out Two Rivers Winery just west of downtown Grand Junction where you can sample locally made that has won many awards.

27. Palisade

Where to stay: Wine Country Inn

Located just to the east of Grand Junction along Interstate-70, Palisade is the heart of Colorado’s wine country where you can tour several wineries and walk among the lush vineyards.

While wine tasting might be one of the first activities in mind when it comes to best things to do in Colorado, where you can try several types of locally produced wine and also tour a couple of peach farms that grow in this part of Colorado thanks to the dry warm climate.

Colorado National Monument

28. Colorado National Monument

Where to stay near Colorado National Monument: If you don’t plan on camping at Colorado National Monument, book a hotel in Fruita or Grand Junction.

When make your way toward the end of Colorado’s Western Slope, don’t forget to visit Colorado National Monument.

Besides enjoying the striking red rock formations, you can also hike, run or ride your bike along the vast mesas and sprawling canyons inside the Colorado National Monument. At night this area offers incredible dark skies, so you might want to blow the dust off your camera to take photos of the Milky Way.

29. Glenwood Springs

Where to stay: Glenwood Hot Springs Resort

Glenwood Springs is an unmissable stop on your Colorado itinerary. Located on the Western Slope of the state, Glenwood Springs is a year-round destination where you can enjoy rafting on the Colorado River, bicycling on trails and soaking in some of the best hot springs in Colorado.

Unlike some of the most popular Colorado mountain towns in the area, Glenwood Springs offers a combination of affordability and fun. You don’t have to break you bank to afford a getaway in this place and the best news is you can easily drive to places like Aspen, Vail and Eagle from here since Glenwood Springs sits right along Interstate-70.

30. Hanging Lake

Located near Glenwood Springs, Hanging Lake is one of the best places to visit in Colorado. A few years ago, thousands of people were stopping to see it until officials implemented a permit system to save the lake’s fragile ecosystem.

The permit costs between $10-12 and has to be obtained before your visit. While Hanging Lake is worth a visit, plan your visit early morning. Many people travel to Hanging Lake by car, and to minimize the wait time and skip traffic, you can take a shuttle from Glenwood Springs.

31. Mount Elbert

Are you ready for a challenge?

Try making your way up Mount Elbert, the highest 14er in Colorado, and the second-highest peak in the continental United States only behind Mount Whitney in California.

It’s one of the most popular mountains to climb in Colorado, and once you get to the top, you will see why!

While Mount Elbert is not a technical hike, summiting it will earn you bragging rights! Still, hiking a 14er is a serious business, and you need to be in a good physical shape and have experience hiking at high altitudes in addition to brining proper gear and snacks.

best places to visit in Colorado

32. Crested Butte

Where to stay in Crested Butte: Elevation Hotel&Spa

If you are going to visit Colorado in fall, make a stop in Crested Butte to see some incredible foliage. When you get to this town, you will see stunning fall colors in every direction, however, even if you happen to come here during a different season you will not be disappointed.

In winter, Crested Butte is true magic covered with snow, and in summer, it boasts gorgeous alpine meadows with wildflowers.

Dubbed “Wildflower Capital of Colorado,” Crested Butte boasts some of the best hikes in Colorado such as Snodgrass Trail, 403 Trail and Lake Meridian. Located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, it’s one of the best places to visit in Colorado thanks to its superb scenery and authentic vibes.

33. Black Canyon of The Gunnison

Where to stay: Stone House Inn

While Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most popular stops on virtually any Colorado itinerary, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of the four national parks in Colorado that sits in a remote area of the state.

Compared to the Rocky Mountain National Park, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison sees very few visitors. Here, you can take in the views of the canyon that have been carved out by the Gunnison River.

If you are looking to get away from the crowds and enjoy nature and spectacular scenery, make sure to visit this place.

Telluride, Colorado

34. Telluride

Where to stay in Telluride: Mountainside Inn

Telluride is often called one of the most beautiful places in Colorado, and for a good reason:

Despite its small size, it boasts some of the most amazing scenery in the state and packs on tons of adventure at any time of a year. Nestled in the box canyon and surrounded by the majestic San Juan Mountains, Telluride is unlike any other mountain town in Colorado.

Although it started as a silver mining camp back in the day, Telluride has grown into a ski resort and one of the best places to visit in Colorado. However, unlike other popular mountain towns, it’s been spared from crowds and mass development and that’s exactly what makes it so appealing to those who come here. I recommend no less than a few days in Telluride!

Telluride, Colorado

The main drag of Telluride, Colorado Avenue, is occupied by local eateries and stores with outdoor gear and vintage clothing. Here, you will not find chain restaurants and will enjoy all things local, as many of these places offer farm-to-table dishes on their menus.

To learn about Telluride’s colorful past, stop at Telluride Historical Museum where you can find out how a mining camp transitioned into one of the best ski destinations in the United States.

Switzerland of America overlook

35. Ouray

Where to stay in Ouray: Ouray Inn

If you have extra time after visiting Telluride, consider stopping at Ouray, a less-famous sibling of Telluride that has been nicknamed “Switzerland of America.”

Located in the heart of the San Juans, Ouray offers natural hot springs, great hikes and tours of the surrounding mines that operated back in the day. Oh, and don’t forget to hit the famous “One Million Dollar Highway” between Ouray and Silverton.

