With its incredible scenery and National Parks, bustling hip cities with thriving foodie scenes, and outdoor sports for all types of weather, Colorado has something for everyone.
Colorado is a place for all seasons, drawing visitors to its peaks and valleys to push the boundaries in the outdoors. Most famous for its mountains, which offer pristine skiing in the winder and a range of outdoor activities on foot, bike, or stream in the summer, there’s never a shortage of ways to enjoy recreation, no matter how active you hope to be. And with a rising food hall movement, vibrant theatre and arts, and laid-back nightlife, Denver and the state’s other urban areas command attention as well.
The state has experienced rapid growth over the past decade in both population and tourism. Fortunately, whether you hope to go urban or escape into the wild backcountry, there’s no shortage of areas to explore. Here are 33 ways to get the party started.
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Ride Into Union Station
A grand common area, lined with trendy shops, pubs, and cafes on the garden level and the boutique Crawford Hotel above, make this recently remodeled train depot among the city’s must-see attractions. The station’s role as both a major transport hub and hip commercial center make Union Station a true taste of Europe in the heart of Denver. Locals mingle with visitors passing through over elevated pub food and fine cocktails at Terminal Bar, often bringing drinks and conversation out into the open common area complete with lounge chairs, shuffleboard tables, and a personality that blends the flare of old Denver with the trendiness of this quickly modernizing city. Ride into the station on the A-Line from Denver International Airport, have your fill, and head off to points across the city on the newly expanded light rail system.
See a Concert at Red Rocks
In true Colorado fashion, Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre takes the live music experience to new heights. Set against the backdrop of Denver’s sparkling skyline, concert-goers watch music’s biggest names perform in a venue flanked by massive boulders. Getting to the venue is a bit of a trek even from the closest parking lots, but the experience is well worth climbing a few sets of chairs. Legends including The Beatles, The Grateful Dead, and U2 have graced the stage, and to this day Blues Traveler performs an annual Fourth of July party with unparalleled views of the fireworks shows happening across the city.
Take in a Show at the Denver Performing Arts Complex
The anchor of Denver’s Theatre District is the expansive Denver Performing Arts Complex, which hosts big-name Broadway shows in renowned venues including the Ellie Caulkins Opera House and the Buell Theatre. The 2019 season welcomes Broadway staple Dear Evan Hansen, complete with Betty Buckley as Dolly, along with a slew of other performances that attract theatre fanatics from across state lines. The complex is also home to the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and the Colorado Opera, along with plenty of dining options for both pre-and-post show.
Eat Green Chile on Federal Blvd
Denver does Mexican cuisine as well as any city this side of the border. Federal Blvd runs north to south through town and is lined with many of the state’s best options, from sit-down to street food. To eat like a local, the staple addition to any dish is green chile. Chile Verde has the best in town, with splurge-worthy options also available just a couple blocks up at Santiago’s, home of the best breakfast burrito in Denver–an honorable title to hold, as many locals consider the breakfast burrito to be Denver’s unofficial official meal.
Soak and Massage at Pagosa Hot Springs
Colorado takes hot springs quite seriously and nowhere is this more evident than in the quiet mountain town of Pagosa Springs. Home to the world’s deepest geothermal hot spring, The Springs Resort and Spa offers more than 20 mineral baths of varying temperatures, alongside a mineral swimming pool and relaxing day spa. For the full Scandinavian experience, hop out of the hot pools and take a quick dip in the adjacent San Juan River–you’ll feel the stress and toxins flood out of the body as you hurry back to the warmth of the resort’s legendary Lobster Pot.
Drink Wine in Palisade
Colorado’s wine country in Palisade offers the perfect complement to the rugged cliff lines and frontier spirit of the Western Slope. The region first became famous for its peaches, which still grow in abundance, but these days the wine is an equal draw. To do it like a local, rent a bicycle from Rapid Creek Cycles and pedal your way between a few of the more than 20 wineries nestled close by in the Grand Valley. For those whose sense of direction scampers off after a few sips, organized tours are available. You can also float your way between wineries on a scenic raft trip down the Colorado River. If you’re in town in mid-September, be sure to stop by the Colorado Mountain Winefest and sample the goods without having to move between the wineries themselves.
