Colorado’s unbridled landscapes, its wealth of history, and top-notch cultural institutions make it a popular year-round destination for visitors from all over the world. In fact, the state sees over one million visitors each year. And with so many attractions to choose from, it’s not hard to understand why. If you’re looking to find things to do that are a little more off the beaten path, here are 11 of the most non-touristy experiences Colorado has to offer.
Pearl Lake State Park
While out-of-towners tend to flock to the four national parks throughout the state, there are several state parks that offer the same incredible Colorado experiences. Pearl Lake State Park north of Steamboat Springs is one such example. The beautiful mountain setting offers scenic views and lovely lakeside activities, including camping and fishing in the summer, and snowshoeing and skiing in the winter. It’s a perfect way to get a feel for the Colorado mountains.
Pearl Lake State Park, Rcr 129, Clark, CO, USA, +1 970 879 3922
Vindicator Valley Trail
Hiking is another Colorado rite of passage, and the Vindicator Valley Trail in the Cripple Creek area offers a fun two-mile (3.2-kilometer) loop and breathtaking views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It’s also an excellent foray into Colorado’s gold mining history. The trail takes you past several 1890s gold mines, beginning at the remains of the Theresa Gold Mine, which started operation in 1895. Signs along the trail provide plenty of information about the history of mines, the surrounding area, and the people who came to Colorado looking for gold.
Canyons of the Ancients
If you’re interested in exploring some of Colorado’s incredible archaeological history, but don’t want to mess with the possible crowds at one of the larger national park sites, consider visiting Canyons of the Ancients National Monument down in the Four Corners region of the state. This outdoor museum contains over 6,000 archaeological sites, including villages, field houses, cliff dwellings, shrines, petroglyphs, sweat lodges, and more. You can also go hiking, biking, and camping in the area.
Strawberry Park Hot Springs
Colorado is also rich with geothermal activity, and taking a dip in the state’s many natural hot springs is popular. While there are several larger pools around the state, few are as fun as Strawberry Park Hot Springs near Steamboat Springs. Strawberry Park keeps the natural beauty of the hot springs with a more rustic feel and stone walls around the pools, but it also provides modern comforts such as restrooms and changing areas. There are also picnic areas available, as well as overnight lodging rentals.
For a unique Colorado dining experience, try The Fort in Morrison. The Fort has all the kitsch of a Western frontier holdout, and guests will love the old west feel and the scenic views of the surrounding red rock formations. But the award-winning menu, specializing in food and drink of the early west, is what the locals go for. Enjoy upscale dishes featuring buffalo, beef, game, and seafood, as well as authentic 170-year-old cocktail recipes and more.
Paint Mines Interpretive Park
Paint Mines Interpretive Park in Calhoun is a unique geological site of sandstone formations and colored clay that almost looks like an alien planet with its strange shapes and shades. In fact, the colors attracted natives as far back as 9,000 years ago; they collected the clay to use as paint. You’ll love the incredible spires of white, orange, purple, gray, red, and brown. Just be sure to respect the rules and stay on the four miles (6.4 kilometers) of trails.
Creede Underground Mining Museum
Colorado has plenty of museums and cultural institutions worth visiting, but the Creede Underground Mining Museum might be the only one that that sits completely underground. You’ll get to see many displays about the history of Colorado’s gold and silver rush, including real mining history. Retired miners lead the guided tours and explain the equipment and methods of mining.
For a unique architectural experience, visit Cadet Chapel at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. MIT grad Walter A. Netsch Jr. designed this incredible modern cathedral in 1959, and it is a perfect blend of art and technology. The frame of the entire chapel is constructed out of 100 identical tetrahedrons, creating a pattern of 17 spires. Inside, the chapel is a stunning swirl of blue and pastel glass. It accommodates all faiths with a Protestant chapel on the top floor, a Catholic chapel on the middle floor, a Muslim prayer room, and a circular Jewish chapel on the lower floor. It’s a breathtaking building worth a visit.
Cadet Chapel, 2306 Sijan Dr, U.S. Air Force Academy, CO, USA, +1 719 333 4515
Beer is a fact of life in Colorado, and hitting up a Colorado brewery is essential. A great brewery that might not come immediately to mind is Tommyknocker Brewery in Idaho Springs. Tommyknocker beers have won 100 medals at local, national, and international competitions, and the brewery is a great place to visit. They offer walk-in brewery tours, and they also have a full-service restaurant, with excellent pub fare. They even have homemade root beer for the kids.
Tommyknocker Brewery, 1401 Miner St, Idaho Springs, CO, USA, +1 303 567 2688
Bishop Castle in Rye is the largest self-built castle in the United States. Built by one man, this castle is a marvel of ingenuity and determination. It reaches over 16 stories high, with a grand ballroom, wrought iron walkways, and even a steel fire-breathing dragon. Opening times vary across the seasons as they follow daylight hours, and the castle is open seven days a week. Entrance is free to the public, although they welcome donations. All in all, a visit here makes for a fun photo opportunity.
Bishop Castle, 12705 CO-165, Rye, CO, USA, +1 719 564 4366
The Wild Animal Sanctuary
The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg is like the zoo’s big brother. In fact, it’s the world’s largest carnivore sanctuary, with over 450 rescued animals, including everything from lions, tigers, and bears to wolves, crocodiles, and even a few non-meat eaters. Visitors view the animals from an elevated walkway that stretches around the main open enclosures. Visit these incredible animals who’ve all been given a second shot at life.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary, 2999 County Road 53, Keenesburg, CO, USA, +1 303 536 0118
If you need any more convincing, here are 15 more reasons you need to visit Colorado.