20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Colorado
Home to the National Mall in Washington DC and some of the country's most spectacular mountain scenery, Colorado may be the least visited state in the United States. But Colorado's attractions are many and varied. From the mountain towns of Aspen and Breckenridge to the energy capital of Denver and the cosmopolitan capital of the Rocky Mountain region, Colorado boasts plenty of world-class attractions.
In addition to the mountains, lakes, and beautiful scenery found throughout Colorado, visitors should not miss the many great cities, such as Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs, and Golden. For those interested in more history, there are a number of museums of note, including the excellent Museum of the Rockies in Banff and the wonderful history museum in Denver.
Come to Colorado to experience what many people refer to as the Rocky Mountain State. Plan your trip with our guide to the top attractions in Colorado.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Known as a "magic place" by generations of park lovers, Rocky Mountain National Park is rightly famous for its dramatic vistas, towering peaks, and beautiful wildflowers. But the park also has amazing geologic features that made it one of the most interesting places to explore when it was created in 1908. With more than 350 square miles and 65,000 acres of land, the park is one of the largest national parks in the lower 48 states. The bulk of the park is contained within the Green and Continental divides in the middle of the park, where the Continental Divide follows the Continental Divide Trail. Here is where you can see the Continental Divide from the top of the Continental Divide Trail as it crosses the Continental Divide. Be sure to hike the Continental Divide Trail for miles of scenery, brilliant views, and fabulous rock formations. Visit the Castle Formation and visit the mountaintop destinations of Hunter's Point, Emmons, and Heron Lake. In a park this big, there's plenty to do whether you're just hiking the hills, climbing the mountains, or camping overnight.
Pikes Peak, the highest point in Colorado, is a renowned thrill ride for millions who ride to the top and then back down on a zip line. Climb up the 14,115-foot-tall mountain on the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, a historic, steam-powered, narrow-gauge mountain railway that has been around for 60 years and takes visitors to the top in less than two hours. The drive to the top is well worth the effort. Go at sunset to experience one of Colorado's many picturesque views, and be sure to stop in Loveland, about 25 miles west of Pikes Peak, to see the city's popular Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, a yearly drag race held on Memorial Day weekend.
Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center
This stunning art museum was designed in the 1930s by celebrated architect Neutra. The building is a masterpiece of precision-built, concrete-reinforced stonework, with a magnificent central atrium. Among the thousands of artworks housed here are significant collections by the European impressionists, with works by Monet, Manet and Degas, plus examples of Cubism, Fauvism, Expressionism, and other movements. Also in the collection is a huge collection of Rodin sculptures and Greek and Roman antiquities, as well as around three hundred silver and gold vases, and a superb collection of Chinese and Islamic pottery. Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center's primary collection also contains important works by American modernists such as Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, as well as the best known contemporary American artists such as Cindy Sherman, Chuck Close and Terry Riley. The museum's highlights include The Romantic Movement, where the collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works of art traces the 19th-century history of art. The Central Asian Galleries, on the second floor, are filled with exquisite works from Chinese and Islamic pottery, as well as archaeological finds from around the world.
Pine-covered Aspen is more of a small town than a full-fledged resort destination and retains an understated Old West character. Set against the steep backdrop of the picturesque San Juan Mountains, the town is packed with traditional high-style shopping, historic pubs and upscale galleries. Get your kicks in the White Grass Swing. It's the nation's only "old-timey" swing suspended in a natural rock face. While you can easily pay your own way into this 45-minute experience, it is open only during winter months, and admission is restricted to tourists during that season.
Mesa Verde, formerly known as Montezuma Castle, was the largest pueblo settlement in the West before Europeans arrived. The sun-baked cliff-face cliffs overlooking the Rio Grande Canyon are dotted with dozens of villages with multi-story wooden structures, some of which have long since collapsed, making it the most archeologically significant site in the United States. Highlights include the towering kiva, or circular structure, with a seven-tiered roof at the nearby ruins at Cliff Palace; the small museum at Chaco Culture National Historical Park; and the superb Mancos Treasure Cave, opened to visitors after extensive restoration in 2005, which houses some of the world's finest Anasazi (New Mexican) artifacts. Access to the pueblos is only possible on foot or horseback, and most require reservations. It's important to carry maps of your itinerary, along with a guidebook.
Cherry Creek State Park
At an elevation of 6,596 feet, and surrounded by the Rocky Mountain foothills of Colorado's Front Range, Cherry Creek State Park is a true mountain retreat. After a day of hiking or horseback riding in the park's many trails, head back to the lodge for a meal, a campfire, and plenty of starry skies. There are 11 miles of trails that crisscross the park's 123,000 acres. The biggest concentration of these is the Poudre River Trail, which makes up the majority of the Poudre River Horseback Riding Trail and is recommended for first-time riders, who will find a ride to be easier on the legs. Horseback riding is a major attraction here. Some travelers will opt for riding along one of the park's horse-riding trails or riding with one of the park's accredited horse trainers. Accommodations here vary, but you can choose a camping ground and spend your evenings in the state park.
