27 Things to Do in Colorado
By Janet Benoir – December 21, 2023
As you venture into Colorado, prepare yourself for an array of awe-inspiring landscapes and activities. The state’s natural beauty is a haven for anyone with a penchant for adventure, featuring snow-draped peaks, rushing waterways, and deep canyons. Cities like Denver, Boulder, and Colorado Springs offer cultural experiences that perfectly complement the raw charm of the wilderness.
Colorado’s appeal extends far beyond its famed slopes, with every season bringing its own set of unique pursuits. Whether it’s hiking the trails of the majestic Rocky Mountains, exploring the depth of history in its mountain towns, or embarking on a scenic jeep tour, your opportunities for adventure are boundless. Prepare to immerse yourself in the great outdoors, ride on horseback through the serene landscape, or enjoy the tranquility of fishing in its many pristine lakes and rivers.
In Denver, a rich array of cultural experiences awaits your exploration. Marvel at the creative wonders housed in the Denver Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art. For botany enthusiasts, the Denver Botanic Gardens showcase nature’s masterpieces in well-curated displays. Indulge in the dramatic arts with a Broadway spectacle at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, ensuring a memorable evening of entertainment.
Families will appreciate the renowned Denver Zoo’s diverse animal exhibits, guaranteed to captivate visitors of all ages. Additionally, consider a tour to expand your local knowledge—options range from brewing arts to vibrant street art. For a relaxed, cost-effective outing, City Park gifts you sprawling spaces and scenic mountain vistas, perfect for a serene picnic.
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
At Red Rocks Amphitheatre, your appreciation of live music is poised for an extraordinary elevation. Nestled within a natural rock structure, this acclaimed venue dramatically enhances your auditory experience with its top-tier acoustics, boasting one of the most unparalleled settings for experiencing a performance. The amphitheater’s seating is carefully carved into the surrounding cliff face, offering a distinctive backdrop of majestic sandstone formations.
During off-concert hours, Red Rocks invites you on scenic excursions. Traverse the area on hiking paths like the accessible 1.4-mile Trading Post Trail or tackle the more challenging 3-mile routes encompassing the Red Rocks and Morrison Slide. Ascend the amphitheater’s tiers for sweeping vistas of the terrain, embrace the tranquility of sunrise yoga sessions, or enjoy a film under the stars during the venue’s summer drive-in movie nights.
Boulder offers a cozy, small-town atmosphere with a wealth of attractions. At the heart of it all is Pearl Street Mall, an open-air shopping district brimming with unique shops and quaint cafes. While exploring the area, you’re likely to encounter a diverse array of street performers. The presence of the University of Colorado Boulder adds to the area’s vibrant scene, where you can find an abundance of sophisticated eateries and lively nightlife options.
The Flatirons, with their prominent sandstone formations, define Boulder’s natural landscape. These peaks offer a network of trails catering to both casual walkers and seasoned climbers. Beginning at the well-known Chautauqua Trailhead, you can choose your adventure level on the myriad of paths available. The surrounding park area at Chautauqua also provides a serene setting to simply sit back and admire.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Your journey through the heart of the Rockies takes you to Rocky Mountain National Park, a natural mosaic of soaring peaks and tranquil lakes. With over 355 miles of paths, this haven of rich biodiversity caters to outdoor enthusiasts at every level. For those new to mountain trails, serene lake circuits, such as the ones around Lily Lake, Bear Lake, and Lake Irene, offer gentle terrain filled with the park’s natural splendor.
Seasoned adventurers may aspire to conquer Longs Peak, a towering 14er whose paths wind upwards nearly 5,000 feet. Such an endeavor calls for an early dawn start and the essential gear to brave the rigors of a high-altitude challenge. Should your spirit of adventure yearn for an overnight stay in the wilderness, secure a Wilderness Permit as early as possible—they are allotted on a first-arrived foundation.
Trail Ridge Road
Cresting over 12,000 feet, this route connects Estes Park on the eastern side with Grand Lake to the west, covering an expansive 50 miles. It boasts the title of the highest continuous paved road in the United States. Along the way, strategically placed pull-offs allow for safe pauses to admire the scenery.
Despite its maintenance, this drive may challenge those uneasy with heights, as it consists of sharp turns and steep overlooks. Still, the panoramic views of the mountains and the opportunity for wildlife encounters outweigh any trepidation associated with its lofty elevation. Allocate a minimum of half a day to navigate this passage, but consider extending your time to fully embrace the breathtaking landscapes.
