Top 17 attractions in Colorado, USA: from canyons and dunes to mountains and dinosaur bones
When planning a trip to Colorado, it's not easy to choose the best places to visit, as this tourist destination can surprise travellers all year round. Dramatic landscapes and the amazing beauty of the local nature inspire you to explore the stunning diversity of the state - from the incredible Rocky Mountains, "alien" canyons, magnificent lakes and waterfalls to sand dunes and raging rivers. First-class resorts in the mountains attract fans of skiing, mountaineering and outdoor activities. Art, science and history lovers will discover incredible ancient sites in Colorado and colourful cities with archaeological sites, unique museums and historic architecture.
With so many significant places to visit in Colorado, it can be a daunting task to plan your itinerary. Our rating will tell you what to see and do in Colorado to make your trip to the Centennial State a lifetime memory.
1. Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is located a short drive from Denver. It covers an area of about 415 square feet and is among the most visited national parks in the country. This park gives a complete picture of the majesty of the Rocky Mountains. There are more than 100 peaks over 10,000 feet high, with the highest peak, Longs Peak, reaching 14,259 feet. The main route of the park runs along Trail Ridge Road, in some areas it rises to an altitude of over 12 thousand feet.
These are the best places to visit in Colorado to spend time alone with nature, take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy the breathtaking scenery. It offers some of the best views of the Rocky Mountains. The park includes 355 miles of scenic hiking trails that pass by mirror-like alpine lakes, through coniferous forests and wildflower meadows. The park's trail system offers a wide variety of hikes, from a stroll of less than half a mile to tours of one or more days.
These tourist destinations in Colorado attract not only hikers, but also fans of mountaineering, wildlife photography, fishing, horseback riding and camping. Mountain bikers will appreciate the steep cycling routes. In winter, people come here for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing under the guidance of a ranger. After coming down from the mountains, visitors to the park should pay attention to the town of Estes Park and take a spooky tour of the Stanley Hotel.
2. Vail and the surrounding mountain towns
This narrow valley between two mountain ranges turns into one of the most popular destinations in the US in the cold season. It is confidently among the top places to visit in Colorado for those looking for the best ski resorts in the country. At the foot of the mountain is the pretty little town of Vail with its cute chalet-style restaurants, hotels and shops, while the surrounding area is lined with upscale resorts with premium dining and shopping.
Kilometres of slopes with perfect snow put Vail on a par with the winter resorts of Telluride and Aspen. By the way, many of the best snowmobile tours in Colorado start in Vail, and Hollywood celebrities love to relax at the exclusive spas, resorts and restaurants.
However, the luxurious surroundings and first-class service are a big hit on the wallet. Prices for lift tickets and hotels at ski resorts reach cosmic levels, especially during the high season - from December to March. However, you can enjoy the local magnificent scenery at a more affordable price in summer. You won't see any snowy slopes, but there are plenty of interesting things to do even without them - hiking, cycling, rafting and horseback riding.
If you prefer a skiing holiday, stay in the smaller towns and villages nearby with more affordable prices and great places to visit in Colorado. Frisco, for example, boasts many quaint shops, cafes, restaurants and a mountainous atmosphere. Great skiing and a vibrant nightlife can be found in Breckenridge, which is located at an elevation of 9,600 feet. Good affordable accommodation is available in Avon, west of Vail. Beaver Creek has an excellent ski resort with a charming village at the foot, restaurants of all classes and an ice rink in the main square.
The capital of Colorado, which dates back to the Old West, offers many opportunities for seekers of cultural, historical, natural and gastronomic attractions and iconic sites.
This city welcomes tourists with 300 days of sunshine a year. Most people use these tourist areas in Colorado as a launching pad for skiing in the Rocky Mountains, hiking and mountain biking in the summer.
But Denver is also a great choice for a traditional city break. Visit the local Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the home of the Colorado Rockies baseball team. Check out the local breweries and eclectic eateries, the trendy LoDo district and the River North arts district. On the streets, you can watch sporting events and live performances. History buffs should visit Larimer Square and immerse themselves in the atmosphere of the Old West. And if you are travelling with children, visit the local world-class zoo with them.
4. Mesa Verde National Park
Many of Colorado's best attractions combine natural and historical elements. One of them, Mesa Verde Park, is located near the cities of Cortez and Mancos and is dedicated to the history of the Pueblo people who lived here from about 600 to 1300 AD. There are about 55 thousand archaeological sites of America on its territory, including 600 rock dwellings carefully carved in stone. This place will impress travellers not only with beautiful scenery but also with the significance of this historical heritage. These top places to visit in Colorado will give you a glimpse of ancient architecture and explore a lost way of life.
