Colorado is the state with the highest elevation in all of North America. It’s also home to the tallest mountains, soaring sand dunes and some of the most plentiful skiing and summer hiking on the continent. Simply put, Colorado is one big playground for the great outdoors. While many people make their first acquaintance with a trip to either Vail, Aspen, Telluride or one of the other 30 world-class ski resorts dotting the state, there’s much more to Colorado than just winter mountain sports. When planning your next all-season visit, try exploring one of these near-perfect natural attractions.
Colorado National Monument
If Colorado didn’t already have four existing National Parks, this little red rock gem, perfect for mountain biking and desert hiking, would likely enjoy official “park” status today. But don’t let the “monument” designation deter you. Scenic Rim Rock drive, hiking around the monument and mountain biking in nearby Fruita and Grand Junction are totally worth the detour. Colorado National Monument may be small, but the views are massive.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Located an hour and a half’s drive north from Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park is arguably the crown jewel of the state’s iconic terrain. Popular checkpoints include the delightful gateway town of Estes Park, Keyhole Route to Longs Peak, Trail Ridge and Old Fall River roads, and Bear Lake trail for its mountain views.
Garden of the Gods
This might be the most beautiful public park you’ll ever see. Now an official “National Landmark,” Garden of the Gods features 300-foot tall sandstone spires and balanced rocks that jet from the green ground and into the blue sky. With over 15 miles of trails (1.5 of which are paved), this postcard-perfect site is popular among hikers, rock climbers, bikers and horseback riders for good reason.
The Great Sand Dunes
Situated in southern Colorado, Great Sand Dunes National Park is home to the tallest sand dunes in America. Not only do they allow for surreal photography of the dunes themselves and their surrounding peaks, you can hike along or sandboard and sand sled down them to your heart’s content. If visiting in summer, be sure to splash around Medano Creek and take in over 9,000 visible stars in the night sky.
Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness
Since they don’t allow motorized vehicles (only horses and hikers), U.S. Wilderness Areas are the most preserved, pristine, and quietest spots in all of the great outdoors. And at Maroon Bells-Snowmass in central Colorado, you’ll find the best of the best. While here, consider driving Castle Creek Road, rafting the Gunnison River, snowmobiling or skiing nearby Aspen, and hiking the demanding but timeless West Maroon Trail. All of it impresses.
Mesa Verde National Park
Located near the Four Corners area of southwest Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park is known for its 1500-year-old cliff dwellings that were once inhabited by ancient Native Americans for more than 700 years. Cliff Palace is the largest and most notable attraction, but Mesa Top Loop Road, Sun Point Overlook, and Petroglyph Point Trail also come highly recommend by history-seeking visitors.
Black Canyon National Park
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (as it is officially called) is probably the least visited landmark on this list. But its almost black-looking cliffs—the highest in the whole state—are undeniably worth the effort. Roads and trails along both the north and south rims offer dramatic views of this massive gorge and its distinct painted walls. While there, head to the nearby and well-rated Museum of the Mountain West for classic Americana memorabilia and building restorations.
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