Idyllic mountain meadows. Mighty snow-capped peaks. Sweeping plains. Dramatic canyons. Serene winter snow. When it comes to the outdoors, Colorado just about has it all.
As one of America’s more popular vacation destinations, it can get a little overwhelming knowing where to begin experiencing this magnificent state. Colorado simply has so much to offer the adventurous traveler. But don’t worry, we’ll make it easy for you.
If you’re planning to make a trip to see Colorado, you’ll want to check out our list of 11 interesting and beautiful places to visit before you go. Then you’ll be ready to enjoy the Centennial State with confidence!
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1. Rocky Mountain National Park
As one of the state’s must-see places, Rocky Mountain National Park is quintessential Colorado. With beautiful mountain views, scenic drives, tons of hiking and backpacking trails, and excellent picnic spots, it’s a fantastic place for a family outing or a serious outdoor expedition.
Taking the scenic drive along Trail Ridge Road is one of the park’s most popular activities. Winding through the park to amazing altitudes, you can easily encounter elk, bighorn sheep, and other wildlife, plus see the Continental Divide and play in the snow in some areas in the summertime.
If you’re planning to spend multiple days at the park, I recommend staying in the nearby town of Estes Park, a great jumping off point to everything in the area full of shopping, dining, and other activities.
2. Red Rocks Amphitheatre – Denver, CO
As one of the world’s premier concert venues, there’s just nothing like the Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
A stunning outdoor amphitheater surrounded by massive red rock formations, Red Rocks has drawn the most famous names in entertainment for decades. If you’re able to time it right, I definitely recommend attending a concert here during your Colorado vacation.
Even if you’re not going to a show, you can still drive out to visit and explore Red Rocks during the daytime. The photogenic venue provides an onsite restaurant, visitors center, guided tours, and an interesting Red Rocks Hall of Fame exhibit.
3. Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad – Durango, CO
Located in Southwest Colorado, a train ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad provides a unique experience full of scenery, adventure, and local history.
Hopping aboard this historic train, passengers take a journey starting in downtown Durango through the beautiful San Juan Mountains to the historic, high-altitude mining town of Silverton. Be sure to take the round-trip voyage, making this a fun day of exploration.
If you can, I highly recommend splurging to enjoy one of the train’s many luxury cars, especially the Alamosa Parlor Car. No matter your seat, this train ride provides a spectacular Colorado experience you won’t soon forget!
4. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Narrow canyons, sheer drop offs, expansive vistas—these are all ingredients that make up Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, which feels off the beaten path, even though it’s a national park.
A great park you can experience in just one day, Black Canyon of the Gunnison easily inspires with its unique landscape. My personal favorite spot in the park is the famous “Painted Wall” cliffside—a sight you’ll want to spend ample time soaking in with your camera ready.
When you go, be sure to take the South Rim scenic drive, and stop at all the overlooks!
5. Four Corners Monument
The one spot in the entire United States where four different states converge at one point, the Four Corners Monument is a place any traveler or geography buff needs to check off their bucket list.
Part of the Navajo Nation, the monument is located in a vast, isolated desert area that takes a decent drive to reach (with scenery along the way). When you arrive however, you soon realize the trip was well worth it!
You’ll love the chance to visit Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado—all in less than 10 seconds. Plus, there’s a local vendor market at the monument, as well as several beautiful parks in the surrounding areas.
6. “Switzerland of America” – Ouray, CO
Located along the beautiful “Million Dollar Highway” in the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado, a visit to the historic mountain town of Ouray feels like you’re living inside a picturesque souvenir postcard.
Nicknamed the “Switzerland of America,” this quaint, yet bustling town is full of lovely restaurants, shops, hotels, and inspiring mountain views. Plus, it’s famous for its ample hot springs (where you can easily swim) and its world-renowned ice climbing in the winter.
In addition, the town provides a nice home base for jeep rentals and tours into Colorado’s most scenic high-altitude mountain roads.
7. Mount Evans Scenic Byway
Colorado is famous for its collection of “14ers,” mountains over 14,000 ft in elevation. While many get in great shape to hike or climb these towering peaks, there’s one where you can actually drive to the top—Mount Evans.
A nice day trip from Denver, the Mount Evans Scenic Byway provides travelers the chance to experience the highest paved road in North America and other spectacular scenery along the way as they ascend to the top of Mount Evans.
Once you’re at the summit (where you’re actually above the tree line) you can’t help but feel small (in a good way!) as you ponder the heights of this majestic 14er and its surrounding peaks.
8. Great Sand Dunes National Park
Have you ever wanted to play in a giant sandbox? At Great Sand Dunes National Park, you can do that and more as you explore North America’s tallest sand dunes.
With snow-capped mountains in the background, this national park provides a unique contrast of landscapes and otherworldly vibes.
When you visit, be sure to enjoy some sledding and sandboarding down the dunes (what a thrill ride!), as well as hiking, horseback riding, off-road tours, and the park’s expansive starry nights.
9. Historic Downtown Golden – Golden, CO
If you’re looking to escape the big city life of Denver, then a jaunt to the nearby historic town of Golden is a must-do. This former gold rush town packs a delightful punch with its history, friendly downtown, and nearby mountain landscapes.
Once you stroll under the town’s “Welcome to Golden” archway sign in its historic downtown district, you’ll know you want to stay awhile and enjoy Golden’s plethora of scenic shopping, dining, and museum offerings.
Plus, you can take a tour of the famous Coors Brewery nearby and visit Lookout Mountain, the final resting place of Buffalo Bill.
10. Mesa Verde National Park
Located near the southwest corner of the state, you’ll want to make time to experience Mesa Verde National Park during your Colorado visit. Famous for its ancient Pueblo cliff dwellings, this remote national park feels like a different world entirely.
When you visit, a tour of one of these cliff dwellings is a must, though you can also enjoy multiple views from afar of many of the 600 cliff dwellings inside the park—and get a fascinating history of the ancient peoples who once inhabited the area.
Multiple hiking options abound, including my personal favorite: Petroglyph Point Trail. Though, the Step House is another great option if you can’t get a cliff dwelling tour reservation.
11. The Gondola – Telluride, CO
One of the most beautiful ski towns in the United States, Telluride draws visitors of all kinds to experience its outdoor beauty year round.
The town has a reputation of its own, with popular festivals and concerts every year, as well as luxury shops, a lively arts scene, hip breweries and restaurants, and an elevated mountain lifestyle.
As you’re experiencing Telluride on your Colorado vacation, be sure to enjoy a free ride on the gondola to take in the area’s spectacular views as you ascend up the mountain ridge to nearby Mountain Village.
Did we miss any of your favorite places in Colorado?
Let us know in the comments if there are any more places in Colorado that you would add to our list!