What comes to mind when you think of Colorado? Rugged, snow-covered peaks? The many attractions of the Mile High City? Or maybe the legacy of the Old West? History, nature, and community are intertwined in the Centennial State, which has a reputation for being an amazing year-round destination. You’ll never run out of fun things to do in Colorado, no matter the season you choose for your vacation. We’ve compiled a list of some of the best places to visit in Colorado to help you build your travel itinerary.
Wondering what to do in Colorado, and unsure of where to start your journey? The state capital is a fantastic jumping-off point. Like all of the Colorado locales that sprang up amid the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush, Denver as we know it is the product of relatively recent history. Its mid-19th century origins make its rise to prominence that much more impressive. Colorado’s most populous city is a must-see destination bursting with entertainment options.
Downtown Denver is an expansive, walkable space that caters to diverse interests. The city has six professional sports teams, and three stadiums are within a one-mile radius of each other in downtown Denver. A wide variety of dynamic and engaging museums attract visitors in droves; some of the most popular include the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the Denver Art Museum, and the Molly Brown House Museum. The city is also known for its thriving brewery scene and myriad live music venues.
Denver enjoys mountain views but is actually about 10 miles out from the Rocky Mountain foothills. Nevertheless, the Mile High City encourages outdoor recreation via more than 200 parks in addition to relatively easy access to some 14,000 acres of parks in adjacent mountain areas. Urban green spaces like City Park (home to the Denver Zoo, sports courts, and playgrounds) and the Denver Botanic Gardens are beloved by visitors and locals alike.
2. Rocky Mountain National Park
One of the top attractions in Colorado also happens to be one of the top attractions in the whole country. Encompassing 415 square miles of majestic mountain terrain, Rocky Mountain National Park is among the five most-visited national parks in the US. The park features a unique combination of ecosystems that includes wetlands, evergreen forests, and alpine tundra. The breathtaking scenery and abundance of activities available make Rocky Mountain National Park a must-see in Colorado.
The park is renowned for its myriad hiking trails, which together cover a distance of 355 miles. The hikes vary in altitude and difficulty level, so whether you’re looking for a casual stroll or a strenuous adventure, there’s a path for you. Popular trails reward hikers with views of sparkling lakes, powerful waterfalls, lush forests, and rugged mountain summits.
Wildlife photographers flock to this rocky landscape, which is home to 280 bird species and 60 species of mammals, including elk and bighorn sheep. Anglers are welcome, too – sport fishing is allowed on more than 50 of the park’s many lakes and streams. Five different campgrounds are available for visitors who wish to stay in the park overnight, and wilderness camping is possible for experienced backpackers with a permit.
If you’re looking for historic activities in Colorado, travel down to Durango, a southwestern municipality located just above the border with New Mexico. Like just about any tourist spot in Colorado, Durango has a wealth of stunning natural features within reach. It’s a jumping-off point for the San Juan National Forest to the north and the Lake Nighthorse Recreation Area to the southwest, but the real jewel in Durango’s crown is its dedication to the preservation of history.
A world-renowned tourist attraction in Colorado is the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Originally opened in 1882, the railroad between Durango and Silverton was constructed so that trains could haul gold and silver from mines in the San Juan Mountains. Today, the heritage railway uses historic steam locomotives to transport passengers on leisurely excursions that highlight the gorgeous mountain scenery.
Continue your peek into the past with a visit to Durango’s historic downtown, which is included on the National Register of Historic Places. Take a stroll along Main Avenue and admire the iconic architecture dating to Durango’s time as a boomtown. Built in 1887, the luxurious Strater Hotel acts as a living history museum in addition to a hotel. The building houses an impressive collection of Victorian walnut furnishings and shadow boxes in the lobby that recount stories of the Old West.
When you think of small towns in Colorado, Breckenridge might not come to mind because its name has become synonymous with ski resorts. However, because the municipality does depend so largely on tourism, its year-round population is relatively small. Breckenridge has retained a sense of small-town charm through the preservation of its historic downtown, and the charm persists throughout the year – even in the offseason.
Breckenridge is unquestionably one of the best vacation spots in Colorado for fans of winter sports, especially ones who’d rather avoid ski towns that cater increasingly to celebrities. The mountain welcomes alpine skiers and snowboarders of every skill level, and the town’s high elevation means that the ski season here runs later than it does in some other resort towns. Other snowy weather activities include dog sledding with Siberian huskies, fat biking, snowshoeing, sleigh rides, and snowmobiling.
