You could spend decades—as I have—exploring Colorado’s stunning scenery and top attractions and still have more to see and do. No single trip can cover everything that makes the state a traveler’s dream destination. AFAR’s roundup of things to see and do in Colorado offered 16 tips to get you started, including driving the peak-to-peak scenic byway, visiting Denver Art Museum, and soaking in Iron Mountain Hot Springs. However, if you want to hit the highlights, here are your main targets, divided up by season.
The best places to visit in Colorado in fall
Colorado is spectacular year-round, but autumn’s colors and temperatures make it a particularly magical time to visit.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Visiting the dunes typically means overnighting at the park’s campground, because few accommodations exist near this remote spot some 230 miles south of Denver. But campers are rewarded with dusk and dawn’s light shows on the sand dunes, which ripple beneath the sawtooth Sangre de Cristo mountains. Summers are scorching, but in fall, sand surfaces remain comfortable all day. Scramble across the dunes, or rent a sandboard to surf the slopes like waves.
Dunton Hot Springs
Dunton is the quintessential Colorado getaway for those who can afford it ($1,400 per night is typical). Guests cozy into hand-built log cabins that combine historic patina with western art and worldly comforts like sustainably made beds and linens. Rates include food and drink that make every meal feel special—think roasted pork with charred leek grits followed by poached rhubarb panna cotta—but the steaming springs are this getaway’s raison d’être. Views from the rustic yet luxe bathhouse showcase aspen groves that turn amber in autumn, and one guest cabin (Well House) includes its own spring-fed soaking tub.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Most of this park’s 4.3 million annual visitors flock here in summer, so I go in September for fewer traffic backups on Trail Ridge Road (a must-do drive traversing treeless alpine tundra). Fall is also mating season for the park’s elk herd, and the possibility of hearing bulls’ distinctive bugles adds extra magic to any hike. I always glimpse elk along the Moraine Park Loop, a 5.5-mile circuit that can be shortened to preference.
Best places to visit in Colorado in winter
Snow envelopes much of the state in the winter months, turning urban areas into winter wonderlands and promising world-class outdoor activities.
Meow Wolf Convergence Station
In fall 2023, Denver’s fun house of immersive art installations launched Sips (With a Z), a cocktail bar and lounge dedicated to providing “a sanctuary of chill amidst the hubbub of quantum travel.” Mirrored walls reflect a mashup of classical sculpture and graffiti art, and vintage furniture provides myriad perches for pondering the installation’s experiential art. The bar is only open to Meow Wolf Denver visitors and event guests. While the previous art triggered sight, sound, and touch, the new lounge also titillates our sense of taste.
Sure, it’s far from major cities, but I wager that the only winter enclaves with mountain vistas that rival Telluride’s are in the Alps. These jagged southwest Colorado slopes offer scenery so jawdropping, I always feel dazzled, regardless of the snow conditions. And several mountaintop eateries showcase the splendor. Perched at 11,966 feet, Alpino Vino ranks as the highest restaurant in North America and serves Italian food and wine specialties within a cozy stone and log cabin. More tableside panoramas (and an award-winning wine list) await at Allred’s at 10,551 feet.
Once little more than a refueling stop for motorists traveling Interstate 70, Exit 205 is now an appealing home base for three nearby Colorado ski resorts (Arapahoe Basin, Keystone, and Breckenridge) and a destination in its own right. Stay at Hotel Indigo, the chain’s first mountain property housing an upscale tequila bar and indoor swimming pool. Go snowshoeing or Nordic skiing at Raven Golf Club (free to the public; rent gear at Gore Range Sports) and enjoy après at the Bluebird Market food hall, where weekends find live bands entertaining drinkers at the central bar.
Best places to visit in Colorado in spring
Visitor numbers drop during the spring, but Colorado still puts on a show as flowers bloom and the arts scene wows guests.
Coloradoans Trey Parker and Matt Stone (creators of the South Park animated TV series) spent $40 million to renovate this Denver icon of Mexican food and carnivalesque stunts. Summer 2023 kicked off its much-anticipated reopening. Diners (up to 2,100 of them, at capacity) still line up with trays for meals, now designed by James Beard–nominated chef Dana Rodriguez. Cliff diving continues in the waterfall-fed pool, and the multi-level dining room delivers more spectacle than ambiance.
Crowds taper but deals abound during this destination’s shoulder season. April and May are when Aspen’s celebrated restaurants often offer discounted menus and drink specials, and at these elevations (the Snowmass base village sits at 8,104 feet), snow blankets the slopes well beyond the resorts’ mid-April closing date, making for prime ski conditions—and rowdy parties. At Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, the springtime ritual includes uncorking staggering quantities of champagne on the summit-ringed outdoor deck.
Idyllic weather and blooming cactus make spring my favorite time to visit Colorado’s canyon country, and Fruita is the best home base. From here, it’s a 15-minute drive to the sculpted red rock sandstone spires of Colorado National Monument and 5 minutes to world-famous mountain bike trails. Fruita’s walkable downtown includes the Hot Tomato, delivering Jersey-style pizza that’s good as gospel. Live music often enlivens the pedestrian block, and for sips, there are wineries in Palisade, 30 minutes east.
Best places to visit in Colorado in summer
Colorado’s hiking and biking trails come into their own during the warmer months while road-tripping offers an easy way to see much of the state—in an EV on many of the scenic byways.
After 25 years in Colorado, I still gape at the beauty of Crested Butte, because in a state that’s chockablock with pretty views, this town tops the list. Sheer peaks rise up beside the streets’ grid, where colorful, mining-era Victorians line the sidewalks. No highway noise ruins the mountains’ quiet, and only merry sounds emerge from main street bars and eateries. The surrounding trails wind through aspen groves and meadows that are deservedly famous for July’s display of wildflowers.
Come summer, the Bachelor Gulch base area of Beaver Creek ski resort becomes the scene of a daily lawn and pool party that encapsulates what’s splendid about Colorado. Views include aspen-covered mountainsides, and adventures on foot or bike follow trails leading into wildflower meadows. Play a round of cornhole on the lawn, then relocate to Wyld’s patio for plates showcasing Colorado-grown produce. Stay at the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch (renovated in 2022) to cool off in its outdoor pool and sip rosé from the surrounding loungers.
Visit during Colorado State’s summer break, and you won’t have to elbow your way into this city’s esteemed breweries. (Crooked Stave makes some of my favorite sours.) Nationally known New Belgium Brewing organizes the annual Tour de Fat each August, when a parade of 20,000 wildly costumed cyclists pedal the streets. I make the 100-year-old Armstrong Hotel my downtown home base and stroll from its classy-hip rooms to such downtown shops as Scrumpy’s Hard Cider Bar, which pours drink made from local homeowners’ apple trees.