Famous for its alluring sky-high peaks, incredible hiking opportunities, and stunning alpine scenery that looks straight out of a painting, Colorado doesn’t slack when it comes to marvelous places to see.
Put in simple words, the Centennial State just knows how to put on a show when it comes to gorgeous vistas and outdoor escapades. Even though we could spend an entire lifetime listing incredible destinations to visit in Colorado, there are a few places that stand high above the crowds when it comes to beautiful scenery.
11 Places in Colorado You’ve Got To Visit At Least Once in Your Life
Backdropped by the mighty Sand Juan Mountains, Telluride may just be one of Colorado’s most scenic alpine towns. Come winter, this picturesque town becomes a mecca for world-class winter sports, but even if you visit any other time of the year, you can rest assured there’ll be something on the menu for you.
Telluride and its surroundings are home to a vast array of beautiful hiking trails, including the famed Bridal Veil Falls hike, which will give you the opportunity to see a humongous 265-feet waterfall (a rare sight in Colorado).
If you’re keen on a heart-pumping adventure, another must-do is the Telluride Via Ferrata, a trail that will have you crossing cliff ledges in search of some of the most unique (and absolutely breathtaking) views Colorado has to offer.
2. Lone Eagle Peak
Lone Eagle Peak is often recognized as being the most beautiful mountain in Colorado. If you’re keen to see it, you can pretty much catch glimpses of it from many viewpoints in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, but there’s no better way to actually get personal with the mountain than by actually conquering it.
What’s best? Lone Eagle Peak is a fourteener, and while reaching the top is definitely a challenge, the hike is relatively easy-going and perfect for those keen to summit a Colorado 14er without much prior experience.
3. Emerald Lake
Colorado is home to a vast array of beautiful alpine lakes, and we’d argue that Emerald Lake is the most iconic. Tucked inside Rocky Mountain National Park, getting to Emerald Lake is accessible to mostly everyone thanks to the trail being well-marked and a relatively easy grade.
Plus, during the hike, you’ll be making your way through valleys, gorgeous mountain views, and waterfalls cascading down from the cliffsides, so you’ll have plenty of excuses to stop and rest your legs as you go along!
4. Great Sand Dunes National Park
Here’s a fun fact you may not know: Colorado is home to the tallest sand dunes in North America, and you’ll get to see them with your own eyes when you visit Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Imagine mounting sand dunes as far as the eye can see contrasted by majestic snow-capped mountains, and you’ll get a pretty good picture of why Sand Dunes is worth a visit.
As if that weren’t enough of a reason to pay this stunning national park a visit, another aspect that makes Great Sand Dunes so special is the fact that it’s Dark Sky Territory. This designation means there’s no light pollution anywhere, making it a brilliant place to watch the night sky (you may even catch a glimpse of the Milky Way on a clear evening!)
Breckenridge may be famed for being one of the top ski resorts in North America, but it’s also a lovely alpine town in Colorado. Worth visiting at any time of the year, especially if you’re keen on trying your hand at various outdoor sports (think hiking, white water rafting, and even playing with sled dogs!).
Situated at the base of the Rocky Mountain’s Tenmile Range, the town’s famed gold rush history sees many originally Victoria-era buildings preserved in the Breckenridge Historic District. With colorfully painted buildings housing shops, galleries, and restaurants, Main Street is a year-round attraction, with the choice of several walking tours and mine tours delighting visitors.
6. Mesa Verde National Park
If you’re interested in learning about the complex native history of Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park is an excellent way to get things started. The entire area was once home to Ancestral Puebloans. Even though no one knows exactly what caused the society to collapse, today, you can paint a pretty good picture of the way they once lived by exploring inside the Anasazi cliff dwellings and structures they once called home.
The national park offers several hiking opportunities with 30 miles of trails along the canyons, ridges, and mesa. The Mesa Top Loop Road also offers a great guided audio tour, or get on foot to discover some of the incredible preserved rock carvings.
