Discover the best things to do in Colorado with this in-depth inspirational guide.
Let’s tell the straight-up truth here: Colorado is home to some of the most stunning landscapes in the United States.
From the Rocky Mountains to the Pikes Peak region, there’s plenty to explore in this state in America’s West.
Planning to visit and in need of ideas for things to do in Colorado? Look no further – we’re going to discover some of the best attractions and activities that Colorado has to offer.
The Best Things to do in Colorado: Top 5
Go Hiking in the Rocky Mountains
Colorado and the Rocky Mountains go hand in hand – to the point where it would be a crying shame to come and visit the state and not visit the Rocky Mountains.
This is nature at its most dramatic – rugged mountains decked out in hues of grey and green – poking up to dizzying altitudes.
Sure, you can explore the Rocky Mountains by car (in fact, if you have time, you should definitely do a road trip – I’ve talked about this below in more detail) but there’s nothing like going hiking to really help you appreciate the beauty of the Rockies.
The mountains are filled with trails of all levels of difficulty, so there is something for everyone. Estes is a great base for exploring the Rocky Mountains. It’s a small town that is located right next to Rocky Mountain National Park, which has over 350 miles of hiking trails.
Trails vary in difficulty. If you’re looking for an easy trail, opt for the Lily Lake Loop, which starts in the town of Estes Park and is only a mile long. Along the Lily Lake Loop, expect to see plenty of beautiful wildflowers in the summertime.
If you’re looking for something more challenging, try the Longs Peak Trail, which is 16 miles round-trip and has an elevation gain of over 1500 metres! Highlights of the Long Peaks Trail include views of the glacier-carved Twin Sisters Peaks, Longs Peak (the tallest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park), and Lake Estes.
Chances are, if you’re flying into Colorado, you’re going to be flying into Denver – but there’s a lot more to the Mile High City than being a great transport hub.
This vibrant city is all about the American cool – world-class museums, trendy restaurants and bars – not to mention some of the best street art in the world.
Kick off your Denver trip with a visit to RiNo – home of Denver Central Market and the heart of Denver’s street art scene. This neighborhood is full of art galleries, breweries, and restaurants, and it’s a great place to wander around for a few hours.
Denver is also home to a number of art museums, including the Denver Art Museum, the Clyfford Still Museum, and the Museo de las Américas.
For foodies, Denver is a paradise! The city has an abundance of restaurants and bars that offer everything from classic American cuisine to international flavors. Head to Dairy Queen for a classic burger and fries, or try out some of Denver’s unique Mexican restaurants like D’Corazon.
If you’re looking for a cool hangout to drink (umm, who isn’t), Denver has plenty of options as well. The city is home to dozens of craft breweries, including the Wynkoop Brewing Company, Great Divide Brewing Company, and Cerebral Brewing.
Horse Riding at a Dude Ranch
Yeee-hah! Traditionally Colorado was a part of the Wild West – so it makes sense that these guys know how to really ride a horse.
Want your own little slice of the cowboy experience? Book yourself for a stay in a Colorado dude ranch.
A dude ranch is a working cattle ranch that offers guests the opportunity to ride horses – some even allow you to participate in other cowboy activities like roping and branding cattle.
The most famous of all the Colorado dude ranches is probably the Ranch at Emerald Valley This ranch is located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains and it offers horseback riding trips that range from one to seven days.
I stayed at Sundance Trail Ranch, an incredible ranch located just outside of Aspen. At Sundance, you can choose from a variety of horseback riding trips, including half-day rides, full-day rides, and multi-day pack trips. This ranch also offers fishing, hiking, and biking trails for guests who want to explore the area on their own.
Throw in hearty home-cooked family-style lunches and dinners and owners – Dan and Ellen – who really know how to host with style- and you have a winning combination.
Take A Road Trip
Want to really get to what makes Colorado tick? Hit the open road for an epic Colorado road trip.
It’s the best way to see a different side to the state – away from the crowds and dipping into the cool towns and places in Colorado and jaw-dropping landscapes that define the state instead.
There are a number of great routes to choose from, and each offers its own unique set of sights and experiences. Some popular routes include the Rocky Mountain Loop, the San Juan Skyway, and the Trail of the Ancients.
Or you can follow the route I did on my own Colorado road trip from Denver stopping off at the Rockies, Sundance, Loveland and Fort Collins along the way.
See the Ancient Cliff Dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park
A trip to Mesa Verde National Park is one of the most intriguing things to do in Colorado. Mesa Verde was established as a national park in 1906, making it one of the oldest parks in the United States.
