Split down the middle by the vast Rocky Mountains and jam-packed with national parks and wilderness areas, Colorado is an ideal travel destination for outdoor pursuits in every season. From skiing and whitewater rafting to hiking, biking and camping, outdoor activities are a way of life in the Centennial State. The state’s fun-loving culture attracts visitors looking for a laidback vacation too. After all, Colorado produces more beer than any other state and is one of only two states in the Union that has legalized marijuana for recreational use.
Map of Colorado
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Rich in historical and cultural attractions as well as in natural beauty, the best places to visit in Colorado have something special to offer every visitor.
Located around 65 miles (105 km) west of Denver, Breckenridge is a historic mining town with a small population that increases tenfold during skiing season. There are more than 2,300 skiable acres on the four mountain peaks that make up Breckenridge’s southwestern border. A newly opened gondola in the north side of town takes skiers up to the summit of the nearly 13,000-foot (4,000 meter) high Peak 8, Breckenridge’s original ski mountain. With more than 250 buildings listed on the National Historic Register, cultural attractions in gold-rush town are worth exploring as well.
Located in Southwestern Colorado, the Gunnison National Park is best known for the narrow gorge called the Black Canyon. With a depth that reaches 2,700 feet (820 meters), the canyon was carved by thousands of years of erosion by the Gunnison River. Scenic overlooks along the 6-mile (10 km) South Rim Road offer views of the canyon. The Cedar Point Nature Trail off South Rim is an easy-to-navigate hiking trail that includes signs about the area’s plants. It leads to a great view of the 2,250 foot (7,380) high Painted Wall, the tallest cliff in the state.
8. Vail Where to Stay
The city of Vail was built to accommodate the Vail Ski Resort, which is the largest single-mountain ski resort in the country. With 193 marked skiing trails, Vail is one of the nation’s most popular ski resorts as well. The Tyrolean-style village is nearly as well visited during the summer. Nearby streams and lakes stocked with fish make Vail an angler’s dream, and opportunities for river rafting abound. Horseback riding, mountain biking, golf and hiking are other popular warm-weather activities.
Situated in Southern Colorado, the Great Sand Dunes National Park is an impressive sight. Shaped by winds blowing from and against the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the piles of sand climb to more than 750 feet (230 meters), making them the tallest dunes in North America. Sand-boarding, skiing and sledding on the dunes are the park’s most popular activities, and there are medium-size slopes to slide on located near the main parking area. A longer hike to the north brings thrill seekers to a 300-foot (90 meter) slope that tumbles onto into Medano Creek.
6. Boulder Where to Stay
Located just a few miles to the northwest of Denver, Boulder is a college town nestled against the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Boulder’s inhabitants are best known for their healthy lifestyles, and outdoor activities are plentiful in and around the city. Boulder Creek cuts straight through the town and is lined with walking and biking trails. The four-block pedestrian-friendly Pearl Street Mall features outdoor performers in all but the most inclement weather. A drive up Baseline Road on Flagstaff Mountains rewards visitors with spectacular views, and there are picnic areas and hiking trails to enjoy at the summit as well.
5. Aspen Where to Stay
With its reputation for attracting celebrities and well-heeled travelers, Aspen is one of the world’s most famous ski resorts and one of the best places to visit in Colorado. There’s good reason for the all the hype. Four resorts offer great skiing for every level of skier, from the gentle slopes of Buttermilk Mountain to the ungroomed terrain on Aspen Mountain. During warm weather, visitors can fish for trout from the Roaring Fork River or take shuttles to the nearby 14,000-foot (4,300 meter) peaks of the Maroon Bells to enjoy leisurely hikes around Colorado’s most photographed mountains.
4. Colorado Springs Where to Stay
Located at the foot of Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs draws visitors who come to see the view from the mountain that inspired the writing of the song “America, the Beautiful.” Some hike to the mountain’s 14,115-foot (4,302 meter) summit while others drive or enjoy a ride on the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. With its sculptural sandstone formations and balancing rocks, the Garden of the Gods is another popular natural attraction. This culturally rich city has many museums worth exploring too, including the Fine Arts Center, Pioneer Museum and the Rock Ledge Historic Site, an open-air museum where costumed docents depict life in Colorado Springs throughout its long history.
3. Denver Where to Stay
Nicknamed the “Mile-High City” because it sits exactly a mile high in altitude above sea level, Denver is Colorado’s capital and largest city. Located just east of the Rocky Mountains, Denver is a popular winter sport destination that celebrates its mining and cowboy history. The city also boasts a lively arts and culture scene with many distinguished museums, such as the Denver Art Museum, and the Denver Performing Arts Complex, one of the nation’s largest performing art centers.
Located in in southwestern Colorado, Mesa Verde is home to the famous cliff dwellings of the ancient Anasazi people. It is one of the most significant archeological preserve of Native American culture in the US. In the 12th century, the Anasazi start building houses in shallow caves and under rock overhangs along the canyon walls. The most famous of these is Cliff Palace. The Ancient Puebloans constructed it from sandstone bricks, and mortar made from ash, clay and water. It encompassed 150 rooms and 76 open areas. Climatic change and increased population placed the communities under stress and by the late 1270s, the Ancestral Puebloan population began migrating to what is now New Mexico and Arizona.
Straddling the Continental Divide, the Rocky Mountain National Park covers some of the most beautiful mountains in the world. There are 77 mountains in the park with elevations that range from 7,500 to over 12,000 feet (2,200 to 3,600 meters). Most of the more than 3 million people who visit the park each year spend at least one night in one of the park’s many drive-in campgrounds. More than 350 miles of hiking trails offer visitors the chance to view the park’s wildlife, which includes hundreds of elk, bighorn sheep and deer. There is also the specially built scenic Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved road in any of the National Park in the United States.