The Most Beautiful State Parks in Colorado

| © eboo / iStock
Michelle Schmid

Colorado is watched over by the presence of the majestic and picturesque Rocky Mountains, making for some seriously dramatic state parks tucked between the peaks. Ranging from wild highland scenes to colorful canyons of rock, these state parks mark some of the most beautiful backcountry the Centennial State has to offer.

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Eleven Mile

At the geographic center of the state, this park has a rich geology and historic background dating to the 1200s. Home to rich deposits of sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous rock, the area is marked by a wide reservoir located just above the Eleven Mile Canyon Dam. This creates an ideal environment for watching the variety of both residential and migratory birdlife, while also keeping a close eye out for elk, black bears and coyotes. With the large reservoir, Eleven Mile is perfect for fishing and boating, while simultaneously offering a lengthy scenic trail system and numerous backcountry campsites.

Arkansas Headwaters

For a taste of whitewater rafting, the Arkansas Headwaters State Park is the place to go, offering a 150mi (241km) stretch of whitewater boating. From intense high rapids to lower and calmer rapids, the river is open to everyone and can be experienced through one of many river outfitters nearby. Besides the rapids, the overall park can be enjoyed by hiking, rock climbing, biking or camping. A mixture of firs and pines make this a key place to spot mountain goats and other animals, while geologic activity provides nearby hot springs and a spectacular mountainous view.

Rifle Falls

Lush trees and rich greenery add to the dramatic scene of the triple-cascade waterfall that marks Rifle Falls as a fantastic place to get in touch with nature. With an array of unique limestone caves situated at the base of the waterfall, this one has long been a place to inspire awe in onlookers. Boasting biking, camping and hiking opportunities galore, Rifle Falls park ranges from forest to wetlands. What’s more, diverse bird species, elk, chipmunks and other animals make this a lively and entertaining place to visit.

Navajo Lake

A relatively new state park, Navajo Lake offers a reservoir of 15,600 acres (6,313ha) that stretches over the border into New Mexico. With such an expanse of beautiful water, it is perfect for boating, fishing and swimming. If water activities are not on the to-do list, however, you can find enjoyment hiking around the surrounding mesas and occasional canyons. Birds inhabit much of the area, so keep dogs on a short leash when enjoying the stunning sights of this recreational hotspot.

State Forest

With 71,000 acres (28,700ha) of forest, jagged peaks, alpine lakes, wildlife, and miles of trails mark this state park the ultimate adventure destination. State Forest is the moose-viewing capital of Colorado too, where more than 600 moose are observed by visitors year-round. Other animals can be found tucked within the coniferous forests, such as black bears and elk, so keep an eye out when enjoying the many hiking trails and campsites this park has to offer. Geocaching draws many visitors to explore the volcanic geography, but crags are not the limit. Dunes rise in the north of the park, offering a unique experience that’s simply not to be missed.

Mueller

At Mueller State Park, every season is a photographer’s picnic, with great granite mountains framing the horizon and several spring-fed meadows. The wind blowing through the aspen trees gives a truly alpine experience, and, nestled in the foothills of Pike’s Peak, this park is home to elk, mountain lions and black bears to name just a few. Whether biking, hiking or horseback riding, the dramatic mountain scenery will spark the imagination and offer the perfect landscape for a photo.

Golden Gate Canyon

Just 30mi (48km) from the capital of Colorado, Golden Gate Canyon provides an abundance of dense forest, rocky peaks and aspen-rimmed meadows. At the Panorama Point Scenic Overlook, you can observe an exhilarating 100mi (160km) of the Continental Divide, while keeping a lookout for some of the park’s natural wildlife. Bobcats, black bears, mountain lions and elk all make Golden Gate their home among the quartz and gneiss canyon, while hiking, camping, fishing and rock climbing are all common activities to enjoy.

Eldorado Canyon

Right in Boulder’s backyard, this park is a ideal for nature enthusiasts. With sheer sandstone cliffs, Eldorado Canyon is a rock climbing haven, drawing climbers from all around the world to experience the golden cliffs. However, you can also enjoy the prairie and foothill wildlife by biking, fishing, hiking and horseback riding. Watch out for the black bears, mountain lions and bobcats inhabiting the area, while enjoying granite, quartzite and sandstone ridges galore; the unforgettable and renowned flatirons of Boulder.

Roxborough

Nestled against the great city of Denver, Roxborough is the perfect place for a day trip. Although the park does not allow camping, the variety of hiking trails reaching all difficulty levels make this national natural landmark a veritable must see. Sandstone formations provide a dramatic scene and date back 300 years, while the park’s varying elevation allows for a diverse bird population and extensive prairie plant life. Whether spotting deer and other animals or just admiring the reaches of red sandstone, Roxborough is definitely worth your time.

Lory

With 26mi (42km) of relaxed hiking trails and an ideal location next to Fort Collins and Horsetooth Reservoir, Lory State Park has a lot to offer. Sandstone and other sedimentary rocks rise in breathtaking formations all around the 2,492-acre (1,008ha) area, supporting various species of lichen, forests, prairie and grassland. Whether rock climbing, backcountry camping, biking or boating, this special area reveals a wealth of wildlife and scenic views that make it arguably the perfect weekend getaway in Colorado.

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