There is no shortage of things to do during the warmer months, either. History buffs will enjoy Breckenridge’s historic Main Street, where Victorian architecture recalls the town’s gold rush base camp identity. Beyond downtown, hikers can find access to hundreds of miles of trails through forests and meadows that bloom with summer wildflowers. Breckenridge can also boast proximity to various lakes, streams, and rivers with great conditions for fly-fishing.
5. Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Tourists come from far and wide to experience powdery, snow-covered mountains in the Centennial State, but one of the coolest places in Colorado has slopes with no snow at all. Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve in south-central Colorado is home to the tallest sand dunes in North America. The dunes are the result of sediment deposits from the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan Mountains onto the San Luis Valley floor. The valley was once filled with water from storms and melting glaciers, but when the lake dried up, the dunes were revealed.
The most popular pastimes on the dunes are sand sports. Retailers located outside of the park have boards, sleds, and skis available to rent or purchase. This gear is specifically designed to slide on sand, so no substitutes will do. Families also enjoy the park’s Medano Creek, a seasonal stream where visitors can splash, float, wade, and surf depending on the water level.
There are no trails in the 30-square-mile dune field, but backpackers can explore the wilderness at their leisure. Those who favor designated paths and shade should consider the forested portion of the park, which has a handful of marked hiking trails. Great Sand Dunes is also a certified International Dark Sky Park, so stick around after dark for some spectacular starry skies.
6. Dinosaur National Monument
Straddling the border with northeast Utah, Dinosaur National Monument is one of the most-visited landmarks in Colorado, despite the fact that the actual dinosaur bones reside on the Utah side. The monument, which is 210,000 acres large and mostly located in Colorado, is a great vacation resource for families, as it artfully combines education, outdoor adventure, and picturesque mountain views.
To get a peek at the late Jurassic period, venture over to the Utah section of the monument. The Quarry Exhibit Hall has some 1,500 dinosaur bones on display, including remains of species such as the allosaurus, stegosaurus, and diplodocus. The hall features several areas where guests can touch fossils that are 149 million years old. For more glimpses into the past throughout the monument, choose a hiking trail that takes you to petroglyph and pictograph sites. These designs were created by the Fremont people, who lived in the area from around the third century until the 14th century.
Another popular activity at Dinosaur National Monument is river rafting. The Green and Yampa rivers cut through the Uinta Mountains to form narrow, winding channels that create challenging rapids. Guided commercial trips are available, or you can obtain a permit for a private trip if you’re confident in your rafting expertise.
If you’re visiting places in Colorado in search of luxury, Vail will most likely be your ski resort town of choice. The Vail Ski Resort first opened in 1962, but Vail wasn’t incorporated as a town until 1966. This sequence of events highlights just how much Vail’s identity revolves around the resort and its mountain. The town of Vail is separated into three “villages,” where streets were designed to resemble European alpine towns, cobblestones and all. Though they may appear quaint, the villages are frequented by celebrities and feature gourmet dining and upscale shopping.
Vail has built a reputation around being bigger and better than others. The Vail Ski Resort is the third-largest single mountain ski resort in the country (behind Big Sky Resort in Montana and Park City Mountain Resort in Utah), and boasts 5,317 skiable acres. The extensive terrain is varied and can accommodate skiers of all skill levels.
The mountain and surrounding terrain continue to excel during warmer months. Visitors can appreciate the seasonal lush greenery from above via scenic gondolas that rise to 10,000 feet. The Forest Flyer Mountain Coaster is a thrilling attraction that gives riders a new perspective of the alpine forest. And make sure to peruse the town’s calendar to catch events like the Vail Arts Festival, Vail Oktoberfest, the Vail Film Festival, and much more.
8. Mesa Verde National Park
Near the Four Corners region in southwest Colorado is a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site that contains remarkably well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan dwellings. With more than 4,000 archaeological sites that span 700 years, Mesa Verde National Park is one of the best places in Colorado for history buffs. In addition to boasting the largest archaeological preserve in the US, the park also offers a variety of outdoor activities.