While visiting the park, a must-see is the Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America, estimated to have been built between 1190 and 1260. It is incredibly well preserved and impresses with its dramatic ruin setting. Guided tours are held regularly in the summer. Under the guidance of rangers, visitors can climb the stairs right into the interior of the house. The number of seats is limited, so you need to take care of booking tickets. You can do this two weeks in advance, but keep in mind that there are quite a few tourists here. Some tours of the park with climbing and scrambling require some physical fitness. But a number of hiking trails that can be walked without ranger supervision will lead you to the viewpoints.
The journey from the highway will take about 45 minutes. There are visitor centres near the road where you can get information about the park, road conditions and book a tour.
5. Pikes Peak in the Pike National Forest
The Pike National Forest is a protected area of 1 million acres and hides many beautiful places to visit in Colorado. It is located west of Colorado Springs. There are thousands of hiking trails for hikes of varying difficulty levels, many mountain biking routes, and great campsites on the banks of streams and lakes with water activities.
The most popular attraction in the Pike National Forest is the highest peak in the southern Front Range, Pikes Peak. Many tourists choose it for a challenging climb. It is one of the most visited mountains in the world. This is due to the fact that the peak is accessible to almost all travellers. It takes about an hour and a half to get there via the Pikes Peak Highway. You can also reach the summit via the famous Pikes Peak Cog Railway. The scenic 8.9-mile journey takes just over three hours round trip.
At the top, there is an interesting visitor centre with interactive displays and a variety of restaurants. Enjoy the stunning views from the mountain and enjoy the local world-famous doughnuts.
6. Garden of the Gods
Millions of tourists visit the local national natural monuments of Colorado every year. The park covers 1367 acres and is filled with unique jagged stone towers that are 300 feet high.
The Garden of the Gods is a place filled with spectacular rock formations whose history dates back 300 million years. The surreal landscapes are popular for hiking and rock climbing, and you can also go cycling, horseback riding, or take a jeep tour.
It is one of the most beautiful places in Colorado. As you stroll through the gorgeous scenery, stop for some cool photos at Steamboat Rock and then hike the 15 miles of local trails. Some are also wheelchair accessible, such as the Perkins Central Garden Trail, which passes by all the major attractions. On the way back, stop by the gift shop.
Before entering the park, visit the visitor centre, which doubles as a museum. Here you can pick up maps of the park and book a guided tour, get advice on which trails to take to admire Pikes Peak and see the main attractions, and the coffee shop with huge windows in the centre offers a great view of the park.
7. Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway
The city of Durango on the border of New Mexico and Colorado is famous for its nature reserve and historical heritage, and it is a short drive to the San Juan Forest and national parks. Durango offers many activities: hiking, cycling, and for thrill-seekers, rafting on the Animas River. In winter, Durango transforms into a full-fledged ski town.
Cool places to visit in Colorado for history buffs are in the city centre with its art galleries, shops and interesting restaurants. You'll love the historic architecture here as much as Hollywood filmmakers, who chose Durango as a location for several classic films, such as National Lampoon's Vacation or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
One of Durango's main attractions is the Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway. It was built in the late 1800s to transport gold ore and silver. Several decades have passed since it was decommissioned, and today the Durango and Silverton Railway Museum operates here. It features locomotives that were previously used on this railway line. But the main attraction here is the opportunity to ride a real restored steam locomotive, admiring the picturesque surroundings of the San Juan National Forest and river canyons.
8. San Juan Skyway and the Million Dollar Highway
The Skyway motorway stretches through the most scenic areas of southwestern Colorado and allows you to explore some of the most famous places in Colorado without leaving your car. This is one of the most impressive routes, starting near the old mining town of Silverton and following Highway 550, also known as the Million Dollar Highway, to the town of Ouray. It's popular because of the incredible views along the route, which showcase Colorado's landscape diversity. You will see the San Juan Mountains, drive through several mountain passes, admire the rivers and waterfalls of the Uncompahgre National Forest, and get acquainted with interesting historical towns. There are no fences on some sections of the highway, so you'll get a bit of an adrenaline rush as you drive down the winding road.