Nestled approximately 5 miles from the expanse of the Rocky Mountain National Park, The Stanley Hotel holds a unique reputation for its paranormal fame, having been the muse behind Stephen King’s chilling novel “The Shining.” If you’re intrigued by ghostly tales, you might find the evening “Spirited Stanley Tour” particularly enticing, as guests have often recommended it for a spine-tingling adventure.
This storied hotel isn’t just for those seeking a spectral experience; it stands out as a top-tier lodging choice in Estes Park. Following significant refurbishments, The Stanley presents luxurious suites for your comfort. For your pleasure and relaxation, there’s an array of exquisite dining venues, indulgent spa services, and diverse outdoor tours. Entertainment offerings at The Stanley are abundant, ranging from concerts featuring Grammy-award-winning artists to a selection of other events.
Garden of the Gods
In the vicinity of Colorado Springs, the Garden of the Gods presents an awe-inspiring collection of red rock landscapes ideal for outdoor activities, situated roughly 6 miles to the northwest. For those with an affinity for foot travel, trails like the accessible Central Garden Trail and the slightly more challenging Palmer Trail afford expansive views while winding through the impressive geological formations.
Throughout the year, the blooming wildflowers further embellish the already picturesque backdrop, offering a colorful complement to the red-hued monoliths. Whether scaling the vertical rocks or observing the varied flora, visitors immerse themselves in the splendor that the Garden of the Gods generously offers.
Located near Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak is an impressive landmark reaching over 14,000 feet into the Colorado sky. As a source of inspiration for the song “America the Beautiful,” this mountainous giant offers multiple routes to its summit. You can take a leisurely drive, which typically spans 3 to 4 hours.
This method provides numerous opportunities for you to pause and appreciate the vast landscape. However, advance reservations are needed for the drive, and those wary of high elevations might prefer the company of a guided tour.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Venture to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve for a unique twist on surfing: riding the dunes! Grab a specially designed sandboard or sand sled—standard snow equipment won’t suffice on the dry sand. With gear in hand and a spirit for adventure, you are set for an exhilarating descent along the park’s towering dunes.
A modest trek from the main parking zone brings you to the park’s expansive sand dunes for your sand surfing or sledding journey. A walk beyond half a mile presents substantial dunes for your enjoyment, with the option to venture further into the dunefield for even more impressive slopes. Beyond the rush of sand surfing, the park invites a wealth of alternative activities, from hiking and camping to splashing around in Medano Creek when the weather permits.
Royal Gorge Bridge
As you approach the Royal Gorge Bridge, prepare yourself for an exhilarating experience 956 feet above the Arkansas River. Recognized as the highest suspension bridge in the United States, this architectural marvel is engineered to support over two million pounds, thanks to its 4,100 solid cables. While some may be hesitant to walk across, you have the option of a less daunting Aerial Gondola ride, providing a serene passage with stunning views.
Beyond the bridge itself, the park offers a wealth of attractions. The Visitor Center gives insight into the area, and you can absorb the bridge’s history at the Plaza Theater. For families, a three-story play area with a seasonal splash pad and carousel awaits. Adrenaline junkies are catered to as well — from soaring the skies on the Cloudscraper Zip Line, America’s highest, to plunging at breathtaking speeds on the Royal Rush Skycoaster.
Located a significant distance south of Denver, Salida is a hidden gem offering a unique glimpse into Colorado’s past. Stroll along F Street where historical architecture gives you a sense of the Wild West era. Discover charming shops like the local five & dime and the nostalgic Salida Pharmacy & Fountain, transporting you to a bygone era.
Salida isn’t just about historical beauty; it’s surrounded by nature’s grandeur, providing a host of outdoor expeditions. Trails like Waterdog Lakes and Hunt Lake invite hikers of various skill levels, while the Mount Shavano and Tabeguache Peak trails offer more strenuous routes for experienced adventurers.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park boasts a landscape of stark beauty where rugged peaks thrust upward into the sky, forming an intricate lattice of deep canyons. The park’s challenging topography doesn’t lend itself to an abundance of easy hiking paths, which makes driving the preferred option for taking in the natural splendor.
Upon your arrival, you have the option to traverse either the North Rim or South Rim. The less developed North Rim presents you with three trails and a quintet of scenic overlooks, all accessible by vehicle. The South Rim offers a more refined experience with its four trails and a dozen vistas to enjoy. Each rim features its own campground for an immersive stay, but the South Rim Campground stands out with its greater size and array of facilities.
Positioned in the Colorado River valley, Glenwood Springs is a cozy locale cradled by the Rocky Mountains. The town draws its acclaim from the local Yampah spring; its waters heat naturally to an invigorating 122 degrees.