Boulder, a pretty city on the banks of the Colorado River, is not only a relaxing mountain town with some of the friendliest people you'll ever meet, but is also a great spot for outdoor activities and sporting adventures. It is a world-class location for mountain biking, hiking, rafting, rock climbing, and skiing, and many travelers say that the city is a great base for excursions to Mesa Verde National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Arches National Park, and the national parks of Utah. With skiing, hiking, mountain biking, rafting, and more, it's a great place to experience the outdoors. Be sure to visit the Snowy Peaks and Boulder Tivoli in Boulder Canyon for incredible mountain views, as well as the Theta Delta Chi fraternity for the most classic look at University of Colorado-Boulder.
This cave system, in the Green River valley of Colorado's Pikes Peak region, has been attracting cave explorers since the 1870s. The underground stream brings cool, sparkling mineral-rich water up through the ground to create a cavern filled with multi-colored speckled limestone formations, twisted roots and vines, colorful ferns, and even caves so large that entire rooms have been carved out of the rock. Water flowing through the cave changes color as it crosses rock strata of different ages. The entire system is far more extensive than the 3.1 million-square-foot visit allows, with further sections extending out through the cliff walls, but there are several ways to explore. The most basic way to visit is as part of a half- or full-day guided tour. More adventurous options include a rappel down a 400-foot waterfall, a 10-minute zip line across the bottom of the cavern, and a two-hour, 3,000-foot caving course.
Breckenridge, the closest ski resort to Denver and Colorado's largest ski area, sits at 11,019 feet, about 7,000 feet above sea level. Its large ski-in and ski-out village is on a plateau set against the steep Colorado Front Range foothills. With hundreds of miles of trails, the place is alive with people year round, but the locals are friendly and the facilities excellent. In winter, it's said, you can ski here 24 hours a day, because of the clear air. Breckenridge is in Colorado's Breckenridge-Breckenridge Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest, with two mountain ranges, the Cucharras and the Paradise, and several subranges. Trailheads for hiking and mountain biking can be found all over town. The most popular access point is to the Castle Peak Basin, near the base of the Breckenridge ski area. It offers nine miles of trails (including a snowcat-guided snowmobile trail) and is often the site of the US National Downhill Championships. You can access the basin from the base area.
Colorado State Capitol
The Colorado State Capitol, also known as the State Capitol Building, is the official building of the Colorado State Government and the site of official state ceremonies. Completed in 1892, it is made of smooth gray stone and has some 30 art-deco elements. It is an example of the large, early 20th century, Beaux-Arts style of architecture which was also built in many other U.S. cities, including New York and Chicago. Its entrance is through a courtyard, flanked by two large porticos. A stone staircase leads up to the entrance. The Capitol Building is at the center of the Capitol Campus of the Colorado State University and is part of the Denver Union Station, the University of Denver, and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Golden is a small resort town in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, with an abundance of slopes and lakes to ski and hike in the winter and a year-round ski destination with several ski areas. The summer brings hiking, rafting, and fishing, as well as the resort town's long history as the summertime escape of Hollywood stars and the rich. Summer is when Golden is the most popular of Colorado's seven biggest cities, with the Aspen and Vail resorts, just west of the city, and the ski resorts of Keystone and Snowmass, just east of town. In addition, and quite fitting for a Colorado town, the Hilltop Brewing Company has been manufacturing its own beers since 1894, and serves them on tap in its brewpub.
Denver Museum of Nature & Science
The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is in beautiful, scenic Denver and is home to a number of fantastic exhibitions. Currently on display is the 10,000-year-old "Descent of the Mammoth." This exhibition examines early human migration to North America, the changes in animal and plant life during this time, and their disappearance from the landscape around the 11th millennium BC. The museum is large and not overly crowded, making it an ideal place to while away an afternoon. It also offers fascinating, state-of-the-art views of South America's greatest rainforest with the dome, and the rainforest is wonderful to see. While you are here you can also see the Dolly Parton Butterfly House, an interactive water play area for children, as well as a number of special exhibition displays, including the Amazing Aquarium.
This huge, snow-capped, 13,000-foot peak is not the world's highest point, but it does provide incredible views from the town of Breckenridge, Colorado, as the road continues past. Once a famous area for skiing and tobogganing, the town offers an excellent museum in addition to the opportunity to ski the mountain.