Peruse the Galleries on Santa Fe Drive
The Arts District on Santa Fe, Denver’s long-standing hub of art, music, and culture, throws the biggest party in town on the first Friday of each month. From 5:30-9:30 pm, artists and shop owners prop open their doors and welcome guests, both locals and tourists alike, inside to view nearly every type of art imaginable. Street musicians keep the scene lively outside, and a diverse collection of food trucks park curbside on nearly every corner along the eight-block stretch. You may find yourself tempted into certain shops by the promise of a free glass of wine. Either way, you’re bound to find both visual and musical masterpieces that strike your fancy as you meander along the boulevard. The streets are lined with revelers year-round, but the scene is especially popping during the summer and autumn months when nights are warmer and the sun sets late over the mountains to the west.
Float Down the Arkansas River
The run-off from winter storms fuels a series of rivers which wind their way through Colorado’s many small mountain towns. They attract a loyal following of outdoor enthusiasts, both anglers and river runners, and perhaps nowhere is the culture more vibrant than in the town of Salida, just east of Highways 50 and 285 in the central part of the state. Rafting on the Arkansas River is an established past time here, and floating through the Royal Gorge Park, underneath the giant suspension bridge 1,053 feet above and with towering rock canyon walls on either side, is the river experience of a lifetime. Fortunately, they sell postcards in the gift shop because you won’t want to risk dropping your camera as you make your way down the whitewater.
Sample the Cuisine of Top Chefs at Avanti F&B
Avanti F&B is the poster child of Denver’s growing culinary movement, a sprawling food hall in the trendy LoHi neighborhood where the city’s most renowned chefs prepare cuisines side-by-side in a relaxed, informal setting. The kitchens, outfitted shipping containers arranged collectively in an open setting to offer easy viewing for ravenous eyes (and, of course, to allow the scents of the kitchens to seduce your taste buds from across the room.) To do it right, clear your schedule and come hungry. The goal is to turn your experience into a multi-stop quest, sampling a number of previously unpublished plates before they become staples at brick-and-mortar restaurants throughout town. The bar offers cocktails and wine to pair, and the view of the skyline from the expansive top-floor balcony is unrivaled.
Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park
Colorado is home to four National Parks, none more revered than the towering peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park. Situated between the towns of Grand Lake to the west and Estes Park to the east, the park is home to over 265,000 acres of pristine (and protected) natural splendor. For a warm-up, try the Emerald Lake Hike. This 3.5-mile trek takes you to its namesake lake from the Bear Lake Trailhead, gaining only 650 feet in elevation along the way and is the perfect spot to stop for a picnic before heading back to the parking lot. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the Timberline Falls hike. Over the course of eight miles, you’ll witness not only the stunning waterfall itself but incredible views of the surrounding peaks and valleys, and maybe even a bit of wildlife: deer, elk, and moose are populous and visible throughout the park. After you’ve hiked to your fill, drive over the majestic 48-mile Trail Ridge Road from west to east, snap a few photos of Sundance Mountain, and spend the night in Estes Park’s famed Stanley Hotel, the inspiration behind the classic movie The Shining.
Drink the Evening in at Steamboat’s Sunset Happy Hour
The higher up you go, the better the sunset looks. Or maybe that’s the cocktail speaking. Either way, bringing in the evening at 9,100 feet from the Thunderhead station atop Steamboat Resort’s year-round gondola is never a bad idea. The ride up costs $15, free if you have a season pass or other specialty lift ticket, and includes $5 towards food and beverage once you arrive. Happy hour takes place most every day but does tend to get busy. The event starts at 5 pm, but show up early to guarantee yourself a seat with a view.
Summit the 14,114-ft. Pike’s Peak by Foot or by Car
Summiting a 14’er earns you instant credibility among Coloradans. Pike’s Peak, just outside of Colorado Springs, is a great first attempt as the Barr Trail heads 13.5 miles up the mountain to its highest point. The hike gains 7,400 feet in elevation and proper backpacking gear is encouraged, but if you make it up, the feeling of accomplishment is enough to completely forget about how sore your legs will be the next day. Driving to the top is a much less strenuous option, and provides ample opportunity to photograph the outstanding views of the surrounding peaks along the way. Tours are available as well and provide thorough notes on the history of the road, railway, and greater Colorado Springs area. From the summit, you’ll enjoy sights as far as the northern and southern tips of Colorado.
See the Garden of the Gods
Just minutes from downtown Colorado Springs, bright red flatiron-like sedimentary rock layers jut straight out of the valley floor and create a contrast in the landscape unseen anywhere else in the state. You’ll understand how the park got its name as soon as you pull onto 30th Street and approach the parking area. Here you can hike your away among the rocks, or stop by the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center and sign up for a guided tour–the most unique and creative of which takes you through the park via electric bicycle. You can also take a Jeep tour to reach spots inaccessible via other modes of transport, but avoid the Segway tour unless you want to immediately stand out as a first-timer.