For families, Glenwood Hot Springs Resort grants the unique experience of a swim in the world’s grandest hot springs pool, with waters that stay within a comfortable 90 to 93 degrees. In search of serenity, Iron Mountain Hot Springs should be your retreat, with 17 diverse soaking pools set amid scenic walkways warmed against the chill. Here, periodic rain showers offer a refreshing interlude from the warmth of the pools.
Your visit to central Colorado’s renowned town will be rewarded with some of the finest ski experiences the country has to offer. With Aspen Snowmass being a highlight for many, you’ll discover a vast playground of over 5,000 acres of skiable land served by 46 chairlifts, spanning four impressive mountains: Aspen Mountain, Snowmass, Aspen Highlands, and Buttermilk.
Away from the thrill of downhill skiing or snowboarding, Aspen’s social scene competes with its slopes in allure. Post-skiing hours are abuzz with energy as the town’s array of taverns, lounges, and refined dining venues become a haven for skiers unwinding from the day’s adventures. Accommodation options such as The Little Nell and the Hotel Jerome, Auberge Resorts Collection offer lavish comfort a stone’s throw from the slopes.
In the heart of Colorado, you’ll find the enchanting town of Vail, renowned not just for its superb skiing terrain but also for its leisure and relaxation opportunities. Your days can be filled browsing local shops, from high-end outdoor apparel to unique art galleries, or you could savor a peaceful moment in the well-manicured Betty Ford Alpine Gardens.
Come evening, treat yourself to an exquisite culinary journey. Dine on masterful Japanese dishes at Matsuhisa or choose contemporary American creations at Sweet Basil, perfect for concluding your adventure-filled day. In Vail, your experiences are punctuated by exquisite cuisine that caters to a broad array of tastes.
As a mountain retreat within easy reach of Denver, Breckenridge boasts exceptional skiing facilities. The local ski resort features an extensive mix of 187 trails, 35 lifts, and multiple terrain parks to cater to all skill levels. For non-skiers, a complimentary gondola connects the town center to the ski mountain’s base, offering panoramic views of the peaks.
Beyond the slopes, the town of Breckenridge comes alive with a variety of dining options and quaint boutiques. The arts district adds a cultural touch, complementing the area’s outdoor activities, including popular hiking and biking routes like McCullough Gulch Trail and Sawmill Reservoir trail, ensuring that your adventure doesn’t end with the final ski run.
Steamboat Springs, nestled in northwestern Colorado, boasts a wealth of winter sports suited for every level of enthusiast. Your experience on the slopes is complemented by 170 distinct trails, serviced by 21 lifts, and includes the thrill of mastering three specially designed terrain parks.
Beyond the rush of downhill skiing, you’re invited to partake in alternative activities such as cross-country skiing, horseback riding, and snowmobiling. For a change of pace, try ice skating, tubing, or a picturesque gondola ride.
Grand Lake boasts the title of Colorado’s supreme natural lake, attracting numerous visitors with its inviting waters. Only a hundred miles from Denver, the lake’s sandy edges play host to various activities: children constructing sandy edifices, adults basking in the golden sun-rays, and aquatic life occasionally wandering the shallows. With well-maintained recreational spaces, this locale is not only pristine but also offers an array of picnic areas for a perfect day out.
Availability of a marina presents you with the option to traverse the waterways via motor boats or kayaks, allowing an intimate encounter with the serene lake. The lakeside town, carrying the same name, is home to an assortment of eateries, retail establishments, and cafes, enriching your visit with local flavors and souvenirs. During the winter season, the area transforms into a wonderland, offering ice fishing and hockey, ensuring year-round charm and adventure.
Nestled in Southwestern Colorado, Telluride began as a bustling mining town in the late 1800s. Despite the passage of time, it’s managed to preserve its Wild West ambiance. As you stroll down the main street, you’re met with a collection of charming shops and local eateries, a picturesque contrast to the magnificent San Juan Mountains serving as a backdrop.
While winter sports enthusiasts will find a haven here, Telluride truly shines with its cultural offerings when the snow melts. Its reputation as a festival hub is well-earned, with a calendar packed with events that cater to cinephiles, music aficionados, and art lovers alike. The town’s allure lies in its blend of scenic beauty, rich history, and vibrant community, perfect for those seeking a small-town vibe infused with culture and adventure.
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
Initiated in 1881 and concluded in 1882, this rail line was instrumental in carting precious metals from the rugged San Juan Mountains. Beyond its industrial role, the train became a conduit for passengers to uncover the captivating landscapes it traversed. As the train snakes through the twists and turns up to Cascade Canyon, your eyes will meet with scenes that leave many speechless.
