Top Attractions in Colorado
The Rockies are Colorado’s defining attraction, drawing sightseeing families and thrill-seeking adventurers. But Colorado is also home to world-class museums and theaters, trendy shops, and Old West towns where artisans and cowboys work side by side.
Aspen, CO 81611, USA
This Colorado town lives up to its namesake, and that makes for incredible scenery any way you turn, especially in fall. Aspen‘s fortunes began as a silver-mining town in the late 19th century; just a few years later, the market crashed, and though a ski area was developed in the 1930s, it wasn’t until after World War II that the town began to recover economically and started minting money in tourism, not silver. Today, Aspen is known for high-end shops, fancy restaurants, and celebrity residents (in the 1970s it was famously John Denver and notoriously Hunter S. Thompson). There are four ski areas surrounding the town at the top of the Roaring Fork Valley, including Buttermilk, Highlands, Snowmass, and Aspen itself. But the town is also on the map for such international events as the Aspen Music Festival and the Aspen Institute’s Ideas Festival.
Vail, CO 81657, USA
This iconic ski area is the third largest single ski resort in the United States and the largest in Colorado. Vail looks nothing like most other ski towns in the Rockies, which usually began as mining or ranching towns in the 1800s; Vail didn’t even exist until the ski resort was developed in 1962, and it was built to look like a Tyrolean village, with wide walking streets and easy access to the slopes. By 1968 a young congressman named Gerald Ford was coming here frequently, eventually buying a home that became his “winter White House” when he became president, putting Vail on the world map. Vail Mountain is divided into three key areas: the Front Side, Blue Sky Basin, and the Back Bowls. There are 31 lifts (including two gondolas) that access more than 5,000 acres of skiable terrain. The ski area spans nearly seven miles in length, and the longest single run, Riva Ridge, stretches four miles. There are two terrain parks and runs for first-time skiers to advanced cliff jumpers.
23715 US-50, Salida, CO 81201, USA
There aren’t many Colorado ski areas not associated with a town, but Monarch is one of them. Located 20 miles west of the town of Salida, it’s one of three (out of about 150) ski areas that sit right on the Continental Divide in Colorado. The mountain began lift service in 1939, when a Chevy engine powered a rope tow to the top of a long, narrow chute called Gunbarrel; it has since expanded to around 800 acres with five lifts. Being small is the key, and that makes it a nice break from massive ski areas found elsewhere in the state. Nevertheless, the skiing is incredible and the terrain spans the gamut from nice-and-easy beginner runs, often used by the family-friendly ski school, to adrenaline-inducing steep slopes dropping off from the Divide. Because it’s an “indie” resort that has managed to keep its prices relatively low (compared to the state’s marquee resorts), Monarch has grown a clientele that returns year after year.
Alta Lakes Road
Just five miles from downtown Telluride and accessible by high-clearance 4x4, Alta Lakes is a sonnet-worthy area of crystal-clear alpine lakes, studded on all sides by snow-capped peaks. Camping is primitive—don’t expect running water, much less a hot shower—but it’s precisely this lack of frivolities that keeps the surrounds so pure. Area residents love Alta for its hiking and mountain biking trails, and the fact that it’s an Instagram post come to life. When you’re done exploring in nature, be sure to stop by the hamlet of Alta itself, a former mining boomtown that looks like a spaghetti western set.
922 South Main Street
What was once a garbage dump on the Arkansas River decades ago is now one of the premier whitewater parks in Colorado, thanks to brother-sister duo Jed and Katie Selby, who bought the land—which had been slated for development—and then in turn donated the three-acre river corridor to the city of Buena Vista. Through a series of grants, proposed and written by Katie, the city was able to design five whitewater structures that accommodate all levels of kayakers and SUPers, beginners to experts. There are fun, easy surf waves to play in, as well as an advanced hole to practice in, and climbing boulders and walking trails. No need to bring your own gear as it can all be rented from CKS (Colorado Kayak Supply) right there in town; locals in the neighborhood just carry their equipment down to the river. And if you’re keen to learn, hit up the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center just out of town.