Drink Craft Beer in Denver’s RiNo Neighborhood
The River North neighborhood, or RiNo as it has come to be called, is a beer drinker’s paradise. The area is a former warehouse district, redeveloped into a thriving hub for art, culture, and above all, craft beer. Nearly every building in the neighborhood is the home of, next door to, or within a stone’s throw of a brew tank, and hardly a night goes by without some sort of special tapping or tasting. Sip on an Antidote IPA on the patio at Ratio Beerworks or relish in conversation about fine literature over a pint of Wicket Wit at Our Mutual Friend Brewing Company. You can walk your way between more than a half dozen tasting rooms in the course of an afternoon, perhaps culminating in a Colorado Rockies baseball game at Coors Field or a gourmet farm-to-table meal at Acorn.
Hike Along the Book Cliffs
The famed Book Cliffs stretch along the northern edge of the Grand Valley like the walls of a fortress. Mt. Garfield’s 6,755-foot summit certainly isn’t among the state’s highest peaks, but the two-mile Mt. Garfield trail is certainly no joke, either. It climbs 2,000 feet to take hikers high above the town of Palisade below and culminates in a perfect panorama of the Grand Valley. If you hit the trail early, as the sun rises over the Grand Mesa to the southeast, you’ll be rewarded with jaw-dropping views of the peach fields and vineyards below. Those seeking a mellow experience can take the Main Canyon Trail and meander along the through the green hills of Coal Canyon and across the formidable Colorado River.
Ride the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
History buffs rejoice–this adventure takes you on a deep dive into both Colorado history and the beating heart of two of the state’s most unique mountain towns. The D&SGRR makes its way from Durango to Silverton along a route originally completed in 1882 as an extension of the Denver & Rio Grand Railway. Today, the steam train powers through the San Juan Mountains the same way it has for more than 100 years–by winding along narrow gauge track as it hugs the Animas River through the lush Animas Valley, ascending steep ridges through the San Juan Mountains, and finally dropping down into Silverton. You’ll experience the Old West that Colorado is famous for here, dining at Handlebars Food & Saloon and exploring the historic charm of Greene Street. During off-peak times such as fall and winter, themed rides including the Durango Brew Train and Cowboy Poetry Train complement the stunning landscape.
Watch the Sunset Over Breckenridge
The internet certainly doesn’t need another sunset photo, but that’s just fine–you won’t be able to peel your eyes from the view as you gaze out over the Tenmile Range from Breckenridge. Colorado sunsets are famously orange and blue, much like the colors of Denver’s beloved football team. As the rays reflect off the peaks, the entire town lights up in golden luminescence. For the best view, head up Boreas Pass Road and pull off as you begin the ascent out of the village or stay in town and grab a patio seat at Angel’s Hollow.
Dine Outdoors on the Plaza at Vail
As Union Station is a dose of European flare in the city, an evening in Vail’s quaint mountain village conjures images of dining underneath the Matterhorn. Shops and cafes sit under upscale lodging in a chalet-style ambiance, the perfect atmosphere to wind down after an afternoon of golf, fishing, or hiking on one of the valley’s many trails. Root & Flower and Pepi’s are can’t miss spots to relax. No matter where you land for a cocktail and conversation, pull up a streamside table at Mountain Standard for dinner.
Spot Celebrities in Aspen
No mountain town, in Colorado or elsewhere, has quite the glitzy image of Aspen. The town backs it up with elegance to spare, offering high-profile boutiques and shops along Main Street and an emphasis on hospitality that rivals the finest hotels of Las Vegas. You might spot a familiar face sipping a cocktail at the Hotel Jerome–Bill Murray, Tom Cruise, and Oprah Winfrey have all owned homes here. The prestigious personalities and refined image of Aspen bring a vibrant city-like culture to downtown that borrows a page from New York City’s playbook. You’ll find well-known musical acts at the Belly Up, Broadway-worthy theatre at Theatre Aspen, and cuisine from a rotating cast of renowned chefs at Chef’s Club. Don’t miss the Wheeler-Stallard House Museum, which brings in traveling exhibits and celebrates the history of the Roaring Fork Valley.