Located in southwestern Colorado, it’s home to a number of ancient cliff dwellings and petroglyphs. There are more than 4000 archeological sites, including the cliff dwellings, which were built by the Ancestral Puebloans over 800 years ago.
Things to do in Colorado: Amazing Outdoor Activities
Go White Water Rafting
Fancy chasing down your next adrenaline rush? Be sure to go white water rafting.
Colorado is home to some of the best white water rafting in the world, and there are a number of great rivers to choose from.
Some popular rivers include the Arkansas River, the Clear Creek River, and the Taylor River. At Arkansas River, you can raft through some of the most challenging rapids in the country. Clear Creek River offers a more relaxing experience, while the Taylor River is better-suited to beginner rafters.
Hike The Devil’s Backbone
Challenging hike? Striking views? Rugged natural landscape? Sign us up!
The Devil’s Backbone is one of the state’s best-known hikes and a must for any outdoor adventurers. Situated near Loveland, and it offers incredible views of the surrounding area.
The hike itself is relatively strenuous (let’s say moderate on a scale of easy to leg-burningly hard) and climbs up the spine of a ridge line. Roughly eight miles long, the views along the way more than make up for the challenge.
Skiing in the Rocky Mountains
If you’re visiting Colorado during the winter, be sure to go skiing! The Rockies provide some of the best skiing in North America, with slopes for all levels of skiers.
Arapahoe Basin is a great place to ski if you’re looking for challenging slopes. This ski resort is located about an hour and a half west of Denver, and it offers over 136 trails that range from beginner to expert level.
For those who are new to skiing, Arapahoe Basin has a Ski School that offers lessons for all ages and abilities. And be sure to check out the Après Ski scene at Arapahoe Basin, which is one of the best in Colorado!
Aspen is another cool winter ski spot. This charming town is located in the Rocky Mountains, and it’s home to some of the best skiing in the world.
Other recommended ski resorts in Colorado include Beaver Creek and Breckenridge.
Beautiful Places to Visit in Colorado
Check Out The Garden of the Gods
We’ve already established that Colorado isn’t exactly short on incredible natural scenery – even so – The Garden of the Gods will make you look twice.
Located in Colorado Springs, The Garden of the Gods is home to some of the most incredible rock formations in the world, formed over millions of years by wind and water erosion.
What’s left is a park that’s filled with towering red rocks and incredible views – and one of Colorado’s top attractions.
Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater
When it comes to amazing concert venues, Red Rocks Amphitheater takes the prize.
Located just outside of Denver in a natural amphitheatre (that was pimped up a bit in the 40’s) it hosts some of the biggest musicians in the world.
Even if you’re not going to see a concert, you should stop off in the Red Rocks Park to take in the incredible views of Denver and the Rocky Mountains.
See Hanging Lake
Hanging Lake is a beautiful natural wonder located in Glenwood Canyon, and it’s one of the most popular places to visit in Colorado.
The lake is known for its impressive colour: the result of travertine deposits that line the shoreline and create a bright turquoise hue.
Hanging Lake is accessible by foot, and it’s a popular destination for hikers and nature lovers. The hike to the lake is relatively steep, but it’s still worth mentioning that the trail can be quite crowded during peak times.
Dinosaur National Monument
Located in the northeast corner of Colorado, Dinosaur National Monument is a must-see for anyone visiting the state.
The monument is home to a number of impressive dinosaur fossils, and it’s also home to some beautiful scenery.
Some popular attractions at the monument include the Quarry Exhibit Hall and the Yampa River Canyon. The Quarry Exhibit Hall is home to a number of dinosaur fossils, including a 150-foot long Apatosaurus. The Yampa River Canyon is known for its impressive cliffs and river rapids.
Visit The Royal Gorge Bridge
Located just south of Cañon City, the Royal Gorge Bridge is a must-see for anyone visiting Colorado.
The bridge was originally built in 1929, and it’s now the longest suspension bridge in the United States. The bridge spans the Royal Gorge, a narrow and deep canyon that was carved out by the Arkansas River.
Check Out the Colorado National Monument
I couldn’t very well write a guide to the best things to do in Colorado and not feature the Colorado National Monument.
A park in the west of the state, the Colorado National Monument is home to some of the most impressive scenery in the state.
The park was established as a national monument in 1911and it was later designated as a national park in 1971. At over 20,000 acres, the Colorado National Monument is one of the largest national parks in Colorado.
