These attractions and places to visit in Colorado are much more than scenic: they represent the complex and fascinating history of this state that embraces the Rocky Mountains. Continental plate collisions brought the mountains into being and volcanic flows deposited rich veins of minerals which, when discovered by prospectors, attracted a large population from the east. Tropical seas, reptiles, dinosaurs, even glaciers and dunes, all made their mark on today's Colorado. Visitors can see evidence of all this and let their imaginations take them back millions of years to the formation of this diverse state.
Home to the highest paved road in North America at 14,130 feet, Mount Evans provides a panoramic view of Denver and the Front Range, along with an alpine environment of lakes, wind-twisted pine trees, and delicate plants and flowers. Mountain goats and bighorn sheep draw photographers and nature watchers. As with all destinations in the Colorado mountains, don't forget to acclimate to the high altitude.
A world-class ski destination in its own right, Vail is nestled among mountain towns, fields of local wildflowers and breathtaking views of the Sawatch Range. The shops and restaurants in the area and the locals who live here have a unique mountain vibe. Vail offers an upscale Alpine-style atmosphere, while towns such as Frisco are more typical of local destinations. Vail is worth a visit in all four seasons.
Just down the road from the lively town of Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park offers visitors many options. It's one of the most popular national parks in the United States, with 100 peaks over 10,000 feet. The scenic trail ridge road, open seasonally, showcases alpine environments, rare wildlife and a variety of hikes at high altitude. The visitor's center is home to a cafe and gift shop en route. Other opportunities include camping, fishing, horseback riding, and bouldering. In the winter, much of the park is still accessible and worth a visit to ski and snowshoe.
The view of Maroon Bells may look familiar: it's said to be one of the most photographed scenes in America. In person, the breathtaking view in autumn accompanies a wealth of hiking trails, fishing spots, and places to explore from summer through winter. Scenic drives will only whet your appetite for the lakes, meadows, and mountains.
Take about a drive from Grand Junction on Colorado's Western Slope to see this amazing natural formation. Offering strong evidence of the forces at work during Colorado's geological history, Black Canyon plunges around 2,000 feet to the bed of the Gunnison River below. Camping and hiking are available nearby, but rangers discourage hiking into the canyon itself.
The dunes of Great Dunes National Park are evidence of the steady forces of water over millennia depositing sand from lakes, rivers, and streams. A hike to the top of provides a wide-angle view, plus hiking and camping facilities. Adventurous visitors can go four-wheeling through the sand or boarding down the dunes.
Everyone can get out of the car and enjoy a ride on this historic train from the Old West ski town of Durango up into the mountains to the mining town of Silverton. This narrow-gauge railroad has been in continuous operation since 1882, hauling at first gold and silver, then passengers who enjoy the spectacular views.
Not far from Denver, in the town of Morrison, this multipurpose park sits atop giant red rock formations at the edge of the mountains. The view of Denver is spectacular, and the amphitheater built into the rock has provided an open-air venue for well-known acts since its completion in 1941.
The jagged stone towers of this natural landmark dwarf visitors who use the 15 miles of fairly easy trails to get up close and experience the gardens firsthand. There is a visitor center with exhibits, videoes on the geological history of the formations, and a cafe with a great view. In addition to hiking, bikes, horses, and even Segways can be used to tour the gardens.
The well-preserved dwellings and extensive visitor access to Mesa Verde provide a rare connection to ancient southwest history. Ranger-led tours are available in summer when trails lead to lookout points, petroglyphs, sites on top of the mesa, and the dwellings themselves. The drive to the mesa provides a unique perspective of the land on which these cliff dwellers lived.