Photograph the Maroon Bells
In a state flush with picturesque scenery, the Maroon Bells stand as the photogenic king of the Roaring Fork Valley. The sun reflects an auburn hue that shifts across these bell-shaped mountains as the day progresses, culminating in unrivaled golden hour bliss in the early evening. A series of hiking trails lead towards the base of the peaks but you can snag the perfect shot right from the parking lot.
Climb the Dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park
The Sangre de Cristo Mountains tower 14,000 feet above the San Luis Valley. The star of south-central Colorado, however, is Great Sand Dunes National Park. The dunes were formed by sand deposits from the rivers and lakebeds which cut the San Luis Valley’s high altitude desert landscape. Hikes through river-strewn forest surround the dunes, and The Dunes Overlook Sand Ramp Trail gives access to the area’s vistas. If you’re up for it, tackle the High Dune, the ever-changing summit of the park. The coolest part is that no two visits to the Dunes are the same–wind is constantly reshaping the landscape.
Tour Dinosaur National Monument
Before you ask, the answer is yes–dinosaurs did once reside here. These days you can view remains from the Jurassic period in a region of Colorado often overlooked in favor of the mountain towns further south. Here in Northwest Colorado, you’ll also find a sunset that rivals that of Breckenridge, as the light reflects crisply off the walls of the Yampa River Canyon on most evenings. Hiking and biking trails abound throughout the Monument, and rafting the Yampa and Green Rivers is a great way to view it all from ground level (while taking in up to Class III rapids). Harpers Corner Road allows for a scenic drive through the park, taking in the canyon and the natural surroundings from the comfort of your vehicle. The monument does stretch across the Utah border, though the main access point is in Colorado off US Highway 40.
Hike Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Colorado’s take on a deep, epic canyon full of adventure is slightly darker than its northern Arizona counterpart. Seriously–the rock walls of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park are so steep and narrow that some parts receive only 33 minutes of sunlight per day. Others are better lit, however, and the entire canyon is dramatically beautiful. Start your hike on the South Rim’s Rim Rock Nature Trail, a one-mile trek that offers glimpses of the deep canyon walls complemented by the plant life of the Gunnison Valley. If you’re up for more of a challenge, the Deadhorse Trail off the North Rim provides some of the best bird watching opportunities in the state. You can also try your hand at fly fishing or kayaking in the Gunnison River. Black Canyon of the Gunnison is the least visited of Colorado’s National Parks and in winter, you’ll find some of the best cross-country skiing in the state with views unrivaled by even the finest snow-covered parks or golf courses.
Stop at Old Mining Towns
Once a thriving mining town, now a ghost town–Colorado has a bunch of them. Independence, on the appropriately named Independence Pass outside of Aspen, is the most important one to hit. Once a regular stop for stagecoaches brave enough to venture up to 11,000 feet in altitude, the town is only accessible in the summer months even today. Plan to spend between 30 and 60 minutes perusing the several aging buildings that remain and keep in mind that we use the term “aging” seriously–there’s no denying that the vibe is a bit spooky. Especially if you visit at sunrise or in the evening when no one else is around. Also worth a visit is nearby St. Elmo, which you can pass through in the same day as the two are only about two hours apart.
See Ancient Ruins at Mesa Verde National Park
Colorado’s National Parks are as diverse and the state’s landscape itself, but none offer a more intimate look into the region’s native Ancestral Pueblo residents than Mesa Verde National Park. Cliff Palace is an absolute must do–you can’t say you’ve been to Mesa Verde without visiting the nation’s largest ruin. Guided tours are available, and you’ll want to take one in order to do a walk-thru and get as close as possible to this incredible site. There’s also no doubting the handiwork of the Anasazi after visiting the Far View ruins, which were built some 200 years before many of the actual cliff dwellings themselves. After getting your fill of the ruins, head about an hour west and stop by the Four Corners Monument–the only place in the United States where you can be in four states at the same time.
Drive Over the Colorado National Monument
As you head west through Colorado and descend down the western slope into the Grand Valley, the landscape begins to shift from snow-capped peaks to rock-and-river carved canyon country. Just west of Grand Junction, Colorado National Monument delivers a true escape from reality in the form of a breathtaking cruise up a steep plateau ripe with canyon views and stunning wildflowers. The deep red and green canyon buzzes with wildlife and dominating monolith rock structures which dwarf the surrounding countryside. Stop at as many scenic viewpoints as possible, the views are always incredible and never similar. Hiking trails are readily available, but a drive over the Monument is enough to wow everyone in your party.