7. Garden of the Gods
Situated just outside of Colorado Springs, Garden of the Gods is a registered National Natural Landmark with towering 300-foot high sandstone rock formations against the snowy mountain caps of Pikes Peak. Enjoy not just the supernatural collection of red rocks and 21 miles of hiking trails, but also the Geo-Trekker interactive theatre experience is a must.
Experienced climbers must apply for a permit to climb or join an organized tour group for one of the most sensational of Colorado experiences.
If Gardens of the Gods is too busy, don’t forget to check out plenty of the lesser-known hiking trails surrounding Colorado Springs. Seven Bridges Trail is great for families, or Mount Muscoco Trail for something more challenging – followed by a zipline tour over Seven Falls!
Only a relatively small town but steeped in luxury and postcard-perfect appeal. Aspen is renowned not just for its snow sports and après-ski scene but plays host in the summer months to the Food & Wine Classic.
For some thrills off the snow, check out the incredible Breathtaker Alpine Coaster, reaching speeds up to 28mph!
Hot on the heels of Aspen, Vail, sandwiched between the Gore Mountain Range and the Sawatch Mountains, is renowned for its extensive slopes, which draw winter sports enthusiasts internationally. With over 5,000 acres of snowy trails, it is the largest single mountain resort in the USA and one of the country’s most incredible winter wonderlands.
Drawing A-listers and skiers of all levels in the winter months, the summer months are equally as stunning.
Vail’s Epic Discovery area is absolutely packed full of activities for outdoor-loving families, from ziplines to climbing walls and bungee trampolines. If snow sports aren’t your thing, there’s still plenty on offer at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens throughout the year.
10. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Frequently named as one of the least visited National Parks in the US, the name says it all, really. If you’re looking for some peace and tranquility away from the crowds this summer, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is an underrated gem perfect for family road trip exploration. Fun fact – some parts of the narrow gorges receive only 33-minutes of sunlight per day!
Situated 250 miles southwest of Denver, you’ll find some of North America’s oldest and craggiest cliffs and spires, dating back to the Precambrian era. It is the perfect national park for exploring within half a day as most of the cliffs are too steep to descend; you’ll do most of your touring from the viewing points from the North or South rim roads.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison is another International Dark Sky Park, making it an ideal overnight stopping point on your journey through the state.
11. Million Dollar Highway
The Million Dollar Highway (US Route 550) may not be considered a destination in itself, but it absolutely had to make it to the list because, well, the road (and the towns on the way) are absolutely iconic.
This 25-mile long stretch of road is part of the San Juan Skyway and is considered one of the most scenic drives in the United States. What’s best? The road passes right through some of Colorado’s most beautiful spots, including Ouray, Durango, Telluride, and Ridgeway.
While the drive can be completed in under two hours if you don’t stop, the best way to truly experience it is by treating it as a road trip and overnighting in each town to get to know each place a little better.
We hope this list of amazing places in Colorado helped you plan your next trip! Even though listing each and every single destination bound to take your breath away in Colorado would be an impossible feat, these 11 places in Colorado are ideal for starting to plan your Colorado itinerary and experiencing the best the Centennial State has to offer.
Top Tips For Colorado & Further Reading
Colorado really has it all when it comes to experiencing the four seasons at their best. To make the most of a family road trip throughout Colorado, we recommend:
- Plan your driving days out carefully. Most national parks and wilderness stops take many hours to explore. Even if only stopping briefly and not taking on the trails, the mountainous roads make distances much longer than they appear.
- You can reach some seriously high altitudes in Colorado. Those coming from sea level may experience some altitude sickness.
- Come prepared for sudden changes in weather! Sunny mornings can swiftly turn into downpours and strong winds; always be prepared when hitting the trails.
- Brush up on your winter driving skills before taking on the mountainous climbs.
- The Colorado National Monument Annual Park Pass costs $45 for one year, or America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Pass is $80, covering all US National Parks and recreation sites. This is likely to be a cheaper alternative than paying a $15 entry fee each time.
- Never forget a road trip essential again with our complete family road trip packing list.
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