Once there, check out the park’s unique features including canyons, cliffs, and rock formations. The park is also home to a number of different animal species, including deer, elk and coyotes.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
The name kind of gives the game away at the Great Sand Dunes National Park but guess what… the dunes really are pretty great.
The tallest sand dunes in North America in fact. The park was established as a national monument in 1932, and it was later designated as a national park in 2004.
Today, Great Sand Dunes National Park is a popular destination for hikers, nature lovers and wannabe sandboarders ready to whizz down the dunes (that’s you right?).
No trip to Colorado would be complete without a visit to Pikes Peak. This iconic mountain is located just south of Colorado Springs, and it offers incredible views of the surrounding area.
At 4,300 metres Pikes Peak is the highest summit in the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The mountain is named for American explorer Zebulon Pike, who was the first European to sight the peak in 1806.
Today, Pikes Peak is a popular destination for hikers and climbers. The summit can be reached either by car (on the iconic Pikes Peak Highway) or by foot, and the summit offers incredible views of the surrounding area.
See The Black Canyon in Gunnison National Park
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a must-see for anyone visiting Colorado.
The Black Canyon was first established as a national monument in 1933, and it was later designated as a national park in 1999. At over 50 miles long and up to 3000 feet deep, the Black Canyon is an amazing sight to see.
Geologically, the canyon is one of the youngest in the United States, and its walls are still eroding today.
Cool Places to Visit in Colorado
Hang Out in Boulder
Fun, chill, quirky – these are words you’re likely to encounter if you ask someone to describe Boulder to you.
Quite how it manages to be all three is anyone’s guess, but it does. Perhaps it’s the large student population – thanks to a number of colleges and universities, or perhaps Boulder was just born cool.
Want to know what to do in Boulder? The first thing is (you guessed it) to take a hike. The hiking in and around Boulder is some of the best in Colorado. Take a stroll along the Boulder Creek Path, or hike to the top of the Flatirons for some incredible views.
Boulder is also home to a number of great restaurants and bars. If you’re looking for a cheap meal, head to The Sink for some college-style food. If you’re in the mood for something more upscale, check out Lazy Dog Restaurant.
Other recommended Boulder restaurants include The Kitchen, Frasca Food and Wine and Blackbelly Butcher.
Finally, don’t forget to check out the nightlife in Boulder. The city is home to a number of great clubs and bars, where you can dance the night away. Some popular spots include The Fox Theatre, The Sink and eTown Hall.
Travel Back in Time at Telluride
Telluride is a historic town located in the San Juan Mountains. Originally founded as a mining camp in 1878, it quickly grew into a prosperous community.
Today, Telluride is known for its Victorian architecture and its charming Main Street.
The town is also home to a number of festivals and events, including the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and the Telluride Film Festival.
Unusual Things to do in Colorado
Visit the Loveland Sculpture Gardens
If you’re looking for something a bit unusual to do in Colorado, head to the Loveland Sculpture Gardens. This garden is home to over 200 pieces of sculpture from artists around the world.
The sculptures are located in a variety of settings, including gardens, ponds, and even inside a small chapel.
Visit the Stanley Hotel
Ready to get spooked? Visit the Stanley Hotel.
This hotel is located in Estes Park, and it’s famous for being the inspiration for Stephen King’s novel, The Shining. Go to the Stanley Hotel for a ghost tour or simply to soak in the spooky atmosphere!
Discover Colorado’s Ghost Towns
Colorado is home to a number of ghost towns, and these towns offer a unique look at the state’s history.
Some popular ghost towns include Animas Forks, Buckskin Joe, and St. Elmo. These towns are all located in the Colorado Rockies, and they offer incredible views of the surrounding area.
Most of these towns were abandoned in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when silver mining began to decline. Today, they are popular tourist destinations for those looking to explore Colorado’s history.
Things to do in Colorado: Practical Tips for Your Trip
Colorado is a large and diverse state, and you can see many interesting things in a day’s drive. On the other hand, some people like to slow down and take weeks driving through Colorado, visiting sights along the way. I would recommend 5 days if you are on a tight schedule, 2-3 weeks if you want to explore at a slower pace.
The best times to visit Colorado are spring and autumn. Spring is usually dry, with the occasional snowstorm at higher elevations, while autumn brings cooler weather without being too cold or crowded.
Alternatively, winter means snow-covered roads, but it may also mean great skiing at higher elevations, and fewer people.
Things to do in Colorado: Map
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