If you have more time, it's worth extending your route and taking the Skyway Scenic Byway from Durango to Silverton and then back through Placerville, Telluride, Dolores and Mancos. Along the way, you can visit interesting towns and see some of the best sights in Colorado. For example, Silverton, which is crowded in the summer and surrounded by mountains at an altitude of 9300 feet, attracts advanced skiers to Silverton Mountain on the outskirts in the winter. Ouray is worth a visit for its main observation deck with a sign that calls it "American Switzerland" and local hot springs. Telluride has a great ski resort with beautiful mountain scenery.
9. Black Canyon of the Gunnison
The Black Canyon is located 75 miles southeast of Grand Junction. Some parts of this canyon are illuminated for only half an hour due to too little sunlight. That's why it got its name. The Black Canyon was carved out of the rock by the Gunnison River millions of years ago. Its depth exceeds 2000 feet. Narrow walls of cliffs rise up from the river and form a spectacular rocky canyon. It was once home to the Ute tribe. Today, it attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists with its incredible views, fishing in the canyon river, breathtaking climbs and skiing on incredible trails. At night, you can enjoy a magnificent view of the stars, not for nothing that this place is called the Dark Sky Park.
These are cool places in Colorado that are worth a visit for those who love rocks, as they are home to some of the oldest cliffs with steep, sheer spires. There are great hiking trails along the canyon rim for all levels of fitness. The trails in the canyon can also be explored, but they are not maintained and are more challenging. If that's not enough, even more adventure can be found during the strenuous descent down the river.
There are three campsites in the canyon: the East campsite is only for tents, while the North and South campsites are for tents and caravans.
10. Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness
A magnificent area showcasing the majesty of the Rocky Mountains can be found just a short drive from Aspen. The Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness features alpine lakes thousands of feet above sea level, magnificent stands of green pines and colourful aspen trees, and jagged mountains. This colourful wilderness covers an area of nearly 300 square miles and contains six peaks over 14,000 feet high. Like many other popular attractions in Colorado, this region offers hiking in the best wilderness areas.
In Maroon Bells, you just need to get out of the car and go explore the area. Hikers are attracted to 175 miles of hiking trails with great views for walking and hiking, as well as mountain biking trails that stretch for hundreds of miles. In the summer, you can have an unforgettable experience camping and fishing in the local lakes and streams. In winter, these places do not lose their appeal and offer visitors excellent skiing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing trails.
11. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
It seems incredible that a real sand dune continues the list of natural attractions with incredible cliffs, proud peaks and colourful national parks within one state. But in fact, Colorado's tourist attractions are striking in their diversity. The highest sand dunes in North America are located here. The contrast of the landscapes in this park is even more impressive when you see the incredible sand mounds surrounded by alpine scenery against the backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
The dunes may look like small hills against the mountains. But that is until you reach them and enter the reserve. Once there, you will realise how big they really are. And to top it off, try climbing the tallest Star Dune, which stands at 750 feet, and take in these beautiful spots in Colorado from there.
Then choose an activity of your choice: sledding down the dunes, hiking, horseback riding, or riding fat-tire bikes. The dunes are open to visitors all year round. There are good campsites for visitors to these tourist areas of Colorado to stay overnight or for a few days and admire the night sky away from the city lights.
Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, Aspen ski resort exudes an upscale atmosphere. It stands out among other US resorts for its beautiful architecture, featuring authentic Victorian buildings.
Aspen is a year-round destination. It is a famous place in Colorado, with four first-class ski resorts as its main attractions. Some of the best snowmobiling tours in Colorado also start from here. If you get tired of skiing, visit Colorado's attractions and landmarks in the city itself: luxury shops, fashion galleries, fascinating museums, gourmet restaurants and famous film festivals.
The best time to travel to Aspen is from December to February. But this is also the most popular time with higher prices. To reduce the cost of your holiday a little, you can find and book offers several months in advance or come off-peak. In general, the ski season here lasts from late November to mid-April. Then the high season begins in June and lasts until the end of August, which is the best time for mountain hiking.
13. Colorado National Monument
The magnificent national park covers an area of more than 20.5 acres, filled with desert wildlife and red rock canyons. This attraction is located near the cities of Frutha and Grand Junction.
There are many excellent hiking trails, most notably the Otto Trail and the Snake Trail. Scenic spots, most of which are located at fairly moderate altitudes ranging from 300 feet to over 1000 feet, can be explored on day hikes. Walking through canyons with steep red rock walls, you can watch bighorn sheep and soaring eagles.
