Colorado is a state famed for its natural beauty, and the government has created a vast number of parks to protect it. Residents and visitors can enjoy leisure activities in some of America’s most scenic locations. Colorado has a myriad of different landscapes that offer many options when choosing where to spend time outdoors.
As a state nestled in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado has stunning mountain vistas and snowy hills for winter activities year-round. Out of the Rockies come famous rivers such as the Rio Grande where rafting and fishing are popular. The mountains give way to wooded hills which afford great opportunities for hiking and camping. On the state’s eastern side, flat plains and lakes dot the landscape for those who do not want to make the climb. Southern Colorado offers visitors and residents a chance to explore the Four Corners and Mesa Verde area, which offer beautiful mesas and canyons.
Below are some of Colorado’s best parks and forests to visit.
Colorado State Parks
- Cherry Creek State Park, Aurora – Often described as an “Oasis in the Denver metro area” Cherry Creek State Park is popular and very easy to get to. This park offers a wide variety of land and water activities along with great views of the Rocky Mountains.
- Chatfield State Park, Littleton – This is another park in the Denver area. Chatfield State Park is a fantastic park for casual or beginner outdoor enthusiasts and offers ample opportunities for boating, biking, hiking and picnicking. All of these activities are only a short trip from the Denver city center.
- Eleven-Mile State Park, Lake George – A more remote park, Eleven-Mile State Park is located just outside Pike National Forest. It sports campgrounds and RV parks. In warmer months, visitors can fly fish, hunt, hike, bird watch and more. Once winter hits, there are places to ice skate and enjoy views of the snow-capped mountains.
- Eldorado Canyon State Park, Eldorado Springs – This is a popular destination for hikers and rock climbers. It has climbing areas and trails of different difficulties, as well as picnic areas and canyon viewing spots for those who just want to relax.
- Stagecoach State Park, Oak Creek – Stagecoach State Park is a popular year-round destination. It has campsites with electricity for camping in the winter, and trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. In warmer seasons, the 820-acre reservoir is home to excellent fishing and watersports.
- Navajo State Park, Arboles – For those interested in less snowy or mountainous landscapes, Navajo State Park lies in southwest Colorado near the border of New Mexico. The lake has swimming beaches and there are numerous campgrounds as well as wildlife overlook areas. Amenities are also close at hand with various businesses and restaurants a short distance away.
- Barr Lake State Park, Brighton – This lake is famous for bird watchers as it is home to various species, many which are quite rare. The lake also allows fishing and boating, but a license is needed for any motorized boats. This is a surprisingly large state park quite close to the urban Brighton area.
National Parks in Colorado
- Mesa Verde National Park, Montezuma County – This national park is famous for being the ancestral home of the Anasazi people, an indigenous tribe that vanished 700 years ago. Beyond the beautiful vistas and hiking trails, there are over 4,000 ancient archaeological sites. There are informative placards, a visitor’s center and hundreds of preserved cliff dwellings where the Anasazi lived.
- Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park – Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the nation, attracting over three million visitors annually. Some of the most breathtaking views of the Rockies can be found here as it encompasses a huge area. The park has elevations as low as 8,000 feet and as high as over 14,000 feet and includes both alpine and sub-alpine landscapes. Of course, there is room for all manner of outdoor activities such as camping, bicycling, horseback riding and fishing.
- Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Mosca – It may sound out of place for Colorado, but as the name suggests, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is home to massive sand dunes that can reach up to 750 feet tall. Visitors of every age can have fun here picnicking, building a sand castle near the creek, sliding down the dunes, hiking or birdwatching.
National Forests and Grasslands in Colorado
- Pike, San Isabel National Forests and Cimarron Comanche National Grasslands – Of this collection of national forests and grasslands, Pike is the most famous. Not only are there spaces to have fun outdoors, there are also many famous American landmarks such as Pike’s Peak and the Garden of the Gods.
- San Juan National Forest, Durango – This national forest is an exceptionally scenic national park with plenty of room for hiking, camping and fishing, San Juan National Forest is great for visitors who are not looking to stay overnight. There are scenic driving routes throughout much of the park.
- White River National Forest, Glenwood Springs – White River National Forest is the nation’s most visited national forest due in no small part to its 11 ski resorts. When not skiing, visitors have fun camping, fishing and hiking near the streams and creeks.
- Comanche National Grassland, La Junta – Located in the lowlands of southeast Colorado, Comanche National Grassland has a lot of unique attractions. Ancient rock art, the historically significant Santa Fe Trail, abandoned homesteads from the 19th century and even visible dinosaur tracks are all features of this park.