Colorado’s scenic terrain draws millions of travelers looking to get swept up in its natural splendor. With a bevy of cities and towns, each with its own unique outdoor offerings, cultural attractions, things to do and awe-inspiring landscapes, it may be difficult to choose the best place for your next vacation. U.S. News took into account a number of factors, including the variety of attractions, as well as the opinions of experts and travelers, to determine the best places to visit in Colorado.
Take a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park to see for yourself why it is one of the most-visited national parks in the country. Hike among sky-high peaks or the park’s 100-plus lakes, or swap your boots for a pair of skis or snowshoes in winter. If you’d rather explore from the comfort of your own vehicle, drive the scenic Trail Ridge Road (open seasonally) and feel on top of the world. At its highest point, the road reaches an elevation of more than 12,000 feet. What’s more, this park is ideal for a camping adventure. But book early: A timed entry permit is required in the summer.
Colorado’s most populous city is also its cultural hub. While you can go just about anywhere in Colorado to find outdoor adventures galore, in Denver you get the best of both worlds. The city is filled with top-notch museums, lively sports venues, prime shopping streets and an unmatched brewery scene. Meanwhile, just outside city limits, you’ll enjoy easy access to the Rockies, as well as the photogenic Mount Evans Scenic Byway. For an unforgettable experience, catch a show at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, a unique open-air concert venue with stunning views of Colorado’s famous red rocks.
Telluride may not be large in size, but it is big on outdoor fun and adventure, which is why it’s named one of the best small towns in the USA. Best known for its highly regarded ski slopes, Telluride offers 2,000-plus skiable acres and terrain suitable for everyone from beginners to experts. Meanwhile, hikers and cyclists flood the trails, paragliders soar through the air and festivalgoers attend the town’s plethora of food-, music- and film-focused events during the warmer months. For some of Telluride’s best panoramas, drive the San Juan Skyway or ride the gondola to Mountain Village.
Remnants of Breckenridge’s history as a mining hub give the town a distinct aesthetic. The Rocky Mountains that serve as the town’s backdrop, the Victorian-era architecture in the Historic District and the year-round festivals and events all contribute to the town’s charm. Plus, the locale’s thousands of acres of skiable terrain and the area’s long ski season make Breckenridge a winter travel destination for the books. When the powder melts, the verdant vegetation that floods the trails make Breck (as locals call it) magical. What’s more, the craft beer scene is an attraction in its own right.
With recreational activities galore and a laid-back, welcoming atmosphere, Buena Vista is one of Colorado’s best under-the-radar travel destinations. Spend your time relaxing in Buena Vista’s natural hot springs, which are some of the hottest in Colorado. Or, go for a drive along the Collegiate Peaks Scenic and Historic Byway for unforgettable mountain views. Meanwhile, if you want something more adventurous, Buena Vista is a great base for hiking 14ers (mountains exceeding 14,000 feet), and you can also try biking, off-roading or white-water rafting. Thanks to Buena Vista’s valley location, these activities are typically available year-round.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Colorado’s version of the Grand Canyon features some of the state’s most stunning views. Carved by the Gunnison River millions of years ago, the Black Canyon’s more than 2,000-foot depth has impressed spectators for centuries, including the Ute Tribe who once called the canyon home. Now, along with its incredible scenery, parkgoers can enjoy fishing in the Black Canyon’s highly regarded waters, climbing its towering rock formations and hiking or skiing its impressive trails. At night, attention shifts from the rocks and river below to the sky above when visitors can stargaze in this International Dark Sky Park.
If you’re looking to splurge during ski season, Aspen is the place to be. This small town is conveniently tucked between four renowned ski spots – Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk and Aspen Highlands – that offer quality slopes for all levels of skiers. Not only that, but the town features the crème de la crème of luxury resorts, a growing culinary reputation (the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen is held here every summer) and an après-ski scene so appealing it’ll be pretty tough to leave.
This iconic European-style ski town is a popular haven for celebrities and winter sports enthusiasts. With thousands of acres of snowy trails spread across one of the largest single-mountain resorts in the country, Vail is known for its top-notch skiing and snowboarding. But there is more to the town than just its slopes. When the snow melts and the temperatures rise, Vail’s Epic Discovery area invites visitors to engage in other outdoor activities like zip lining, rock climbing and mountain coaster rides. Those looking for less adrenaline-inducing entertainment should check out the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens and central Vail’s boutiques.
Colorado Springs stands out from its mountainous counterparts because it’s not a ski destination. But what the city lacks in slopes it more than makes up for in incredible hiking areas like Pikes Peak, the mountain that inspired Katharine Lee Bates to write “America the Beautiful,” and magnificent natural landmarks like the Garden of the Gods. Mix that in with a good helping of small-town charm, delectable restaurants and a diverse array of attractions (including the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center), and Colorado Springs has all the makings of a great vacation.