Twin Lakes, CO 81251, USA
The highest peak in the Rocky Mountains (and east of the Continental Divide) is also the second-highest peak in the lower 48 after Mount Whitney in California. The easiest way up is via the 5.5-mile South Elbert Trail, which climbs 4,600 feet from the Shore Pretty Overlook above Twin Lakes in the Arkansas Valley. The first 1.8 miles of the trail is along a 4x4 road and can be driven if your vehicle is capable. From there you’re nearly at tree line, and the trail gains the eastern ridge to the summit. This hike takes most of the day—but the Forest Service advises getting off the summit by noon to avoid thunderstorms—so get an early start (predawn) and pack a lunch, water, and appropriate gear.
1398 Longs Peak Road
Colorado has more “fourteeners”—mountain peaks higher than 14,000 feet—than any other state (53, compared to No. 2, Alaska, with 29). The northernmost of those Rocky Mountains giants is also one of the most popular, mostly since it’s so easy to see from the lowlands. A prominent diamond shape sits below the summit and is a favorite rock-climbing wall. But those keen to hike it usually start in the dark hours of the early morning to tackle the standard 8.4-mile Keyhole route. The trail starts at 9,400 feet and gains more than 5,000 feet. Around 11,000 feet, the trees thin out and the view down the slope appears, as does a nice look at the distinctive diamond face. The trail continues around a subpeak called Mount Lady Washington, and into the boulder field that leads up to the namesake Keyhole—the gateway to the last push to the summit.
Bear Creek Falls Trail, Colorado 81426, USA
For a simple day hike suitable for the whole family, head to the end of South Pine Street in Telluride and jump onto the Bear Creek Trail, a 2.5-mile path that leads to a jaw-dropping waterfall. The popular trail is as easygoing as the Telluride locals (read: it’s wide and well-marked), and gains about 1,000 feet of elevation, offering views of town along the way. Those keen to go farther won’t regret continuing on to where the path connects with the Wasatch Trail and Bridal Veil Basin.
The Incline, Colorado, USA
The description may sound daunting: a 2,000-vertical-foot gain in less than a mile. OK, it is a little daunting—but the trick is to take your time. This nearly mile-long wooden stairway was converted from a funicular railway that washed out in a rock slide in 1990. Averaging a 24-degree slope, it has a few “false summits,” where it looks like you’re about to get to the top only to discover there’s still more to go. The reward for this effort is an incredible view looking out from the foothills over Colorado Springs. Up for the speed challenge? The current record was set on Sept. 25, 2015, by U.S. mountain-running team member Joseph Gray, who did it in 17 minutes, 45 seconds. Good luck.
Sunshine Canyon Drive
Starting from where Mapleton Avenue transitions into Sunshine Canyon, this beautiful ridgeline trail runs 1.3 miles up the southern spine, gaining nearly 1,200 feet to the 6,800-foot summit of Mount Sanitas. This is a moderately difficult trail, but it has a number of level spots that make for nice places to rest. And since it follows the ridgeline, it almost always has a great view overlooking the town of Boulder and out to Denver, especially once on the summit. For a gentler stroll, hit the wide Sanitas Valley Trail or cruise along the lower, but also scenic, Dakota Ridge trail, all accessed from the same parking lot.
Boulder, CO 80302, USA
Starting from the historic Chautauqua Park Ranger Station located on the southwest side of Boulder, the most direct route to this popular overlook and geologic feature is 1.6 miles with a nearly 1,300-foot vertical gain. Out of the parking lot the route starts on a gentle climb on a well-maintained trail across the slopey grasslands and into the shaded ponderosa pine forest. Once above the lower loops, the trail narrows some but is clear and well-marked with signs. Then the true vertical gain begins, with a mix of switchbacks and stone steps. Don’t be fooled by the crest over the eastern ridge coming down from Green Mountain. The trail dips about 150 vertical feet before starting the final climb to the arch.