These are the best places to see in Colorado if you are travelling by car or can rent a car. In that case, take the 23-mile Historic Rim Rock Drive, which features viewpoints and great photo opportunities. The park can be explored in a day, especially as many of the attractions are located along the scenic road, which winds through landscapes with huge rock spires, canyons, and desert with low trees and low shrubs. Road cycling is also popular here.
14. Dinosaur National Monument
This place is definitely among the top attractions of Colorado, but it will be especially appreciated by fans of archaeological sites, in particular, of the prehistoric era. In the 1900s, excavations of dinosaur bones began here, many species were found, and in 1915, the place was granted the status of a national monument and opened to the public. Since then, it has been visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists every year.
Here you can feel as if you are travelling back in time and even try yourself as an archaeologist while searching for fossils of small sea creatures on the Harpers Corner trail. The Dinosaur Quarry, an enclosed section of rock called the "Rock of Bones", attracts special attention. Here you can see real dinosaur bones that have been preserved in a sandstone rock for over 150 million years.
In addition to archaeological activities, you can go white-water rafting, cross-country skiing or snowmobiling and hike in the picturesque surroundings, including the Yampa and Green Rivers and Mount Vinta, and even find petroglyphs of early civilisations. Hiking routes include half-mile walks to 8-mile day hikes. There are campsites within the park, and more comfortable accommodations can be found in hotels in nearby Vernal.
15. Glenwood Springs
This small town in northwestern Colorado ticks all the boxes if you're looking for an adventurous mountain getaway or a luxury resort. These are the best travel destinations in Colorado for family holidays, romantic weekends and outdoor activities. Glenwood is known for its hot springs and the world's largest mineral springs pool. The famous Sunlight Mountain ski resort is located on the outskirts of the city, and Aspen Snowmass is less than an hour away.
There is plenty of entertainment for every taste: horseback riding, rafting, hiking and cave tours. In the summer, the Hanging Lake Trail is popular with travellers. The hike can be strenuous for some travellers due to the altitude, but many consider it the most beautiful place to visit in Colorado. The lake is part of the White River National Forest, and in recent years, special efforts have been made to preserve its ecosystem. Before hiking this trail, travellers must obtain a permit. The water in the lake is crystal clear, so tree trunks that have fallen to the bottom are clearly visible, giving the impression that they are near the water's surface. Swimming in the lake is forbidden, but even the view from the shore will be remembered for a long time.
Glenwood is also worth a visit to the adventure park at the top of the mountain to visit unusual attractions. The most famous of these include a roller coaster along the cliff edge, a giant swing 1,200 feet above the Colorado River, and the Haunted Mine Drop, where visitors experience a 110-foot free fall into a mine.
When you want to take a break from the action, head to the city centre. This neat neighbourhood is full of restaurants, interesting shops and museums.
16. Mount Evans Byway
The Mount Evans Byway is a journey along the highest elevation paved road on the continent, where you can see some of the most beautiful places to visit in Colorado and observe animals in their natural environment. It's a great option for travelling to scenic spots if you don't have time for a multi-day trip.
Start the route from Echo Lake Park. You'll need about an hour and a half for a round trip and at least half a day for a stopover. You can also start at the Idaho Springs Visitor Centre, where you will drive 28 miles to the top of Mount Evans. First, stop by the visitor centre to gather information about the famous Colorado landmarks you can see along the way. The road itself will surprise you with its twists and turns, guardrail-free sections, and mountainside climbs that offer incredible views of the Colorado wilderness.
Mount Evans reaches an elevation of 14271 feet, and the Mount Evans Road runs almost to its summit. This is a seasonal highway that closes for the winter season.
17. Mountain Biking Trails near Fruita
Many of Colorado's tourist attractions are seasonal, such as mountain biking trails. But the city of Fruita has heavenly conditions for this sport. The local climate makes it possible to extend the mountain biking season in winter and off-season. In the spring, you can even alternate between two seemingly incompatible seasonal activities: mountain biking in Vail and then skiing in Vail or Beaver Creek.
Fruita is a small town with some of the best trails in the state. The most popular are the 18 trails, including the famous Zippity Doo Doo and the Cocopelli Loops. The trails pass through the desert terrain over ridge tops and along cliffs overlooking the Colorado River. There are both small family-friendly routes with gentle turns, designed for 1-2 hours, and many more challenging ones for experienced bikers with steep ascents and descents.