Bike Through Downtown Fort Collins
Blend in with the bearded, bike-crazy locals and pedal your way through the heart of this lively college town nearly any time of year. Fort Collins offers a quick escape from the Denver metro area but remains under the radar for many–the city sees surprisingly few tourists compared with its mountain town counterparts along Interstate 70. The Poudre River cuts through the heart of the city, and the downtown square is packed with vibrant cafes, quirky shops, and charming restaurants. Take a tour of the famous New Belgium Brewery, makers of the aptly named Fat Tire Amber Ale, or walk through the galleries and venues of the Creative District. No matter your fancy, just be sure to get there on two wheels. Fort Collins is the state’s most bikeable city.
Throw It Back to the ’60s at Frozen Dead Guy Days
Colorado’s ski towns are notorious for throwing killer mid-winter parties (we’re looking at you, Snowdown), none more so than the tiny enclave of Nederland, about 30 minutes west of Boulder. Frozen Dead Guy Days is named in honor of“Grandpa” Bredo Morstoel, who met his frozen future after being packaged in dry ice following his death, rumor has it his body was to be shipped to Colorado where it would be met by his daughter. These days the “Frozen Dead Guy,” a legend around town and the festival named in his honor, allows guests the opportunity to take part in activities such as coffin racing and polar plunging in near-frozen water baths. There’s even a frozen salmon toss for those daring enough to show off their athletic ability outside in the town’s frigid winter temperatures. Bands play in heated festival tents where costumed festival-goers dance the afternoon and night away, the free-wheeling vibe of the sixties permeating the entire weekend.
Learn How to Roll a Joint on the Sushi and Joint Rolling Tour
Colorado legalized recreational marijuana on January 1, 2014. Since then, a budding tourism industry has grown around cannabis culture. There are a variety of tours and ways to experience legal cannabis, often designed in a way that you’ll have a good (and informative) experience even if you choose not to partake. Cannabis tour operator My420Tours has pioneered a Sushi and Joint Rolling class that combines the process of rolling a joint with every pot smoker’s favorite activity–eating. A “professional joint roller” guides you through preparing the perfect spliff. Any who wish to imbibe are invited to do so in a private “party bus” parked on the property. Then, you hone your rolling skills even further at the guidance of a sushi chef. The class is sure to be unlike anything you’ve experienced–even back in the glory days.
Tour the Denver Art Museum
You can see the Denver Art Museum from a distance. It stands out from the hi-rises of downtown just a few blocks away because the building resembles, well, nothing you’ve ever seen before. The north building, or castle, stands in sharp contrast to the hyper-modern main building with its’ spaceship-like ark towering across 14th Avenue, a perfect depiction of the museum’s exhibits of both contemporary and modern art. Exhibits celebrate American and European visionaries, as well as architecture, textile, and American Indian art. Visit on the first Saturday of the month for free admission, and while you’re in the area, don’t forget to check out the Clyfford Styll Museum, located on the same campus.
Dance at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival
Each June, the dancing hordes of the festival circuit make their way to the beautifully secluded mountain town of Telluride, in southwest Colorado, for the annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Big-name headliners such as Tedeschi Trucks Band and Greensky Bluegrass share the stage with rising talent from across the United States and beyond, with soaring peaks making the perfect backdrop for grooving. The town also wraps up each summer with Colorado’s favorite Labor Day event, the Telluride Film Festival. The reputation of this film festival is as sterling as they come. Dedicated film fanatics and curious tourists flock the festival each year despite having little clue of what to expect–the organizers release little to no schedule information in advance.
People Watch at Pearl Street Mall
What comes to mind when you think of Boulder, Colorado? Whether you think of hippies, rugged outdoorsmen, college kids, or eclectic musicians, you’re right on track. The eclectic culture in this larger-than-life college town comes together on the Pearl Street Mall and makes for some of the best people watching this side of the Mississippi. The Mall is lined with cafes at which to relax, as well as unique shop fronts and plenty of street performers honing their art, juggling, or musical skills and keeping the area teeming with life 365 days per year.
Summer Skiing at The Basin
They don’t call it “The Legend” for nothing. Ski season is a big deal in the Rocky Mountains and Arapahoe Basin keeps Colorado’s slopes open well into June each year. Leave the parka at home–all you need is a t-shirt and a pair of skis for a fun day of summer skiing. Their season typically starts in October, meaning that skiing is readily available for nine months each year. “The Basin,” as locals it, is just over an hour west of Denver and only fifteen minutes from the popular ski towns of Dillon, Frisco, and Silverthorne, meaning that lodging and a vibrant après scene are just around the corner.