Things to Do in Colorado: An Outdoor Enthusiast’s Guide
by Becca Stewart
Colorado is synonymous with adventure. When spring gives way to summer, the Colorado high country turns into a veritable outdoor playground. We have compiled a list of the best Colorado summertime activities.
Camping or Backpacking
Colorado has thousands of acres of National and State Forests. You’ll find established campgrounds sprinkled throughout the state, many of which require reservations ahead of time. However, adventure-seekers can backpack into nearly any National Forest area and camp without a permit or a reservation. It’s the ultimate way to enjoy the Rocky Mountains in their rugged, natural glory.
If you’re headed into the backcountry, be sure you have all the necessities. Water can sometimes be scarce in Colorado’s backcountry. It’s also important to note that nighttime temperatures can dip well below freezing – even in the middle of summer – so proper gear is a must.
If Colorado had an official pastime, hiking might be it. The Rocky Mountains are home to thousands of miles of hiking trails suitable for all ages and all ability levels. However, hikers who want a real challenge should climbing a “fourteener,” that is, a mountain peak soaring over 14,000 feet above sea level. There are 58 “fourteeners” in Colorado – all of which are accessible to hikers. Of course, scaling a fourteener is no easy task. It requires training, proper gear, research, and planning.
You don’t need to venture into the high country or summit a fourteener to enjoy Colorado. You’ll find some of the best hikes in Denver within minutes of downtown. Here are a few state parks and open spaces to get you outside without the long drive:
Some days are just too hot for hiking. If you’re ready to cool off, take a dip in one of these Colorado favorites, just a short drive from downtown:
National Parks and Monuments
One of the most popular things to do in Colorado is to visit a National Park or National Monument. Most tourists know only of Rocky Mountain National Park. But Colorado is home to many other glorious parks and monuments that warrant a visit. Here are some of the best:
Rocky Mountain National Park. The most popular National Park in the state, it’s home to towering mountains, wildlife galore, and some of the state’s most popular hiking trails. Rocky Mountain National Park is located less than two hours from Denver, making it a popular day trip for travelers. The park is often extremely crowded in the summer months, so plan your visit early.
Great Sand Dunes National Park. Many visitors are shocked to learn that the highest sand dunes in North America are here in the heart of the Rockies. The park is home to a diverse population of wildlife and offers spectacular views of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. Visitors can enjoy hiking, fishing, camping, and “sand sledding,” among other activities.
Mesa Verde National Park. Located near the four corners in the southwest part of Colorado, Mesa Verde features ancient Pueblo cliff dwellings and 5,000 archaeological sites. Visitors will learn about the Pueblo people, see how they lived, and gain appreciation for the native tribes that first settled this land.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. A hidden gem, located in western Colorado about 90 minutes from Grand Junction, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a magnificent natural wonder.
Dinosaur National Monument. See where dinosaurs once roamed. Dinosaur National Monument, located in the northwest corner of Colorado, offers visitors a chance to see paleontology dig sites (and yes, lots of fossils!) as well as petroglyphs from the area’s earliest settlers. Enjoy hiking, camping, and rafting in the area as well.
Colorado National Monument. Located just outside the western city of Grand Junction, Colorado National Monument is unlike any other attraction in Colorado. Hikers can wander through the high desert, admiring huge rock monoliths and red canyons.
Marvel at the Fall Colors
As summer winds down, Coloradans flock to the mountains to witness beautiful fall colors. The foothills and high country explode in the yellows and oranges of the Aspen tree’s autumn foliage. Fall is truly a spectacular time for Colorado sightseeing.
Colorado is the nation’s outdoor playground. Get outside and explore.
Becca is a freelance writer, Colorado native, and outdoor enthusiast. You can learn more about her at writebecca.com.