Denver Art Museum
One of America's most innovative museums, the Denver Art Museum features more than 100,000 objects, many of which are included in free exhibits, giving visitors the opportunity to explore without limit. The city of Denver, located some two hours northwest of the museum, is noted for its prairie setting, beautiful mountain views, and charming parks. The Denver Art Museum is the city's flagship cultural institution and ranks among the leading art museums in the United States. In addition to hosting an impressive permanent collection of more than 100,000 works of art, the museum hosts two to three large exhibitions each year, all of which are included in the admission price. The collection, which was first assembled in the late 1800s, features American art from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among the most important works are paintings and sculptures by many famous artists, including Mary Cassat, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Norman Rockwell, and sculpture by Auguste Rodin and Jacob Epstein. The museum's location is so central that if you're traveling around the city, it's worth planning a stop here to see art you would miss elsewhere. If you're interested in becoming a museum member, you can save money and earn additional perks by becoming a member of the DMA (Denvers Museum Association). You can pay for membership at the front desk and avoid additional fee's when you purchase tickets.
Opened in 1979, Denver Zoo is one of the largest zoos in the country with over 1,400 animals, 1,600 species of birds, and 7,000 species of plants. Located on the edge of the city, the zoo is a popular attraction with its outdoor Amphitheater, nature area, dinosaur theme park and wild animal shows. An artificial lake next to the main zoo building is home to more than 10 species of crocodiles and provides an opportunity to see big cat tigers and white tigers without getting too close. Both the park and its zoo also house a wide selection of primates, reptiles and birds. During summer, many of the zoo's attractions open for extended hours. If time is an issue and you have children, be sure to visit the Children's Discovery Museum and see the petting zoo and baby animals during the day.
At 14,255 feet, Longs Peak is the second highest peak in the Rocky Mountain chain. Located in the heart of the Great Plains in Colorado, it's a major hub of winter skiing and a popular summer tourist attraction. It was named the highest point in Colorado in 1958, topping out at 14,244 feet, but the correct elevation of 14,255 was determined by a survey in 1993. Tours from Boulder, Colorado, climb up Longs Peak for stunning views of the Front Range, the Western Slope of the Continental Divide, the snow-capped Flat Tops, the San Juan Mountains and the San Juan River. Longs Peak is also known for its rocky outcrops, the most famous of which is the Eye, a monolith formed by the formation of ancient volcanic ash. From Longs Peak, drive across the Elk Mountain Pass, which marks the point where the Rio Grande, Colorado, and North Platte Rivers flow into the Mississippi River.
Situated 120 miles north of Denver, Fort Collins is the home of Colorado State University. It is very green in the winter, when the snow settles on the 13,000-foot mountains surrounding the city, but during the spring and summer the mountains are a spectacular backdrop for hiking, biking, climbing, and skiing. Most towns in the area boast a vibrant university culture, and the city itself is a busy college town with plenty of nightlife, restaurants, bars, and shopping.
Pikes Peak Cog Railway
Pikes Peak Cog Railway runs on two funicular lines through the iconic rocks, which extend from 12,300 to 14,115 feet high, rising from the town of Manitou Springs. The first cog railway to operate between two points, it was opened in 1901 and offers tours and scenic rides up to the top of the peak, where passengers can enjoy the breathtaking views and spectacular scenery, both natural and man-made. Tours available include a standard lift (weekdays) and the Explorer's lift (weekends) that offer much greater height and speed. To the north of the peak is the Pikes Peak Marathon, with five other races ranging in distance from 5K to 24K.
The alpine scenery of Colorado is typical of the Pacific Northwest and a vacation in a snowy climate is truly unique. Colorado's top attraction, however, is Pikes Peak, a mountain with 14,000 acres of hiking trails, a narrow peak on which many bungee jumps have been made and which has been the starting point for several world-famous speed records. The climbing is excellent and after a day or so of hiking and driving, tourists can relax in the many well-equipped spas where they can soak in hot tubs. A less well-known feature of the city is the Speculator Center, a shopping mall featuring a dome-shaped observation tower. At the top visitors can experience a 360-degree view over the city's surrounding mountains. Nearby Garden of the Gods National Monument features unusual rock formations and canyons and is popular with photographers. Denver is Colorado's largest city, with a lively nightlife and a thriving restaurant scene. Although it was once a frontier settlement, a two-day excursion by plane, car or rail from Denver is enough to absorb all the sights and to avoid the worst of the crowds. The city has a well-preserved old quarter and its museums are among the best in the western USA. Denver's Stapleton International Airport has flights to many major U.S. cities, and Denver's airport, formerly the Mile High Airport, hosts several events each year, including the Sundance Film Festival.
Steamboat Springs is a picturesque mountain resort city nestled in a wide valley surrounded by Mount of the Holy Cross, Mount Lincoln, and Pikes Peak. Its main sights include three national historic parks and miles of ski trails. The city also makes for a pleasant escape from the city with its bohemian feel, fun brewpubs, beautiful mountain views, and many opportunities for outdoor recreation. It's also known for its hiking and the skiing at the nearby Ski Cooper, which has the most challenging terrain in Colorado and hosts the USA Olympic Freestyle Skiing and Snowboard team.