For those of us interested in the natural world and outdoor activities, Colorado really has it all. It’s location within the USA means it has extremely diverse landscapes: the famed Rocky Mountains covered in Aspen and Conifer trees, flat plains and rolling prairies in the east, high desert lands and canyons in the west, and the Great Sand Dunes National Park in the south. In fact Colorado is spoilt for National Parks and I will highlight a few of them below. Picturesque resort towns and communities are found nestled up in the mountains, from Breckenridge to Steamboat Springs, and they are gorgeous four seasons of the year. Why not get a group of friends or family together and spurge on a luxury retreat up in a mountain paradise for a long weekend, or a week’s skiing? There are gorgeous Colorado mansions available to rent and I can think of nothing better than soaking in a hot spa pool after a day skiing or hiking.
Rocky Mountain National Park
This is one of the most popular national parks in the US with over 3 millions visitors per year and it is only 75 miles from Denver. It is open for your enjoyment every day of the year, though some elevated areas are closed off over the winter and spring due to snow and ice. If you are into skiing there is an abundance of great trails for cross-country skiing and snow shoeing. Rock climbing in the RMNP is recommended for experienced climbers due to the challenging terrain and the thin air due to the elevation above sea level. A fun and relaxing way to enjoy the amazing scenery is to hire a canoe at one of the park’s lovely lakes. Gentle day hikes for both families and those of us that are less fit, hikes to Emerald Lake, Bear lake and the Alberta Falls are excellent options. Bear lake is famous for it’s reflection of Hallett and Longs peaks on a fine still day. It is very popular so it is advisable to head off on your hike early in the day. You can see some of the best scenery that the national park has to offer from the Trail Ridge Road which is typically open from late May to mid October each year. To me there is nothing more exciting than seeing wildlife in their aural habitat. The Rocky Mountains are home to a huge variety of wild animals including elk, bighorn sheep, moose, mountain lions, brown and grizzly bears. Be careful to keep a safe distance of at least 2 bus lengths from these animals, especially the last 4 on the list.
Mesa Verde National Park
In the south-west of the state lies this extraordinary national park with a difference. Most national parks are on the map because of their natural beauty but this is a must-see because of amazing human cliff dwellings carved into the walls of it’s canyon, especially the amazing Cliff Palace. From 600-1300AD a community of ancestral Puebloans made this area their home and literally hew their houses out of the rock face. What they left behind has been very well preserved and their fascinating story is well told at the Visitor’s Center, which is where you buy tickets to see the Cliff Palace and other park highlights.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
One of the things I love about Colorado is the diversity of scenery in the Centennial State. This is nowhere more evident than at the Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado. The park’s golden pink dunes (depending on the time of day) are the tallest in North America, rising to 750 feet above the valley floor. What makes it even more other-worldly is that the dunes lie in the shadow of the snow-capped peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Range, part of the Rocky Mountains. While the national park is a popular destination for hiking, backpacking, 4 wheel driving and horse trekking, the dunes provide another fun but more unusual activity – sand boarding and sledding. Between November and April the dunes get covered in snow about once/week and are transformed into a Winter playground for snowboarding, snow sledding and skiing. Like anywhere in the wilderness with no light pollution the stargazing at night is amazing but the dunes here make it even more magical. A favorite part of the park is Medano Creek, a wide shallow stretch of water that has come down from the mountains and that lies at the base of the dunes. The creek’s bed, banks and surrounds are sandy so it really is like a big inland beach. As such it is a great spot for family fun and I can’t wait to ride down the shallow rapids on a rubber ring!
Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak
The mid sized city of Colorado Springs sits at an elevation 1.6 km above sea level at the base of Pikes Peak, on the astern side of the southern Rocky Mountains. Pike’s Peak is one of the tallest mountains in North America. The city is famous for what is called the Garden of the Gods, which has amazing red sandstone rock formations and is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful parks in the world.
Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Ralway and Museum
My parents went on this train ride a few years ago and loved it. The 45 mile rail track between Durango and Silverton was completed in 1882 and was originally used to transport gold and silver ore out of the San Juan Mountains. The steam locomotives that carry passengers through the scenic wilderness (which is inaccessible to cars) have been in service since the 1880′s.
Also don’t miss visiting Gunnison and the nearby Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Within the canyon rises the tallest cliff face called the Painted Wall. The patterns in the cliff were formed by molten rock being squeezed through fractures in the existing rock millions of years ago.