10 Best Colorado National Parks and Sites

These Colorado national parks and sites show off the state's stunning natural beauty and history.

Loch Vail, Rocky Mountain National Park

Brad McGinley Photography/Getty Images

The state of Colorado has some of the most diverse landscapes in the U.S., with open plains, arid desert, river-carved canyons, and towering snow-covered peaks. It’s no wonder that the state has long been a top destination for people who love the outdoors — the skiing is world-class, the river rafting exceptional, and the hiking endless.

Scattered across the state are landscapes and sites deemed so valuable they are protected and managed by the National Park Service. These parks, monuments, recreation areas, historic sites, and trails have long provided travelers with the opportunity to see some of the state’s most beautiful places and learn about its long history.

Although Colorado is home to plenty of National Park Service-managed sites — including historic trails and recreation sites — we’ve selected a handful of the state’s finest, starting with the four Colorado national parks. 

Colorado National Parks

Mesa verde National Park, Colorado

Peter Unger/Getty Images

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park has plenty of hiking trails and canyon views, and the well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings provide insight into the ancient Indigenous culture. Beyond visiting Puebloan homes set into rock cliffs, Mesa Verde visitors can check out other archaeological sites, including the rock carvings found along Petroglyph Point Trail.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Natthaphong Janpum/Getty Images

Great Sand Dunes National Park

The tallest dunes in North America are found within Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado. The huge dunes, which are best viewed at sunrise and sunset, create a veritable playground for visitors, who can climb and slide down the sandy mounds. In the background are the towering Sangre de Cristo mountains, home to some of the state’s most foreboding peaks.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

One of the state’s lesser-known parks is also one of its most stunning. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park surrounds a deep, steep-walled gorge that’s carved by the Gunnison River. Throughout the western Colorado park, visitors experience dramatic views — including the iconic Painted Wall cliff face — and wildlife sightings that include elk and golden eagles.  

Loch Vail, Rocky Mountain National Park

Brad McGinley Photography/Getty Images

Rocky Mountain National Park 

Rocky Mountain National Park is set along the continental divide in northern Colorado, making it the most accessible national park from Denver. Within the park’s 265,807 acres are over 300 miles of hiking trails, including the route to Longs Peak, one of the state’s 14,000-foot mountains. In the fall, leaf peepers come to drive Old Fall River Road, and in the summer, travelers come to brave a dip in a high-alpine lake or hike through fields of wildflowers. 

Colorado National Monuments, Trails, Recreation Areas, and Sites

Colorado National Monument

VW Pics/Getty Images

Colorado National Monument

The Colorado National Monument is perched high on the Colorado Plateau above the city of Grand Junction, Colorado. The monument boasts some of the state’s grandest landscapes, including sheer, red rock canyons, eye-catching rock formations, and wildlife that includes bighorn sheep and eagles. 

Santa Fe National Historic Trail

This 19th-century route passes through five states and connects western Missouri and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Colorado portion of the route provides access to plenty of worthy sites, including Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site, an 1840s fur trading post where Indigenous people met to trade with trappers and travelers, and the expansive Comanche National Grassland.

Curecanti National Recreation Area 

The three reservoirs that make up Curecanti National Recreation Area are set at the base of towering rock formations and scrub-covered hills. And while the views alone are well worth a trip, the reservoirs are best known for their salmon and trout fishing and the myriad trails and campsites found on their shores.

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

As the name implies, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument protects Colorado's ancient history. Among the monument’s 174,000-plus acres of land is the highest known archaeological site density in the U.S., with over 8,300 recorded sites that provide a glimpse into ancient human life — from villages and kivas to shrines and sacred springs.

Amache National Historic Site

The Amache National Historic Site pays tribute to an important piece of Colorado history. It is the site of the Granada Relocation Center, a concentration camp that housed Japanese Americans during World War II. At this site near Granada, Colorado, over 10,000 people were unjustly incarcerated, and people can visit today to learn and reflect on this period in history.

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Colorado

Peter Unger/Getty Images

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument 

One of the most diverse fossil deposits in the world is found in a grassy mountain valley in central Colorado. The Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument showcases thousands of well-preserved and detailed fossils of plants and insects alongside giant petrified redwood stumps (including some that are 14 feet wide). 

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles