Home to everything from dusty deserts and sublime sand dunes to radiant red rock canyons and the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, ‘Colorful Colorado’ certainly lives up to its nickname. Lying in the western United States, it has dazzlingly diverse landscapes to explore, with incredible scenery and nature wherever you go.
In addition to its innumerable natural wonders, Colorado’s national parks and monuments also preserve awe-inspiring archaeological sites and fascinating fossil beds. Left behind by the Ancestral Puebloans are lots of curious cliff dwellings, kivas, and ceremonial sites; many of them are found in some of the most scenic settings in America.
Map of National Parks in Colorado
With fantastic hiking, fishing, and rock climbing to be enjoyed amidst its mighty mountains and along its roaring rivers, Colorado is one of the most rewarding places to visit in the whole of the States.
12. Curecanti National Recreation Area
Nestled amidst the Rocky Mountains is the captivating Curecanti National Recreation Area, which lies in western Colorado. Founded in 1965, it is a popular and picturesque place with some outstanding hiking, fishing, and boating being on offer.
The beautiful recreation area surrounds three reservoirs that were formed when the once wild and free Gunnison River was dammed in the 60s. Looming over their scenic shores are rugged canyons and majestic mesas, with the striking spire of Curecanti Needle one of the standout sights.
In addition to its lovely landscapes, Curecanti National Recreation Area has various marinas, campsites, and visitor centers to make use of. With miles of hiking trails winding through the wilderness and numerous watersports to try out, it’s the perfect place for a quiet getaway. The area is particularly known for its salmon and trout fishing.
11. Rifle Falls State Park
Situated in a serene and secluded setting, Rifle Falls State Park can be found in the northwest of Colorado, on the banks of East Rifle Creek. Due to its fabulous falls and stunning scenery, it has long been popular with photographers and nature lovers alike.
The park’s main attraction is the terrific 21-meter-high waterfall that lies at its heart amidst the lush vegetation. Plunging over the side of a cliff, the three cascades of white water make for a breathtaking sight. Winter is a particularly magical time to visit as they are often frozen solid.
Next to them are some small caves for visitors to explore, with magnificent views to be had from the top of the falls. Many people stay to have a picnic on the banks of the charming creek or camp overnight in the pretty park.
10. Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
As it boasts an astounding array of centuries-old settlements, structures and shrines, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument is a fascinating place to visit. Set in the southwest of the state, it is believed to be home to the largest concentration of archaeological sites in the States.
Remarkably, the marvelous monument has more than 6,000 such sites to explore, with everything from kivas and cliff dwellings to sweat lodges, stone towers, and sacred springs on show. Tucked away amid the arid confines of its canyons, these incredible cultural sites dated from between 750 – 1300 AD and were mostly built by the Ancestral Puebloans.
While both Lowry Pueblo and Sand Canyon Pueblo are very impressive, it is also worth heading to the monument’s excellent visitor center and museum. Here, you’ll find lots of interesting artifacts and exhibits on Native American cultures and their history and heritage.
9. Chimney Rock National Monument
Another of Colorado’s arresting archaeological sites is Chimney Rock National Monument, which lies in the southwest of the state in San Juan National Forest. Perched atop a prominent peak, the awe-inspiring Ancestral Puebloan site is a treat to explore, and has sensational scenery and sweeping views on offer.
Set along the top of a steep ridge are the ruins of over two hundred ancient homes and ceremonial buildings, believed to have been built around a thousand years ago. Chimney Rock was abandoned in 1125, however, and its inhabitants set fire to the buildings when they left.
To gain a greater understanding of the Ancient Puebloan’s culture, it is well worth going on a tour of the site. Tours take you around the Great Kiva and Great House Pueblo, among other excavations.
8. Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
Famed for its extensive and impressive collection of Eocene epoch fossils, the fantastic Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument lies almost slap bang in the center of the state. Located just under an hour’s drive to the west of Colorado Springs, it has some pleasant and picturesque landscapes for you to hike around, as well as an excellent visitors center to check out.
Since excavations began in the late 19th century, a staggering 50,000 fossils of well-preserved insects and plants have been unearthed, dating to around 34 million years ago. In the center, guests can peruse a small sample of them and learn about the history of the rich fossil bed.
Besides viewing the collection, there is some charming countryside to hike around, with phenomenal petrified sequoia stumps dotted here and there.
7. Eldorado Canyon State Park
One of America’s most accessible and attractive state parks, Eldorado Canyon lies just a stone’s throw from Denver and Boulder. Home to striking sandstone cliffs and scenery, it is a popular place to enjoy outdoor activities, with plenty of hiking trails and rock climbing routes on offer.
While it showcases a number of prominent peaks and sweeping valleys, the state park is named after the charming canyon that lies at its heart. Here you can find gorgeous golden colored cliffs to gaze on, with over a thousand routes to climb up and rappel down.
In addition, you can enjoy a picnic on the banks of the scenic South Boulder Creek, fish in its waters, or explore the park’s terrific trails that pass through wonderful woods and wilderness areas.