Of the thousands of historic sites recorded at the park, around 600 of them are cliff dwellings. These elaborate homes carved into cliffsides provide valuable insights into the daily lives of the Native peoples who lived in the area. Cliff dwellings can be viewed from a distance year-round via various viewpoints, but the best way to experience them is through a guided tour. Tours are available from May through October and provide guests with unparalleled up-close glimpses of the cliff dwellings.
The park’s backcountry is off-limits in order to preserve its natural and archaeological features, but there are plenty of designated hiking trails to explore. After enough snowfall in the winter, certain trails are groomed for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. If you decide to book an overnight stay at the park’s campground or on-site lodge in the summer, don’t forget to go stargazing: Mesa Verde was named an International Dark Sky Park in 2021.
9. Maroon Bells–Snowmass Wilderness
Established as a wilderness in 1980, the Maroon Bells–Snowmass Wilderness is named after a set of peaks known as the Maroon Bells and a third mountain called Snowmass. Located in the central region of the state, this wilderness is an increasingly popular weekend getaway in Colorado, especially for people based in and around nearby Aspen. The undeniable beauty of the designated wilderness derives from the intersection of the Elk Mountains and the White River and Gunnison National Forests.
The wilderness surrounds the Maroon Bells Scenic Area, a particularly popular tourist destination and one of the prettiest places in Colorado. This is also one of the most-photographed spots in the state, so be prepared for restricted access and required reservations. The view of an alpine lake with lush forest and towering mountain peaks in the background makes for an unforgettable snapshot. Be sure to align your visit with your seasonal preferences: wildflowers in the summer, fiery foliage in the fall, and snowfall in the winter (Keep in mind that vehicular traffic is closed in colder months.)
Camping, horse riding, nature viewing, and hiking are favorite activities here. The 26-mile Four Pass Loop Trail is world-renowned for its route over four mountain passes measuring higher than 12,000 feet.
10. Glenwood Springs
Surrounded by the White River National Forest, Glenwood Springs is a resort city and one of the best places to go in Colorado in the summertime. The destination is a popular weekend getaway for Colorado locals who travel here to take advantage of the area’s therapeutic hot springs. The city has also become popular with families thanks to its scenic trails and the presence of an adventure park.
Glenwood Springs’ most famous hot spring is also a historic attraction. Glenwood Hot Springs Resort dates back to 1888 and still boasts the world’s largest hot springs pool. The lodge’s property has grown to include a spa and an athletic club, and the resort also arranges packages for activities like whitewater rafting, canyon biking, and fly-fishing. For a therapeutic phenomenon that exists in only a few places in North America, head to the Yampah Spa Vapor Caves, where hot springs create natural steam baths in underground chambers.
Thrill-seekers can balance their relaxation time with some high-octane fun at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. Roller coasters, swings, and zip line rides get the blood pumping, while three different cave tours reveal wondrous formations that have developed underground. Those who prefer above-ground natural adventures may enjoy the area’s hiking trails. Hanging Lake is a popular backcountry hike thanks to its turquoise waters and picturesque waterfalls.
11. Colorado National Monument
If American icons are on your list of things to see in Colorado, look no further than the Colorado National Monument. This classic view of the American West is especially popular with road trip travelers: Rim Rock Drive comprises 23 miles of winding road that takes passengers to the tops of mesas for a bird’s-eye view of red rock canyons. Scenic overlooks along the way encourage visitors to stop for a chance of nabbing that perfect photo.
For a closer look at the monoliths and the land’s fascinating geology, get out of the car and walk around. Colorado National Monument boasts an abundance of hiking opportunities. These range from backcountry excursions to short trails only a quarter of a mile long. Hiking also gives visitors a chance to scope out some wildlife. Mule deer are sighted often, but keep an eye out for desert bighorn sheep, mountain lions, lizards, and golden eagles, too.
Intrepid travelers who are up for a challenge might enjoy tackling Rim Rock Drive on a bicycle. Connecting roads outside the monument can turn the ride into a 33-mile loop. Experienced rock climbers also have the option of scaling the imposing sandstone structures using traditional climbing techniques.
12. Colorado Springs
For an interesting mix of cultural and natural Colorado attractions, consider a trip to Colorado Springs. The state’s second most populous city is situated in the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains and serves as a gateway to multiple parks and national forests. However, Colorado Springs is a destination in its own right and offers a wide variety of outdoor pursuits, family-friendly outings, and culturally significant sites.