Blue Lakes Colorado

36. Blue Lakes near Telluride

Nestled between Ridgeway and Telluride, Blue Lakes is one of the best hikes in Colorado. This challenging trail leads to the pair of stunning alpine lakes surrounded by the jagged peaks with some of the most incredible turquoise water you have ever seen!

Blue Lakes near Telluride

While the trail to Lower Blue Lake is rated moderate, it feels more strenuous as you climb up a series of steep switchbacks before arriving at incredible alpine meadows with bright wildflowers (during June and July). Don’t forget to bring enough water and snacks because this hike will test your stamina. And if you are up for some adventure, you can also camp near the lake!

37. One Million Dollar Highway

When you come to Ouray, don’t miss the chance to drive along One Million Dollar Highway, a portion of U.S. Highway 550 that will take you along the Red Mountain Pass.

From Ouray, the road climbs the two-lane mountain pass with steep drop-offs and no guardrails. It’s a fascinating drive that will take your breath away and tell you the mining history of this remote region with hundreds of small mining towns scattered in the area.

38. Silverton

Where to stay: Teller House

Silverton is a National Historic Landmark, that until recently has seen very few visitors. Located in the heart of Southwest Colorado, this little hamlet is perhaps one of the most worthy stops for your Colorado Itinerary. Located along San Juan Skyway, Silverton is a perfect place to unplug and enjoy the unspoiled mountain views.

39. Mesa Verde National Park

Where to stay near Mesa Verde National Park: Canyon Of The Ancients Guest Ranch

Located in the southwestern corner of Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its vast collection of the dwellings and artifacts left by the Ancestral Pueblo people. The park boasts about 5,000 archaeological sites and over 600 cliff dwellings built into the cliff sites that were preserved from the time when Pueblos occupied the area.

In case you are a history buff, this is by far one of the best places to visit in Colorado, that’s worth a lengthy drive to the southwest corner of the state.

After learning the history through the ancient cliff dwellings, check out overlooks along the 6-mile Mesa Top Loop Road on the Chapin Mesa, an area that has several hikes.

The cliff dwellings inside this national park are extremely fragile, so make sure not to touch them.

40. Durango

Where to stay in Durango: Adobe Inn

One of the most beautiful places in Colorado, Durango is a small town in southwest corner of the state, that is largely off the beaten tourist path. Located not far from Mesa Verde National Park, Durango has an Old West feel to it with historic buildings lining the downtown.

One of the main attractions in Durango is the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gage Railway, a historic train that takes you up the valley from Durango to Silverton, an old mining town that is considered one of top destinations for backcountry trips in Colorado.

How many days do I need in Colorado?

Colorado is not the biggest state in America, but because it’s literally jam-packed with incredible scenery, it takes months to explore. I recommend at least one week for your Colorado road trip, and ideally a little bit more because it will allow you to explore some of the best places to visit in Colorado that are often located off the beaten track.

Colorado travel tips

Before planning your trip to Colorado, know that you will need some adjustment. I spent a while exploring Colorado’s mountain towns, hiking some of the most beautiful places in Colorado and exploring front range cities. Here are some of my top tips for Colorado travel.

  • Drink plenty of water – This is especially true if you are going to the mountains, because the altitude sickness is a very real thing, and you don’t want to cancel your travel plans because you start developing signs of altitude sickness.
  • Take time getting used to the altitude – If you are traveling to Colorado from a flat place and are not used to high altitudes, take it easy. Spend a couple of days in Denver before going on a road trip around the state.
  • Get proper gear – Whether you plan to hike or just spend time in the nature, make sure to bring comfortable shoes with a good grip, comfortable clothing, and layers.
  • Plan your hikes for early morning – If you plan to hike during summer, always plan your hikes before noon. It’s not uncommon for thunderstorms to roll through the high terrain in the afternoon, and getting stuck above the tree line during this time can be really dangerous.
  • Bring plenty of sunscreen – Colorado’s sun at high altitudes is no joke. Whether you are visiting in winter or in summer, always make sure to put on some sunscreen, because you can get a sunburn without even noticing it.

Check out more inspiration for your Colorado Road trip:

  • 20 Road Trips From Denver For Your Bucket List
  • 20 Hot Springs In Colorado That You Need To Visit In Winter
  • 32 Awesome Things To Do In Denver
  • Perfect Southwest Colorado Road Trip
  • Best Hikes In The Rocky Mountain National Park

A few final words

When it comes to incredible landscapes, nothing can compare to Colorado.

Here you will be treated with amazing scenery and will have an opportunity to venture onto some of the most scenic trails you have ever seen. I hope you enjoy your trip and get to visit most of the most beautiful places in Colorado!

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I might earn a small commission if you make a purchase through the links in this article.

Source https://www.planetware.com/tourist-attractions/colorado-usco.htm

Source https://www.planetware.com/tourist-attractions/colorado-usco.htm

Source https://thediscoverynut.com/the-most-beautiful-places-in-colorado/#:~:text=Some%20popular%20places%20to%20visit%20in%20Colorado%20like,Canyon%20of%20the%20Gunnison%20National%20Park%20or%20Silverton.

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