Skimming the Utah border on the far western side of Colorado is State Route 141. Starting just south of Grand Junction, this 150-mile stretch of road to Dove Creek, Colorado, winds and weaves its way through spectacular scenery. When you’re driving from north to south, the turnoff from U.S. Highway 50 is subtle. After crossing the Gunnison River, 141 starts to follow East Creek—which leads you from the flats of the valley floor slowly down into the start of the Unaweep Canyon. Nine Mile Hill starts to rise on your left, and the aspen trees, which flourish in this riparian zone, put on an awe-inspiring show in the fall. East Creek joins the Dolores River in the town of Gateway, where five canyons converge; the drive continues south from there.
Idaho Springs, CO 80452, USA
There are only two summits above 14,000 feet that can be driven to in Colorado. One, Mount Antero, the 11th-tallest peak in Colorado at 14,276 feet, is accessible only by a gnarly 4x4 road. The other, Mount Evans, the 14th-highest at 14,271 feet, has a paved, albeit very twisty, road to within about 30 feet of the summit. The Mount Evans Scenic Byway is an easy drive to access from Denver; it starts just south of the town of Idaho Springs, about 35 miles west. There’s a visitor center (the fee for passenger cars is $10), about a mile off of Interstate 70, and from there the byway is 28 miles long and gains around 7,000 vertical feet. It’s the highest paved road in North America.
210 S Galena St, Aspen, CO 81611, USA
The Ute Mountaineer in Aspen was, like many shops of its ilk, born of a love for being outdoors. In this case, it started as a dream between two friends who were climbing in Europe one summer, one of whom had already owned the Boulder Mountaineer shop. They opened the new store in 1977, and it’s still family run to this day, in the historic Elks Building (once the Aspen Post Office). Their mission extends to the employees they hire, “the people who know and use the gear they sell,” and also to their community involvement: The store sponsors and runs several local races throughout the year, and hosts the Banff Mountain film festival.
You know there’s something worth checking out when this in-town farm attracts farmers from farther afield to come learn best practices. Not only is this urban goat dairy a working farm, it also offers field trips, tours, summer-camp programs, cheese-making classes, and an oft-sold-out goat yoga (yoga with goats) session. (And to guard the goats, there’s a llama.) With all those Zen goats, there’s plenty of milk flowing, and in addition to the goat cheese, the farm sells shares of the goat herd for access to the raw goat milk. It’s located on the historic Long’s farm property along with a local community garden manager, Growing Gardens.
12863 CO-133, Redstone, CO 81623, USA
While the large pool hot springs of Glenwood Springs are great for a soak, it can get busy there (and the ambience is nothing special). The Ogilby/Jacober family, owners of the Avalanche Ranch Hot Springs in the Crystal River Valley, took a bit of a risk when they drilled to access what they suspected was a geothermal reservoir. But they hit the jackpot, and built three beautiful and intimate pools of naturally hot water set in a wooded area, with views of Mount Sopris, Elephant Mountain, and Avalanche Creek Valley. The original farmhouse on the property was built in 1913 and has since been renovated; it includes an antique shop, available to day guests as well as overnight patrons.
1250 Bannock St, Denver, CO 80204, USA
Clyfford Still brought new energy to the art world after World War II with his large-scale, color-splashed paintings, and is considered one of the most important American artists of the 20th century. Though his influence on the Abstract Expressionism movement was at least as important as that of contemporaries Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, Still eventually broke all ties with the art world after moving to a farm in Maryland, and following his death in 1980 a huge collection of his work was sealed off completely for more than 30 years. His is widow donated his pieces to the city of Denver in 2004, and in 2011 the Clyfford Still Museum opened, housing 94 percent of his life’s work, including some 825 paintings on canvas and 1,575 works on paper, as well as sketchbooks, journals, and his library—in a museum considered one of the best examples of contemporary architecture in the city.