Covering the Durango to Silverton stretch in under four hours, you’re granted the chance to alight and wander through Silverton’s historic mining quarters for a couple of hours before the return leg. To secure a spot on this iconic ride, you are urged to book in advance either online or by phone. Seating options range from standard coach to the luxurious deluxe and first-class, and you’re afforded the choice between the classic steam-driven locomotive or the modern diesel train.
Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park, lying in the southwestern corner of Colorado, is a unique convergence of scenic beauty and archeological significance. Here, the Ancestral Pueblo people established their homes within the cliffs, creating structures that have withstood the passage of time.
The park preserves numerous ruins of homes and villages built by these early inhabitants from as early as 600 A.D. until their departure around the end of the 13th century.
Million Dollar Highway
Embark on a journey along a 25-mile stretch recognized as the most breathtaking section of the San Juan Skyway. Commonly called the Million Dollar Highway, this route connects Ouray to Silverton, offering an exhilarating experience that draws adventurers and sightseers alike. Ouray, often likened to a quaint European village surrounded by stunning peaks, marks the beginning of an unforgettable adventure.
As you navigate the Million Dollar Highway, be prepared for a thrilling drive. The road hugs cliff sides, providing expansive views of the gorge below, and the absence of guardrails heightens the sense of adventure. Caution is advised, especially for those who find heights less than inviting. Prior to setting out, particularly in cooler months, it’s vital to verify road conditions, as snow and ice can pose additional challenges on this high-elevation byway.
Grand Junction, nestled on the western edge of Colorado, presents a landscape ripe for viticulture. The unique combination of a cool, arid mountain atmosphere and high altitude fosters an exceptional setting for vineyards. Beyond the famed craft beer, this region invites you to savor its wine offerings, where wineries and tasting venues are abundant, especially around Grand Junction and the neighboring Palisade.
Your palate can embark on a journey through varied flavors, from the delicate notes of Riesling to the robust depth of Cabernet Sauvignon, all against a backdrop of striking alpine vistas. Notable stops for connoisseurs such as yourself include the quaint Carlson Vineyards and the elegant Varaison Vineyards, along with the family-operated Mesa Park Vineyards. For an adventurous twist, consider touring these vinicultural destinations on an e-bike.
Dinosaur National Monument
Straddling the border between Colorado and Utah, this area bears testament to the dinosaurs that once roamed here. Within the craggy terrain and ancient river valleys, the monument showcases a remarkable collection of fossils. The Quarry Exhibit Hall is a centerpiece attraction, exhibiting approximately 1,500 dinosaur bones, offering you a tangible connection to the past.
Venture beyond the hall to immerse yourself in a range of outdoor activities. Trek the trails emanating from visitor centers that lead to astounding desert vistas, or traverse the landscape on bike or horseback for a more dynamic experience. Although isolated, those who have ventured to this northwestern corner of Colorado affirm that the adventure is unquestionably rewarding.
Paint Mines Interpretive Park
Located around 40 miles east of Colorado Springs, the Paint Mines Interpretive Park stands out for its remarkable geological landforms with vividly colored strata. These layers get their brilliant hues from iron compounds that have oxidized over time. Though the formations provide an excellent backdrop for photography, it’s important to respect the park’s rules which forbid climbing or walking on the delicate structures.
The park offers an array of amenities for visitors. You can explore the surroundings via its four-mile trail network, enjoy a meal at one of the picnic areas, or make use of the onsite restrooms. Informational displays are installed throughout the park, and during summer, you can join in on a guided hike.
Mount Blue Sky
From Idaho Springs, a picturesque 28-mile route awaits you, taking you on an impressive journey skyward to Mount Blue Sky’s summit, poised at 14,130 feet. As you navigate the serpentine ascents, gaining roughly 7,000 feet, the landscape unfurls expansive mountain vistas. Wildlife enthusiasts can revel in sightings of mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and marmots, enriching your drive that spans at least an hour each direction.
Vehicle access to the summit is seasonally permitted, generally from Memorial Day to Labor Day, with advance reservations required due to the road’s susceptibility to winter hazards. For those with a fervor for trekking, the option to hike this prominent peak presents an invigorating challenge; this trail is among the esteemed 14ers frequently ascended by both rookie and veteran hikers alike.
The Colorado State Fair
Attend an event brimming with vibrant culture and fun for all ages, the Colorado State Fair held in Pueblo. This event, a staple since 1872, spans from the close of August to the onset of September. With a plethora of activities, including time-honored rodeos and shows featuring top performers, your visit promises a range of live entertainment.
Pueblo, a brief drive from Colorado Springs, becomes a family destination where laughter and joy fill the air. Carnival rides, livestock encounters, and an array of deep-fried delicacies await. For those planning to extend their stay, downtown Pueblo offers a selection of hotels.