Attracting millions of visitors per year, Colorado is an unforgettable vacation destination. It’s not hard to imagine why. With endless outdoor adventures, diverse landscapes, and rich cultural history, Colorado has something for everyone. Many travelers are familiar with the famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Pike’s Peak, or the Royal Gorge. With 1/3 of the land being federally protected however, Colorado has so many more treasures to explore. Read on for six must-see areas to discover on your next Colorado vacation.
1. Telluride and Mountain Village
A little slice of heaven in the heart of the San Juan mountains, the towns of Telluride and Mountain Village are nestled at a spectacular 9,545 ft. elevation in Southwest Colorado. A free gondola system (the first and only free one of its kind in the United States) connects the two towns, making enjoying the abundance of winter and summer activities a breeze no matter where you decide to stay.
A former mining town, Telluride offers famous festivals, ample shopping, and a lively nightlife scene. Mountain Village is a more peaceful location, offering stunning views, luxury accommodations, and quick access to challenging bike trails, ski slopes, and golf courses. For good eats, enjoy fine dining at the top of the gondola at Allred’s while experiencing incredible views of the box canyon, or grab lunch and a beer at Tomboy Tavern in the Mountain Village plaza. Whether taking in mountain adventures, enjoying a seasonal festival, or ending the day relaxing at the spa, you’ll want to go back to this incredible destination as soon as possible.
2. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
A short drive out of Montrose, you’ll find the south rim entrance to this breathtaking, lesser known national park. With spectacular views, miles of hiking trails, and magnificent Gunnison River, each overlook is a jaw-dropping natural wonder. The river falls an average of 43 feet per mile through the canyon, creating jagged cliffs that rival the tallest peaks in the lower 48 states. Chasm View and the famous Painted Wall (the highest cliff in Colorado) are not to be missed.
Some of the most favored views are on the south rim as you wind your way through, so take your time and enjoy each stop along the route. Be sure to pack plenty of water and snacks. If you’re into rock climbing, backpacking, fly-fishing, or kayaking, take the East Portal Road down to the river if you dare. The drive down is dauntingly steep, but worth it.
3. Grand Mesa National Forest
Rising 6,000 feet above Grand Junction, the Grand Mesa National Forest delivers a whole different landscape from the desert below. The world’s largest flat-top mountain boasts over 300 gorgeous lakes at 11,000 feet above sea level, and teems with wildlife, aspens, and meadows alongside evergreen forests. A great way to beat the summer heat, the Grand Mesa offers hiking, fishing, mountain biking, camping, skiing, and hunting. In fact, patches of snow can linger well into July at peak elevations. While exploring the area, be sure to check out Lands End Overlook, which provides spectacular views as far-reaching as the Sneffels Range near Ridgway.
4. Colorado National Monument
Situated between Fruita and Grand Junction, you’ll find 32 square miles of wild country to explore. Whether you hike, drive, or bike the Colorado National monument, time spent here is time well spent. One of the grand landscapes of the American West, beautiful red rock overlooks, sandstone towers, and deep granite canyons offer incredible beauty at every turn. Independence Monument is the canyon’s tallest formation at 450 feet of freestanding rock. But don’t end your day just yet, there’s so much more to discover. You may encounter bighorn sheep or soaring eagles as the ever-changing light gives the landscape a different look as the day goes on. Juniper forests stand the test of time, and collared lizards scurry around as rock climbers take on sandstone cliffs. Impressive tunnels carved of stone and an extensive trail system make hiking and biking here a treasure for outdoor enthusiasts.
5. Rocky Mountain National Park
With amazing wildlife, incredible waterfalls, and 415 square miles of mountain activities to enjoy, a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park is a must. Whether camping, staying in a rugged lodge, or a quaint bed and breakfast, abundant adventures await. Over 350 miles of trails offer exploration for hikers of every level. From horseback riding and geocaching to river rafting and snowshoeing, the park offers year-around fun by car or by foot. Visit the old frontier town of Estes Park before the park entrance, walk a section of the Continental Divide Trail, breathe in the fresh mountain air at Bear Lake, or take on the rigorous ascent to Longs Peak (the park’s highest mountain at 14,259 feet). Take a guided tour to view the spectacular night sky, explore the scenic overlooks of Trail Ridge Road, and dip your toes into a crystal-clear mountain stream. For a trip you won’t soon forget, start planning your adventure here.
6. Road Trip the I-70 corridor
More than 2,000 miles long from Utah to Baltimore, the I-70 mountain corridor reaches heights of over 11,000 feet and offers much to explore along its winding path through Colorado. If you start from Denver and drive west, you’ll experience the longest interstate tunnel in the U.S. (Eisenhower Tunnel), enjoy magnificent views of the Rockies, discover quaint ski towns like Vail, Copper Mountain, or Avon, and take in the awe-inspiring vistas of Glenwood Canyon. With the winding Eagle and Colorado Rivers following the whole route, there are plenty of opportunities for rafting and other outdoor adventures.
Visit Buffalo Overlook at Genesee Mountain Park, stop off at Lake Dillion to golf or fish, pan for gold at the Country Boy Mine in Breckenridge, and take a soak in Glenwood Springs Hot Springs before heading towards the more desert terrain of Grand Junction. Be sure to stop in Palisade on the way for some of the best peaches you’ve ever tasted. Always keep an eye on weather and road conditions by checking the Colorado Department of transportation’s interactive, real-time map. Mudslides, avalanches, accidents and other road closures are not uncommon, so be prepared to alter your plans if needed.
Our six suggestions are just a taste of all Colorado has to offer. From exploring ancient fossils and dinosaur tracks to hiking in Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado’s vast and diverse destinations should be on every bucket list.
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