If you are interested in America’s great outdoors, then the state of Colorado is the place to be. Whether you’re a hiker, a mountaineer, or just big on exploring the great outdoors, there are a number of different things to do here in the Centennial State and a lot to see as well. So, without further ado, here are stunning Colorado National Parks you must see.
- 2. Great Sand Dunes National Park And Preserve
- 3. Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park
- 4. Mesa Verde National Park
- 5. Estes Park
- 6. Facts For Travelers Visiting The National Parks
- 7. Access, Passes, And Permits In Colorado
- 8. What To Pack For The Parks In Colorado
Stunning Colorado National Parks You Must See
1. Rocky Mountain National Park
The best place to start exploring the state’s national parks is its most famous one. This park includes over 265,000 soiree miles of federal land. It’s separated by the well-known Continental Divide. The eastern part features a mountainous area, and the western part includes verdant vegetation.
You can explore 359 different hiking trails here. The park is open all year so travelers can see the park during each season. Mind you, specific sections are prone to flooding and heavy snow and may be closed due to inclement conditions.
The best time to visit this park is reportedly between late April and early October. Be sure to see Emerald Lake and Longs Peak which is 14,259 feet tall. Watch for elk, moose, bighorn sheep, and black bears.
2. Great Sand Dunes National Park And Preserve
You’ll discover diverse natural landscapes in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Colorado’s San Luis Valley. Here you’ll find an amazing mix of lush greenery, purple Sangre de Cristo Mountain peaks, and tall sand dunes. Indeed, In fact, you’ll discover the nation’s tallest sand dune, the Star Dune, right here. It is 750 feet high.
Adrenaline junkies may wish to rent a snowboard, a sled, or even skis and go racing down the high sandy slopes. Hike the Mosca Pass trail, once used by Native Americans to travel through the forests of the San Luis Valley to the lesser-known Wet Mountain Valley. Go off-roading from the park to the nearby town of Gardner on Medano Pass too. The best time to visit is from May to June.
3. Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park
You’ll find this national park near Gunnison and Montrose. It is named for the darkness of its sheer gorge walls that rise more than 2,703 feet above the floor of the canyon. Over 430,000 travelers come here annually.
They come to witness the results of millions of years of erosion by the rushing Gunnison River and learn of prehistoric life via the multiple layers of sediment and rock. They also come here to see indigenous plants, elks, moose, and mountain lions.
More athletic visitors hike the rim of the canyon. The unmarked hiking trails are rightfully reserved for expert hikers. Be sure to see the Painted Wall. It’s named for the detailed white-pink markings on the near-famous 2,300-foot-tall cliff. Visit in the summer!
4. Mesa Verde National Park
This park in Colorado’s Montezuma County is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Explore the ancient, historical ancient cliff dwellings. A number of these precariously perched dwellings are reported to be more than 700 years old and were literally carved right out of the canyon wall.
If you hike the popular Step House trail you can see one of the well-known cliff-dwelling archaeological sites free of charge. You’ll need to sign up for a guided tour to see the others. In fact, there are a number of other hiking trails suitable for hikers of all skill levels. The altitude and climate here make this place great for star gazing as well. If interested, camp there in the fall or spring and avoid the summer crowds.
5. Estes Park
The town of Estes Park is nestled at Rocky Mountain National Park’s east entrance. The Colorado town offers ample outdoor opportunities as well. They include birdwatching, biking, golfing, fishing, hiking, kayaking, horseback riding, rafting, and rock climbing. You can even sign up to take a trip with any of the local guides here. In fact, Estes Park actually thrives on the numerous adventure outfitters offer there.
6. Facts For Travelers Visiting The National Parks
As you may have already surmised, Colorado is home to only four national parks: Black Canyon of The Gunnison National Park, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Mesa Verde National Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park. Nevertheless, travel writers generally agree that you should set aside between one week and 10 days to truly hit all the must-see highlights at all four parks. In fact, if you are up for it, book campsites and do some camping and you’ll have a better chance of seeing more of the parks’ wildlife.
While the best times to visit have previously been noted, here are a few more personalized suggestions. If you really want to avoid the crowds, the quieter months are generally April and May. On the other hand, if you enjoy colder weather and are accepting of potentially having limited access to these parks, visit from October to December and enjoy the wild winter wonderland with even fewer fellow travelers present. Finally, if you really hope to spot more wildlife and prefer the best weather conditions, hit the parks in late May through the middle of October.
7. Access, Passes, And Permits In Colorado
National and state parks generally have entrance fees. Colorado’s national parks are no exception. The entrance pass often allows a driver and a specific number of passengers into the park. Mind you, there are a number of different passes available.
Choose your pass based on the number of days you plan on spending in the park, the number in your group, and your method of transport. Some parks, like Rocky Mountain National Park, require visitors to first get a “timed entry” reservation. You can get passes at the park’s entrance station or online.
8. What To Pack For The Parks In Colorado
Here is a list of things you will want to take with you:
- Park passes (provided you purchased them online)
- Drinking water
- Hiking boots
- Insect repellant
- Rain jacket or poncho
- Snacks or lunch