3350 Brighton Blvd, Denver, CO 80216, USA
Located in Denver’s trendy River North district, the Source is a collection of 25 vendors sharing space in the hip industrial interior of a former 1880s iron foundry, where artisans and retailers include a bakery, a butcher shop, florist, coffee roaster, barber, and even a food photography studio. Restaurants include Acorn, a locally acclaimed eatery serving wood-fired specialties (a meaty oak-roasted monkfish comes rubbed with a Moroccan blend of chermoula and saffron ; Comida, a Mexican taquería known for authentic and slow-cooked pork carnitas and fantastic margaritas; as well as a couple of breweries and a cocktail bar. The space also hosts pop-up events for other food vendors, as well as jewelry, home goods, clothing, accessories, and cosmetics, and a 100-room hotel that opened in summer 2018.
460 Blue River Pkwy, Silverthorne, CO 80498, USA
After a big day out playing in the Colorado Rockies, relax and take in a show at the striking new Silverthorne Performing Arts Center, opened in 2017 for $9 million, the new home of the Lake Dillon Theatre Company. The center features three theaters of different sizes to accommodate different performance styles. The theater company presents about five diverse shows throughout the season, as well as a cabaret series. Over the summer it also puts on a free Sunset at the Summit concert series at Rainbow Park in Silverthorne. It hosts a number of special events and has an education series for youth with theater workshops, as well as adult education programs.
110 2nd Ave, Box 673, Frisco, CO 80443, USA
Glassblowing and shaping will make an artist out of anyone. GatherHouse owner and artist John Hudnut holds glassblowing demonstrations on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 2 to 6 p.m., and offers hands-on glassblowing classes by appointment. The three-hour classes are limited to four students, who learn the basics of glassblowing by assisting in the process; then John helps them find inspiration to make something simple on their own, such as an ornament, vase, or tumbler that the student will get to keep. Students can choose from a variety of colors and types of glass for their project, so every item that comes out of the studio is totally unique. There’s also a one-hour mini glassblowing class.
18300 W Alameda Pkwy, Morrison, CO 80465, USA
This natural amphitheater complements the amazing music you’ll enjoy with an incredible view. On-site there is a 30,000-square-foot visitor center complete with a performers hall of fame and some insight into the 300 million years it took Mother Nature to carve out this iconic structure. The Ship Rock Grille makes it easy to combine dinner and the show; on non-concert days dining is open to the public for brunch and lunch. Once in the amphitheater you’ll be under the stars for the show, or in the rain, since shows are rarely canceled unless lightning threatens the area. The venue seats 9,525 people and offers incredible acoustics.
4218 Co Rd 3A, Cañon City, CO 81212, USA
Narrow, deep, and steep, the Royal Gorge—also known as the Grand Canyon of the Arkansas River—is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Colorado. This 10-mile canyon near Cañon City, about an hour from Colorado Springs, is one of the deepest in the state, dropping 1,200 feet from the rim to the river below. The Royal Gorge Bridge and Park draws families and thrill-seekers alike. Built in 1929, the 1,260-foot-long bridge is the highest in the country, stretching 955 feet above the river—and it’s extremely popular with tourists, who walk across it to take in the fantastic views. It’s also the centerpiece of the city-run amusement park, where those looking for a bigger thrill can strap into the Royal Rush Skycoaster for a 50 mph free fall into the depths of the canyon or glide across it on a gondola or zip line. And if you’d like to experience the gorge from the bottom, the Royal Gorge Train departs from Cañon City, offering several classes of trains and service, with open-air and bar cars.
Peak to Peak Hwy, Colorado, USA
It would take three or four hours to drive the whole Peak to Peak Highway from Estes Park to Interstate 70, but there are lots of reasons to take as long as you want, taking time to explore along the way. Along the 70-mile length of Colorado‘s oldest scenic byway, there are hiking trails, the landmark Chapel on the Rock, mountain lakes, campgrounds, ghost towns, and old gold mines. The route, which strings together Colorado Highways 7, 72, and 119, runs roughly parallel to the Continental Divide, the ridge line that divides the Pacific watershed from the Atlantic.