Colorado Springs’ most beloved attraction by far is the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center. The park is a registered National Natural Landmark famous for its lofty sandstone rock formations, and the imposing red rocks against a backdrop of Rocky Mountain peaks have made this spot a dream for photographers. More mesmerizing vistas can be found at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, whose unique mountain location gives guests a sweeping view of the city. The zoo is also remarkable for its interactive experiences and giraffe breeding program.
Being one of the biggest cities in Colorado means having attractions to please anyone. Sports fans, for example, may wish to book a tour of the US Olympic & Paralympic Training Center, where the swimming and shooting teams have their national headquarters. The Old Colorado City National Historic District will appeal to history buffs as well as anyone curious about the local restaurant scene and art galleries.
13. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Of all the sights to see in Colorado, Black Canyon in the Gunnison National Park might be the most impressive. Approximately 60 million years ago, the Gunnison Uplift elevated an area of metamorphic rock, which was subsequently buried in volcanic rock 30 million years later after a series of eruptions. The Gunnison River eventually cut through the volcanic and metamorphic rock to form the canyon we know today, which features some of the oldest rock and steepest cliffs in the US.
Most people come to the canyon for its dramatic vistas, and scenic drives are an efficient way to reach multiple overlooks within a single visit. If you’re short on time, opt for the South Rim Road, which leads to 12 overlooks and has access to a visitor center in the summer. The North Rim Road takes visitors to six overlooks, but these are among the most striking in the park since the North Rim canyon walls appear to be almost vertical.
Hiking trails of varying difficulty levels are available along both rims, but the depths of the inner canyon may call to experienced adventurers. The inner canyon is a designated wilderness and visitors must obtain a permit to explore it. Activities include whitewater kayaking and rafting, rock climbing, and scrambling along unmarked wilderness routes.
Located roughly 30 miles northwest of Denver in the Rocky Mountain foothills, Boulder is abuzz with youthful energy. Boulder’s modern history is a familiar tale in Colorado: White prospectors arrived in the mid-19th century and set up shop upon finding gold. A railroad soon followed, and part of the city’s identity was cemented when the University of Colorado opened in 1877. Boulder remains one of the best places to visit in Colorado for travelers seeking a college town vibe.
Pearl Street Mall is the city’s hub for visitors and locals alike. The red brick thoroughfare is open to pedestrian traffic only, and the majority of businesses are locally owned. This street is a great place for doing some vacation shopping and checking out the Boulder culinary scene. The University of Colorado campus is another prime spot to cop some culture. Consider catching a performance by the university’s professional theater company, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.
No trip to Boulder is complete without a hike to see the Flatirons, the slanted sandstone slabs that contribute to the city’s scenic backdrop. Part of the Colorado Chautauqua National Historic Landmark, Chautauqua Park provides photo-worthy views of the Flatirons in addition to amenities like a playground, tennis court, demonstration garden, and more.
Nestled in a box canyon and surrounded by forests and snowcapped peaks, Telluride is one of the most beautiful places in Colorado. Like many of the state’s mountain towns, Telluride’s origins date back to a 19th-century mining settlement. The town was named after gold telluride minerals, though none were actually found here; the area mines produced silver, lead, copper, and zinc. Today, the small town is best-known for its ski resort and historic district.
Despite its well-known status and excellent reputation, the Telluride Ski Resort doesn’t get overcrowded. Thanks to Telluride’s isolated location some 150 miles southwest of Colorado’s cluster of popular ski resort towns, winter sports enthusiasts can enjoy spacious runs and a lack of lift lines. In addition to the usual skiing and snowboarding, winter activities include fat bike riding, helicopter skiing, ice climbing, and dog sledding.
Much of Telluride’s downtown comprises a designated National Historic Landmark District. Opt for a leisurely stroll around town to take in the well-preserved Victorian architecture, or step into the Telluride Historical Museum for an in-depth look at the area’s geology and Native peoples. Visit in the summer or fall to take advantage of various events, such as Shakespeare in the Park productions, art walks, the Telluride Film Festival, the Telluride Autumn Classic car show, and much more.
Whether you’re envisioning a sunny summer vacation in Colorado or a brisk jaunt among snowy mountains, there is no wrong way to enjoy this beautiful state. From alpine forests to sand dunes to bustling metro communities, Colorado’s offerings continually surprise and enchant all who visit.