6. Dinosaur National Monument
While Dinosaur National Monument is arguably set in the most remote and hard to reach region of Colorado, it is well the journey due to its fascinating fossils and colorful canyons. Tucked into the northwest corner of the state, it is centered around the confluence of the Green and Yampa Rivers and stretches over the state line into Utah.
The park boasts more than 800 paleontological sites, with 1,500 dinosaur bones on show in its captivating Quarry Hall. As well as wandering along the ‘Wall of Bones’ and touching a skeleton for yourself, you can learn all about the geology, fossils and dinosaurs of the region through interesting exhibits and displays.
Besides ogling at its aeons-old findings, visitors can go on scenic drives around its canyons or hike and camp in its desolate dinosaur-dotted landscapes.
5. Colorado National Monument
One of the grandest landscapes of the American West, Colorado National Monument’s radiant red rock canyons and massive mesas make for a stunning sight. Lying just outside of Grand Junction in the west of the state, it is one of Colorado’s many must-see sights and has an array of exquisite outdoor activities on offer.
Formed over millions and millions of years, its spectacular sandstone canyons and mighty monoliths rise dramatically above the arid and desolate confines of the Colorado Plateau. Besides hiking, cycling, and horseback riding around its lovely landscapes, one of the best ways to view the monument is to travel along the twisting and turning Rim Rock Drive.
While driving along the scenic route, you’ll be overawed by the national monument’s staggering size and scale, as well as the soft shades and striking shapes of its sensational sandstone silhouettes.
4. Mesa Verde National Park
Set in the southwest corner of the state, Mesa Verde National Park is renowned around the world for its astounding Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings. While it is certainly one of the most interesting and impressive archaeological sites in America, the park also protects some epic scenery and nature.
Believed to have been inhabited between 600 to 1300 AD by the Ancestral Pueblo People, the site was then mysteriously abandoned, leaving behind the wonderfully well-preserved dwellings we see today. In total, the national park preserves more than 5,000 sites, with the captivating Cliff Palace the undoubted highlight.
While exploring all the cliff dwellings, rock art sites and its archaeological museum is an amazing experience, the national park’s scenic setting is just as showstopping. With steep canyons, verdant valleys, and magnificent mesas, there is plenty of great hiking to be had amidst its incredible nature.
3. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
One of the state’s most spellbinding sights, the breathtaking Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is set to the southeast of Grand Junction in western Colorado. Very dark, deep, and dramatic to gaze upon, its gaping chasm of a canyon lies at the point where the rearing Rocky Mountains meet the craggy Colorado Plateau.
Formed over millions of years by the gushing Gunnison River, the canyon plunges to a depth of 685 meters, with sheer cliffs and rocky spires towering above its raging waters. Looking out over its dizzying depths from the rugged rim really is an awe-inspiring experience, with phenomenal photos and views to be had of the gigantic gorge.
The beautiful Black Canyon and its scenic surroundings lend themselves perfectly to all kinds of outdoor activities, with hiking, camping and boat tours particularly popular. While some epic rock climbing and kayaking can also be enjoyed within the park, only experienced climbers and kayakers should attempt the canyon’s routes and rapids.
2. Great Sand Dunes National Park
A staggering sight, the sprawling sea of sand that makes up Great Sand Dunes National Park is a treat to explore, with spectacular scenery wherever you look. Presided over by the snow-topped Sangre de Cristo Range, it can be found just outside of Alamosa in the south center of the state.
Home to a dazzling array of dramatic dunes, its sensational sandscapes reach up to 230 meters in height and seemingly stretch away forever. As the most mesmerizing views are to be had around Medano Creek, most people go hiking and sandboarding here, with the jagged peaks spied in the distance. This means the rest of the park’s majestic dunes remain delightfully unspoilt and unexplored.
While most people come to see its fabulous wind-sculpted dunes, this amazing national park in Colorado also contains a number of prominent peaks, alpine lakes and ancient pine forests.
1. Rocky Mountain National Park
While Colorado’s countless canyons, plains and deserts are beguiling in their beauty, one of its lovely landscapes literally stands head and shoulders above the rest – Rocky Mountain National Park. Boasting more than sixty lofty peaks over the height of 3,658 meters, its sky-scraping scenery can be found in the north center of the state, surrounded by numerous national forests.
Dominating and defining the park, the marvelous mountain range looms over its surroundings, with glittering alpine lakes, flower-filled meadows, and verdant valleys dotted here and there. As it is also home to lots of wondrous waterfalls, wilderness and wildlife, it really is a joy to travel around, with arresting nature and fabulous views wherever you go.
Besides driving along the terrific Trail Ridge Road which traverses the Rockies, visitors can also go hiking, fishing and rock climbing with skiing and snowboarding to be enjoyed in the winter months. Due to all its rugged and remote reaches, the park is also a magical and memorable place to stargaze with a number of cosy campsites to be found tucked away among its lush forests and mountains.