Colorado’s mix of attractions is as diverse as its terrain of mountains, prairies, and red rock formations. Whether it’s the call of the majestic Rocky Mountains, historic monuments, or one of several cultural establishments, Colorado will have something to offer any traveler’s interests. Here’s a guide to 20 must-visit attractions throughout the Centennial State.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park, outside of Estes Park, is a mountain oasis with breathtaking scenery and plenty of activities. Visitors to the park can explore by taking a scenic drive on the famous Trail Ridge Road or other passageways, or by foot on one of the many hiking trails. Other activities available year-round include camping, biking, water-sports, and horseback riding. There’s also plenty of opportunities for wildlife viewing of the park’s plentiful populations of elk, moose, bighorn sheep, bear and mountain lion.
Breckenridge is both mountain town and ski resort and is packed with plenty of Colorado history. It is the oldest and largest town in Summit County, with over 250 buildings on the National Historic Register, making its Main Street an absolute dream to wander. There’s tons of arts events and festivals all year, plus galleries, studios, and shops worth checking out. In summer visitors enjoy the wildflowers in bloom in the surrounding areas, while in winter, Breckenridge Ski Resort provides some 2,358 acres of the best skiing in the state.
Everybody hikes in Colorado and one of the beloved hiking spots is Hanging Lake. The Hanging Lake Trail is located off Interstate 70, just 10-miles east of the town of Glenwood Springs. The trail itself is short, just a little over a mile, but it can be a tough hike because it’s steep and rocky. The end result is so worth it. Hanging Lake is a unique geological feature and also a hanging garden plant community unlike anything you’ve seen before.
The city of Glenwood Springs itself provides the opportunity to relax in the world’s largest outdoor mineral pool at the Glenwood Hot Springs. The pool is more than two city blocks long, open year-round, and features cabana rentals, waterslides and a kiddie pool in the summer. Adults can enjoy the Yampah Spa and Vapor Caves, underground rock chambers that create natural geothermal steam baths.
Those looking for a scenic mountain drive will love the Mount Evans Scenic Byway, the highest paved road in North America. Mount Evans Road rises to a height of 14,130-feet above sea level and takes you right to the top of Mount Evans. Along the way, you’ll spot mountain goats and bighorn sheep as you pass alpine lakes and rock formations. It’s a once in a lifetime drive with plenty of places to stop and snap a photo.
Argo Gold Mine and Mill located in Idaho Springs provides a tour experience for the whole family about the history of the Argo tunnel and Mill, which processed over one million dollars worth of gold ore after its completion in 1893. It also provides insight into the history of the gold rush in Colorado. Visitors not only get to tour the mine and museum, they can try their hand at panning for gold.
The Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave outside of Golden pays tribute to Wild West legend Buffalo Bill Cody, shedding light on his life and wild west shows, and containing artifacts like Sitting Bull’s bow and arrows, show outfits and other objects from the Old West. The grave site and museum is located at Lookout Mountain Park, overlooking the natural beauty of the Great Plains and the Rockies. You may even catch sight of the herd of buffalo and other wildlife that live in the area.
Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre provides a unique natural landscape and live music all rolled into one. The park is centered around the incredible red rock formations for which it gets its name, and out of which the world famous amphitheatre was built. Visitors can walk around the stage, plus explore trails throughout the park. The venue also offers a world-class lineup of musicians during concert season through late-spring to fall, as well as a Film on the Rocks program.
The Denver Museum of Nature and Science has been Denver’s leading cultural institution for over 100 years. Located in City Park, visitors will enjoy a variety of exhibits on everything from natural history and the universe, to biology, and even Colorado history. The museum also has an IMAX theater, a planetarium, and host of exciting temporary exhibits annually.
The Denver Art Museum is well-known for a world-class permanent collection, including its large exhibit on American Indian art. The DAM also brings in plenty of special exhibits throughout the year. The Hamilton building, which houses the museum’s contemporary art collection, is a work of art in itself.
No visit to the city of Boulder is complete without a stroll down Pearl Street Mall, the delightful pedestrian promenade that also serves as Boulder’s heart for dining, shopping, and the arts. You’ll find more than 1,000 businesses fill this area between 9th street and 21st street, most being locally-owned and operated. While you take in the shops and some of Boulder’s best restaurants, be sure to enjoy the many street performers who are usually out and about showing off their skills.
You don’t have to love tea to enjoy a tour of the Celestial Seasonings Tea Factory. The headquarters, located just outside of Boulder, not only provide a behind-the-scenes look at how tea is made, but also has some unique attractions that are a whole lot of fun. Take a whiff inside the Mint Room and see how long you can stand it. Spend some time in the tea shop or enjoy a casual outing at the Celestial Cafe. There’s also an art gallery and herb garden on site.
Colorado is undoubtedly a beer state and there are plenty of breweries to tour. But if you want to tour a large-scale brewery that still has that craft beer sensibility, New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins is the place to go. You’ll know New Belgium for its beers like Fat Tire, and while it’s putting out a national distribution, you’ll love the feel of its intimate 90-minute tour. You’ll hear stories, sample beer and learn all about the beer making process.
While its Denver counterpart might be more popular, The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs is definitely the most unique Colorado zoo experience you’ll find. It is located at 6,800-feet above sea level and holds exhibits that are built into the side of a mountain. Visitors can also feed the giraffes, ride an open chair-lift over the zoo, walk through an aviary of free-flying birds, and expect plenty of animal encounters.
Garden of the Gods Park is a registered National Natural Landmark just outside of Colorado Springs. The park is open year-round and offers stunning views of its 300 sandstone rock formations, plus plenty of hiking, horseback riding, and camping. The Visitor and Nature Center has all kinds of interactive exhibits and the Trading Post features works by local artists. Entrance to the park is free.
If you’re going to summit one of Colorado’s “fourteeners,” there’s no better way to do it than on the Pike’s Peak Cog Railway. The views you’ll get on the world’s highest cog railroad was the inspiration for the song “America the Beautiful” and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a beautiful ride and the trains run year-round.
Mesa Verde National Park, southwest near Cortez, is perhaps the greatest archaeological wonder in the United States and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Learn about the lives and history of the Ancestral Pueblo people as you visit Cliff Palace, Balcony House and Long House, incredible cliff dwellings and mesa-top villages built between 450 and 1300. There’s also a few hiking trails available within the park, including one to a petroglyph panel.
If the chance to play in a giant sandbox appeals to you, then Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve near Alamosa is the spot for you. This giant dune field of 30 sq. miles (78 kilometers²) features at least one dune over 750-feet (228.6 meters) high. Sledding down the dunes is a popular pastime, as is hiking and camping. There are also horseback riding trails and the four-wheel scenic drive on Medano Pass.
The Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, in Southern Colorado, is a coal-fired, steam-powered train just like those that ran throughout the state during the days of cowboys and settlers over 100 years ago. The trains takes visitors through the remote beauty of the San Juan National Forest. There are a variety of packages available.
Dinosaur National Monument, on the northern border between Colorado and Utah, is an incredible testament to the natural and geological history of Colorado. Visitors can see over 1,500 fossils on display on the cliff face inside the Quarry Exhibit Hall. There are also petroglyphs of lost cultures and the abandoned homesteads of early settlers. For the adventurers, there are camping and whitewater rafting opportunities.